The Great Grad School Thread

Discussion in 'General Chatter' started by Saro, Nov 2, 2017.

  1. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    I need to find two more people for my Final Form committee and I just. Don't want to. There's not really any one else at my university that makes sense to ask, so I gotta talk to some people at the other universities in the area and. Hope they say yes and that I can make everything work.

    Also one of my committee members moved to Washington DC and only comes back once a month or so. He still maintains a position at my school, which is really important for my committee, so at least there's that, but I'm just anticipating so many scheduling issues.
    • Witnessed x 2
  2. fractalLettuce

    fractalLettuce a disaster cabbage

    My husband's committee has a physics prof on it because he was one of the faculty members who would understand the math he was doing, so sense isn't always the be all to end all. I hope your poking around goes well though!!
    • Informative x 1
  3. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    Thanks! That's useful to hear. I should probably try thinking outside the box a bit and loo around some of the other departments, see who's out there
    • Like x 1
  4. Exohedron

    Exohedron Doesn't like words

    Also if you can find people outside your particular field then you can claim that you or your work is "interdisciplinary", which is almost always a plus on applications for anything.
    • Agree x 2
  5. Raire

    Raire Turquoise Helicoid

    Hi so, I'm considering grad school! I will have a lot of questions, but I will start with the GREs since I think that is what I will focus on first.

    1) What did you do to prepare for the GREs? Did you use that online material provided by the GRE company? Did you buy a prep book? Did you take a course?
    2) Are the subject tests important? I'm thinking of going into Ecology so it makes sense that I take the Biology subject test, right?
    3) How long did you study? How did you feel?
    4) What strategies did you use before and during the exam?
    5) How was the quantitative section? Did you find it hard? Was it the type of thing that requires some tricky thinking rather than outright difficult math?

    Any info is appreciated.

    Second of all, how the hell did you find your grad school program. I have an idea how to look through a few programs, since I keep track of an ecology listserv that routinely publishes grad stuff so I can look through those for the ones that attract me, but how did you do your search? What do I need to keep in mind? How do I find out if a department is good in a particular university? How the hell do you keep track of the information you have (did you make a spreadsheet? A word doc with a page for each place? How do you recommend I keep track of this research, basically.)

    Third, how did you fund it? How do you look for scholarships? I feel like googling that might be silly, though I know I can look for a few based on my double citizenship. Do you apply to fellowships and the like simultaneously to applying to schools? After?

    Is there something else I should know?

    I hope that uh, this is manageable. That's a lot of questions. Whoops.
  6. Raire

    Raire Turquoise Helicoid

    Also if you had to explain grad school 101 (like, things that happen in there, like what is this final form committee you've mentioned?) I would appreciate I think there are some things I have not absorbed and don't know to look for.
  7. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    Let me grab my computer and I'll answer the questions I can to the best of my ability.
    • Like x 1
  8. latitans

    latitans fake fan

    Hi! I'll try to answer some of these questions as best as I'm able:

    Preparing for the GRE:

    1) I used the Princeton Review GRE practice book, and just worked through it over the course of a few of months. I found it very useful. The trickiest part about the GRE is the very opaque ways some of the questions are phrased, so getting used to the language by doing practice tests was very helpful.

    The hardest part for me was the analytical writing section. That section was also where the practice book came in the most handy, because it provided examples of different essays and how they were scored. Basically, the essays are scored in a really idiosyncratic way, such that "a good essay" and "a good GRE essay" are two totally different things.

    2) My field doesn't have GRE subject tests, so I can't really speak to that one, sorry!

    3) I worked through a whole practice book, which took about...3 months of weekends, I would say? But I didn't spend, like, every second of the weekend working on GRE stuff. Doing the whole practice book made me feel pretty confident taking the test.

    4) This was another area where the practice book was helpful. It had a whole section on different strategies. I took a lot of advantage of the 'mark and review' system, especially in the quantitative section--marking a question to come back to later. Also, different testing centers might have different rules, but the test is suuuuuuper long, so bring a water bottle and a snack if you're allowed.

    5) I didn't find the quantitative section too daunting, but it is mostly word problems, which is gross. It does not require post-high school math (i.e. no calculus), but does require some basic statistical knowledge.

    As far as finding programs to apply to: looking through a listserv is a great idea (I did something similar), but I also asked my undergrad advisors for recommendations for programs that they thought would be a good fit for me. They had really helpful suggestions. Also, academia is extremely gossipy, so your professors might give you the inside scoop on what's really going down in different departments. (When I was applying, I considered applying to a program at a well-regarded university, only to find out from my advisor that that program was about to implode because of some really shady behavior by the department chair.)

