My undergraduate experience was awesome but felt like something I was supposed to do. While I am better off for it, it did not feel like an intentional choice. When I started applying to graduate school, I had to do a little more thinking. I wasn’t just trying to get into a school, I wanted to get into a school located in a place I could picture myself living. I was looking for a good fit.
Finding your match is important because despite whatever may happen along the way, it will seem like it’s worth the time. Ideally speaking, when you fit in, and your location fits you, then you will be somewhat, if not happy. So, search for a school that is a good fit for your academic standing, your background, interests, likes and dislikes. What does this mean?
Let’s use dating as an example. You could have the most beautiful boyfriend or girlfriend, great person all around, but what good are they if their little quirks just drive you nuts? No matter how hard you try, you just cannot seem to create a connection with them. We run into this problem because we as people, we are always trying to force a sphere where a square is supposed to go.
I used dating as an example because just like any relationship, graduate school is a full commitment for a very long time. Here are five things to keep in mind when you start thinking about applying;
- Research Interest: If you are going to commit years of your life studying something, make sure that you like it. The first things you should know about your school of interest, is if they even have what you are looking for. You will be investing a great deal of time, but your institution will also be investing a lot of money on you, so be sure that you want each other.
- Lab: As I have been told many times, your relationship between you, your PI and the rest of your lab you choose to go to will determine just how successful you become. On average, you will be spending 8-10hrs a day with these people 5 days a week. It helps to get along with each other and to be able to work together as a unit.
- Location: Think about where you want to live, the kind of weather you want to experience, the type of people you want to surround yourself with, the kind of food you like to eat, and the activities you want to get into. Choose a school that has most of these things to your liking if not all of them.
- Program requirements: Find out the admission requirements, graduation requirements, lab requirements. Do your credentials fall within their range, and if so, can you meet their requirements. Each school and each program will have their own set of rules, so take your time and search carefully.
- Support: I put this last because if the first four points are there, then you will have all the support you need. Furthermore, for the most part, graduate work is very independent, so here, I am referring to the extra support around campus. Support such as student groups, tutoring support, counseling support could mean the difference between a smooth experience, or years riding the struggle train.
Below is a list of some good reads that really helped me think about what kind of graduate experience I wanted to have. These are but a few of the articles that I looked through, there are many more out there with good information. And as I have learned, the more you know now, the better you will be later.
- A fair deal for PhD students and Postdocs.
- What the heck do you do with a PhD in the Biomedical Sciences?
- Graduate Biomedical Science Education needs a new Philosophy.
- Nature Survey Reveals Truth about PhD Programs.
- Graduate Students: Aspirations and Anxieties.
- Graduate Survey: A love-hurt relationship.
- Entering Graduate School.
Below are some videos that I really believe accurately depicts what life is like as a graduate student. Please keep in mind, that your experience is what you make of it. While there are many obstacles to overcome, how good or how bad the experience mostly depends on you. I chose these videos because they accurately show what things are like. Things is critical because a lot of students have never actually seen what a lab looks like.