Part 2: What do you want from me? 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 SmithJoanna SolinsPriya ShuklaJordan HollersmithAviva 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.

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. 

Baby Bachelor Scientistas

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.   

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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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Field Work Flashback

I have been really busy the last several weeks working on writing my dissertation and preparing to teach an Introduction to Ecology course.  All the time spent staring at my computer has me daydreaming about all the hours I have spent doing field work over the course of my PhD. I flipped through some half finished blog posts and journal entries form that period, and found the start of the story I’m about to tell you.  I was instantly transported back to that day, which was memorable but also pretty representative of how most of my field days went. Some of this is certainly Type II Fun.

 

Sometime in August of 2016…

 

I wake up before the sun has inched its way above the horizon, and fumble to turn off my alarm as quickly as possible. At the foot of the bed, my dog whines softly.  My husband, Daniel, turns over and away from me in his sleep. In my non-field season life, I often hit the snooze button. I know it’s not good for my brain, or whatever, but I don’t care.  I love it. During the field season, my alarm is set so uncomfortably early most days, 4:00 am or maybe 4:30, that snoozing seems masochistic. Also, it’s a little rude to the sleeping partner and pup.  Besides, when you’re racing the tides, time is always of the essence. So, instead of rolling over for five more minutes of sleep, I roll out of bed and try to land on my feet. The cat judges me from Daniel’s pillow.

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Restored native Spartina foliosa (Pacific cordgrass) plots

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