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Choosing a graduate school

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Why choose Penn State Biology Department?

    • Internationally-renowned faculty with a wide range of research interests
    • Highly interactive students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty in Biology and related departments
    • Flexible graduate degree program that can be customized to meet your interests
    • All students offered admission to the Biology Graduate Program are also offered financial support for two years (M.S. students) or five years (Ph.D. students) as long as you remain in good standing and make satisfactory progress towards your degree.

Choosing a graduate school

Before deciding which school to attend, you should carefully evaluate your reasons for entering graduate school. The most successful and productive graduate students are those driven by curiosity, a sincere desire to learn, and enthusiasm for their research. High scores on exams and a high GPA sometimes are not reliable indicators that a student will do well in graduate school. Consider what degree you require for the career you plan to enter.

Your choice of graduate school is a major career decision that should be made only after considerable research. Some departments allow or require laboratory rotations for incoming graduate students before they begin working with their specific faculty adviser. After the first year, however, a student normally will have a single faculty adviser throughout his/her graduate degree program. For this reason, the choice of faculty adviser is perhaps even more important than the choice of school.

Carefully research your choice of department, degree program, and potential faculty adviser. Is there a core of faculty in your particular area, or only one person? Multiple faculty in the same research area can have a beneficial, synergistic effect through interactions among themselves and among their graduate students. On the other hand, a single productive faculty member with no current students may be able to direct more resources and give more attention to an incoming graduate student. In any case, you should obtain and read publications by your potential advisor to see if you are interested in his/her research area. Are the journals in which papers are being published peer-reviewed and respected?

Select and communicate with your potential advisor or advisors well in advance of the application deadline. Often, a letter of introduction, indicating your research interest and an overview of your background, is a good way to start. Arrange to make a visit to the department so that you can meet that person, other potential faculty advisors, and graduate students. Ask the graduate students about their impression of the department and your potential adviser, and try to get more than one opinion. Remember that you will be interacting on a daily basis with your faculty advisor for at least four or five years, and after your degree, will rely on that person for advice and letters of recommendation. Base your selection upon as much information as possible.

Choosing an advisor

The Department of Biology directs graduate programs involving course work and research in developmental biology, ecology, molecular evolution, molecular genetics, physiology, plant biology, and other aspects of modern biology. The student's course of study is planned individually by the student and his/her advisor. Together they have the responsibility for determining the course program and research acceptable to satisfy the degree requirements

Students may choose an advisor for the research degree in one of two ways. You may pick a faculty advisor prior to the first semester in residence or you may choose to rotate through several laboratories before deciding on the most appropriate advisor. Students typically choose two or three faculty in whose laboratories they wish to rotate during the first semester in residence. The final choice for an advisor is made at the end of the rotation period. A temporary advisor (usually the first rotation faculty member) is chosen to help schedule courses during the first semester.