If you haven’t read Part One in this series, please consider giving it a quick peek. Applying to STEM graduate programs is a long, stressful, multifaceted journey. In the previous post, we covered what resources you may already have at your disposal, how to get in contact with potential graduate mentors, and what information you’re likely to want to share with them during this initial contact. That sounds like a lot, but there’s even more to cover! With this half of our guide we will detail what additional components you must compile to submit as part of an application to a research program.
Taking Required Entrance Exams (August-December)
Graduate schools often want you to report scores from a few major exams. This requirement is currently in flux, so it’s worth it to check carefully to see what each school you are interested in requires. Preparing for these exams is a big part of preparing for your graduate school application. You can dramatically improve your scores by taking advantage of the training materials ahead of time. While these tests are important, most graduate programs do not use these scores as the only metric to judge your application. In addition to several departments removing the GRE as a requirement altogether, others are decreasing the weight given to the GRE during the admissions process. It’s important to do your best and, once the test is complete, shift your focus to making the rest of your application as strong as possible.
It’s been a bit now, but last month from October 11 – 13, I traveled to Asheville, NC with the Hanks Lab and several other PSU statistics students to attend the 2018 ENVR Statistics for the Environment: Research, Practice and Policy Workshop. This densely packed workshop (really it was both workshop and conference…workonference? confshop?) offered a day of workshops, two days of 30 minute invited talks, and a poster session. I like that the American Statistical Association (ASA) Section on Environmental Statistics (ENVR) is a relatively small group of researchers, which allows for students to quickly meet people (future colleagues!) in this field and learn about what sort of research is happening right now.
What is ENVR?
Unless you are a statistician who does environmental/ecological related research you probably haven’t heard of this workshop. I’ve been doing this sort of work for 4 years now and it’s the first time I had really heard about it too! (Two years ago I was still taking classes and working on research so I probably didn’t have time to attend.) The Statistics for the Environment: Research, Practice and Policy is a biennial workshop of the section on Statistics and the Environment (ENVR) of the American Statistical Association. The overarching goal of the workshop is to bring together environmental statisticians working in academia, government research labs, and industry to present and discuss research ideas and methods to address important environmental and ecological problems. Funding for students, postdocs, and junior researchers within 2 years of terminal degree (travel costs + stipend) was available and easy to apply for thanks to ENVR, NSF, the North Carolina chapter of ASA, and Dr. Andrew Finley.
Starting the graduate school application journey can be an intimidating prospect. Emailing potential mentors, figuring out funding, writing a CV, and the other steps that go into the process are time consuming and challenging, even when you know exactly what to expect. I’ve seen a lot of discussions on Twitter recently about the hidden curriculum of academia (my husband recommended this book when we were discussing the concept of hidden curriculum). Here is my crack at making this process a little more transparent. I imagine lots of these thoughts apply broadly, but this post is geared toward applying for graduate school in STEM. I hope the following guide can ease your passage down the path toward a completed graduate school application.
As a result of trying to cover a lot, I’ve divided this into two parts. In part 1, I will talk about how to contact folks who could be your adviser during your graduate program, which is the first step to applying to most STEM graduate programs. In part 2, I will discuss preparing your graduate school application materials and preparing for graduate school interviews.
First things first. Before you begin the process of applying for graduate school, it’s good to get mentally prepared. This is going to be a stressful period in your life. It takes a lot of time and brain power to do the research, writing, GRE studying, and interview preparation that comes along with getting into a graduate program. You’ll be doing all this on top of your current responsibilities as a student or employee. Keep your goals firmly in mind and remember, no matter how much it doesn’t feel like it now, you will be done with this process someday soon! You have a lot to recommend you, don’t forget that.