Application Advice from our Students

Part I: Applying to Graduate School

  • The most important step in applying to and deciding on a graduate program is finding a faculty member to work with. It is critical to contact faculty who you might be interested in working with. Try to set up phone or video chats with potential faculty; this can be done even before you decide where to apply.
    • Most of your searching for faculty advisors will happen on the internet. Read the research descriptions for all the professors in your sub-discipline, then email the best match(es) at each university where you think you might want to go. 
    • You may need to reach out to many potential advisors in order to find ones that are accepting new student or doing research that you are interested in. Don’t be afraid to send a polite reminder email if someone you’re interested in working with hasn’t responded to your initial email, this is good practice for grad school. Don’t be worried if you feel like you have a lot of misses, just keep sending emails! You’ll find the right person to work with. Also, be aware that some faculty wait to communicate with potential students until after they review your application.  
    • Use your connections! Ask people to point you in the direction of potential advisors. If you’ve been involved with research in the field you are interested in for graduate school, ask the person/people you have worked with for suggestions. If you haven’t been involved with research, you should solicit suggestions from people in your department. When it comes time to send these potential advisors an email, you can mention the name of whoever recommended them. 
    • Take advantage of any opportunities to go to conferences, they are a great way to meet potential advisors and get some face time with people you might be interested in working with.
  • It may seem like you are expected to have a very clear vision of what you want to do while you are here. In reality, many of us had never done any oceanography before starting graduate school. If you don’t yet know exactly where in oceanography your interests lie, don’t misinterpret that as meaning you don’t have potential as an oceanographer! Do enough reading so that you can include some questions and broad topics that you are interested in when you write your personal statement. Think about how you may use previous experience/knowledge/skills to answer those questions, or what new skills you want/need to learn to study those topics. But don’t feel bad if your vision remains vague. Many advisors will have ideas for projects you can do to start off, until you develop your own specific questions.
  • If you are intimidated to talk about potential research topics with faculty, you can contact current grad students first - they may be willing to talk with you and help you refine your ideas.
  • Make sure you have other people (mentors, friends, roommates, etc) read and edit your submission materials (resume, personal statement, etc). 
  • Strongly consider applying to graduate fellowships the same year that you apply to graduate programs. There is no harm in putting your best foot forward and seeing what happens! If you receive a fellowship, it will allow you more flexibility in your choice of advisors or even graduate programs, since not all professors have funding for new students. (There are lists of graduate fellowships on the Oceanography website and the College of the Environment website.)


Part II: After you’ve been invited as a prospective student

At UW Oceanography, accepted applicants are invited to an open house recruitment period. This is a chance to meet faculty (perhaps your future advisor) and students. Think of this visit as an opportunity for you to make a good impression, but also a chance for you to get the information you need to decide on the best program for you. 

  • Before you meet with each faculty member, look up their past and present research focus. Get to know what they’ve done with their careers and what they’re excited about. This will make it much easier to have a conversation with them.
  • Talk to as many students as you can about their experiences, especially those that work with your potential advisor. Not only will you get a better sense if this program and lab group is right for you, but the other students will get to know you as a person. Faculty sometimes solicit the opinions of their students when weighing their choices. 
  • You will be asked about what you want to do in grad school, and what your plans are after that. Even if you’re not sure about either of those things, it’s a good idea to have a thoughtful response prepared, outlining some possible research topics and career plans. 
  • The process of students and advisors selecting one another is a strange dance, and every faculty member has different norms and expectations for this. It can be a little confusing. This is normal. Sometimes it takes a while to know where you stand: if they have funding for you or if you will have to TA often to fund yourself, if they’re interested in other prospective students, etc. Likewise, you may be interested in pursuing offers at multiple institutions or multiple lab groups within one institution. You can ameliorate the situation by being honest and clear about your timeline for making a decision and the information that you need from them in order to do so.

Finally, but very importantly, as a graduate student in the School of Oceanography, you will receive a tuition waiver and stipend, meaning you will get paid to be a graduate student! This is common for most science PhD programs. Wherever you choose to go, know your worth and don’t settle for less.

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