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Advice from Melyssa Minto


Ph.D. Student
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics

How do you start researching PhD programs?

At the beginning of senior year, I started looking into PhD programs. You have to prioritize what is important to you whether it is the faculty, research focus, location, etc. For me, location and research focus were really important. I looked at the PhD programs that fit my research interest in the Triangle and from there I identified faculty within the programs that I wanted to work with by reading through their current research. For the faculty that I felt strongly about, I emailed them about my interest, attached my CV and asked them for recommendations for my application. While most of them did not offer any hard advice, it was good opportunity to ask more questions about their research and to get my name floating around.

What should you look for in a PhD program?

Graduate school is a huge commitment so you want to make sure you choose an environment where you will be happy in and have opportunity to grow. Most times programs that satisfy that are flexible to requirements and milestones, diverse both culturally and intellectually, and highly collaborative both within the institution and with surrounding institutions. You should also look into the course requirements and prerequisites and the average time a student spends in the program. Most programs have pre-requisites and it’s okay if you have not completed them. If you haven’t, reach out to the program coordinator and ask if there is any flexibility in the prerequisites.

What questions should you ask in your campus visits?

Once you have vetted the program content wise, you want to also want to make sure that it is somewhere you can feel safe, build a community, and have fun! You should ask about housing conditions and affordability, how the current graduate students feel about the program and their lab, and about the social aspects of the surrounding area. Then depending on your personality, determine if the “vibe” of the institution and its location is a good fit for you. 

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

When I was applying I spent months revising my personal statement. In your personal statement, you want to make a huge effort in writing about why the specific program is the next step in your career. Spend some time talking about your qualifications but don’t forget to mention some of the faculty that you would want to work with. This will show that you have researched the program well and you are confident in what your interests are.