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.    

The Bodega Marine Lab during my graduate school interview.

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