Everything You Need to Know About PhD in Life Sciences

Raghuram Sukumar Study in USA 59 Comments

Following article  about PhD in Life Science was submitted by Moen Sen, PhD Candidate from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

The demand for Biology is at an all-time high in India. But, the immense hard work required and the long, erratic hours make almost all students bid adieu to it after their under-graduation.

And then there are some who don’t mind all that. Because to them it’s not ‘work’. It’s what they love doing.

Sadly, many such students have to grudgingly change track because they cannot afford higher education and have no guidance. If that’s you.. read on!

1.It’s not easy

But then again, if it was, everyone would be doing it!

It takes methodical preparation. Decide soon whether you want to pursue a PhD in the U.S.

Once you make that decision, let nothing change it.

Focus and prepare. Build up your C.V.

Work on your GRE. Do well in college.

Think- why should the U.S. want you?

A PhD is a big commitment. [ Explain it to Me – What is PhD ]

You will most likely be paid for it.

Universities will never take a risk with a PhD candidate.

Your SOP should abate their worries. They should feel secure and confident taking you.

Be creative. Do all that you love doing.

Your SOP should scream ‘YOU’.

Do not do anything just to decorate your C.V. That’s not honest.

And learning to be honest to yourself is one of the primary requirements of a PhD candidate.

2.Do not let ‘agony aunts’ sway you

In India, everyone has an opinion.

But just because Ajay’s brother’s wife’s sister’s friend’s husband went to Stanford does not mean you have to listen to him.

(HSB – Good one.. best advise)

Identify your area of interest and narrow down.

Consult professionals like USIEF or hunt students down who are already in the U.S.

Remember, 95% of the people who do come to the U.S. come for their masters. [Which is better – MS or PhD]

A PhD is a totally different ball game.

3.Do not be blind to ranking systems

In a country where getting into IIT or IMA takes precedence over everything else- your childhood, and your subject of interest , this is almost impossible to believe.

But remember, most Universities are ranked for their Undergraduate courses.

Even the ones that do rank according to your area of interest, only take Universities into account.

The shocker is that some of the best Hospitals in the US have PhD programs that go unnoticed.

Since we are talking about life sciences, this is extremely important. Most of the research facilities affiliated with Hospitals have excellent, world renowned faculty and lots of funding.

4. Be thorough

…With Everything.

Look into all the details of the University you have chosen.

Take into account the number of faculty doing research in your area of interest.

Remember, some of them may not be taking any students the year you join.

Find out about health insurance, cost of living and what the alumni is doing.

5.Listen to your heart

When it’s time to make a decision, listen to your heart.

Pick a program you ‘feel’ you will be happiest in.

The faculty may have seemed the friendliest.

The research probably excited you more.

Don’t let anyone influence your decision.

It takes 5-6 years to get a PhD. And the road is extremely tough.

Experiments may not work. Exams may not go well.

Your mice may just refuse to breed.

At times like that, Ajay’s brother’s wife’s sister’s friend’s husband who went to Stanford will not come to help you.

Choose a program that makes you happy.

Comments

  1. Thanks for a good article, Moen Sen.
    A question : Did you take up your PhD directly after a Bachelor’s?
    Good luck with your work!

      1. Dear Sen,

        I have done my M.Sc in Biochemistry and was the first rank holder of the university. Now, I want to do my Ph.D from a US university. I have done a research project during the last semester of my MSc. I do not have any research experience after that. I’m interested in areas like Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Immunology, cancer biology etc. I’m preparing for GRE and TOEFL now. Please write to me regarding the documents that is needed by the universities during the admission process. Do we have to send them a research proposal before applying? How was your proceedings during the admission process?
        One more thing- Our university provide transcripts in which the marks are given in %. Will this be a problem because most of the universities are asking the scores in GPA.
        Please reply.

  2. Dear HSB

    I wish to apply for masters in Pharmacoeconomics and Public Health in USA. I plan to break an year for GRE scores after my Bachelors in Pharmacy from the finest pharmacy school in India. I holds a very suitable resume in terms of research, internships, foreign research collaborations and more.
    Though my gpa is merely 7.
    Am I eligible to apply for a direct PhD course, or are there any MS-PhD integrated courses ?
    I will be glad to know about the universities still offering scholarships.
    Regards

    1. You can apply for a PhD if your undergraduate course was a four year course- like a B.Tech. If not, you need to do a masters

  3. Hi HSB
    I am Swetha, I did my Masters 4m reputed university in India. The post about [email protected] is very informative. My aim z 2 do PhD in Cancer biology in US. Its true that PhD is not that easy in foreign. My seniors who joined in top most univ left the course and gave up PhD. It shows the level of frustration in PhD life. Still, the for the one’s who aim 2 b in research field particularly in Molecular/Cancer/immuno-biology, i belive that PhD in US is an excellent platform.
    Thanks 4 posting on PhD in Life Sciences on HSB bolg.
    Swetha.

