by Maggie Gossard
You’ve just finished the McNair Summer Research Experience (MSRE), and you’re excited about what comes next. Here are a few suggestions that helped me have a successful post-MSRE experience.
Give yourself a break
You ate, slept, lived, and breathed your project this summer. You went to Berkeley and completely rocked out your presentation. Maybe you want to start on the next project quickly. But don’t forget to relax. All of your hard work has paid off (and will continue to pay off), and now it’s time to do something nice for yourself. Whether it’s going to get a massage, having a night out with friends, or simply catching up on some much needed sleep, do your best to just take a breather. There is more work to come, but creating balance in your life is a healthy habit to get into. The ability to maintain balance in your life will help you during the next academic year and beyond in graduate school.
Continue your research
This fall, take all of the new skills that you learned during MSRE and apply them to your research. Whether you continue work on your McNair project or starting a completely new research project, know that you’re competent and ready for whatever comes your way. If you’re continuing your existing study, consider making it your senior thesis. After all, thanks to your McNair paper, a good bulk of the work will already be done! You’ll perhaps just be adding in some additional results and bulking up your discussion. If you’re starting a new project, use your McNair paper as a template to help you build your next paper and develop it into a senior thesis.
You’ve accomplished so much! You’re not only a fantastic student, you’re now also a scholar. This sets you apart from your peers in an important way, and it’s important to market yourself as an asset. For example, if you’ve worked in one lab and have done a great job, consider adding another lab to the mix. You’ll have a track record of excellence behind you, and you have a lot to offer a new lab. Plus, don’t forget, you need three letters of recommendation for graduate school; adding experience in a second lab is a great way to secure another letter. Additionally, check out any departmental academic or research awards that you may be eligible for. These look great on your curriculum vitae and solidify your reputation as a scholar.
Prepare for the graduate application process
McNair has given you the tools for applying to graduate school. Don Asher has given you some helpful tips and advice. Now it’s time to put everything into motion. The application process is intense, but completely manageable if you make it a priority and stay organized.
- If you haven’t already done so, study for and take the GRE. Ideally, you’ll want to give yourself 2-3 months to prepare. There’s no magic formula, book, or app to get you through the GRE. There are tools that can aid you in your study, but when all is said and done, it’s about good old-fashioned studying.
- Begin researching and narrowing down the schools you plan to apply to. Focus on fit.Remember, as Don Asher said, “Fit and match trump grades and scores”. Don’t get hung up on “big name” schools; there may not be any faculty there researching what you’re interested in. Along those same lines, don’t compromise doing what you’re passionate about to go to a prestigious school. It can turn into a very long five or six years in graduate school if you are not doing something you love.
- After identifying the programs and faculty members that you’re interested in, email the professors to see if they’re taking students. It could be the best match in the world, but if they don’t have an open spot for you, it will be a waste of time applying there.
- Begin drafting your personal statement. I recommend that for the first draft, you don’t think too much. Sit down and just pour your heart out on paper. Then begin to revise with the help of your mentor or graduate student mentor. Writing your statement this way will ensure that the “uniquely you” part of your statement is present. Remember to address any adversity you have faced in the past as something you have overcome, not something that happened to you. Give your statement a positive, inspiring message filled with clarity of purpose.
- Begin identifying your letter writers and gathering information for them. They should be given a copy of your cv, statement of purpose, McNair paper, information on each school you are applying to, the faculty you’re applying to work with (and their research interests), and all the information about when and how to submit their letters to each school. Do your best to make writing and submitting your letters as easy as possible for your writers. The less time they have to spend looking for the information they need to submit their letter, the more time they can spend on writing you a strong letter.
Keep your grades up
In the middle of all of the chaos, be careful not to neglect your coursework. If you are applying in the fall, your fall marks will be the last set of grades that admission committees will see before they make your admission decision. Strategize your course load and make those grades count.Try to take a “light” course load (no more than 12 credit hours) of enjoyable, manageable classes so that you can make the application process a priority while comfortably balancing your classes.
If you follow these steps, you can effectively use your MSRE experience as a springboard to continued success from college and into graduate school. You have proved to yourself that you can do this: you belong in this domain, you are a scholar, and you are on the path to greatness. Work hard, stay organized, be committed to your plan, and enjoy the ride! The future is yours for the taking.