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Topic: What could I do to improve my chances of getting into grad school?  (Read 4422 times)

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Offline IndoleIndictment

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Hey everybody,

I'm wondering what I could do to improve my chances of getting into a decent grad school for biochemistry, specifically enzymology or molecular biophysics. I was one of those kids who went to college, did nothing but partied, and wasted a lot of valuable time. I've turned my grades around a lot, but my GPA still isn't fantastic.

I'm a rising junior biochemistry major and math minor at University of Delaware. Right now my GPA is a 3.0, but I'm hoping to raise it to the 3.3-3.5 range. I have no research experience as of yet, however I have a summer research opportunity set up for next summer (summer 2013). I belong to an honor society, and I'm an officer for a biochemistry club. I've also been a workshop leader (a form of teaching experience, like a junior TA).

My Coursework:
I have stars next to the courses I plan on taking

General Chemistry 1 & 2
Quantitative Analysis 1 & 2 w/ lab
Organic Chemistry 1 & 2 w/ lab
Intro Biochemistry
Biochemistry 1 & 2 *
Intro Physical Chemistry 1 & 2 w/ lab * (easier p-chem, for biochem and BA chem majors)
Instrumental w/ lab *
Intermediary Metabolism *
History of Chemistry * (as an elective, but probably still somewhat relevant)

Intro Biology 1 & 2
Molecular Biology of the Cell *
Genetic and Evolutionary Biology *

Calculus 1, 2, & 3
Differential Equations *
Linear Algebra *
2 other upper level maths I haven't completely decided on yet *

As well as 2 semesters of introductory physics (alegbra based) and electives.

I have 2 main paths I'm considering as far as my future coursework goes. My school gives the option of taking either two upper level chemistry/biochemistry courses, or 2 upper level biology courses. If I take the two upper level biology courses, then I can also get a biochemical engineering minor with an extra course, so I'd most likely do that. However I'm not sure which background would better suit me. I'm also considering taking some graduate level chemistry courses to make up for my lower GPA.

So I'm asking what my chances of grad school are, and how I could improve them. Also would a more chemical or more biological background look better? What about a second minor? Would taking more upper level courses improve my chances?


Offline quimico_cataclismo

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Re: What could I do to improve my chances of getting into grad school?
« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2012, 12:21:33 PM »
Hello Indole,

I see you haven't had much luck with responses here, so I thought I'd give it a try.  First off - excellent choice, that UD.  I graduated from UD in 2010 with a B.S. Chemistry, Biochemistry minor.  Second, definitely take History of Chemistry if Prof. Dybowski is still teaching and if you have the time.  That was a class I truly enjoyed.

Now on to the meat... Although I have not made the move toward grad school yet, I have been through the process and have a similar story as yours: I partied too much until mid-sophomore year (how can you not at a school like UD?), at which point (when I finally learned what a PhD was) it came time to buckle down.  By graduation I had managed to bring my GPA up to just under 3.0.  When it came time to look at grad schools I realized I was still behind the curve, so I made an appointment with Prof. Burmeister to discuss my viability as a candidate.

Basically what I had was a slightly-too-low overall GPA, a semester of research experience, a year of outside internships, and a year of working as a T.A. within the department.  I had also taken some graduate level classes (Biochem 641/642, Analytical Spectroscopy, Colloid Chemistry). 

Upon initial inspection I was told it wouldn't be cake to get me in, but that it wasn't impossible.  However, I pointed out my GPA trends:  Freshman/Sophomore GPA was around 2.5, but by junior year I was earning something close to 3.7, which continued through senior year.  I made sure to emphasize the fact that I was performing well in higher level classes such as PChem and Analytical Spectroscopy. 

Now, I thought this would help a little, but the response I got was rather unexpected... something along the lines of 'As long as make sure to point out the trends and can obtain good letters of recommendation to back it up, should take my chance at applying anywhere, including the top 10.'  That wasn't the statement word-for-word but it was quite close.  And I was flabbergasted. 

I had never expected to be told that I have a chance at a place like Cal Tech, but the caliber of the UD chem program combined with research and industry experience gave me a little wiggle room, if I may call it that. 

Your experience in the honors program, as a club officer, and as a workshop leader (I was one too) will definitely make you a more competitive candidate.  The research  you are planning to undertake is hugely important as well.  Likely more than the other experiences as professors tend to look for candidates with good lab experience - it tells them that they won't have to babysit you quite so much as someone without the experience.

In terms of GPA, you really are fairly well-off.  As long as you manage to pull it up a little, and point out the upward trends to the selection committees and those writing letters of recommendation for you, you should be considered a competitive candidate. 

The last important piece of the puzzle is the GRE.  The general exam is fairly easy (lol math section).  You should not have much trouble with that considering your background, just make sure to study obscure vocabulary.  I'm guessing you will be taking the GRE Biochemistry exam as well.  I can't comment on that as I took the Chemistry exam.

Like I said earlier, I think you will be a considered a strong candidate by many standards, as long as you can prove that you have improved and are determined.  Good luck with your studies and remember that you will need to sell yourself.  There are many applicants.  You gotta shine.

On a side note, if Prof. Patel and Prof. Wingrave are teaching 'Analysis of Chemical Problems' and you have the time available I would recommend it.  It is a very interesting look at how the mathematics of chemistry are derived from basic calculus and linear algebra.

Hope this helped, if only somewhat.
Let me know if you have any other questions.

- quimico_cataclismo


Offline IndoleIndictment

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Re: What could I do to improve my chances of getting into grad school?
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2012, 03:05:12 PM »

I'm very relieved that I'm not the only person who is/has been in this situation. My grades have definitely had an upward trend, and I'm fairly close with one of the biochemistry professors, who I'm sure would write me a very good letter of recommendation. I also made room in my schedule by taking a summer course, so that I can take an extra 600 level chemistry course.

I appreciate your advice, and it's good to hear from someone of the same alma mater.


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