    1. Exactly you are right @Swetha my one of friend is also in MUSC and continue. I too move on same research area.

  4. Hello HSB

    I am about to finish my MS in DRA(Drug regulatory affairs) and graduate on may 10th 2012, I always had this dream of getting phd since my teenage days, after my 12th i got admit in B.pharmacy in a private college through merit therefore i had to pay fees which was of govt. college fees that was almost 80% less than all others had to pay and plus i didn’t have to pay any donation to get admit because of this college authorities had issues with me and even though the college was affiliated with university of pune, they still manage to fail me in at least 1 subject every year for first 3 years out of which i manage to clear all of them except the one subject of my 3rd year so even after successful passing on my final year in just one attempt i couldn’t graduate and had to give my 3rd year’s subject exam
    for 3 times and still didn’t clear and the fourth attempt was final and i was very worried but RTI was very much in effect that year and i through that i applied for getting my answer sheets of my last attempted exam and i found out they had completed completely removed my section 2 answer sheet and graded for only one section (section a + section b totals 80 marks for passing cumulative 32 marks is required) in which i had 30 marks. I took this to deans attention and he told me he will look in to this matter but after going to him several times traveling 320 Km up and down atleast thrice in a month for several months nothing changed until finally i was so mad i shouted at him in front of whole staff in university and threatened him if he did not resolve it now i will call media and immolate myself in university and hold u responsible for it he took me seriously and inquiry was placed and my missing answer section was found and i was graded and cleared the subject and finally was eligible to graduate even after that they took a lot of time to get my paper work done, i had to get my degree changed more than once cos they made error in typing my name , my college name etc, and it took 1 year and 4 months extra to get everything cleared up from passing to getting my paper work done than normal time after this i prepared for to go for maters in US
    i had not so good scores GRE 1180 and TOEFL 96 and got admit here i tried getting GA and any scholarship but couldn’t get any (lot of Indian students and professors here and lot of politics), i dont mind it that much now i will be graduating pretty soon with GPA of about 3.45. But i have utilized almost all of my funds from bank loan i have taken and my parents cant afford any more, so although i want to do phd, i m planning to first get a job so i can pay my debt to bank save some and then get a phd later, i need your advice on this, there is so much more i want to tell and write, whatever i wrote is true and just tip of the iceberg, i want to follow my dreams get into research but it has not been easy, i m still determine to get in research but right now i cant think straight and i need help. Thanks

    1. This seems like a very personal problem. Like I said, most PhD programs pay you. But I’m not sure it will be enough to pay back a loan. You will need to do some homework regarding how much your stipend may be, and how much you will spend. Also, please remember, a PhD is a long haul. Take advantage of the flexibility of the US education system.In my batch itself one of the students is more than 40 years old.

    2. Hi Anant,
      It seems from your story that you are really so positive and brave. I would have give up so early if i would have been in your situation. I think that you should work in industry for atleast a year. Chances that oyu will realise that oyu are not meant for PhD but for MBA. I strongly feel that if you complete an MBA then you will progess way betteri n your careeer. Reason being your strong will power and determination.. Although PhD is not bad but to be very true, the univeristy will look for your grades and all … By working in industry you will ocme to realise the true picture of pharma and you may hcange your decision.

      1. Thanks all fro your advice, a lot of things have been cleared up now, i have graduated and am hunting for jobs, i will work in industry for a year and then get MBA, after a lot of thought and calculation based on advices and my thinking i have come to conclusion that it would be financially more feasible to get MBA rather than Phd for now, once i m financially stable i can pursue my dreams later, its never too late to get what u desire passionately.