    Funding I think depends on what country you're applying to school in, and also whether you're going for an MA or a Ph. D (or a different degree). I'm in the US, and am funded in part through a university fellowship and in part through teaching. To the best of my knowledge, that's pretty standard for Ph. D programs: part of your stipend comes from a fellowship from your university, and part comes from teaching for your department. In my experience, universities offer you a funding package when you are accepted. In some cases, you will be accepted but not offered funding, in which case you would have to go through some other avenue, like national scholarship foundations or something. I don't know too much about that, though.

    Good luck on your applications! Grad school is tough, but in my experience extremely worth it. I love my work, even when I kind of hate actually doing it.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2017
    • Informative x 1
  9. latitans

    latitans fake fan

    OH WAIT I remembered a thing. I worked for a couple of years in between undergrad and grad school, and I highly recommend that. It was waaaay easier to do my applications when I was just working a normal job instead of in college, and taking some time away from school gave me the opportunity to really think about what exactly I wanted to study, and what I would do with my Ph. D once I got it. Plus, I was able to save up a bit of money, and that's made my life easier, especially since I had to move cross country.

    But I'm in the humanities. Most people that I know in science/STEM went straight to grad school, so that might be more helpful in those fields.
  10. Raire

    Raire Turquoise Helicoid

    I've actually spent a few years out of college already because I burned out and got double depression really badly after my cousin's death, but I've been doing some jobs and saving up money. I'm actually worried about staying out of academia for too long, since I've read that three to four years starts to worry them, and I'm in two years and a half. I needed the time though, I wouldn't have survived grad school if I had gone straight from college into it.

    Thank you for your answers. I think I actually have some GRE books somebody gave me a couple of years ago lying around, but I gotta find them, or else ask my brother to bring some to me when he comes visit the family for Christmas.
  11. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    Okay, computer got. Let's see....

    GRE-related questions:

    1) I used a program that had a number of practice tests and explanations of the answers for the questions, as well as suggestions for the writing portions and examples of what were considered "successful" essays, and why they were successful. The tests were administered in a similar fashion to the actual test (so there was a time limit and everything), which I found useful for getting a feel for how fast I'd have to go. I can't remember what program it was, unfortunately, but I feel like it might have been produced by the company. I also read one of the prep books, mostly focusing on the things that I knew would be harder for me (like math). It helped a fair bit, I think, although I did have to take the test twice (my first score was okay, but I was disappointed in myself and wanted to do better - so I studied more and was satisfied with my second one.)

    2) My letter of recommendation writers said that subject tests weren't particularly important, although if I wanted to, I could take them. They emphasized that the regular GRE score, plus college results + the actual courses I'd taken in college + my letters of recommendation + if I had to interview, how I performed in the interview would be more important. (I'm also in biology and ended up in an ecology and evolution program.)

    3) For the first test, I did not study enough (although I don't remember how long). For the second, I studied throughout the month before my test was scheduled. I don't think I studied every day, but I know I took multiple practice tests every week, and spent time reading the book and practicing problems and essay-writing. I think it kind of depends on how you study and prepare and if you're doing it while finishing school or working or doing something else. I was free of everything, so I could devote a lot of time to studying in a fairly short timeframe.

    4) I don't remember if I had any specific strategies; mostly, I just tried to stay calm and to skip problems that I was struggling with to make sure I would definitely complete the ones I could more easily solve. I had time at the end of each section to return to questions I was unsure of or struggling with, so I think that was a good strategy for me. Also just being sure to read each question carefully, because I know sometimes I read too fast and miss what the question is actually asking.

    5) I struggled a lot with the quantitative section (math has never been my strong point, and I have to work at it). There was a range of questions: some required more complicated math, some were easier for me, and some required more... logical thinking, I guess you could call it, than outright math. For me, this was where the practice tests and books really helped, because I got a broad range of examples and practice problems.

    Finding a program/school

    I don't know if this is the best way to find programs, but. Okay. I think it depends slightly on where you're looking for schools, because the resources will be different, but I went to a site where I could look at schools that offered various forms of financial assistance to grad students, and I could look at specific programs within schools. I was looking at schools in the US, so I knew in general what areas I would be okay with living in and where I would absolutely not want to live, even if there was the "perfect" program there. So I looked for a) schools that would help me out financially, b) schools with a "genomics" or "genetics" program, and c) schools that were in places I would want to live. Using those criteria, I generated a list of potential schools and then looked at their websites to help me better determine if I would enjoy being there. Because you're generally tied to one particular lab and one particular type of research, I looked at all of the faculty members in the departments: what their research interests were, previous publications, what their current grad students were working on, to see if there were labs in the programs I would be happy joining. Finally, I narrowed down my list to 6 schools (because that was the limit of letters my LOR-writers would write) with programs with faculty doing research in something interesting, where I'd get some form of financial help. (This process took a long time, because I looked at a lot of schools and read a lot of papers.)

