Getting into graduate school:
had been out of undergrad for eight years when I started thinking
about applying to grad school and I was extremely disappointed that I
couldn't run out to Barnes and Noble and purchase the latest copy of
"How to get into grad school for dummies." The whole process of
finding a school, a program, and a research advisor seemed to be
shrouded in mystique. Where does one start? The truth is it
can take a lot of energy and time to do
the necessary research to find a good fit.
Choosing a research focus:
An essential step in this
process is defining (at least broadly) your
research interests. Are you interested in ecology? Behavior?
Or perhaps all three and you're hoping to find an advisor that will
help you with the integration. It's key to know what your
interests are! Otherwise you will waste time chasing programs and
people that are not a good fit for you. Once you have a research area
defined, it's time to immerse yourself in the field. Find the
best journals in your research area and see who's currently publishing
research that is particularly interesting to you. These are the people
you should be contacting about graduate school.
There is an alternative approach if you are having a hard time
narrowing your research interests, you could consider applying to a
graduate program with a mandatory first year rotation system.
First year rotations can be a good choice if you are uncertain
which area or lab you would like to work in. In general, you will
spend time working in three labs during your first year (a
semester/quarter per lab) and then make a choice at the end of your
first year concerning which lab you would like to remain in for your
Choosing a graduate school advisor:
my opinion, this is the single most important decision you will make
about your graduate program and can either make or break your grad
experience. Once you have initiated a dialogue with potential advisors
(either by phone or email), pay attention during your interactions and
watch for red flags! While it is impossible to predict the
future, you can attempt to choose wisely. Talk to other graduate
students in the lab and department. Does this person have a good
reputation as an advisor? How well are their students supported
financially and emotionally? Are they dependable anime for their
students? Aside from getting a positive feeling on a personal
level, what kind of reputation does this person have professionally?
Are they well regarded as scientists in their field?
Choosing a graduate program:
traditional approach in applying to graduate school involves
identifying a potential graduate advisor first, initiating a dialogue
with this person (either by email or phone) and then subsequently
applying to the graduate program at that university. In my
experience, it's rare for a student to be accepted into a graduate
program without having a least some contact with a faculty advisor,
even in programs that require the first year rotation. If you are
being considered as a potential grad student, many schools will host a
"prospective weekend" where you will be invited to interview and
interact with potential faculty and graduate students. This
is a wonderful opportunity for you to find out all you can about the
program. Don't be timid, ask questions! How are the graduate students
treated in the department, are they regarded as
"faculty-in-training"? How well are they supported financially?
What are the requirements for teaching? What are the class
requirements? Overall, are people happy with their faculty advisor,
with the department? You may be surprised that spending a small amount
of time at a university can give you a wealth of information concerning
how well you will fit in a particular department.