  5. That’s great and sounding good one.
    Thanks for posting such a nice article Mr. Sen

  6. Hi HSB,

    I am Hemant Patadia from Vadodara Gujarat. I have applied for PhD in Cancer Biology in 12 universities and I got rejection from all the 12. I couldn’t find where did I go wrong. My profile details are as follows for your reference:

    GRE : 1430/1600
    GRE-V : 660
    GRE-Q : 770
    AWA – 3.5

    TOEFL iBT- 113/120 (Reading: 29, Listening: 28, Speaking: 26, Writing: 30)

    M.Sc.Microbiology – 71.84 %
    – 1 gold medal (1st rank in the university)
    – 7 awards/honors/scholarship for academic merits
    B.Sc.Biotechnology – 81.14 %
    – 1 gold medal (1st rank in the university)
    – 4 awards/honors/scholarship for academic merits

    CSIR – 2 times qualified

    National presentations : 2
    Local presentations : 3

    Research/Job experience:
    1. Dissertation : 1 yr 5 months
    2. Post M.Sc. research : 1 yr 9 months
    3. Post M.Sc. job experience : 9 months

    *** No research publications

    Research interests :
    Cancer Biology and Immunology

    Universities where I applied:
    Univ. of Texas-M.D.Anderson
    Ohio State Univ.
    Univ. of Southern Cal.
    Emory Univ.
    Stanford Univ.
    Memorial Sloan Kettering
    Univ. of Texas – Southwestern
    Albert Einstein Coll. of Med.
    UMASS – Worcester
    Baylor College of Med.
    Rutgers,NB -New Jersey
    Univ of Maryland, Baltimore

    1. OMG!!!u hav a damn good profile replete with good academics, good gre n toefl scores, research n job exp,etc. Even choice of colleges was good..Please HSB,giv a reason for his non-acceptance. If his profile doesn’t stand a chance, how can ours.

    2. Do you have extra curricular activities?
      Remember, the colleges you applied to are like the ‘ivy league’.
      The best students from all over the world will apply there.
      The golden rule is to apply to 3 dream schools, 5-7 schools that you stand a good chance in and 3 schools that are slightly below your target.

    3. Did you check with the schools’ programe details to see if they offer your intended area of expertise? Did you try contacting any faculty member before applying so as to verify if they have vacancy or vacancies in the possible labs you may have to work in if admitted? Do not forget that a “big name” might not have what you want in such a case, their best bet would be to reject you not because you are not good, but because they don’t have what you want. Don’t give up! You are in the very best position to even get better schools and I mean it. You have very good CV. Yes that, true. Try writing faculty members even before applying. All the best.

  7. Well, everything u have said is very true. PhD is a very huge commitment. Tons of people travel each year to the USA and later give up on the course.

    I am starting a PhD program in Biochemistry in an American University this fall. My advice is for you to make sure your undergrad transcript is stunning. And for your GRE- prepare, prepare, prepare. In writing your SOP try and visit the web-page of the department you are interested in. Review their faculty’s interests thoroughly. this should help you tailor your SOP accordingly. The competition in the Life sciences is really tight. So you want your application to stand out. Try and be honest too. No need saying things that aren’t true about yourself just to embellish your CV.

  8. I hope the writer also tells us the in-hand salary per month for Post-Docs after completing Ph.D in life sciences. There is a misconception about salary of Post Doc in US universities in India. People go to US for post doc and take there wife,kids with them boasting that they get 60K package but in reality many post docs are struggling at 1500-1800 dollars per month range. I am talking about take home / in hand salary.

    1. It can range anywhere from $2500 to lots more if you are good enough to be employed by NIH and stuff. However, on an average it is less than what you would get doing an MBA. But, remember, post doc is just a stepping stone. It’s not a permanent position. If you become a PI, or join an industry, or get into teaching..your salary shoots up. Finally, everyone knows, that the pay scale in Biology cannot compare with an MBA (most of the time). Also, if you are married and both partners are earning, its quite affordable. At the end its about what you want.

      1. 2500 – no it is much less than that. Based on my experience in states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia- most of my friends doing PostDoc are getting around 1800 dollars per month in hand salary in fields of biology, agriculture, engineering.

          1. The graduate students in my University get $1600 in hand.. after everything has been deducted. So a post doc definitely will get more than $1800.

          2. salary of post doc 1800 per month after all taxes and deductions. tax is high, social security, medicare, medical insurance etc. I have personally seen the salary slips of my friends who are doing post doc. I am talking about states like Texas, oklahoma, kansas etc. My point of discussion is that many times people misguide the future post doc aspirants about high salary of post docs, when they come here and join it, they suffer. you should also please see the salary slip of post doc in your university and see how much is the exact take home salary????

