Profession of Microbiology

Planning Your Way to Graduate School

ASM Microbe 2017 kicked off into high gear with the Microbe Academy for Professional Development (MAPD), a two-half day workshop on several topics pertaining to graduate school. Some of these topics were: building mentor/mentee relationships, debunking unconscious biases, the art of poster presentations, creating a CV, and a very important but often overlooked aspect of career planning, work-life balance. The group of students and post-baccalaureate fellows had several opportunities to network and build relationships amongst themselves.

In this article, we focus on one particular talk that was concurrently running with sessions on leadership qualities, managing grants, and conflict resolution – this session was presented by  Dr. Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy from Louisiana State University (LSU) on preparing for graduate school.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that as people go higher into their education, their unemployment rate decreases. However, not every person should go to graduate school, only those that have an inquisitive mind, want to be an expert in a specific field, and need a graduate degree to reach their career goals, should consider graduate school. Dr. Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy provided tips for improving your graduate school application:

Get Research Experience Before Applying: Admissions committees heavily weigh whether you’ve had at least one or two research experiences and whether a poster, presentation, or paper came from your research so try to get experience while in undergrad or during the summers.

Do Well in Your Major Subject Courses: While reviewing your transcripts, admissions committees look at what classes you took and the grades you received. In particular, they want to know whether you avoided challenging subjects like physical chemistry or calculus and what grades you received in the major subject courses. Oftentimes, you may be asked to submit a GPA for your science and math courses.

Score High on Your GRE Exam: It’s a good idea to check with programs before applying to know if GRE scores are important for admission into graduate school because some schools block GRE scores from the admissions committee, while others keep them. However, when it comes to fellowships at your university or with outside agencies, GRE scores matter.

Pick the Right People for Recommendation Letters: Recommendation letters can often make or break whether you get an interview for graduate school, so they are really important. Faculty will write letters that reflect what they know about you so pick faculty that can adequately write about your scientific skills and any challenges that you’ve faced.

Include Enthusiasm, Interests, and Discovery in Your Personal Statement: With every graduate school application, you will be required to write a “personal statement or letter of interest.” In this document explain why you are interested in graduate school and showcase your enthusiasm for science and the process of discovery. They also want to see whether you can clearly explain your research – the problem/gap, what you did, and the impact.        

By the end of the workshop, you could feel the excitement in the room about the next few days ahead at ASM Microbe in New Orleans. This group, in particular, was prepared to present their posters, make connections, and navigate the meeting with their peers from the MAPD workshop.

Do you want to join the fun next year at ASM Microbe 2018? The Microbe Academy for Professional Development will focus on topics relevant to the beginning stages of graduate school. Sign up to receive alerts about the Microbe Academy for Professional Development.

What tips do you have for students submitting a graduate school application?