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I am going to apply to few PhD programs in Microbiology (I'm particularly very interested in Microbial ecology) but I'm afraid my undergrad gpa (8.5/10 for the first 6 semester as I'm currently in my 7th semester) might hold me back (however I have scored 9/10 in all core biology subjects). But I have a lot of other aspects to my application. For e.g. :

  • I have co-authored 3 research papers which are published in peer reviewed journal.
  • I have co authored 6 book chapters (4 in peer reviewed journals like springer, Elsevier etc)
  • I have presented 4 of my papers in 3 different international conferences (2 of them I was the first author)
  • I received funding from ISRO-ASI scholarship (Indian Space Research Organisation- Astronautical Society of India) to attend one of the aforementioned conferences.
  • One of my team projects received a funding of 38,000 USD from our college trust.
  • I have conducted 3 months full time research internship in a research laboratory Tsinghua University.
  • I have also done 2 company trainings of 10 day each.
  • Plus few extra curricular activities like I was in tedx team, entrepreneurship cell etc. And as part time job I also taught few high school kids.
  • By the way I should mention my college is well reputed (best in the state) in my country (India) but is tier-2

I need your help! I have no idea as to which colleges I should target ( my dream College would be University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) because of this particular professor Bruce W Fouke. He's amazing!) But I don't know if I would be accepted. I'm also not very rich so I can only afford the application fee for 10 colleges. I need your advice! Do you guys think I should apply to M.S. first get good grades and then try out for PhD. What kind of colleges I should target? (I actually concentrate more on the laboratory and not on the affiliated University but the University would be the one screening my application).

  • Welcome to Academia.SE. We normally don't evaluate applicants (instead preferring questions that could be useful to future readers), so your question may be closed. In this case, you might consider posting the separate elements separately (e.g., should I apply to MS, rather than PhD, programs if I have good research experience but low grades), if such questions don't already exist. Finally, you may want to specify whether your grades in the difficult microbiology classes were above or below your overall GPA; it's easier to overlook poor grades in electives than in major subjects. Good luck! – cag51 Sep 14 at 20:48
  • Thank you so much! Actually the evaluation system in my country is in a 10 scale. I have 9/10 in all core subjects and applied mathematics but 8/10 unrelated electives like C++, electrical, electronics etc (these courses were compulsory so I had no choice). I should also mention the class highest is 9.2/10 and I have 8.5/10 cumulative GPA. – flying monal Sep 14 at 21:35
  • By the way thank you so much for your advice! – flying monal Sep 14 at 21:35
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Given your other accomplishments I don't think the GPA will be disqualifying, and normally I would say don't worry about it, but in your case it's more of an issue. Your accomplishments are exceptionally strong for a rising senior in microbiology and are out of line with your weaker GPA, which will raise the obvious red flag that either your CV or your application are fraudulent.

You should address this in your applications. Specifically detailing your role in your major accomplishments and when you did the work would be a good way to head off any concerns from an admissions committee. You should also try to have your letters of recommendation be as specific as possible about exactly what you have contributed to the respective publications, which is another good way of keeping admissions from worrying too much.

I would also discourage you from applying to MS programs - most in microbiology are unfunded now and applying to a program you cant afford is pointless.

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  • Oh my god! Thank you! I'll be extra careful and mention all DOIs and provide certificates for accomplishments I have. The reason why I have low gpa is actually because of how focused I was on research that I led my academics slide. Thank you! I'll be very careful and I'll make sure my LOR from each professor would state my work with him on detail so as to not raise any red flags! Also there highest score in my class was 9.2/10 and mine in 8.5/10. Do you think I should mention why I have a low score? – flying monal Sep 14 at 21:16
  • By the way thank you so much for your advice! I'm so grateful! Thank you! – flying monal Sep 14 at 21:20
  • Nine publications in three years would be a lot for a postdoc. For an undergraduate I'd assume you either paid for them or are related to someone who is guest authoring you. You can address this with 1-2 sentences about what exactly you did as part of the project in your personal statement (for example, if it's a microbial community paper, you could talk about how you were specifically responsible for the 16s profiling, etc). To me, directly addressing why your GPA is lower than ideal is not as important as selling me on your research. – user128815 Sep 14 at 22:17
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    Thank you so much! I'll address what my role was on each paper I contributed towards. Oh wow! I'm so grateful that you mentioned this. I wouldn't never thought about this! I just spent every day of my undergrad working, didn't go home for three years, never took a day off tried to squeeze every ounce of opportunity I could gain from my college. Thank you so much for your advice! All the papers I have co-authored are by various different faculty members from my department. It's strictly professors and in some cases maybe few students. I will try to be as genuine as possible. Thank you! – flying monal Sep 14 at 22:45
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At least at the R2 universities that I have worked at, your GPA is not so low that you would be automatically rejected. We would still look at your application. If you had a sufficiently high GRE score and had an otherwise strong profile (including good letters of recommendation), we would likely be willing to accept you. This is especially true for an MS program. In certain situations we might even accept you into the PhD program.

I am not specifically familiar with your field. In my field (CS/Applied math) it is somewhat common for students with less desirable aspects of their profile to be accepted to an MS program, then later be accepted to a PhD program.

I would recommend that you consider the feasibility of getting into an MS program, then elevating to the PhD program after proving yourself for a year. We did that with a few of our students.


If you have specific contact with Bruce Fouke, I would consider contacting him directly and asking his thoughts.

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  • Thank you for your advice! My College system actually gives out cgpa out of 10. The highest in my class is 9.2/10 and I've scored 8.5/10. I got 9/10 in all my core biology and mathematics subjects but got 8/10 in other feild subjects (e.g C++, C, Electronics, Electrical etc.). I wanted to take gre but majority of programs I'm targetting have waived off GRE and also mentioned they won't be considering the gre scores for admission evaluation. But now I think I should try and take GRE examination. Thank you so much for your advice! Thank you! I'm really grateful! – flying monal Sep 14 at 21:29

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