So, I would like my readers to serve as my own personal committee - like a dissertation committee, only for grad school admissions instead. You can elect yourselves - I need as much help as I can get.
But first, because most of you are not in the social sciences, a little information about how grad admissions *supposedly* work for psychology:
The first thing they tell applicants is to make sure you know what you want to research. Your entire search for a program is supposed to be based on that. You are not applying to a program - you're applying to a specific PI and his/her lab. Your goal, for most programs, is to convince that one PI that you are the perfect person to work with. In some cases, such as at Yale, you must first get past the Grad School of Arts & Sciences before the potential PI even sees your application materials. This is accomplished by your transcripts and GRE scores. If you aren't the cream of the crop when it comes to those, your personal statement, writing sample, and rec letters are completely irrelevant because no one ever sees them. (Which means you may have wasted a $90 application fee and countless hours perfecting your essay just for them. Do I sound bitter?)
The second thing they tell us is that research experience is THE most valuable part of your application packet. The more, the better. They also tell you that if you can get even just co-authorship on a publication, you are pretty much guaranteed to make it past the 3rd round of admissions cuts. A first authorship on a publication for an undergrad is nearly unheard of, and if you can get it, it will open doors for you that you can't even dream of.
Now, here are the current qualifications that I've got to work with (identifiers, be damned at this point):
- Graduated summa cum laude from MRU with cum gpa of 3.93, psychology major gpa of 4.0
- Accomplished this through attending school full-time while working full-time at a "real" job - I was not a barista at Starbucks (no offense to anyone).
- Worked as a research assistant for a year now for Rockstar professor at MRU, resulting in second-authorship on a paper presentation at a conference. Currently writing a portion of the manuscript that is to be submitted for publication in May.
- Worked as a research assistant for Largely Unknown professor at MRU, basically was used for my ability to conduct thorough literature reviews, wrote a large one with annotated bibliography. This professor is completely unreliable for rec letters (remember Professor X?).
- GRE scores: 96th percentile for verbal, 53rd percentile for quantitative, 88th percentile for analytical writing.
- One incredibly glowing recommendation from community college professor (PhD from my MRU) who would jump through hoops if it meant getting me into an awesome program. She is the Ultimate Mentor.
Roadblocks for me:
- I cannot pursue an independent research project because I am no longer enrolled at MRU. This was confirmed by Rockstar professor when I inquired as to whether it was possible. Therefore, first authorship on anything is not going to happen. Period.
- Unless I get the RA position I applied for, I have no means of getting additional research experience before this fall. If I do, it will be under Grad Student mentor, whose research does not allow me to get experience with things I have not done before.
- The GRE stresses me the fuck out. I have been out of high school math since 1998. I bought all the prep books, did all the practice questions and all that. I spent 4 months studying for this thing. It did not help me get faster at answering the ridiculously stupid way they have of delivering the questions. The reason my score was so low is because by the time I got to the stats questions (which means you're at the 700 mark), I ran out of time and had to randomly guess on the last 6 questions. This is what killed me. And I am generally a very good standardized test-taker.
Obviously something was wrong with the way I went about this last time. Whether it was choosing the programs I applied to or something with my applications, I don't know. Ideally, I would like to write to the PI at program #4 and say, "Why was I the one who got waitlisted?"
I chose the programs based on the research interests of the faculty there, which was what I was told to do. The PI's whose research I admire the most, whose work has profoundly changed my field, are all retiring and not accepting grad students anymore. I feel like I'm not really sure where else to look for a program, and I am concerned that I will let my interests fall by the wayside just to get accepted.
The problem is, and I understand this is unique to the social sciences, is that what you research in grad school determines your reputation when you go to get a job. Job listings for universities will specify "social psychologist with research in areas X, Y, or Z." Until you get that faculty slot and nail down tenure, you are basically committed to what you put on your applications in the first place. **This is important**
So, can I realistically do this? Can I improve my application enough between now and November when deadlines begin? I need a plan here, folks, and I need your help. No one in my offline circle of friends and family has ever even finished a bachelor's degree - they cannot help me.
Would I love to go to Yale or another SFRSHS school? Yes, I would. Would I do anything I could in order to make that happen? Yes, absolutely. Do I know what to do to make that happen? Nope, not really. Because I thought I did everything I was supposed to last time, and it didn't work.
It doesn't need to be Yale or another SFRSHS program. But it does need to be a program that will remove roadblocks for me, not create new ones.