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How can I be sure I'm applying to a school I can get into?

  1. Aug 1, 2015 #1
    I'm applying to graduate schools for biochemistry, biophysics, or microbiology. Last time I applied to seven schools and got rejected from all of them. I don't know for sure why I was rejected but I think it's partly because I applied to to many big name schools where they receive a lot of applicants. How can I make sure I'm applying to schools that are in my league and what can I do on my personal statement to help me get in? Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2015 #2
    It is best to ask this question of advisors who are familiar with your academic record, research accomplishments, as well as the schools to which you aspire. Physicists in the US can give vague info about GRE scores and GPAs that are likely to be viewed favorably by top 10, top 50, top 100 physics depts, etc, but you really want advice from someone who knows your record and ambitions.
  4. Aug 1, 2015 #3
    Ok I'll see if I can do that but I haven't talked with my professors for a while but I'll see what I can do.
  5. Aug 1, 2015 #4


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    I agree with Dr. Courtney.

    Of the seven schools you applied to, how many did you visit? What kind of contact did you make with the people there? Did you talk with any potential advisors? Did you talk with any current graduate students? This is how you get key information, such as which professors are actively looking for students, how many spots they will have open, and what kind of GPA will make you competitive. What some students miss is that sometimes even though a particular subfield is studied at a particular school, there's not necessarily any guarantee that professors in that area have the capacity to take on new students that year.

    The other thing is that having a professor in your corner who wants to take you on goes a long way. If you're just an application, it's hard to get people to advocate for you. But if you have a professor who sends an email to the admission committee saying - this student has talked with me, seems keen on one of my projects and I would be willing to take him or her on, that will go a LONG way towards getting you a spot.

    Another thought that comes to mind is that biophysics and microbiology are quite different fields. Biophysics tends to be a branch of physics and as such, usually requires a degree in physics to study at the graduate level. Do you have a double major in physics and biochemistry? If not, I can't help but wonder if you ran into an issue of simply not being qualified for the program you applied to.
  6. Aug 1, 2015 #5
    I don't have a physics major although I honestly wish I did, if I were to go back a second time I would try to have double majored in physics and biochemistry. Needless to say I took a lot of extra electives in physics and I'm interested in one specific area of biophysics. Specifically I'm interested in the biophysics of light absorption in photosynthesis. I took quantum mechanics and quantum chemistry hopefully that is enough to help me get in.

    So should I make up my mind between biophysics and microbiology?
  7. Aug 1, 2015 #6
    Wait.... so what degree do you have?
  8. Aug 1, 2015 #7
    I majored in biochemistry. I took a lot of electives in math physics and chemistry
  9. Aug 1, 2015 #8


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    Well, you'll have to at some point.

    But the main issue is that even if you have taken courses in physics and math, if the biophysics programs you're applying to are run through a physics department, then you're going to face a fairly big roadblock without that physics degree. People on the admissions committee will want to know that there's a good chance you'll pass your qualifying exam and candidacy exam well before your thesis defence - and if there are portions of an undergraduate physics education missing (such as senior E&M, thermodynamics, senior mechanics, etc) then they'll pass on your application. And if you've applied to particularly competitive programs, even if you get through that threshold, you're still competing against other students who have more directly relevant coursework.

    Either way, the strategy is to figure out where your strengths are - or at least where they are perceived to be by anyone assessing your evaluation. A good way to do this is to talk with those people acting as your referees and try to get an idea of how they see you.
  10. Aug 2, 2015 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    That's not helping. You should talk to them.
  11. Aug 2, 2015 #10
    So why would a university take you as opposed to someone with a degree in physics?
  12. Aug 2, 2015 #11
    Because I'm interested in biophysics and I feel like it's very similar to biochemistry....
  13. Aug 2, 2015 #12

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    I think you missed half of dishsoap's question - why should they tell someone who has a degree in physics that they can't attend in order to admit you?
  14. Aug 2, 2015 #13
    I don't know I didn't think that all the way through. All I know is that I find biophysics interesting and I took a lot of physics electives. And I have a good relationship with my physics professor. And that's mostly all I have to offer.
  15. Aug 2, 2015 #14
    What physics courses did you take?
    What research experience in physics do you have?
  16. Aug 2, 2015 #15
    I took general phys, classical mechanics, special relativity, quantum mechanics 1 and 2, quantum chemistry, thermodynamics (chemistry version...)

