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The Top 10 Grad Schools (Science)

  1. Jul 2, 2008 #1
    How exactly can one prepare an exemplary record for these schools? What is taken into consideration? I'm doing Biochemistry atm, and I'm thinking about going into a grad school for Bio.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2008 #2
    What is "Biochemistry atm" ?
  4. Jul 2, 2008 #3
    I believe he meant he is studying Biochemistry "at the moment."

    I would probably think Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton are some good schools for biochemistry or biology.
  5. Jul 2, 2008 #4
    here's a list of the top science grad schools in the US:


    go to each of their websites and check out their admissions criteria... they all give info on what exactly they look for in applicants... research, GRE scores, 'statement of purpose', etc....

    top ten for physics:

    1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    2 Stanford University
    3 California Institute of Technology
    4 Harvard University
    5 Princeton University
    6 University of California--Berkeley
    7 Cornell University
    8 University of Chicago
    9 University of Illinois
    10 University of California--Santa Barbara
  6. Jul 2, 2008 #5
    Well, I was thinking about more what the average student looking at those schools is like. IE: Are they workaholics that pulled off a 4.0 GPA while getting on publication at least each year?
  7. Jul 2, 2008 #6
  8. Jul 3, 2008 #7
    Going by the statistics at physicsgre.com, students who got into top schools tend to have a 3.9 GPA or higher, a physics GRE score of 850 or higher, and good research experience (usually with at least 1 publication). The bar is higher for theory students. The statistics don't show this criteria, but I would guess that they had very good recommendations as well.
  9. Jul 3, 2008 #8
    If you're planning on going to graduate school for biological sciences/biochemistry, research experience is practically essential. One publication a year for each year of your undergraduate studies would, of course, be great, but it's not essential. The Ph.D. is a research degree, and having shown some evidence of promise at research is important.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that you'll want to investigate specific departments/programs to see if they have a faculty that matches your interests, especially as you're interested in biological research. Rankings are all well and good, but you want to be sure that you're applying to a program that really matches your interests. As a biologist/biochemist-in-training, you can find educational opportunities in the general Arts & Sciences faculty, the medical school, other professional schools, and interdisciplinary degree programs.
  10. Jul 4, 2008 #9
    I am horrible at reading comprehension sometimes. Ignore my post above, for some reason I thought you were talking about physics grad school.
  11. Jul 5, 2008 #10
    Well, to be honest, CalTech is looking pretty awesome. I could find at least 6 professors that have pretty cool research in the Biology department, after a quick search inspired by boredom. This school seems pretty insane to get into as well. I just started out in the lab in my school before actual classes, which is a rare opportunity. This is partly because of the program I'm in and the fact that I've had experience in research before this.
  12. Jul 5, 2008 #11
    I don't know where you're at in your undergraduate education, so some of this may already be redundant advice. This is what I did when it came time to apply to graduate schools.

    Make a list of research areas that are interesting to you. This list should be relatively specific but not too narrow. Don't just say "biology," "biochemistry," or "molecular biology" - you should be thinking a bit more in detail, but not necessarily in terms of precise projects. So, for example, "RNA interference and applications thereof" is a good-sized category, but "RNA interference in this model system looking at that particular issue" might be a little too specific.

    Dig up a couple of review articles in each subfield which grabs your attention. Skim through them and the references to see who are the major researchers in those fields are, and make a list of them. Once you've done that, you can make up your chart of universities, with the faculty names listed below them.

    I think everyone has their own two cents on this topic, but I looked for a "critical mass" of faculty before applying. If there's only two people at a university that you might conceivably work for, I would think twice about applying there. One of them might not be taking students (full lab), and the other might be an evil sadist. Or, you know, there might not be good reasons why you might get shut out of your preferred labs. This problem in particular departments/programs can be mitigated by interdisciplinary opportunities at the university, where you can also work for people in other departments. The details of these arrangements are specific to each university, so you'll have to investigate them individually.

    I selected a spectrum of programs to apply to (the old "reach/reasonable expectation/safety school" system) for graduate school, and I ended up at one of my reaches. I think this is what most people tend to do, at least, and as who your advisor is can be more important than where you go (especially in particular cases), you protect yourself by doing this by selecting good researchers as potential advisors, as I describe above.

    Something to keep in mind is that distribution of research interests is not always uniform throughout schools - I remember being a bit amazed that one of the areas that really interested me as an undergraduate is not well-represented at many schools (if at all). So it may be possible that one of your major subfields of interest may not be well-represented at even well-known schools. Which is a bit disappointing, but you learn to deal. :)
  13. Jul 5, 2008 #12
    Ah, thats some really good advice.
  14. Jul 6, 2008 #13
    Quick question: when people here state that you need publications for these top schools, possibly even "a publication a year," what exactly does this mean? Does this just mean working on research with a bunch of scientists at their university and having their name listed long after many of them? Or does the student actually play a significant role?
  15. Jul 6, 2008 #14
    I'm not familiar with the graduate admissions situation in physics, but for chemistry/biochemistry/molecular bio (which I am a bit more familiar with), there's no expectation that you will never be admitted to a top 10 program without at least one publication. If there was, I would not have gone to grad school where I did - I do not have any publications from my undergraduate research experience. I did, however, garner a very nice letter of recommendation from the professor in whose lab I worked for over 2 years.

