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Advice from Amanda E. Hargrove


Assistant Professor
Chemistry and Biochemistry

How do you start researching PhD programs?

Think about what types of research you are most interested in, and then look for programs that offer those options. You want to identify places that have multiple PI’s asking questions that fascinate you and you’d love to work on. Research mentors and professors at your current institution are great resources for ideas of places to look. Ask as many people as possible!

What should you look for in a PhD program?

In addition to multiple research groups of interest (mentioned above), you’ll want to make sure the culture is one that will allow you to be as productive as possible. For most people, this means specific programs to help first year graduate students acclimate, rotations, etc. as well as career and support resources. Look at the students who are there and who you meet - are they people who you want to be?

What questions should you ask in your campus visits?

Ask about research! See how people talk about it, what they are excited about, and how they respond to questions. Ask graduate students what they love and what they would change. Ask what they do outside of lab (just to make sure there is something). What department and university resources exist to help you succeed? What have students taken advantage of?

What are some common pitfalls to avoid in the application process?

Your personal statement should be a balance of personal and research experience. What draws you to research? Research is tough and often fails - what challenges, however small, have you overcome that could show how you overcome setbacks and failures?Common pitfalls include being entirely personal or entirely research-based. Personalize them as possible, but remember the worst is when a student personalizes for the wrong university! Make sure you have as many people read your statement and provide feedback as possible. If it feels like no one else has read it or it was hastily put together, it will appear that you do not care.