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Senior Profiles

Application Timeline

Feeling overwhelmed about what steps need to be taken when? Take a look at a helpful timeline to aid you in prioritizing the various steps in the application process.

Senior Profiles, 2009

C. Higgins  C. Jacowski  C. Lazar  L. Lilley
M. Morrissey   B. O’Rourke  M. Stein  S. Sullivan

Chris Higgins

List of Schools I applied to:

UNC-Chapel Hill (accepted, attending)
Northwestern IGP (accepted)
UC Santa Barbara (accepted)
University of Minnesota- Twin Cities (accepted)
Boston College (accepted)
Duke University (interviewed, wait listed, withdrew application)
Harvard BBS (rejected)
UCSF TETRAD (rejected)
MIT Biology (rejected)
Stanford Biochemistry (rejected)

Why I applied where I did and why I chose UNC: Part of the reason I applied to so many places is because my girlfriend (now fiancée) was also applying to graduate programs (in ecology/evolution/marine biology) and we were doing our best to wind up in the same neck of the woods. So, our strategy was to both apply to a few different schools in a few different geographic areas. I was told by several people (PIs) that it was worth aiming high and applying to a couple of the really high-powered places, because you never know what can happen. That explains UCSF, MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. It didn’t quite work out for me, but it might still be good advice. Either way, unless you have the luxury of what Martin Tenniswood would call, “the bank of Dad” (i.e., your parents bankrolling your app fees) this is a pretty expensive proposition (around $70-100 app).

I ended up choosing UNC both because I like it here (I’m doing a summer rotation now) and because of necessity (it was the only place where both my fiancée and I were accepted). In the end I was sort of left up to a choice between UNC and Duke. It wasn’t really a choice though, because I was wait listed by Duke. I ended up deciding on UNC and taking myself off Duke’s wait list. After visiting both schools, I liked the graduate students more at UNC and I thought that they had more to offer in my area of interest. I also liked Chapel Hill more than Durham.

Research experience: At ND, I worked under Ted Hinchcliffe for Cell Research Lab and then for three semesters and a summer REU doing undergrad research. I really enjoyed my project there. It made me want to continue working in the cytoskeleton. UNC has probably the highest concentation of cytoskeleton researchers per capita out of anywhere in the country (if you’re interested check out Another nice thing about UNC is the fact that cost of living in Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Durham is very feasible for a grad student.

Good courses: I’m really glad that I took Dr. Huber’s Molecular Biology course. It was pretty challenging, and it’s taught on a different level than most of what you have probably taken so far. The Vaughan/Hinchcliffe show (Advanced Cell Biology) was fun also, and it was a good way to get some exposure to the literature.

Advice about interviews: don’t go all-out Saturday-night-at-the-Backer-crazy on the free beer (yes, there’s usually free beer), it’s probably not good PR.

Advice about the GRE subject test: the biochemistry part of the Biochemistry, Cell, Molecular test is really hard if you haven’t taken Biochemistry.

Advice about emailing faculty: It’s probably a good idea to email people one at a time and wait for a response rather than sending out similar emails to two or three people at a given place. I once emailed two different PIs with similar emails one right after the other. The PIs were such close friends, that one actually forwarded my email to the other one who now had two copies of essentially the same email. Suffice it to say, I was henceforth known as “the spammer.” In all honesty though, it probably does not hurt to email faculty (I now work in the lab of one of those PIs mentioned above).

Stuff that I wish I knew more about before grad school: Gene cloning. If you haven’t done much cloning in your undergrad research at Notre Dame, you might be in for a rude awakening. It is much harder than it was with RdgB in sophomore genetics lab, and it will probably help if you have some experience with cloning before you get to grad school (it’s almost ubiquitous).