          3. I know that the salary of the post docs is $36,000 and higher per annum in my Hospital. They are all quite happy. I do not know about other colleges. You are of course the best judge for your friend’s salaries. They can help you more than me because I know only about my college.
            All the best!

          4. Fellas, it all depends on the purse of the faculty involved and several other factors. Some earn way more than what you guys are stating here. It depends on both the individuals’ qualifications (in terms of what they can offer, etc). However, life science interfaces (that is biophysical studies) pay some double or even more than what you guys have stated here.

  9. Hello,
    I am planning to pursue MS and PhD in Dentistry or MS in Dental public health in USA. If anyone has info regarding these courses, please guide me.

  10. Good post (after a long time!). I joined the PhD program in Biology in Syracuse University this Spring and have had pretty good time so far. And yes, don’t be blinded by any of the popular rankings. A seemingly small university might astound a lot of people with the quality of research they do. (I have seen that at the local SUNY Upstate medical university). So, ideally this should be the order when you think about doing PhD in US.
    Identify a research interest by the end of B.Tech/ beginning of M.Sc –> get great scores in the related subjects –> get some research experience (>6 months) –> identify the faculty in your area of interest, read their papers and establish communication –>apply to the institution with good recommendations –> be very well prepared for the Skype interview –> get admission and start planning your rotations (if its mandatory) –>and that’s all..that should be enough!

    1. hello
      i’ve completed my Msc in MICROBIOLOGY i’m planning to pursue my PHD abroad but i hear a lot of divided talk most of the people say that getting admission into a PHD program is very difficult so they are advising me to enroll into masters program first is that true ??

      1. False.
        Pursue what you like. Put forth the same in SOP, visa interview etc.
        You have three options
        1) Only M.S.
        2) Only Ph.D
        3) Ph.D with M.S. ( you earn MS on the way before you earn Ph.D)
        you earn M.S. in two years and Ph.D in another 3 years.
        Do you need further details ? You can email me.
        Good Luck! 🙂
        – Vignesh

  11. I saw a comment about post-doc salary. From the post-docs I’ve known here, no one in life sciences is paid below $3000 as in-hand salary. Its never be gonna be comparable to the IT guys, but then its never gonna be very bad either. But, then that’s again a general statement, a lot depends on the funding situation of the professor they are working for because post-doc salaries mostly come from their professor’s funding. This is unlike the grad students where the institution might fund in the form of a TAship.

    1. I know many people in Life Sciences- at places like Texas A & M University, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas where postdocs in fields like life Sciences, agriculture, engineering are getting 1800 dollars per month stipend after all taxes, deductions, insurance etc..

      1. The stipend depends on the living costs of the state in which the univ is located..In places like Texas, living cost is quite low, thus u hv a lower stipend compared to that of univs located in southern states.

        1. Hi Donna
          It seems to me that you are the active member on this site. I have few questions to ask hope you will be able to answer them. Let me introduce me 1st. I am sidhartha a M.Tech student from Indian Institute of Technology – Banaras Hindu University of Biochemical Engg.
          Recently i appeared for GRE and got a score of 302. Analytical score is still pending. Do you have any idea about this score i mean is it a good score? will universities accept my application on this score?
          What else i need to do for getting in to a PhD program in US?

  12. HSB, it’s ‘advice’ and not ‘advise’
    (HSB – Good one.. best advise)

  13. Heyy Moen,
    Thanks soo much for this very informative post as a reply to my querriers. Can you give me an idea about your cgpa at UG collg and your GRE scores? I would be really obliged if you reply.

  14. Hey Moen,
    Thanks soo much for this very informative post as a reply to my querriers. Can you give me an idea about your cgpa at UG collg and its conversion to US grades and your GRE scores? I would be really grateful if you reply.

    1. I had a 8.5 above CGPA. I sent it to them as it was. I gave the GRE in the old format. My score was 1350

      1. Heyy Moen,
        Thanks so much for the reply. Can you please share your email id ? I want to ask you some questions about the entire process.
        I would be very grateful.

      2. Hi Sen
        I am student of IIT- BHU, India currently doing M.Tech in Biochemical Engg. I have few question. Could you please answer them.
        I am having of CGP of 7.9 in M.Tech which i can manage to raise upto 8.5 by the time M.Tech ends.
        I have a GRE score of 302 analytical score is still pending.
        I am particularly interested in Cancer cell biology what are my chances to get into your university?
        I shall be thankful if you could reply to my question.

