During the process of writing my mere fifteen applications to American schools for doctorate programs in the biophysical sciences (ranging from molecular and cell biology all the way to astrobiology), I have learned a lot about myself. I have had to write eighteen lengthy essays detailing my scientific past and future, and what I specifically anticipate from each and every institution to which I am applying. I believe that it is the nature of the process to become increasingly introspective, and to have your insecurities brought to light.
I will be the first person to admit that my undergraduate marks are not great. They are what I frequently refer to as “meh.” During my undergraduate, I lost academic focus and put more emphasis on the people that I met and the extra-curricular activities I was involved with. I do not consider this a bad thing, because I have met some wonderful people as a result, but in hindsight a little more attention paid to my marks would help me in the current process. Do not get me wrong, I have at least the minimum required grades for these programs, but in some cases… barely. I have heard mixed opinions from people on this matter, “Brian, you already have a Masters degree in your already specialized field, your GPA will not be as important;” “Brian, they use it as a bottom line, and as long as you are above their minimum, they look at your achievements and experience;” “Brian, you are incredibly smart. Don’t worry, your grades will not matter.”
According to certain principal investigators, however, grades are of the utmost importance. Perhaps it is a good thing that I do not have a 4.00CGPA, because even if I did I would not want to work with the scientists that value that number as a measure of competence. If anything, I seek an experience where I can be evaluated on my motivation, enthusiasm, work-ethic, and true academic potential.
Other than this small part, I have what I would consider to be a strong application. My concern and anxiety lies in the decision process; will investigators see this number and say, “well this candidate is clearly inadequate?” It’s difficult, because really the problem lies with my having been evaluated as a number and only having had the experience of being tested through answering either a, b, c, d, or e as an undergraduate at McGill. I prefer a comprehensive, detailed, and systematic approach, and my track record is very strong in this regard. This is the case in scientific research. Hence, this is why I am applying to doctorate programs in the first place. Also, this is why I completed a Masters degree.
So, is it possible that my academic future is going to be prevented by the one intellectual trait that, ironically, actually makes a strong scientist?
We shall see.