Tag Archives: Graduate school

Guide: How to contact faculty at the Graduate School of your choice

Alejandro Escalante-Flores senior McNair Scholar, offers a guide to contacting faculty…read on

 When contacting faculty at the graduate school of your choice, the most important thing is to not get discouraged when someone doesn’t email you back. One thing I’ve learned in my many times of emailing professors is that most of the time only about 30% of the professors will email you back. When sending emails to professors make sure you have a good subject line. In talks with my past mentors, all of them have told me that they never read most of their emails. When I asked them why, they said  the subject line of the message didn’t catch their eye. Most professors are too busy to read emails. Try to think of a title that engages their current research.

Second, make sure to introduce yourself. Within the first couple of sentences describe your research interest and share your academic achievements.

Here is a sample of a letter I wrote last year, I just added the McNair part to show how to amplify your achievements.

(Dear Dr. (Fill in),

 Hello, my name is Alejandro Escalante Flores and I am writing to you in the hopes that you would be interested in giving me the opportunity to work in your lab this summer. I’m a Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program Scholar, a N.S.F. Louis Stokes A.M.P. Scholar and a three-time N.S.F. Louis Stokes A.M.P. Scholarship recipient. After researching graduate school programs, I believe that the Cell and Molecular Biology Joint Doctoral Program at San Diego State University is the best fit for me. While looking at the faculty members in the department and after reading about your research, I became very interested in your research of planarians for the investigation of the mechanisms that underline the stem cell based regeneration and remodeling of the CNS)….

Using this same letter and changing a few things around, I received responses from professors at U of Washington, SDSU, USC, Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford.

In the letter make sure  to mention your short-term and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal is to get more experience under them as a researcher. A long-term goal is to earn your PhD from their school. Also, be sure to mention what areas of their research you are interested in and why.

Working in a research lab with a professor who is not your top choice might open your eyes to other areas of research. Accepting a second choice lab experience is a great way to get into a department and network.  My old boss who was the admissions director for the genetics graduate program at Stanford explained,  networking with people will cause them to remember you and say “isn’t this that intern you had during the summer that worked their butts off? We want students like that here!”

Lab experience in general will look great on your curriculum vita (CV).   Research experience can open many doors for you.

Got more questions?  Just shot me an email.


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Mark Selzer Describes the McNair Program to Curious Students…

 First and foremost, the Program gives McNair Scholars actual research experience. Scholars are required to complete a research project with the help of a faculty mentor, which foreshadows the dissertation required to obtain a PhD. A dissertation is usually a book-length work that a graduate student must complete under the guidance of a faculty adviser. The McNair program gives McNair scholars the chance to do research as undergrads, so that the dissertation will not be such a dreadful beast when they find themselves in graduate school. This is especially important considering that a large percentage of students do not complete the graduate programs they were admitted to. Being accepted into a graduate program is one thing, completing it is another.

Secondly, the McNair program gives the a to z on the graduate school admission process. If someone is serious about getting into graduate school, the McNair program is the best resource out there. Plus, having the title “McNair Scholar” in a graduate application carries a lot of weight.

The McNair program will teach you how to get into graduate school and what to do when you are there. At what price though? Time and effort. You will need to attend all the McNair workshops, meetings, and colloquiums, which totals to at least 15 hours a quarter. In addition, you will need to spend at least a few hours on your research every week. On top of that, you will probably spend at least an hour every week with your mentor. Participating in the McNair program is no small commitment. However, if you can make the commitment, then the pay-off is huge.

Out of all the graduation school admissions information programs I have been to, the McNair Scholars Program has helped me understand the process more than all the others combined. The program explained to us in great detail how to choose a graduate program, how to write personal statements and statements of purpose, how to prepare for the GRE, how to explain GRE scores in applications, how to contact faculty, and so forth. You name it, and the McNair Scholar Program will explain it. The acceptance record for scholars in the program is a testament to the quality and quantity of the information the McNair program provides regarding graduate school admissions.

Simply applying to graduate programs has been my greatest accomplishment in the McNair Program. Originally, I felt too pressured by work and my coursework to apply this year. I resigned myself to postpone applying until next year. However, I found the strength to apply this year thanks to the inspiration and motivation the McNair program lent me.

