Graduate School Application Guide

Interested in applying to the USU Biology Graduate Program?

Wonderful! Graduate training is an integral part of our Mission. We offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Biology, Ecology, or Neuroscience. Research in our department spans all areas of biology, including biogeochemistry, cell signaling, conservation biology, ecology, animal behavior, evolution and systematics, genomics, insect biology and pest management, neurobiology, microbiology, molecular plant physiology, molecular and synthetic biology, physiology, plant and insect pathology, and public health.

All our students receive a guaranteed five years (PhD) and three years (MS) support package that includes salary, tuition waiver, and partial fees/insurance during the Academic Year, during which time they receive training and mentorship in research, teaching, as well as myriad opportunities for professional development. In addition, students can fund their research and education through competitive internal scholarships and grants. We also offer workshops geared specifically for graduate students to help them prepare grant proposals for external funding sources, like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

Our graduate students are active members of the Biology department. There are plenty of opportunities to become involved in department committees and student government. We are also deeply committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable community. There is a place for everyone in USU Biology, including first generation students and those from underrepresented backgrounds. There are a lot of resources available at USU and the surrounding community to support you during your time in Logan, UT. Some of these include: 

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Questions?
If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to contact our Graduate Program Coordinator, Metta Ray (grad.info@usu.edu) or our graduate student liaison, Skylar McDaniel (biograd.liaison@usu.edu).

1

Identify Potential Major Advisors

When? Typically, early Fall

  • Identify faculty members who research in your area of interest
    • Graduate programs at USU Biology are highly centered around advisor-student relationships. Acceptance into the USU Biology Graduate Program requires a faculty member agreeing to advise the student. Identifying and contacting a potential advisor is thus a critical part of the application process.
  • Not sure where to start? See the list of Biology Faculty actively recruiting new students. You can also reach out to our graduate student liaison who can help identify faculty who may fit your interests (biograd.liaison@usu.edu).
  • Send an email to introduce yourself
    • Once you have identified one or more potential advisors, send an email to introduce yourself. It is a good idea to include a CV and brief statement of interest. Let the potential advisor know why you are interested in their research and how you see yourself fitting into their lab. You could suggest a meeting to learn more about their research, describe your interests and goals, and get a sense of whether you could work well together. Here is a helpful guide for what to look for in a potential advisor. Keep in mind that graduate training is a highly individualized path that will be determined largely by interactions between you and your advisor. It is a good idea to make sure that you have a similar vision for research and could work well together.
  • Don’t see any openings that match your interests? Reach out anyway!
    • Even faculty who are not actively recruiting for a specific project may be willing to work with potential students to find funding opportunities. It can’t hurt to reach out to introduce yourself, as these faculty may keep you in mind for future opportunities as they arise, even if they are not accepting students at this time. Here is a full list of Biology faculty with links to their research websites or posters.

 

 
2

Complete the application

When? Typically, late fall (December 15 is the deadline for full funding consideration)

Once you have identified a potential advisor, and they have encouraged you to apply, it is time to complete your application through the USU School of Graduate Studies.

