Frequently Asked Questions about the Program

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Q: What are the criteria for admission to the PhD program in computational biology at Brown?

A: Academic performance, letters of recommendation and previous research experience are crucial in our selection process. We also consider GRE scores, TOEFL scores (if relevant), motivation, work experience, awards, honors, prizes, and other accomplishments. In more detail, we are looking for:

  • Academic performance: The GPA is not the only criterion. Grades in disciplines relevant to computational biology count more than grades in other areas. Also, we take into account the fact that at some very competitive schools it is very difficult to achieve a high GPA.
  • Letters of recommendation: Letters must give a detailed, factual, and candid evaluation of the applicant's capabilities. Rankings and comparisons with other students are very useful. Ask your recommender to follow these guidelines. If your recommender is sending the letter directly, check to make sure the deadlines are met. We routinely find ourselves unable to admit potentially qualified students because their letters of recommendation have not arrived in time.
  • Research experience: Research experience, although not required, can boost your chances of admission considerably. If you have worked on a research project, please tell us about it and ask at least one of your recommenders to comment on it. If your work is part of a joint project, the recommender should indicate your specific contribution to the project. Include abstracts or reprints of any papers you have published in journals or presented at conferences.
  • General GRE scores: These scores let us compare the basic skills of applicants from diverse backgrounds. We are aware that: test performance can improve considerably with practice, some people do not perform well on tests, and the verbal GRE is harder for some foreign applicants.
  • TOEFL and IELTS scores: Applicants whose native language is not English and who have not received a college degree from an institution in an English-speaking country must take the TOEFL exam. Additional evidence (e.g., certificate of completion of an English course) may also be submitted. We generally do not consider applicants who have scored below 620 (PBT) or 260 (CBT) or 105 (IBT), and prefer scores higher than that. The corresponding minimum IELTS score is 7.
  • Statement: The statement that accompanies your application helps us learn more about you. Tell us why you want to pursue a PhD program in computational biology, and why you are applying to our Center in particular. Clearly expressing any areas of academic interest make it easier for us to evaluate your application.
  • Work experience: Please describe your work experience in the application and, if related to computational biology, mention how you think it will help you in graduate school.
  • Awards, honors, and prizes: Unless they are well known (e.g., NSF fellowship or graduation with honors), please give details about them (how many candidates? how many awards? what were the selection criteria?). This is especially important for foreign applicants. If these awards are really important, we would expect your recommenders to mention them.

Q: Can I still apply if I cannot have the full application ready by the deadline?

A: While we will process incomplete applications, we do make our financial support decisions early in the year. Therefore, late applicants significantly hurt their ability to get financial support. Note that we need a complete application, including letters of recommendation and OFFICIAL SCORE REPORTS, before we can make admission and financial support decisions. Therefore, please give your letter writers enough time to write and mail your letters of support!

Q: Can I apply at other times of the year? Can I enter in the winter quarter?

A: All PhD students must enter the program at the same time (at the beginning of the fall semester, in September). Consequently, there is only one application deadline also.

Q: I cannot afford the application fee. Can you waive it?

A: The Graduate School can waive this fee, but does so only for U.S. citizens on the basis on verifiable need. To request a waiver, write to the Graduate School (or send email to Graduate_fee_waiver@brown.edu) explaining your situation. If your request is denied, your application is kept on hold during the application process and is reactivated if the application fee is paid.

Q: Does a request for financial aid affect my chances of being admitted?

A: No. Admission and funding are handled independently. We admit all PhD students (including international students) with financial support.

Q: Do I have to pick an advisor prior to entry?

A: No. You have the first year to find a PhD advisor, which you do through courses, seminars, group meetings and other contact. We do not require you to pick an advisor prior to entry. (In contrast, some of our competitors force you to align with a particular advisor, whom you may have never met and whose work may not entirely interest you, before you begin.)

Do note, however, that your graduate application will be stronger if you have some idea of what you want to do. If you do have such plans, please discuss them in your application statement. Try to be specific; simply listing the names of lots of professors, without providing concrete reasons for why you are interested in their work, is not likely to help your case.

Q: May I apply using a paper application?

A: We strongly prefer that you complete the online application.  We no longer print paper applications. However, you may print the application PDF, which is located on the Graduate School website.

Q: Are photocopies or faxes of any of the application materials acceptable?

A: Photocopies and faxes are acceptable only as place-holders in the initial application; original documents are required to complete your application. Please send all documents to the Graduate School, not the Center for Computational Molecular Biology.

Q: Can I contact the Graduate School by phone or electronic mail?

A: The graduate school's contact information is provided at www.brown.edu/academics/gradschool.

Q: Should I use the institution code, the department code or both for the GRE and TOEFL?

A: Only the GRE institution code 3094 is needed. Note that answers to these questions and many like them may be found at our graduate school website: www.brown.edu/academics/gradschool.

Q: Have you received all my application materials?

A: Please refer to the online application system, which will indicate if your letters of recommendation have been received.

Q: Where do I send my transcripts, score reports, etc?

A: Please send supplemental materials to: Brown Graduate School, 47 George Street, Box 1867, Providence, RI 02912.

Q: Who decides whom to admit?

A: Admissions are granted by the Graduate School of Brown University. Operationally, the CCMB evaluates your application and makes recommendations to the Graduate School, which normally adopts our recommendations. Therefore, you are generating your application (in particular, your statement) to be read primarily by faculty of the Center.

Q: What if I have other questions?

A: You can email the center at ccmb@brown.edu. Please be sure to mention that your question is about PhD admissions for the CCMB.