    My general impression (from my friends and colleagues in chem/biochem/molecular bio) is that if you do get published as an undergrad, it's usually on a comprehensive paper with perhaps a few other people who all contributed to a larger set of results (your PI, maybe a postdoc or two, maybe a grad student or two) or, if you lucked out in terms of project selection and results, maybe a solid paper with a postdoc and your PI. Of course, in certain subfields, you can definitely pump up your publication count more easily than in others.

    It all depends. You should also keep in mind that graduate school applications can be sort of hit or miss. I remember my last grad school visit way during the recruitment season, and I ran into a guy I had met two weeks earlier elsewhere. As it turned out, out of the four top ten schools we had both applied to, he got into the two I hadn't and I had gotten into the two he hadn't. Neither of us could understand it at the time (and now, given that the details are foggy, I can't remember enough to say why). Weird things happen when you get a bunch of faculty around a table. :)
  16. Jul 6, 2008 #15
    Thanks again for the advice, Mike. Mind sharing your GRE scores/GPA and whatnot? I'd appreciate it.
  17. Jul 6, 2008 #16
    Just out of curiosity, what would you consider a reasonable reach? I applied to grad schools last year, and I got waitlisted at two mid range (#20-#30) ranked schools with horrendous GRE scores and 1 of my 3 letters was mediocre at best. I will be reapplying this year with (hopeully) much improved GRE Math subject scores and 2 new letters from big time professors and a publication. I got waitlisted at UCSD and Rutgers (for math phd) with a sub 50% GRE Math score, 2 good letters. This time I plan on having 3-4 great letters (1 extremely well known mathematician, 1 extremely well known physicist, 1 mathematician well known in his field and another mathematician who is up and coming).

    What would you then consider a reasonable reach school for my situation? I'm applying to 5-6 school that I think are a reach, but not a reach like Harvard.
  18. Jul 6, 2008 #17
    I ended up in a chemistry department for my Ph.D., so I'm not going to post my GRE and GPA as it might inspire false hope for those of you planning on going to grad school for bio (and related areas). :rofl: Not that I did horribly, but I was a B/B+ sort of student and my GRE scores were somewhere in the low 90th percentiles overall (I was one of the first people to take it electronically as memory serves, which I firmly claim had a deleterious effect on my overall score.). I would not recommend being comfortable with your stats if they're similar to mine and you're planning on applying to highly ranked bio/biochem programs. I did however have a stellar letter of recommendation from my undergrad research advisor, who knew I could run the EPR spectrometer and optical bench well enough to teach new postdocs, as well as enough biochemistry to keep major lab projects running on my own.

    My formal mathematics background ended with differential equations, so keep that in mind. I would say, in very general terms, selection of reach schools has to be done with some degree of wisdom in mind. Do you happen to know if one of your recommenders has a close friend/former coworker/former fellow student on the faculty at that school? My impression (which I think most people will agree with me on, to one degree or another) is that letters of recommendation carry more weight if they're written by someone that is a known quantity. For example, when I had visits at a few schools during my recruitment spring (that time between February and early April when departments wine and dine prospective visiting graduate students), I had a few faculty at each school ask me how my undergrad research advisor was doing as they were all chummy with him in one way or another (they used to collaborate, they always see each other at conferences, etc. etc.). I realize this all sounds a bit Machiavellian, but I think about it like this. If I were to run my own lab/research group one day, and I have one person who's interested in joining and has decent creds and recommendations, and another person who's interested in joining and has decent creds and a good recommendation from someone I personally know who is an excellent scientist, I'm probably going to think very hard and long about the latter person.

    Another thing to think about is that I'm presuming you have obvious areas of particular interest as can be seen in your past research experience and from your application essays. You may want to consider focusing your applications to reach schools which have a strong core group of faculty in those areas, as they might be more amenable to taking you on.

    Disclaimer: This is all very general advice, I take no responsibility for graduate school rejections that you may experience. Almost everyone gets dinged somewhere along the way. (Those that don't, well, good for you.) Sometimes it's for the best. I had a major crush on this one school I applied to for grad school. Like, if you had given me a choice between getting into there or having Natalie Portman confess her undying and eternal love for me, I would have picked an acceptance letter over Natalie. As it turned out, my grad school advisor worked as a postdoc for the PI in whose lab I would have likely ended up, and I realized - as I became more familiar with the field - that I ended up in a better place.
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