August 23, 2007 11:21 AM
Graduate School Thoughts
Don't let this entry stress you out! If you're not a senior, you probably don't need to worry about this yet. If you're a junior, you may want to take a little look at this entry, so you can figure out how to make your life a little easier in your senior year. This entry is helpful to juniors and seniors at any institution, not just UC Berkeley.
Read on, if you dare...
Coming to Berkeley as a Junior transfer student, and choosing to go on study abroad for one of my semesters of my senior year, I haven't had much time to think about graduate school. Thinking about graduate school + planning a wedding = doubly difficult. Don't. I'm stupid for attempting this. You need ridiculous time management skills that I'm not even sure I have.
It's a good idea to take the GRE early if you're planning on going on to a Master's or PHD program directly after graduation. Schedule it for your junior year if you can, so you have your scores in front of you as you're comparing acceptance statistics for grad schools.
Checking out graduate schools can be a daunting task. You have so much to think about. Here are questions that I've asked myself, and the methods I've used to answer them:
1 - What kind of research? Do you like plants, microbes, fungi, pollination, symbiosis, cell signaling, environmental studies, floristics, systematics, morphology... It gets more specific as you dive deeper. Be prepared to think you have it narrowed down to a field, then realize you need to narrow even more. This takes time. Set aside a couple of hours every day to read scientific papers on topics that look interesting. Sit in the library reading journals like Science, Nature, PLOS, American Journal of Botany, etc. Jot down the titles of the papers and the name of the researchers that you like. Can you see yourself doing that kind of research for the next 2-7 years? If so, you should consider it for graduate school.
2 - Who are the leading researchers in that field? This is where those scientific papers you read in part 1 will come in handy. Look up the writers of all the papers you loved. Find out where they're currently doing research. E-mail them if they're still around. If they're retired (or worse, dead), look for more papers on the same topic. You may find similar current research.
3 - Do I want to do a practical and quick Master's program, or do I really want to go for that PHD? This one I'm still struggling with. I think I'll apply to both types, and go with whatever I'm offered. I've found that many PHD programs offer an option. You can start in their PHD program, then cut out early with just a Master's. It's still a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it to find a program with this option. It doesn't work the other way in the United States. You can't start a Master's, then decide halfway to go all the way for a PHD.
4. What am I committing to, really, when I apply to a graduate school? Absolutely nothing, aside from the application fee. Remember, you should apply to many different locations, so you can choose where to go. If you only receive one offer, that's fine. You've done all the work in choosing where to apply in the first place, so you can feel good about taking any one of the offers you receive. Most people receive more than one offer.
5. Does the graduate school I'm looking at offer scholarships? If you're doing research, the school should cover your tuition. Find the right program so this happens. There's no reason to pay out of pocket for a science-based graduate school experience, unless you're thinking about medical, dental, pharmaceutical, or anything not based on research.
6. How much does it cost for each of these applications? Usually between $40 and $60.
7, When are application deadlines? It varies between schools. Most are in early December, some are in February. Check deadlines for each school and make yourself a spreadsheet with schools, programs, and deadlines. You'll need to keep these straight.
8. When can I schedule exams? Check out the ETS website: http://www.ets.org/
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