Happy New Year! Well, we are well into the 2017 application season and have started reviewing a large number of applications. While it may be too late for 2017 applicants to change too much of their application, those applying in the future may want to know how the review process works. Today, the Vanderbilt IGP director, Dr. Jim Patton, is discussing what really matters during application review, and no time could be better as he is in the middle of reviewing hundreds of applications this year.
-by Dr. Jim Patton
Most graduate admissions committees consist of multiple faculty members, each with their own idea of what makes an applicant stand out. With that in mind, applicants need to understand that every portion of their application will be reviewed because individual faculty will stress different parts of the application. From reading thousands of applications and guiding an admissions committee for many years, the tie that seems to bind all reviews together is research experience with corresponding letters of recommendation from research mentors. Because committee members are scientists, they prefer higher objective metrics (GPAs and GREs), but there is great latitude across those scores provided they are accompanied by letters of recommendation that tell us the applicant is a gifted experimental biologist with great hands and the ability to solve problems and get things done at the bench. Letters from science classroom teachers are good, but research letters are the most important, whether from academic year research or summer research mentors. Letters from non-science classroom teachers are not very helpful and should be avoided
For the personal statement, the best approach is to use this space to educate the committee about what motivates you to pursue a research career. What experiences have shaped your background and led you to seek the PhD? When necessary, the personal statement can also be the place where you can explain events, experiences, and even bad semesters so that the admissions committee can better understand your overall application.
Overall, try to show the admissions committee that you have the passion and commitment necessary to embark on the path to a biomedical PhD. I hope this insight will help you put together a strong application. I look forward to seeing your application. Best of luck!