Part 1: How do I get in? Applying to STEM graduate programs

Author’s Note:  I’ve been working on some version of this post for over three years.  During that time, so many folks have provided feedback.  Thanks to Katie Smith, Joanna Solins, Priya Shukla, Jordan Hollersmith, Aviva Rossi, and (as always) Meridith Bartley.  Any omissions of important information are mine, but many of the most valuable bits of knowledge come from these individuals.  

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.    

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The Bodega Marine Lab during my graduate school interview.

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Sweet Link ParTEA (October 2018)

Don’t worry, y’all, we’ve still got nearly a week left of October! I’ve been here, there, and everywhere this month, so it’s been such a treat to sit down and read through our saved links for this month. Does it help that I’m working on this post over a solo dinner at my favorite State College bar (Chumley’s – this is fact) over a cheese sammie and some veg soup? Yes. Yes it does. I had the most delicious hot toddy, so it really had that ParTEA element! Treat yo’selves to a quiet evening of a hot beverage + lots of reading. You’ve worked hard, and we see you.

Trans rights are human rights. We’ve got not one, but two articles and a Twitter thread about how the idea of 2 genders is biologically and socially over simplistic. We can do better, and being informed is one of many steps we need to be taking.

I was going to move this link down in the list but let’s just pull of the bandaid. The EPA is planning on Discontinuing a Senior Science Advisor Position. And that sucks, but I am so excited to VOTE.

This next story elicited an “OMG that’s so cool” from my lips within seconds. I bet your nearest state park doesn’t have UNDERWATER TRAILS. Note: Pictured is Rachel, myself, and our college roommates during our trip near the site of this trail; I would NOT have been up for exploring the under water route. 

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Checking Boxes: A Statistician in the Field

For nearly my entire life, I have lived within the home range of the Southern Flying Squirrel. However, if you asked most folks I grew up with or people around central Pennsylvanian, you’ll find is it rare to find anyone who has seen or even heard one. It’s likely they had no idea it was even a possibility! Growing up, I certainly never hear of any Southern Flying Squirrels in the woods surrounding our home. And perhaps it’s all this newfangled statistics knowledge making room in my brain by dumping stuff from undergraduate courses, but I also don’t really remember talking much about them in the Mammalogy course Rachel and I took where we were supposed to be able to ID EVERY Kentucky mammal. That course was a doozy – do you know how many little brown bats there are?! (Editor’s note: So many.  But they are in danger!)

Earlier this year instead of spending my day as I typically do (on campus working on research) I was able to join a fellow #StatStud graduate student, tagging along with her father out in the local wilderness. Steve Eisenhower is Regional Director for Natural Lands’ New Jersey preserves but since his daughter has joined the statistics department he has also expanded his work in New Jersey monitoring flying squirrel and kestrels into central Pennsylvania. These additional boxes have been added through his own personal volunteering efforts, in partnership with Shaver’s Creek, a resource for the community, and as a field laboratory for Penn State students to get hands-on experience teaching about the natural world. The extra opportunities to observe these species add to the general knowledge for conservationists, an they are a great opportunity for science outreach in these areas.

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