Guest Post: Jill Dunham, Ph.D.

When I look back to my search for the right graduate program, at the right graduate school, I wonder how I got so lucky. My choice seems absolutely random, now that I think about it, and things could have gone completely awful. I knew at the time that I wanted to study pharmacology, but I didn’t have the first idea as to what programs existed, what the programs were known for, what they required of their students, and how to decide among them. And it was basically impossible to find all of that information without asking people that had gone through the same process or spending many wasted hours searching online for pharmacology departments. And even then, it tended to be the same schools popping up over and over.

Now some people may say, “C’mon Jill; that was over 10 years ago! The Internet has changed drastically since then!” And though that may be true, the search for graduate schools really hasn’t. Until now, that is! I am entirely jealous of people that are going to be able to use gradschoolmatch.com to find their perfect school. I, as many others in my boat, had certain criteria that I knew I wanted in a graduate school. I wanted to stay in the Southeast; I wanted a school with a good reputation, a program that had a wide range of research topics ongoing, with nice, interesting people to work with. Coming out of school with a top GPA, I also wanted to find a school that had other students like me, where I would be challenged and could continue to expand my scientific knowledge and expertise.

Unfortunately, the first challenge I faced was how to find that place. I knew of all of the state and a few of the larger private universities in and around Georgia, where I had attended undergrad, and the Carolinas, where I had grown up. However, I didn’t know anything about their graduate programs (i.e. how they ranked, number of students, requirements, average GPA and GRE accepted), much less if they even had a pharmacology program! And how was I to discover those other schools in the surrounding area if I’d never heard of them? As I mentioned before, it took ‘googling’ Graduate School of Pharmacology, and coming up with some names of schools, and then navigating throughout their associated websites to try to find the department, what type of research was going on, how to apply, etc. And going into some of my interviews, I still had so many unanswered questions.

If I had gradschoolmatch.com, I could have simply typed in my requirements, and found every program that matched immediately, streamlining and shortening the search process. This matching system also would have eliminated the worry and concern about the thoroughness of my search, as results would not only be limited to schools I’m familiar with or those that appeared first on Google. Given that knowledge and power, I probably could have eliminated at least two of my interviews (giving me more free time to enjoy my last semester in college!) and really focused on the best matches for me.

And the same could be said if the graduate programs of pharmacology could have found me. I actually opted against applying for Johns Hopkins, partly because I decided I wanted to stay closer to Georgia, but mostly because I wasn’t sure that I was ‘Hopkins caliber.’ The beautiful thing about gradschoolmatch.com is that it is bidirectional. In other words, had such a website been around when I was looking into graduate school, I would have known that Hopkins was interested in a student like me (or wasn’t) and made a more educated, rational, and reasonable decision about where I sent applications and how I spent my money on those applications.

Such benefits can also be seen when it comes to those applications sent out every year by applicants to ‘safety schools’ – those schools that aren’t as desirable but that are more likely to accept that applicant. Many of those applications would not need to be sent out and a large amount of money could be saved, both on the student’s end with application fees and the program’s end with cost of interviewing and recruiting their applicants.

As I started this saying – I got lucky and ended up being in a top program within a top school, surrounded by other students similar to myself and within a stimulating environment. But I know that wasn’t true for all of my colleagues and I think with the new searching and matching ability, that will all be different for coming classes of graduate students. Students will be able to find all graduate programs and pertinent details easily, and as an applicant and possible recruit, they will be visible to those same programs. Needless to say, I’m slightly jealous.

-Jill Dunham PhD earned her PhD in Molecular & Systems Pharmacology from Emory University.

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