  • Review the minimum requirements
    • Don’t meet the minimum requirements? Don’t worry too much about that for now. In some circumstances, these can be waived. Your potential advisor may have a sense of how likely you are to receive a waiver.
    • Note that we no longer require GRE scores, but you will still have the option to upload them if you would like.
  • Applying from outside the U.S.?
    • Great! USU Biology has graduate students from across the globe. You will need to complete a few extra steps during the application process, but the Office of Global Engagement is here to help you. You will need to submit some additional documents.
      • Proof of English language proficiency could include one of the following:
        • TOEFL score ≥ 71
        • IELTS Academic scores ≥ 6
        • USU’s Intensive English Language Institute’s placement exam ≥ 146
        • Completion of ≥ 24 credits of post-secondary or university course work taught in English in the U.S.
        • A certified English translation of any transcript originally penned in another language
      • Passport Copy
  • Be sure to specify the faculty member you would like to work with
  • Prepare the Biology specific requirements
    • Although you will fill out the standard USU application, the Biology department asks for a Statement of Purpose (SOP) to evaluate your fit for the potential advisor, preparedness for graduate study, and likelihood of success in graduate school at USU Biology. When asked for the SOP on the application form, you will be given the following prompt:
    • Please describe why you wish to attend graduate school in the USU Biology Department. As applicable, please address the following areas as they relate to your interests and experiences: Research Potential and Preparedness (e.g., short & long-term goals, alignment of goals with the Department and potential advisor, experience with independent research and scientific communication, relevant skills, teaching & mentoring, innovation & creativity, planning & organization, teamwork); Persistence & Commitment (e.g., leadership/community involvement, perseverance, independent learning including non-traditional formats, formation and use of a support network); Individuality (appraisal of strengths & weaknesses; personal and professional ethics).
  • Identify three people to write letters of recommendation on your behalf
    • Letters of recommendation are an important tool for us to evaluate your fit for USU Biology. It may be helpful to let them know why you want to attend USU and tell them this is what we will ask them to describe in their letter:
    • As applicable, please address the following areas as they may relate to your knowledge of the applicant: Research Potential and Preparedness (e.g., short & long-term goals, alignment of goals with the Department and potential advisor, experience with independent research and scientific communication, relevant skills, teaching & mentoring, innovation & creativity, planning & organization, teamwork); Persistence & Commitment (e.g., leadership/community involvement, perseverance, independent learning including non-traditional formats, formation and use of a support network); Individuality (appraisal of strengths & weaknesses; personal and professional ethics).
  • Arrange for transcripts to be sent
  • Upload your Curriculum Vitae (CV)
    • This is like a resume but is more specifically geared toward academic preparedness. There are many styles of CVs. You might find this "Guide to Writing a Curriculum Vitae" helpful in preparing yours.
  • Check to make sure your application is complete
    • Your application will not be evaluated until we have received each component. Please check in with your letter writers to ensure they submit their letters on time. Fee waivers may be available under certain circumstances. If you require a fee waiver, please send an email to grad.info@usu.edu with a brief justification (1-2 sentences) for the request and the name of the potential faculty advisor to whom you are applying to work with.

 

 
3

Visit us!

When? Typically, mid-February

After reviewing all the completed applications, faculty members will be asked who they would like to invite to the USU Weekend Visit. The Graduate Program Committee will then send invitations to prospective students, depending on the total number of slots available. The Weekend Visit is an excellent opportunity for you to become familiar with USU, the Department of Biology, and the surrounding area. You will typically stay with a graduate student in the department so that you will get a taste of what life is like living as a graduate student in Logan, UT. There will be several department events, student events, and even opportunities for recreational activities. You will also get a chance to have short one-on-one conversations with several faculty members in the department and plenty of time with your prospective lab. Invitations are typically sent in mid-January.

Importantly, attending the Weekend Visit is not a requirement for acceptance. There are several scenarios under which you may end up being accepted to the program even if you are not invited to the Weekend Visit. For example, you may already be familiar with USU and do not need or wish to attend, there may be fewer spots available for the Weekend Visit than spots available to accept students. We encourage most of our prospective students to attend the Weekend Visit, but it is not necessary for acceptance to the program.

 

 
4

Await notification

When? Typically, early March

Faculty members will evaluate each applicant to their lab according to a holistic evaluation rubric (below). They will also select at least one other faculty member to meet with and evaluate the applicant according to the rubric. This will likely be someone that the prospective student met with during the Weekend Visit. If the applicant did not attend the Weekend Visit, they may schedule a separate interview via zoom or phone. The Graduate Program Committee will meet to determine how many applicants can be accepted, based on funding availability. The final list of candidates recommended for acceptance will be sent to the Department Head and the Graduate School for approval. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out as soon as possible in March. The notification will include details of your funding package. If accepted, you will have until April 15 to declare your intent to enroll the following Fall term. New students are typically expected to arrive in Logan by August 15.

