Brilee Coleman, a current Molecular and Systems Pharmacology graduate student at Emory University, initially struggled to find the right graduate program to fit her interests.
Brilee experienced difficulty finding updated and relevant program information; she also came from a very small chemistry undergraduate program, where the advising team wasn’t equipped to help place her into a more specialized neuroscience graduate program she thought she was interested in.
Read more about Brilee’s search and application process to graduate schools, including what she’s learned and tips for being successful for future grad school applicants.
What graduate program are you currently enrolled in, and what are some of the things you are doing in your program?
I am enrolled in the Molecular and Systems Pharmacology (MSP) Ph.D. Program at Emory. As a member of my program, I do quite a bit of bench research. However, I’ve also had the opportunity to explore some teaching and writing experiences outside the lab. I have mentored graduate students during their rotations, and I am mentoring an undergraduate researcher through his third and final year in my lab. My program focuses on student-organized functions, and I have been heavily involved in planning events for MSP, such as our annual recruitment weekend, retreats, seminars, and symposia.
How did you initially learn about the program you are enrolled in?
I actually learned about the pharmacology program when applying for Emory’s neuroscience graduate program. Both programs are organized under an interdepartmental program, the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (GDBBS). The GDBBS allows you to select your preferred program and one sort of “backup” program when applying. I noticed MSP on the list, and selected it as a backup option after neuroscience. The neuroscience program decided not to offer me an interview. However, it turns out that my application made me a much better fit for MSP, and I was contacted by my program’s recruitment director to come in for an interview. I did most of my research about the details of the program after being invited for an interview because of that.
What process did you use to find graduate programs?
I mostly just used online search engines to look for programs. I knew I was interested in neuropharmacology, but I didn’t have a lot of guidance on whether or not I should be targeting neuroscience or pharmacology programs. I came from a very small chemistry program; it is an issue I think many students from small undergraduate programs run into when they either want to change fields or move into a more interdisciplinary field.
After looking at course listings for both neuroscience and pharmacology programs, I decided to apply to neuroscience programs. Having a system like Gradschoolmatch would have definitely helped me focus on which programs would better suit my background and interests. I graduated from a small chemistry department, and none of my professors there were able to give much advice for pursuing a neuropharmacology education.
Although I ended up in a great program, I think the process of finding and applying to graduate programs would have been much less stressful and I would have wasted less time if I had had access to a site like Gradschoolmatch.
What do you wish you would have known while applying to grad school?
I wish I would have known that it is okay (and even mostly encouraged!) to contact program faculty during the application process. In the past few years, my program has added a “contact a recruiter” option on our webpage, which I think is great.
When I was applying, it was sort of mysterious which of these faculty members were involved in the recruitment process and would be willing to respond to student questions. Because of that, I relied mostly on faculty webpages, which were often outdated, to get information about the research options available in each program. Talking directly to faculty members would have given me a much clearer picture of the research environment in each program.
What is the most rewarding part of being in your program?
The most rewarding part of being in my program is kind of surprising to me. When I applied to graduate school, I expected to feel more confident and knowledgeable about science, to be able to work independently, and to gain access to career options that would’ve otherwise been off the table. All of these things have happened while I’ve been in graduate school, and I find each of them rewarding.
However, the most rewarding part of being in my program is being part of a great student-focused community. MSP students organize our program events, spend time together outside of official functions, and support each other in research endeavors. We have a great network of alumni who frequently return for an annual alumni symposium to provide some advice on what to do after graduate school.
The goal of any graduate school application process is to find the “right” program. I’m very happy to say I found that in my current graduate program.