Vol. 4 No. 3 November 2005

National Conference 

Grad School Primer

Langer Interview

Research: hES

Research: Microfluidics

Photo Gallery

Student Research

Printable Version

The BioTECH Quarterly

Griffith Offers Graduate School App Primer

By Emily Pfeiffer ’07, VP of Information Technology

    On the evening of Tuesday, September 27, the BE lecture hall 56-154 was packed with students listening to Professor Linda Griffith’s Graduate School Application Primer. Griffith explained the ins and outs of attending graduate school, from choosing a graduate program to preparing a competitive application and procuring funding, and offered a summary of the general graduate school academic path.

    Griffith classified graduate school program decisions according to a series of levels, starting with choice of degree, and narrowing to choice of discipline, school, and lab group. In differentiating between a Master’s and PhD as terminal degrees, Griffith explained that a Master’s degree is most applicable to a career in industry, while a PhD is commonly required for BE and BME research. The PhD degree, typically requiring 4-6 years of study, supplements the Master’s roughly two years of technical training with instruction on research management, including problem identification and definition, approach development, and carrying the research through to publication.

    Griffith defined the choice of discipline primarily as a choice of intellectual goals. She anecdotally related her own eleventh hour choice of graduate training in engineering over medical school to illustrate the personal nature of the decision to attend graduate school, and the choice between studying biological engineering or a “classical discipline” such as biology or mechanical engineering. Griffith also advised comparing faculty resources across departments at the graduate school selected before committing to a discipline.

    Griffith acknowledged the role of location and other personal priorities in choosing a graduate school, but emphasized basing the decision on the curriculum and faculty of the school and departments in question. Griffith discussed the difference between the clinically based biomedical engineering and molecular life science based biological engineering as a distinguishing factor in classifying curricula.

    Ultimately, Griffith recommended gathering as much information as possible about each school, beginning with an internet search of school websites and the Whitaker Foundation (http://www.whitaker.org/academic/database/index.html) resources. She also recommended discussing fit of individual interests and specific schools with BE faculty contacts such as advisors and course instructors, or with current BE graduate students, who might offer perspectives on the other programs they considered.

    Griffith outlined the following general schedule of application processes.

    Summer through early fall of senior year: Research schools and gather application materials
    October – December: Request recommendation letters and transcripts
    Mid-December – mid-January: Meet application deadlines
    Mid-January – late February: Receive decisions and schedule interviews
    Early March – early April: Student visits
    April 15th: Absolute deadline to accept or decline offers

    Griffith reduced admissions qualifications to three categories: quality of recommendation letters, grades in engineering classes and GRE score. Recommending a compilation of 3-5 letters, she specified that a minimum of three letters come from faculty members. Griffith recommended approaching faculty at least a month in advance of deadlines, and (according to the preferences of the faculty member) emailing a reminder two weeks, one week, and daily in the last week before a letter is due. Griffith also advised applying for fellowship support during this time, possibly adding November or December deadlines.

    Griffith summarized a common graduate school academic path as follows:

    Year 1: Attend core classes, take a qualifying exam, explore and choose a thesis advisor and project
    Year 2: In-depth study of literature. Learn about project feasibility, protocol, etc. Attend classes related to specific research
    Years 3 and 4: Make progress on project, student begins to take ownership of project, as reflected by increased publication and presentations to meetings
    Years 5 and 6: Conclude project and graduate

    Griffith’s Graduate School Application Primer presentation is outlined more comprehensively in a flyer available from the Biological Engineering office (56-651).

The BioTECH Staff would like to thank Prof. Griffith for reviewing this article.
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