Graduate Program - Preparation
We often receive inquiries regarding how best to prepare for graduate school, and our program in Molecular Virology and Microbiology. The following outlines our philosophy of what constitutes good preparation.
Graduate School will be a rigorous experience that tests not only your intellectual preparation, but also your motivation and commitment to a career afforded by possessing an advanced degree.
We look for:
- Undergraduate GPAs of 3.5 and above (on a 4 point scale) and GRE scores at or above the 70th percentile.
- Meaningful laboratory research experience beyond that afforded by laboratory classes, as a means of familiarizing yourself with research and its frustrations and reward.
Most undergraduate institutions offer programs through which students can work in research labs on the campus during the school year or over the summer. In addition, many graduate schools offer summer programs that specifically allow students to immerse themselves in an intensive research experience for a summer.
Baylor College of Medicine has such a program in the SMART Program. If you have research experience you need to let us know in your application. This is most effectively done in your personal statement and by soliciting a letter of recommendation from your research mentor. In your personal statement describe the research project and the results, as well letting us know how the experience affected your decision to attend graduate school. Ask the mentor, in the letter of recommendation, to specifically address questions such as your intellectual involvement with the work, how you handled the inevitable research frustration, and how he/she would assess your motivation and commitment to a career in research. The best way for you to learn if research is an appropriate career is to test yourself in a research environment.
The following are tips that we offer to those with aspirations to a research career:
- Give your best efforts in all your undergraduate classes. Excellence begets excellence, and habits established while an undergraduate will serve you well the remainder of your life.
- Approach class work with the notion of mastery of concepts as your primary goal. Learn not only the concepts, but think about how they might be applied to new situations. If you use this approach good grades will usually follow.
- When designing your undergraduate program you will often be confronted with course choices regarding “easy” and “hard” levels of a given course. Unless you are specifically advised otherwise, opt for the more difficult of the courses. This track will result in you learning more and will acquaint you with the rigors that will come in graduate courses where large amounts of difficult material are covered quickly.
- As much as possible, read the primary scientific literature. Find an area that interests you and read journal articles on that topic. When you do so, be critical – ask yourself if the author(s) have convinced you of their arguments and conclusions. If you have questions, seek a professor with whom to discuss those questions. If you establish such a relationship with a professor, he/she may then be an ideal person to write a letter of recommendation for you.
- . Seek a personal research experience. You may have to begin as a dishwasher, but if you express interest in the working of the lab you are likely to be offered better positions. Don’t expect to begin at the top of the research ladder, but display your willingness to work your way to the top.
- Identify outside interests and pursue them too. These outside interests will sustain you the remainder of your life, and provide an outlet from the rigors of whatever career path you ultimately pursue.