        1. Hi Sidhartha

          A lot more matters than just your scores. Research experience, extracurricular activities, your SOP and LORs are all taken into consideration. Scores are considered like a ‘cut-off’ most times. Most programs will look at your other achievements to make the final decision.
          As far as what your chances are- no one can really ever tell you that. No one knows what could make the admissions committee take or not take someone. However, my program has a free pre screening where they tell you if you are a competitive candidate or not. If you’re still interested I can post that link here.
          Cheers

  15. I have MSc degree in maritime management from Nigeria,which school in the USA or any other country can i get PhD in Maritime management/shipping management or course related.

  16. hi guys
    a nice plays to share comments I regret why I did not read this website sooner
    I have a MSc in Genetics from a state university in my home country ranking around 2000 in the world not very bad actually!
    Our professors are recognized internationally,I applied to these universities:
    Princeton,Yale, Case Western, Miami school of medicine in Florida(after deadline),Rutgers
    All rejected me and the last still no response after more than three months
    IELTS7, GRE 50%,Scores always A , One ISI paper, three local presentation and posters
    Several research experiences and top 1% of accepted students for master students in my country from 13000 participants.
    I know my GRE is not very good but I had confidence because of my good research experience and scores and positive attitudes of professors with whom I really want to work.I realize that I should retake all of the exams this year and wait for 2013 but I really appreciate if one knows is there any USA university having deadlines year around or Jan acceptance?which USA universities do u suggest for applying to neuroscience(molecular neuroscience), genetics or molecular medicine with my situation? Is it wise to contact profs before applying?

  17. hi guys
    a nice place to share comments I regret why I did not read this website sooner
    I have a MSc in Genetics from a state university in my home country ranking around 2000 in the world not very bad actually!
    Our professors are recognized internationally,I applied to these universities:
    Princeton,Yale, Case Western, Miami school of medicine in Florida(after deadline),Rutgers
    All rejected me and the last still no response after more than three months
    IELTS7, GRE 50%,Scores always A , One ISI paper, three local presentation and posters
    Several research experiences and top 1% of accepted students for master students in my country from 13000 participants.
    I know my GRE is not very good but I had confidence because of my good research experience and scores and positive attitudes of professors with whom I really want to work.I realize that I should retake all of the exams this year and wait for 2013 but I really appreciate if one knows is there any USA university having deadlines year around or Jan acceptance?which USA universities do u suggest for applying to neuroscience(molecular neuroscience), genetics or molecular medicine with my situation? Is it wise to contact profs before applying?

  18. i have completed my M.Sc Biotechnology just 15 days back and i want to do phd in US .can i get some details of getting there, gre scores application process, ?

  19. What is a competitive gre score for a PhD candidate? Is 317 , AWA 3.0 good enough for a Masters or PhD?

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  20. But just because Ajay’s brother’s wife’s sister’s friend’s husband went to Stanford does not mean you have to listen to him.

    This is awesome 😀

    1. Lol…. if i count my relation like this, i am sure i will reach to obama 😉

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  22. Hello, I m a masters graduate in microbiology and I want to apply for phd in US for August 2016. I have already registered for GRE for August 2015 . I have also emailed few professors. Is it the rt time to email professor or shall I wait for my GRE scores? Regarding my research experience, I have 6 months experience during my masters . Is that sufficient? My academics are good . Will it be an advantage to gain a phd scholarship? Please help me with these queries and suggest me how can I increase my chances of being selected by professor for their research. Thank u

  23. Hi,

    I have done Master’s in Bioinformatics and hold 6 yrs of experience in database curation and cancer biology. Recently, I appeared for online GRE test (Not ETS’s but The Princeton Review) my score was 278 (Verbal-141; Quant-137). Planning to appear for GRE in september. I want to go for PHD in Cancer Biology from USA. Can you suggest some of the universities based on my GRE score and experience. My average academics was around 70% (+2 to M.Sc). Also, how much can I expect from ETS’s GRE? I am giving almost 8hrs everyday to my GRE prep. I do not have any paper publication but have attended a couple of seminars and NGO campaign.

  24. Hi,
    My gre score is 302 ( q=153, v=149). I am an m.sc in biochemistry and I also have research experience of 2 years. I want to pursue ph.d in biochemistry in Usa. Can you tell me in which universities I should apply for ph.d.?

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