Caitlin Jacowski

Personal Statement - e-mail Dr. Whaley for statement

Schools I applied to had different requirements for personal statements. Some wanted one full personal statement while others broke it up into 3 different sections: Past Research, Research Interests, and Future Research goals. I wrote one statement and then if the later form was required I took out the appropriate paragraphs from the total statement and inserted them that way. I have attached my sample statement from OHSU. Stu Ravnik aslo gave me the following advice when writing a personal statement:

“Your research statement needs to be detailed enough for us to be able to evaluate your science and your potential. What I like to see is a pretty detailed description. It needs to include your hypothesis/goal and how that fits with the goal of the lab, a short statement on background and significance so we can see how it fits with the field, and then tell us about the questions you are asking. What experiments did you do (not buffers and techniques) but as you have below “Using immunohistochemistry, we examined the endogenous localization of this protein…” So this is very good. Now give us some more details. What did you find? What did the research show. How do you interpret the data, etc."

List of schools I applied to, and where I got interviews and acceptances

School Interview Accepted
University of Colorado Health Science Center X  
University of Washington    
Oregon Health & Science University X X
Washington University at St. Louis    
University of Wisconsin    
UT Southwestern X X
U. Illinois Chicago X  
Baylor College of Medicine X  
Boston University    

School I chose and why
I chose to go to OHSU. I chose to go here because I really liked the program and how hands-on it is. I also chose to go here because they had the most people doing research I was interested in and one specific person I was very interested in working with.

Courses that prepared me for grad school and advice on course selection
The Independent research cell bio lab was the most influential in my decision to apply to grad school and I think it prepared me the best. I also took a grad level class which I believe helped me better understand what grad school would be like…this isn’t necessary but it was definitely helpful. Take any courses related to the field you want to go into ex: I took Dr. Li’s neuroscience class because I was applying to neuroscience programs. Other than that I think the general biology curriculum prepared me very well. I suggest looking at the pre reqs for the schools you are applying to because many of them have specifics that you should know about before applying to make sure you can fit them into your schedule and you have all them. The other thing that really helped me specifically for neuroscience programs was the ability to take Physio Psych and Learning and Memory.

Research I did as an undergraduate
I did the cell bio research lab. I then did a summer of research with Dr. Tseng at U. Colorado Health Science Center (muscular dystrophy reserach). I then worked for Dr. Molly Scheel from Aug ’07 – May ’09 including over the summer thru a scholarship I got from the biology department (developmental biology lab looking at nervous system development in mosquitoes).

Caitlin Lazar

Personal Statements - e-mail Dr. Whaley for statement

List of Schools I applied to

Yale (accepted)
UPENN (accepted)
UCSD (accepted)
UC Santa Cruz (accepted)
UC Berkeley (rejected)
Columbia (accepted)
Weill Cornell (accepted)
Vanderbilt (withdrew application…got an interview)
NYU (withdrew application…got an interview)
Boston College (accepted)
Northwestern (withdrew application…got an interview)

I think something that needs to be stressed is the importance of recommendations. I was told those are almost as important as grades and GRE scores.

Lauren Lilley

Personal Statement - e-mail Dr. Whaley for statement

When beginning to apply to graduate school, I was all over the place in schools that I was considering. Because I didn’t have a focused research interest or field, I considered only schools that had umbrella programs that offered a wide variety of science to choose from for rotations/thesis lab. I probably had too many backup schools or at least attend too many interviews—they get very taxing after a few weekends. Do not attend an interview unless you know you would go to the school. If you’re already accepted at a school that you would attend before another, don’t waste your (or the other school’s) time on the interview.

School Interview Accepted
Cold Spring Harbor X No
Duke—CMB X X
Northwestern—IGP X X
Weil Cornell X X
Emory X X
Vanderbilt X but didn’t attend NA

I am attending Duke. I chose Duke over my other acceptances for a variety of reasons. Due to my lack of research interest focus, I was picking on reputation and flexibility of programs. I ended up choosing between Duke and Cornell, ultimately. Importantly, I felt that there was the largest concentration of science I am interested in at Duke. Less importantly, but not to be ignored, I wasn’t sure how hapy I would be living in NYC for several years.

