University of Minnesota
MICaB Graduate Program
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MICaB Ph.D. Program

What are features to consider when applying to doctoral programs?

  • Another way to ask this question is: what’s in it for me? You want to choose a doctoral program that trains you to be a top-notch scientist and allows you to transition successfully to the next stage in your career. Faculty performing high quality, cutting edge research are necessary but not sufficient for you to achieve these goals. The training environments of your chosen mentor and the program also profoundly impact your development as a scientist.

  • My definition of a scientist is an individual who can design well-controlled experiments to test non-trivial hypotheses. You want to choose a program that will allow you to develop into such an individual (see graph below). You should not be treated as a cog in a machine, performing tasks that are all directed from above. Such work is more suited to a technician. You want to take ownership of a project, drive it successfully, and get credit for doing so. Make sure your program and mentor allow you to do this.
  • Features

  • You want to look critically at the course requirements to see if they provide you with necessary background information in a reasonable amount of time. A Ph.D. degree is not earned in the classroom so you don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time there.

  • Determine what other requirements the program has. You may not be attracted to a program with a two-year teaching assistantship requirement, for example. Some teaching is great but too much time takes you out of the lab.

  • If you choose a program primarily because it has one faculty member with whom you wish to work, make sure that faculty member can and wants to mentor you. Have a “Plan B” in case this faculty member cannot be your mentor for whatever reason after you commit to the program.

  • Talk to the current students. Believe me, they will tell you all about the program. Ask about the program’s alumni – find out what they are doing now. Find out if there is an alumni network that you can tap for help in moving on to the next stages in your career.

  • Find out the average time to degree completion, and how you will be funded.

  • Finally, be proactive. This is your career. Apply to several programs and expect to visit them at their expense. Do your homework so that you are comfortable with your final decision.




Our Address

Microbiology, Immunology & Cancer Biology Ph.D. Graduate Program

University of Minnesota
Mayo Mail Code 196
Room 1460 Mayo Building, 420 Delaware St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455