Application FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Ph.D. admissions

  1. What is the difference between the EE and MCDB Graduate Programs?

  2. Should I contact potential faculty mentors before applying?

  3. How do I apply using the Advanced Level Entry route?

  4. How will my application be evaluated?

  5. How should I select which faculty to list in my application? 

  6. How should I write my personal statement?

  7. My college does not use the US 4.0 GPA grading scale. How do I report my GPA/QPA?

  8. Where do I send my test scores?

  9. Do I need to submit a writing sample?

  10. None of the honorifics (Dr/Ms/Mr) on the application apply to me, but I am forced to choose one. What should I do?

  11. How can I find out if you have received all of my supporting documents such as my transcript and letters of recommendation?

  12. When should I expect to hear from you after I have submitted an application?

  13. Do you admit students in the spring as well as in the fall?

  14. May I enroll as a part-time Ph.D. student?

  15. Will you be interviewing applicants in person during the 2020-2021 recruitment year?

  16. How do I get more information and guidance about applying?

 

1. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE EE AND MCDB GRADUATE PROGRAMS?

EE (Ecology and Evolution) and MCDB (Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology) are distinct graduate programs with different foci, although they are housed in the same department. Applicants apply to one or the other program and will have program-specific requirements and curricula, in addition to many opportunities for shared learning experiences, especially during the first year when students in both programs take some classes together. Many faculty tend to mentor students only from one or the other program, according to their research areas, though some faculty have research that spans the two programs: if you are interested in such research, feel free to contact the specific faculty member, who can advise you on which Program you can apply to.

 

2. SHOULD I CONTACT POTENTIAL FACULTY MENTORS BEFORE APPLYING?

Sure! We'd love to hear from you

  • If you’re applying to the EE Program, you are highly encouraged to establish a dialog with a potential faculty mentor prior to completing your application
  • If you’re applying to the MDCB Program, you are welcome to reach out to potential faculty mentors at any time during or after the application process to learn more about their research and explore project opportunities. However, you would select a faculty mentor only after doing research rotations in different labs during your first year of the Ph.D.
  • If you’re applying through the Advanced Level Entry route, you will need to secure a faculty mentor prior to applying (see below)

 

3. HOW DO I APPLY USING THE ADVANCED LEVEL ENTRY ROUTE?

If you already have a Master’s degree or equivalent, you can choose to bypass the typical first Ph.D. year and directly apply to work with a faculty mentor through Advanced Level Entry (ALE). If you choose this route, you will need to have a faculty sponsor secured prior to applying. ALE applications are accepted year-round. Note that many applicants with Master’s degrees still choose the regular admissions route if they are interested in doing research rotations prior to selecting a faculty mentor.

 

4. HOW WILL MY APPLICATION BE EVALUATED?

We recognize that everyone has unique experiences that have helped prepare them for pursuing a Ph.D. in biology. The admissions committee considers several factors in evaluating an application. Successful applicants typically have:

  • Earned or are pursuing a college degree in biology or a subdiscipline such as ecology and evolutionary biology, genetics, or biochemistry; or a related scientific field including (but not limited to) chemistry, physics, earth sciences, or engineering
  • Performed some independent research, e.g. as an undergraduate research assistant, as part of a master’s dissertation, or as a staff scientist or technician
  • Other experiences that may allow an applicant to contribute to a diversity of perspectives and viewpoints in the biological sciences in the future, including (but not limited to) teaching, mentoring, outreach, volunteering, or advocacy activities
  • Course performance that reflects proficiencies in science, usually with a focus on advanced biology topics. GPA in isolation can be an incomplete measure of this; however, this is often satisfied by a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale in science classes. For GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, we would take into account course content and GPA trajectory over the applicant’s college career; while for GPAs short of 3.0, we would place course performance in the context of other aspects of the application
  • For international, non-native English speaking students, demonstrated English Proficiency through a TOEFL score of at least 90 (and scores above 22 on each of the four sections); an IELTS score of at least 7.0; or a Duolingo English Test score of at least 110
  • We will not consider GRE general or subject test scores. Please do not include such test scores: if you provide these, we will not look at them

However, a significant part of our evaluation comes from understanding how these factors relate to your desire to pursue a Ph.D. in our department. This is communicated to us in the following ways:

  • Your personal statement, which should thoughtfully address the information above and put it in context. For additional guidance on writing your personal statement, see the FAQ below
  • Letters of recommendation that can speak to your potential as a biology Ph.D. student. These letters typically come from mentors, teachers, or employers who know you well enough to provide such insight. Suggestions for how to ask for letters of recommendation can be found here or here

 

5. HOW SHOULD I SELECT WHICH FACULTY TO LIST IN MY APPLICATION?

All applicants should list four potential faculty mentors in their application in order of preference. Potential faculty mentors should be tenured or tenure stream faculty with a primary appointment in Biological Sciences; emeritus faculty and non-tenure stream faculty cannot serve as graduate mentors. To find out more about a faculty member’s research, click on their Profile, where you will find a research summary, links to their lab websites, and lists of some of their publications. You should also feel free to contact any faculty whose research you’re interested in to learn more.

