CHD Consider Becoming a Scientist

Consider Becoming a Scientist

Apr 12, 2010

Have you ever dreamed of treating a health problem occurring in your community or of curing a disease afflicting a brother or sister? If you put your dream aside because you thought it might not be possible, we hope you will read this article. It is the first in a series promoting graduate-level education in science and medicine to minority youth.
Graduate-level education can help you find an interesting career in scientific or medical research. After you have earned your degree, you might decide to find further fulfillment by pursuing your childhood dream.  Who could better counsel a patient than someone who knows that person’s background and lifestyle?
This article focuses on the first steps in achieving your dream: understanding the importance of a graduate degree and getting into an appropriate program.

Do I really need a graduate degree? 

Most successful researchers have doctoral degrees, or Ph.D.s, which represent the highest degree you can earn. Most scientific and medical researchers hold doctoral degrees in specific disciplines, such as genetics, biochemistry or neurology, among many others.

How do I get accepted into a degree program?

The key tips for acceptance are demonstrating interest in and commitment to a particular scientific discipline, earning solid grades, achieving above-average test scores, writing an excellent personal statement on your application and obtaining strong letters of recommendation. 

Are there any other tips for a successful application?

Manage your application to make sure it is complete. Finish and submit the application early. Inquire whether your transcripts, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores and letters of recommendation have arrived. 

Ensure that your application is complete. After your efforts, you do not want your application to be labeled incomplete.

Another tip: If the application process seems overwhelming, find a mentor. Potential candidates include faculty or former supervisors, whether for paid or volunteer work. Graduate students, who often have more time than faculty, can also make excellent mentors.  

We hope the information in this article has encouraged you to think seriously about graduate school. We have included more tips in the sidebar, and if you have specific questions or requests, please email

Additional Tips for Getting Into Graduate School

Show a strong interest in a specific scientific discipline. To earn a Ph.D., you must develop expertise in a scientific discipline. Your interest will be stimulated by your courses or laboratory experience, or even by the observations of a professor or mentor.

Earn solid grades. Both your overall grade point average and solid grades in your chosen field are important. Faculty members want to see that you have succeeded in the prerequisites to pass the courses in graduate school. Address noticeable changes in your grade patterns (from weak grades to strong or vice versa) in your personal statement.

Strive for above-average test scores. GRE exams still play an important role in the graduate admissions process. Study for the exam and allow yourself time to take it more than once to improve your scores if necessary. Many graduate program administrators see multiple tries as proof of dedication. If you do not do well on the exam, explain your test scores in your personal statement. The, ask that those writing recommendations to address the weakness.

You must have excellent recommendation letters.  Find letter writers in the same or a similar discipline. Before you need a letter, it is a good idea to connect with a professor while you are in a course by discussing your potential interest. Ask people if they will write a strong letter, most people will be honest if they cannot.  

Sell yourself in the personal statement on your application. Demonstrate your success to date by putting together all the pieces—your interest in the field, your experiences, your grades and your test scores. Explain why the program is right for you. Identify a faculty member with whom you might want to work. (Do your homework beforehand by reading the faculty member’s work and relating it to your own interests.) Naming a faculty member in an application often leads to its being sent to the person with the following question attached: “Are you interested in working with this applicant?”