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Will Gaines Offers Insight on Yale Interview and Upcoming 2010 Paid Summer Research

My McNair research project titled, Education at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute during the Reconstruction Era has taken me on an amazing academic journey.  As a history major, research is the key ingredient in becoming a successful historian. To gather information for my project, I have been in email correspondence with world renowned historians from Yale, Columbia and Brown University.  I was surprised by their quick responses to my research inquires. Communicating with these historians made me realize the importance of networking in the academic world. The McNair name has a lot of clout and by participating in the program I have received an abundance of information. My McNair mentor Dr. L. Ivey has also provided me with great direction pertaining to my subject matter.

Amazing things can happen to you as a McNair Scholar.  Recently, I was granted an interview with a professor from Yale University’s History Ph.D. program with whom I share similar research interests. For summer 2010 I applied for and was admitted to attend a fully funded historical seminar series at Yale which includes a living stipend.  I attribute my successful admission into the program to my academic achievements and the contacts I made during my research with the professor at Yale.  Never in a million years could I have imagined going to an Ivey League school for an interview with a world renowned historian. Now, I know that anything is possible. 

My advice to all prospective and current McNair scholars is to put yourself out there; make the contacts with academic leaders in your field.  Before you make those contacts, read any journals, articles, etc. about that contact person, you will be surprised at how this little task may benefit you and your future.

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Michelle Faust Shares Experience of Applying to Graduate School and Her Acceptance to UC Davis Chemistry PH.D Program.

Michelle Faust shares experience of Applying to Graduate School and Acceptance to UC Davis Chemistry  PH.D program.

I was admitted into the McNair Scholars Program the summer before the Fall 2009 graduate school application process. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I really had no clue where to begin. I only had six months to research schools and submit my applications.

The McNair summer workshop series included a day where we talked about the graduate school admission process.  The session covered how to reach out to faculty at our prospective graduate schools by email. I would have never thought to contact a faculty member directly before applying to the school.

After researching schools, I became very interested in UC Davis.  I contacted a professor (per advice from the McNair meeting) who was performing research in a field of interest to me.  The faculty member at UC Davis immediately set up an appointment for me to visit the campus and meet with her.

After speaking with the professor, I knew UC Davis was a great fit for me. I became extremely focused on submitting a strong application and I was set on going to UC Davis.  Luckily, I got accepted to UC Davis Chemistry PH.D program with full expenses paid and a pretty good annual stipend.  I am excited to start my journey at UC Davis in Fall 2010.

I recommend that every student start the graduate application process early! I waited until my senior year to think about graduate school, I didn’t have two full years to think about where I would like to go and what I needed to do to prepare myself.  Instead, I was taking the GRE at the latest possible date, rushing to gather transcripts and finish essays for the application, taking classes and working!…not a good combination.  The best lesson of the McNair Program is  DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE.  The application deadlines sneak up so quickly and will ruin your whole winter break if you do not prepare.

All in all, life as a McNair Scholar is good.  The research experience you gain from working underneath a faculty member at CSUEB looks tremendous on your application.  Not only do you gain experience, but McNair also walks you through the application process to make sure you are successful in finding a graduate school that will match your needs.

Moral of the story: start early, research schools that interest you, and contact a professor in your research field directly to get the inside scoop on the university. Did I mention you should start early?

Michelle Faust

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Phillip Williams on attending the 3rd Annual Field of Dreams Conference, Iowa City, Iowa at The University of Iowa.

I attended the Third Annual Iowa Mathematical Field of Dreams Conference on September 26th-27th, 2009. The conference was for students underrepresented in higher education who are seeking to further their academic careers in mathematics.  I learned about the conference through the McNair Scholars Program. You can find more information about the conference at this website:



 When I submitted my application to attend the conference, I was doubtful that I would be chosen. When I received the acceptance letter I was ecstatic. The letter explained that I was awarded a grant to fully pay for my travel to Iowa, my hotel, and the conference registration fee (which included meals). 

 Before this trip, I never traveled further than Reno, Nevada! The opportunity to attend this conference at the University of Iowa and the support of the McNair Program exposed me to what it takes to succeed in the graduate school application process. I recently finished 9 applications to Ph.D programs in Mathematics.

 I met a lot of students at the conference who were also preparing to apply to graduate school and we had the opportunity to share different perspectives on the process of selecting the best program. I learned a lot about the University of Iowa. Visiting the campus gave me insight to what attending the school might be like. In addition, I had the advantage of introducing myself to faculty whom I may work with or study under in the future. The trip was an invaluable experience and I encourage everyone to take full advantage of attending graduate school fairs, summer research programs, and of course the McNair program at CSUEB.

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