I can’t speak to my preparation for graduate school seeing as I haven’t started yet. I did take Molecular Biology with Dr. Huber and Advanced Cell Biology with Dr. Vaughan, both of which are graduate level biology courses and seemed to impress people in my interviews. Dr. Vaughan offered a course for seniors my second semester for which we had to write a grant, which also seemed impressive to interviewers and I’m sure will be beneficial. I would suggest taking as many courses in your stated research interest as possible (even though I didn’t have an interest)—this will show you are really interested in what you (think) you want to go into to and will also let you know if you’re really not that interested before you start wasting time on rotations.

My research experience, which is the most important part of your application and interview, consisted of Cell Biology Research Lab, 3 semesters, and an REU in the Hyde lab. Some interviewers ask very intense and difficult questions about your research, so definitely review anything that you might have mentioned in your personal statement or will come up in an interview.

Meghan Morrissey

Personal Statement - e-mail Dr. Whaley for statement

Above is the statement I sent to Duke. This statement includes strengths and weaknesses because that is what the prompt wanted.

School Interview Accepted
Duke, UNC – Chapel Hill X X
Rockefeller X X
UC San Diego X X
Columbia X X
Weill Cornell X X

Which school I chose and why: I really liked all of the schools I interviewed at. Each school
had a few faculty that I really enjoyed talking to. I applied to Duke because they have a strong umbrella program. The CMB program is only about 15 students, but the students can rotate with anyone at Duke. In addition, the cost of living in Durham is really low and the program has a good stipend. They also offered me an additional fellowship, and I liked the location of the school.

Courses that prepared me for graduate school:

- 241 Cell Lab — my first research experience; it convinced me that I belonged in research
- Molecular Biology — It is an undergrad biochem course and a grad level bio elective focused on application instead of memorization. Excellent preparation for grad school and made it much easier for me to talk about molecular biology at my interviews

Undergraduate research experience:

- 1 semester in 241 with Ted Hinchcliffe and then another semester in his lab after the course
- One summer and all of senior year in Dr Vaughan’s lab

Brian O’Rourke

Personal Statement - e-mail Dr. Whaley for statement


 I will be going to Albert Einstein College of Medicine for the Ph.D in Biomedical Sciences. I applied there because they had several scientists working on projects I was already interested in. I chose to go there because on the visit the people seemed very intelligent and normal; a very important mix.


Michelle Stein

Applied to: University of Michigan (PIBS program), University of Wisconsin-Madison (Genetics program) Duke (CMB program) Northwestern (IGP), Yale (BBS program), and UChicago (Molecular Biosciences division). 
Got interviews at all schools, did not attend Yale's interview. 
Got accepted to all of the schools where I interviewed. 

About the GRE:
A subject test was not required at any of the schools I eventually applied to, I just took it in case I applied to schools that needed the test. Since I scored well, I wound up submitting the score to all of the schools I applied to, because I figured it couldn't hurt.

Sarah Sullivan

Writing Sample


School Interview Accepted
Duke X X
University of Minnesota X X
Univerisity of California-Irvine X but didn’t attend  
Dartmouth X but didn’t attend  
Johns Hopkins X X
Washington University in St. Louis X X
University of Wisconsin    

I got into every school I interviewed at and decided to attend Duke. I decided to attend Duke because I could talk to the professors and the current students. They actually seemed like normal people, which can be hard to find in science sometimes! I got a good feeling while I was there and they really took the time to give us a tour around the city and the campus. I basically chose the grad school that I felt most comfortable at, it was kind of a gut feeling!

I found that a bunch of schools wanted to see that you take Biochem and Biostats along with Genetics, Cell Bio, and the ones that are already required by ND. Taking a graduate level course doesn’t hurt either.

My undergraduate research included the sophomore Independent Cell Research Lab with Dr. Whaley and our group was advised by Dr. Bohlson. After that lab, I was invited to continue to research with her and worked in her lab all junior and senior year. I also had a summer internship after sophomore year at the University of Connecticut (I am from CT) and stayed at Notre Dame after junior year with the Clare Luce Booth Fellowship to work in Dr. Bohlson’s lab.