So, You Want to go to Grad School?

Many students choose to pursue graduate studies in a range of biological disciplines. As with medical schools, graduate schools have various requirements, such as physics or calculus, beyond the requirements of the biology major; thus students should consult with their academic advisers about particular fields of interest.

Here is a general timeline of things you should be doing if you are planning to attend graduate school. This is a very general timeline and dates may shift from year to year, but it should give you a good idea of where to start. You should also check out the detailed information on graduate school available through Drew’s Career Center.

First Year at Drew

Take your classes and adjust to life at Drew. Get into the habit of attending lectures and events sponsored by the Biology Department, Nu Rho Psi (neuroscience honor society), Tri-Beta (the national biology honors society) and more.

• Oct/Nov/Dec of your first year: Start thinking about what you want to do over the summer.

• Summer between your first and second years: Consider an internship or even a research experience. Older students with more training may be more competitive, but it’s never too early to start looking into these opportunities.

Second Year at Drew

You should be taking organic chemistry – it is required by most graduate programs. Declare your major no later than one month prior to advanced registration for the first semester of the junior year.

• Oct/Nov/Dec of your second year: Start thinking about what you want to do over the summer.

• Summer between your second and third years: This may be a good time to study abroad through one of Drew’s TREC programs – consider research opportunities such as DSSI or an internship for the remainder of the summer.

Third Year at Drew

Consider taking the general GRE test in the spring of your junior year. For information on the GREs visit www.ets.org/gre Start thinking about where you want to apply for graduate school. If you are interested in a specialized field, start using the internet to gather information on universities with appropriate programs. For biology in general, you will need to think about the subfield that interests you and potential research projects. Then try to find the leaders in this field – who is publishing research on this topic that you find interesting? Once you have identified potential programs of interest you can look at the application requirements to know if you need to take the GRE subject exam, physics, etc.

• Oct/Nov/Dec of your third year: Start planning for the summer – the upcoming summer is a key period to gain research experience. Consider off-campus programs including REU programs sponsored through the NSF.

• Summer between your third and fourth years: This is the summer when you should definitely be engaged in research. If you plan to do Honors research it is a good idea to start your data collection now (consider the DSSI program if your advisor is available for the summer). Alternatively, by doing research off-campus you can start networking and learning about potential graduate school programs and advisors. Consider doing an REU (see above).

Fourth Year at Drew

• If you are not taking a year off, start preparing your applications in the fall of your senior year (applications are often due November, December, or January but some programs have deadlines as late as March). If you are on the organismal/ecology side of biology, you should contact the individuals you are interested in working with – explain why you want to attend graduate school, and why you want to work with that particular person. Give them a brief summary of your research experiences thus far if appropriate. If he/she has no room for you in their lab, they will often recommend someone else.

• For those of you on the organismal/cellular/molecular end of the spectrum, contacting potential advisors may or may not be necessary. Consult with the biology faculty if you are unsure. And whenever you do contact a potential advisor, be sure to have a well written e-mail that will not reflect poorly on you. Here is one particularly useful site with a sample e-mail.

• You should have a back-up plan, just in case. Graduate school admissions can be very competitive. What will you do if you don’t get in? Options include working as a lab technician/field assistant to gain additional experience, getting an entry-level job in the field you are interested in, teaching, volunteer work, traveling the world, etc.

• If you are pursuing Honors, applications are due in mid-September. If you are not eligible for Honors, or elect not to pursue Honors, you may still conduct independent research under the supervision of a faculty member, earning credit through Biol 396 or Biol 404.

• If you have a clear idea of where you want to go and what you want to do in graduate school, consider applying for an NIH Predoctoral Fellowship, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and/or a STAR graduate fellowship through the EPA as appropriate. Applications are typically due at the beginning of November and provide excellent funding to start your doctoral research. They also make you a very attractive candidate for graduate school.

• Some schools require the Biology (or a related subject) GRE for admittance. Consider taking the exam in October or November at the latest so that your scores will be ready by the time your applications are due.

• After you have submitted all of your applications, relax and focus on your research, classes, and enjoying your senior year. Acceptances will start rolling in during the spring semester of your senior year – April 15 is the general deadline for deciding where you will go. If you don’t get in, confirm back-up plans. And remember that you can always reapply next year.