    I made a list of schools (with other information like cost of application, application due date, address/etc., department name, URL, username/password for applications, and faculty that I'd be interested in plus a very basic description of their research interests) to help keep the information organized, and then I used that list when I narrowed down my choices, by moving around schools and sorting by interest. It was in an Excel document.

    I've heard of people who found a faculty member they wanted to work with by reading papers and contacting the researcher directly, so that's something you could try too if you find someone doing fascinating research. Doesn't always work, of course, but it might be worth a shot.

    There might be websites that rate departments for various universities, but I think you can look at things like number of grad students, how much the department is publishing, how many students are graduating/matriculating, etc., to get an idea of a department. In general, prestige isn't a huge deal at the graduate school level (at least, IMO); it's much more important to find someone doing research you're really interested in. (Disclaimer: just my opinion!)


    So, at least in my experience, many schools give tuition waivers and allow you to teach (or help with research, potentially) in order to fund living. I get a waiver and then I teach to get paid. In terms of funding research, there may be resources provided by the school or the department that'll help you find grants and whatnot. Your adviser may also tell you about grants or fellowships that they want you to apply for. Other students spread things around, too. Or you might be funded by a grant to your adviser, if you're working on a particular project with them. (Other people might want to chime in here, because this is one I'm not super familiar with - so far all my research has been with things already available to me in lab.)

    I think I'll make a 101 post sometime in the future. I want to think about the question a little bit more before I just go saying a bunch of shit. Regarding committees: It depends on the program, but in mine, I have to have a 5-person committee who will meet with me, tell me what I need to work on, administer prelims and judge them, and then finally judge my dissertation. I have three members and have to find two more before the spring so I can plan prelims and become a real actual PhD candidate.
  12. latitans

    latitans fake fan

    Oh man I'm really sorry if I implied that you have to go to grad school right away in STEM, I definitely didn't mean to. I also know people in STEM who are really successful who took many years off before they went back into academia. I added in that little bit just to disclaim that I'm in a field where it's really common for people to take anywhere from 2 to 20 years between undergrad and grad, and I only have limited info about how it works in other fields..

    ETA: meant to add that I also super agree without Saro about the location thing. I am very much a city person (my partner is too), so I only applied to places in cities where I would like to live.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2017
  13. Raire

    Raire Turquoise Helicoid

    Thank you everyone! This is a lot of information to process (well I did ask a lot of questions) so I'll be referring to them and probably popping in and out to ask clarifying questions as I progress on this.
  14. fractalLettuce

    fractalLettuce a disaster cabbage

    I have survived the first bit of the CSET. i would like to pause corporeal existence until such time as my scores come in though.
    • Like x 2
  15. latitans

    latitans fake fan

  16. fractalLettuce

    fractalLettuce a disaster cabbage

    Thanks! I also hunted down the bits of info I was missing, so in 1-3 weeks I should be able to schedule the second bit. wheeee.
    edit: scores are released on dec 15, so now to concentrate on other portfolio pieces until then.
  17. fractalLettuce

    fractalLettuce a disaster cabbage

    FRIENDS, COUNTRYMEN, ASSORTED OTHERS!!! The prof I was going to ask if she'd be willing to write a letter of rec at the end of the quarter bc the one other prof I've had at the university twice isn't answering VOLUNTEERED WHEN IT CAME UP NATURALLY IN CONVERSATION AFTER CLASS!!! That means ALL MY LETTERS OF REC ARE SQUARED AWAY I JUST GOTTA GET THE MATERIALS TO THEM!! ahhhhhhhhh!!!!

    edit: and since the program I'm applying to is their SpEd program, her letter is particularly apt since she's teaching the SpEd class I'm in now.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2017
    • Winner x 3
  18. fractalLettuce

    fractalLettuce a disaster cabbage

    Update! CSET subtest 1/3 passed, which means i am clear for application on that front. 4.0 for my first 16 unit quarter, bringing my cumulative GPA up to the minimum required to bother applying without wasting my application fee according to the credential analyst i talked to. Letters of rec writers selected and approved, just have to redraft my materials packet which is currently like at double the allowed character count, and maybe attach some of that info as a separate document. also writing a CV with applicable experience when you've been volunteering in educational contexts since 2002 sure is a thing.
    • Winner x 3
  19. Saro

    Saro Where is wizard hut

    My advisor gave me a giant copepod as a holiday present, very fun and orange and monocular. She's very nice and I am probably not worthy to be a member of her lab ;.;

    Eta it's a plush copepod, not a living one.
    • Winner x 2
  20. fractalLettuce

    fractalLettuce a disaster cabbage

    two subtests passed, one to go. statements, cv, and attachment explaining dismissal and readmit, finished. Working on personalizing the emails to letters of rec, lined up a fourth in case one of the people who agreed doesn't get back to me because it's been a while. WHEEE.
    • Winner x 4
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