A Current student breaks down the application
From Reagan Portelance, GBMES Recruitment Co-chair and Ph.D. student, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Virginia
As somebody who recently went through the graduate recruitment process, I know how foreboding it can seem. This document is meant to clarify possible points of confusion about the expectations of the BME Ph.D. application in order to reduce some of the stress associated with it.
Right off the bat, do not panic when you see the length of the prompt. It has undergone changes this year—with lots of input and support from current students—in an attempt to provide more guidance to the applicant and encourage you to provide a holistic depiction of yourself. The point of the personal statement is to allow the admissions committee to understand you better and assess whether you are the best fit for the program. The questions are meant to guide you through different ways you could present this information. There is no expectation to answer each prompt. In fact, it is likely more impactful to provide strong responses to only one or a few that best allow you to demonstrate your unique assets. No prompts are considered more important than others, and you are also not limited to only touch on these topics. The personal statement is your chance to tell YOUR story in whichever way you deem most effective.
Optional COVID Statement
I know how devastating the pandemic has been and how much it has disrupted our activities and mental health. Internships and research may have been cancelled or moved onto virtual platforms. Furthermore, the mental toll of the past couple years cannot be overstated. This is an as-needed prompt to provide context for any aspects of your personal statement that were directly impacted by COVID-19, and there is no penalty for not responding.
I am assuming that you want to apply to UVA because you are interested in the research of at least one faculty member. The university would like to know who these members are to make sure that they get the chance to read through your application. While it does not remove the possibility of working with other faculty in the future, it is unlikely that anyone outside of the admissions committee and the members listed will weigh in on your admission decision. There is room to list 1-5 members, and the order in which you list the faculty will not be interpreted as a ranking. If you do have a ranking and would like to include it, simply add a number in parenthesis before the faculties' names (ex. 1 for your top choice). You may include the same number for more than one faculty member to demonstrate a tie.
Don’t worry if you don’t immediately know what Systems Biology means. These research areas are intentionally broad, and there are descriptions for each listed on the admissions website. Read through this breakdown and decide which ones sound the most appealing to you, whether they are familiar or not. Don’t feel like you need to be pigeon-holed into the field that you worked in during undergrad (if you have previous lab experience) if that no longer interests you. If you are still unsure which areas best apply to your research interests, you can always check the websites of faculty whose research you enjoy as they often list their own alignment.
I hope that this breakdown clears up any doubts you may have had and that you feel more confident about tackling the application. The best advice I can give you is to trust yourself and not be afraid to let your personality shine through. Good luck, I’m rooting for you!