Applying to PhD Programs
**Applying to PhD Programs** ----------- ---------- Are you a prospective PhD student interested in joining the Aly Lab? Then this page is for you! Answers to frequently asked questions are below. Make sure to scroll to the very end for a list of resources and tips! ---------- *Is the Aly Lab right for me?* Great question! [Check out our website] to learn more about our latest research. Then read our [lab manual] to find out what our lab culture is like, what the expectations are for grad students, and what kind of mentor Dr. Aly is (or tries her best to be)! Our lab will be a good fit for you if (1) you find our research exciting and (2) you think that our lab culture / philosophy works well with your personality and needs. Of course, whether you ultimately decide to work in our lab should also be affected by geography (do you want to live in NYC / the US?), fit with other lab / department members (during your interview, do you feel comfortable with us? do you feel welcome and respected?), and the various benefits we offer (e.g., consider salary/stipend, teaching load, health insurance coverage, housing, leave policies, etc). To find out more, you are completely free to ask past and current Aly Lab members about their experiences in the lab, and ask as many questions as you'd like during your interview or before you apply. Also check out the Columbia University [Department of Psychology] website to learn more about the department, requirements in the PhD program, and details about the application. Dr. Aly mostly takes students through Psychology, where the model is that students are admitted to work in individual labs (i.e., no rotations). This is different from the [Neurobiology and Behavior] program, where students do rotations in different labs before selecting one. ---------- *I want to get on Dr. Aly's radar before I submit my application. How do I do that?* Send Dr. Aly an email! She is always happy to hear from prospective students. In fact, she highly encourages prospective students to email her before applying. That way, you can find out if she will be accepting students that year and whether your interests and experiences fit with her lab's current goals. Just drop her a note with a few sentences about your current position and interests, and attach your CV. Make sure to let her know which program you are considering applying through (she mainly takes students through Psychology). ---------- *How do I make my research statement as strong as possible?* Dr. Aly is interested in seeing your enthusiasm and creative thinking about areas her lab studies. If you have particular questions you are keen to explore during your PhD, feel free to tell her a few of them. Past research experience is great, but it does not substitute for creative and critical thinking, willingness to learn, and knowledge of the general field. Likewise, prior programming experience is a strength, but not essential. We love to hear from students who have passion for memory research, and have thought about what they want to study. No need to have highly detailed plans in place — Dr. Aly would just like to hear about some general areas of inquiry that you are curious to study. Dr. Aly would also like to hear about your past research experience, if any. Do not simply list what is already on your CV, though. Tell her a little bit about *why* you became interested in that research question, *how* you tackled that question, *what* you learned, and *what* you might want to do differently in the future. Furthermore, how did your past experiences inform your current interests? You should also have a section in your research statement describing what attracted you to Columbia University and to Dr. Aly's lab in particular. What would you like to learn in the Aly Lab and what do you hope to contribute? What is special about the Aly Lab and/or Columbia? If you are interested in other labs too, that's great — feel free to mention them too! But make clear which lab(s) are those of primary interest and which you would like to learn from or collaborate with on the side. It's a good idea to list at least one other lab in the Department of Psychology, because at least two faculty need to be interested in working with you in order for you to be interviewed and accepted into the program. ---------- *How big of a deal are my GREs and grades?* Note: the below is the opinion of Dr. Aly and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of other faculty members. Dr. Aly does not heavily consider the GREs. There is currently a debate about the merits and demerits of the GRE, and there are valid arguments on both sides. If the GRE is required by the department, Dr. Aly will look at it but not give it heavy weight. In other words, a low GRE will not doom you, and a high GRE will not lift up an otherwise weak application. The same is true for grades. Low grades will not necessarily hurt your chances. However, if your GPA is low, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances. First, have at least one of your letter writers comment on your GPA (note: you can also ask your letter writers to comment on a low GRE score). Ask them to acknowledge your GPA (or GRE) and then state whether or not it is an accurate reflection of your abilities (it is likely *not* an accurate reflection of your abilities). If you are comfortable with it, either you or them can comment on the reasons for the low GPA or GRE (e.g., having little time to devote to studying because of a full- or part-time job, having family to take care of, test anxiety, etc). This is *not* required, but you can do it if you are ok with it. Finally, point out parts of your grades you want to bring attention to. Did your GPA increase over time? Did you get high grades in psychology or neuroscience classes? Those would be good things to raise awareness of. ---------- *How do I choose my letter writers?* Note: the below is the opinion of Dr. Aly and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of other faculty members. The best letter writer is not necessarily the most 'famous' person you know or one with the title of Professor. The best letter writers know you very well and can talk in depth about your strengths. Letters that don't do you justice can include a lukewarm letter from a well-known person, or a letter that lacks detail because the person doesn't know you very well. Detailed letters from people who know you well, and think highly of you, are ideal. If that person is a post-doc, a boss outside of academia, etc, that is ok. However, at least one of your letters should come from a mentor / professor in academia, if such a person is available. ---------- *What is the funding situation for graduate students?* The following applies only to Psychology, the program through which Dr. Aly admits graduate students. Psychology graduate students are guaranteed five years of funding (a stipend and tuition coverage), but they have to serve as a teaching assistant once per academic year. More information about the stipend can be found [here]. You are not required to bring in your own funding, although you will be encouraged to write grants to gain experience in the process. ---------- *I'm an international student. Does that hurt my chances?* Not one bit! In the Department of Psychology at Columbia, there are no restrictions on the number of international graduate students we can admit. The Aly Lab has frequently interviewed and admitted international students. That said, Dr. Aly acknowledges that as an international student you may have very real concerns about living in the US at this moment in time. She is happy to discuss your concerns. ---------- *Does Columbia offer fee waivers for graduate school applications?* Yes! See [this website] to learn more about how to apply for a fee waiver (so that you don't have to pay to submit your application). ---------- *Additional Resources* Many of our colleagues have put together excellent resources on this topic. So we'll link to some of them below! <br> This Wiki page was inspired by Dr. Maureen Ritchey. Thanks, Maureen! [Check out her tips as well.] [How Applying to Graduate School Works], by Dr. Peter Sokol-Hessner [Navigating Grad School Admissions in Science], by Dr. Talia Lerner [PhD Resources and Tips] from the Department of Psychology at Harvard University [Applying to Psychology PhD Programs], tips from Kate Nussenbaum What I wish I had known about doing a PhD, from Growing Up in Science ([slides]) ([video recording]) [Yale Psychology Bootcamp] [APA Graduate School Symposium Resources] : https://www.alylab.org/ : https://github.com/alylab/labmanual : https://psychology.columbia.edu/content/prospective-students-2 : https://www.neurosciencephd.columbia.edu/content/prospective-students : https://psychology.columbia.edu/content/financial-support : https://gsas.columbia.edu/degree-programs/admissions/application-fee-waivers : http://www.thememolab.org/pages/gradapps/ : https://www.sokolhessnerlab.com/howapplyingworks : https://medium.com/@TaliaLerner/navigating-grad-school-admissions-in-science-c1972a9c0c0e : https://psychology.fas.harvard.edu/pro-tip : https://www.katenuss.com/advice/applying_to_phd/ : http://www.cns.nyu.edu/events/growingupinscience/files/GUIS_081020.pdf : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIRgBL-Ih7Y : https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1gafJs-eZb484AgD4lmKe_idgmULlcpfM?usp=sharing : https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1Q1Umf0zExDAn_guUI2ns73md3cOtLD7C
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