  • For MCDB applicants, we are interested in whose labs you are considering for research rotations (though you are free to change your mind at any point)
  • For EE applicants, you would first include the potential faculty mentor with whom you’ve established a dialog, along with other faculty whose research you also find interesting, e.g. as potential collaborators or co-mentors

 

6. HOW SHOULD I WRITE MY PERSONAL STATEMENT? 

Ultimately, we would like you to share with us how your experiences and motivations are leading you to pursue a Ph.D. There are many ways to do this! Our suggestion would be to address the following topics in three paragraphs, with one paragraph (~300 words) per topic:

  • Your scientific experiences (e.g., research, coursework and/or teaching) that have formed the foundation for your pursuit of a Ph.D. in biology. We will already have your CV, so you shouldn’t feel the need to talk about everything
  • Any experiences or background that you could contribute to a diverse Pitt BioSci community
  • Your goals as a Ph.D. student in biology and beyond, perhaps referring to specific Pitt BioSci faculty and/or opportunities

We encourage you to view the personal statement as an opportunity to expand on details that aren’t covered by other parts of your application, as well as to share with us how you think about science. You should also feel free to include other information that would help us better understand the context of your college or career trajectory, academic performance, and/or scientific pursuits. The practice of science includes both successes and setbacks, and there is no perfect set of experiences. So, try to use your own voice and be frank, rather than anticipate what you think we might want to hear. Additional generally good suggestions on how to write a personal statement from our colleagues at Pomona College can be found here and from the AAMC here.

 

7. My college does not use the US 4.0 GPA grading scale. How do I report my GPA/QPA? 

If your college or university does not use a 4.0 Grade-Point Average scale, you may be able to estimate your GPA using the following table

GPA/QPA

Letter Grade

100 Point Scale 10 point scale
4.0 A 93-100 9.3-10.0
3.75 A- 90-92 9.0-9.2
3.25 B+ 87-89 8.7-8.9
3.0 B 83-86 8.3-8.6
2.75 B- 80-82 8.0-8.2
2.25 C+ 77-79 7.7-7.9
2.0 C 73-76 7.3-7.6
1.75 C- 70-72 7.0-7.2
1.25 D+ 67-69 6.7-6.9
1.0 D 63-66 6.3-6.6
0.75 D- 60-62 6.0-6.2
0 E/F 0-59 0.0-5.9

If your college uses another grading system, or if the percentile score mappings are different from those shown above, please attempt to compute the corresponding US GPA as best as possible using a web resource or transcript conversion service, but then also include documentation of this along with your uploaded transcripts.

 

8. Where do I send my scores?

GRE scores are not required, nor accepted. TOEFL or IELTS scores should be sent to the University of Pittsburgh with Institution code 2927 and Department code 0203. Our TOEFL code is 35. Duolingo English Test results should be uploaded as a PDF under ‘Additional Information’ in the online application (preferred), or by sending the test results in PDF format to the Graduate Administrator, cbarr@pitt.edu.

 

9. DO I NEED TO SUBMIT A WRITING SAMPLE?

No, we do not require a writing sample apart from your personal statement. You can leave that field blank on the application. 

 

10. NONE OF THE HONORIFICS (DR/MS/MR) ON THE APPLICATION APPLY TO ME, BUT I AM FORCED TO CHOOSE ONE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

We are lobbying to change this in the future. For now, feel free to select “Dr,” and if that's not yet accurate, we will just interpret that as “Dr-to-be.” 

 

11. HOW CAN I FIND OUT IF YOU HAVE RECEIVED ALL OF MY SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS SUCH AS MY TRANSCRIPTS AND LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION?

If you have received the email acknowledging that we have received your online application, please assume that we have received (or will receive) all of your documents. We will contact you during the review process if information is missing.  

 

12. WHEN SHOULD I EXPECT TO HEAR FROM YOU AFTER I HAVE SUBMITTED AN APPLICATION?

Once your application is complete, you will receive an automated email. If you do not receive this email within a week of applying, please get in touch with us at cbarr@pitt.edu. After that, we will start contacting applicants selected for interviews between late December and mid-January. 

 

13. Do you admit students in the spring as well as in the fall?

All students enter in the fall semester except for Advanced Level Entry students, who can apply at any time.

 

14. May I enroll as a part-time Ph.D. student?

All students must enroll for full-time study.

 

15. WILL YOU BE INTERVIEWING APPLICANTS IN PERSON DURING THE 2020-2021 RECRUITMENT YEAR?

Interviews will be held virtually during the 2020-2021 recruitment year, using video conferencing. We hope this format will allow greater flexibility for recruits and BioSci department members to meet and talk – stay tuned for further details!

 

16. How do I get more information and guidance about applying?

The AAMC provides a useful guide to many aspects of applying to Ph.D. programs in the biosciences that we encourage you to consult. And if you have any nut-and-bolts questions about applying to Pitt BioSci specifically, feel free to contact Cathy Barr (cbarr@pitt.edu) who can direct your email to someone on the Admissions Committee.