Application Advice

Here we have collected advice from our faculty and students about the various pieces of the application process. We hope they will be helpful!

Personal Statement

Why a PhD in this field? What motivates you to pursue a PhD, and specifically in this field (e.g. Neuroscience)? How have your past experiences prepared you for what you want to do?

Make your scientific contributions clear. Summarize your previous research experiences, but also be sure to emphasize your independent contributions to each project. 

Tailor your statements to each school – although it doesn’t need to be a dramatically different statement for each. One method would be having one paragraph within the statement that you use to customize. We suggest including:

  • Unique opportunities offered by the program and/or school that you want to take advantage of.
  • 2-4 faculty you would potentially be interested in working with based on your research interests.

Show, don’t tell. Do you value collaborative science or open access? Do you want to demonstrate your curiosity, perseverance, or leadership? Use concrete examples to communicate your skills and values.

Own your struggles. Graduate school can be challenging. Describing how you have worked to overcome challenges, independent projects, and your enthusiasm/curiosity for the kind of work you are looking to do are all things to think about. Perhaps you don’t have strong grades or you had to take time off or had little access to research opportunities. You can address these in your personal statement. But be cautious! Don’t dwell too much on negatives.

Get feedback. Have people both in and out of your lab read your statement and give you feedback. The people in your lab can make sure it is accurate and makes sense, but people on the outside can make sure it is clear to non-experts. Ask for multiple rounds of feedback if you can.


Letters of Recommendation

Give your recommenders time. You should ask for letters of recommendation 1-2 months before the deadline. Send them a reminder 2 weeks before the deadline. Follow up again as the deadline approaches if you still do not have confirmation of submission.

Provide them with all the information they need.

  • Make sure letter writers have clear instructions as to how they will submit their letter. 
  • Send your CV and draft of your personal statement.
  • If there is something specific you want the letter writer to emphasize based on your experience with them, let them know.

Find letter writers who know you, with a specific emphasis on your ability to do research. The primary person you should get a letter from is the faculty (or non-academic research supervisor) with which you had the most extensive research experience.