    And a bunch of math classes like diff eq, vector calc, and probability....

    I don't have any research experience in pure physics but I do have research experience on the light absorption process of photosynthesis....
  17. Aug 2, 2015 #16
    So no E&M. That will severely hurt your application.
  18. Aug 2, 2015 #17
    So I see. Maybe I should give up on trying to get into biophysics and apply to programs in biochemistry or microbiology instead. I took more classes in biology and chemistry than math and physics anyway and I can still contribute to photosynthesis research...
  19. Aug 2, 2015 #18
    I'm going to have to agree here. I have done a small amount of biophysics research and it is nothing like biochemistry.
  20. Aug 2, 2015 #19
    Ok thanks for your advice I think that will make things a little easier now I know not to try biophysics....
  21. Aug 3, 2015 #20
    Delong - were you applying to physics PhD programs or the various (interdisciplinary )biophysics/biochemistry PhD programs/departments? It's still not clear to me, as in principle, an undergraduate degree in biochemistry with additional math/physics/chemistry electives should be a pretty reasonable fit for the latter type of graduate programs. If you were applying to physics programs, then the other comments in this thread have already taken care of that issue.

    You mention that you are particularly fascinated by photosynthetic light harvesting due to previous research experience. I presume that all of the programs you applied to have people studying that - if not, you will need to figure out who's doing this type of work that interests you.
  22. Aug 4, 2015 #21
    Thanks for your response. I'm applying to biophysics programs not pure physics programs. I do confess I am interested in artificial photosynthesis research but I checked some of the programs and I think their work is a little bit beyond me. Sticking to biophysics or even just biochemistry is probably a lot more manageable for me.
  23. Aug 4, 2015 #22
    So far this thread has only discussed suitability of your academic background for your graduate aspirations. One thing that jumped out at me is your lack of focus on what you want to do biophysics, biochemistry or microbiology obviously not much overlap. How did you present your goals to the schools you applied to.? You present yourself in this thread as indecisive which a graduate program will pick up as a negative feature. Another missing bit of info is what GRE did you submit to these programs.and what was your GPA in the biochemistry physics, and math?
  24. Aug 4, 2015 #23
    Keep in mind that most graduate programs in biophysics will require you to take grad-level physics courses. That means grad-level E&M, stat mech, quantum, and classical mechanics. Going into grad-level E&M without taking it in undergrad means you will fail. And not a little bit.
  25. Aug 4, 2015 #24
    Alright then. My unspoken concern was that you had uniformly mentioned "I want to do X type of research" in a personal statement and then applied to schools, not checking whether or not they had faculty doing research in that area. However, the point above about you seeming indecisive has some validity, although not because you applied to biochemistry, biophysics, and microbiology programs. All of those could be fine choices if you had, say, interests in the structure and function of membrane proteins, and found schools where those graduate programs had particular strengths. (Going off the notion that photosynthesis is mediated by membrane protein complexes, that is, and you thought membrane proteins were really cool as a result.) You have to ask yourself, "What are my somewhat specific scientific interests?" and work from there. You need to start moving from "I'm interested in biochemistry, biophysics, and microbiology" to "I'm interested in membrane proteins, energy transfer mechanisms, and bioinorganic complexes." Or whatever it is that interests you. This is something you should have done already if you're applying to graduate school, to be honest, IMO.

    I'm not sure if this is believable, at least in the US. I applied to a couple of US biophysics graduate programs way back in the day (from the interdisciplinary graduate program to joint biophysics/biochemistry departments) - and looked at many, many more - and their curricular requirements looked nothing like this. Is this elsewhere, then? Unless you're talking about physics PhD programs which might offer some sort of biophysics concentration, in which case, that's really not the situation the OP has found himself in, I'm deducing.
  26. Aug 4, 2015 #25
    Depends on who is doing the biophysics. Often it is biologists and chemists doing biophysics. A real physicist wouldn't call that physics. It's the problem with interdisciplinary research. You may have all that advanced E&M and other physics subjects with even less relevance, and you will be doing lots of molecular biology or biochem before you get to do a physics measurement on a physics property.

    Pretty sure there's also pure physics labs that research the physics that occur in biological systems. Very different from working on a physical question in a microbe or plant that is your subject of research, which generally are done in mol.biology/biochem type of labs.

    The 'right' types of biophysics, biochemistry and microbiology are indistinguishable.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2015
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