Holistic Evaluation Rubric

Persistence & Commitment

Attribute Strong evidence Some evidence Not evident
Support Person Availability Can define a professional support network including mentors Expresses support from one individual, or family, or community Expresses little or no support from family or institution for goals
Leadership / Community Involvement Demonstrates involvement and leadership ability in either academics, family, community, religious group, or athletics Demonstrates involvement in groups in academia or extramural but has not shown leadership Not involved in institutional or community group, no demonstrated leadership
Non-traditional Learning / Initiative Has engaged in, and learned from, experiences outside the classroom, i.e., performed independent research, extramural activities, self-taught skills Shows some evidence of non-traditional learning experience Has not engaged in or indicated learning from experiences outside the classroom
Perseverance Can describe a time they failed or encountered an obstacle and successfully coped Can identify a time they hit an obstacle but has trouble defining how they overcame the challenge Has little experience with failure/obstacles. Cannot provide an example or describe response

Individuality

Attribute Strong evidence Some evidence Not evident
Positive Self-Concept Expresses confidence they can complete challenging goals, makes positive statements about abilities Shows confidence and independence but may be unsure about adequacy or skills Is unsure they can complete the program, exhibits low self-esteem
Realistic Self-Appraisal Can clearly and realistically delineate strengths and weaknesses, works on self-development Has trouble identifying strengths and weaknesses but appreciates/seeks both positive and negative feedback Over or understates abilities, does little to no self-assessment, does not appear to have learned from experiences
Personal and professional ethics Can very clearly describe ethics within self and within a professional setting; also letter writers describe clear demonstration of integrity  Describes some ethics within self or professionally; alternatively, letter writers describe clear demonstration of integrity  Has very little to no ethics professionally or within self 

Research Potential

Attribute Strong evidence Some evidence Not evident
Preference for long vs. short term goals Clearly communicates long-range goals beyond graduate school Primary goal is graduate degree Is vague about long-term goals or goals are short term such as coursework or a specific project
Alignment of goals Stated goals are well aligned with the strengths and mission of the Biology Department and potential advisor Stated goals are aligned with the goals of the potential advisor, but are somewhat outside the strengths and mission of the Biology Department Stated goals are not well aligned with those of the potential advisor or the Biology Department
Research Experience Has led in independent research Has participated in directed research No relevant research experience
Scientific communications - Publications Has submitted a first-author publication Has coauthored a publication Has not participated in the publication process
Scientific communication - Presentations Has presented research to a scientific audience in the form of an oral presentation Has presented research to a scientific audience in the form of a poster presentation Has not presented research to a scientific audience
Teaching & mentoring skills Has experience teaching and mentoring with clear demonstration of positive outcomes  Has experience teaching or mentoring, perhaps some demonstration of positive outcomes No experience teaching or mentoring or no indication of positive outcomes
Innovation & creativity Several examples of problem solving in research Some indication that applicant may be good at problem solving No indication that applicant is good at problem solving in research
Planning & organization Indication of ability to track research projects, data, and results Has experience organizing either data or multiple projects with success No indication of ability to track research projects, data, or results in an organized manner
Teamwork Clear demonstration of ability to effectively function as a member of a research team in both leadership and supporting roles Some indication of ability to effectively function as a member of a research team in either leadership or supporting roles No indication of ability to effective function as a member of a team

Academic Performance

Attribute Strong evidence Some evidence Not evident
Coursework Has succeeded in a broad range of coursework that will provide a solid foundation for graduate work in Biology and has achieved high grades in the relevant classes Some key courses are missing or grades are low in some areas, but an upward trajectory in performance is notable Many key courses missing or grades consistently low
Recognition Consistent record of scholastic achievement in the form of Dean List, Honors, Awards, or Scholarship throughout college. May also be noted in LoR (e.g., top 1% of class) Some recognition of scholastic achievement noted toward the end of college education demonstrates an upward trajectory. Scholastic achievement has not been formally recognized
Writing Skills Statement of purpose is well written and conveys clear message Statement of purpose conveys message, but the quality or organization of the writing could be improved The message conveyed by the statement of purpose is not clear and the writing is of poor quality