Applying to a Doctoral Degree in Neuroscience

I will be completing my first (and hopefully the only) application process to get into a Ph.D. program in neuroscience. As a foreigner in the USA and the only person in my family aspiring to an advanced degree, I lacked much guidance and support in the process. My salvation was a handful of online resources from people who have already gone through the process. I would like to help others out there as well, so I will be releasing a couple of posts describing my over all experience as a prospective student for Fall 2020. Here I cover the “fundamentals” and the new GRE policies for most Ph.D programs in neuroscience.

The Fundamentals


The GPA is used in most programs to filter applicants. A really low GPA (less than 3.0) will put you in disadvantage and probably prevent the admissions committee from taking a look to your application. A solid GPA is higher than 3.5.

Research Experience

One of the most important factors to determine your potential to be a Ph.D. candidate is your research experience. Having a lab name on your resume is not enough. You should demonstrate your ability to carry independent work and understand the science behind your work. You are not required and certainly do not need a publication to be a strong candidate. What really matters is what you learned both technically and intellectually as well as the recommendation from your supervisor. Ideally, you want a recommendation from a PI/faculty member, so if you work in a big lab under a postdoc’s supervision, make sure you can also have interactions with your PI and obtain a letter from them.

I would recommend asking your lab colleagues to provide papers/literature background for you to learn more once you join the lab. Participating in lab meetings and journal clubs is also a great opportunity! Take advantage of the expertise and support of other lab members. In addition, rather than going around multiple labs, you should consider staying in a single lab and work in one project so you can be fully immersed in that experience. Of course, that is only realistic if you already know what type of research you want to do. Otherwise, do try different labs and narrow down your research interests. The best research environment for you is that in which you have good mentors and you love the ideas and the process involved in your work.

In my case, I had five major research experiences. The first two helped me realize I did not like doing molecular work only. The last three reassured my desired to do research in systems/behavioral neuroscience. One of those research experiences was full-time after I finished college.

Letters of Recommendation

Be sure you have at least three professors/investigators who can provide STRONG letters of recommendation for you. I would suggest having an additional recommender in case something happens to your other recommenders. One of my recommenders submitted his letter on the deadline. If I had had an additional recommender, I would not have spent days stressed out about this issue.

Personal Statement

I will write a single post on this important aspect of the application.


New GRE Policies (GRExit)

Starting 2018, many programs have dropped the GRE requirement. If you are somewhat poor like I am, this is great news! You do not have to spend over $200 in a meaningless test plus $27 for each school that requires the GRE. I did not submit my GRE to my dream school and I still got an interview.

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For more information in this matter, please visit:

For a list of Bio/Biomedical Graduate Programs Dropping GRE Requirement, please visit:


In the next few weeks, I will share information on how to write a good personal statement, interviews, and the results from my current cycle application.