We aim to admit students whose backgrounds, perspectives, and interests are as diverse as possible within the constraints of the preparation necessary to succeed in our program. We consider at least a year of independent research experience to be essential preparation, but this experience can be obtained in many different ways either during one’s undergraduate education or afterward (see “Research experience” below). We typically admit several students who are about to complete their final year of undergraduate studies, as well as several students who have completed a year or more of full time postbaccalaureate research in academia or industry. We have also trained several students who came to Genome Sciences seeking a career change after a first career in a field outside of science. For prospective students considering such a career change, a full-time research position is generally a necessary prerequisite for applying to graduate school.
Our admissions committee looks holistically at each application for evidence that the applicant is prepared to excel in our program, which begins with a fast-paced year of 10-week research rotations in prospective dissertation laboratories. The most important source of this evidence is research experience and the applicant’s ability to discuss their research at a high level in the application personal statement (for more details, see Application Writing Tips). Prospective students can also demonstrate preparedness with a strong track record of biological science coursework (e.g. biology, biochemistry, genetics, or computational biology) and/or coursework in useful technical disciplines such as computer science, engineering, and mathematics. In 2019, we received over 425 applications; from these, we selected 30 candidates to interview. Each year, we take care to build a balanced class including groups historically excluded from science and students with a range of skill sets and interests that reflect the diversity of research areas represented among our faculty.
We do not have a set list of courses required for admission, nor do we require a degree in the biological sciences. Consider, though, that by the time you take enough biology-related coursework to get a solid background in the field, you may well be close to obtaining a degree, and if so, you would do well to complete it. Although not all of our admitted students have coding experience, some basic coding experience is highly desirable. Many of our graduate students are proficient self-taught coders and many free online resources are available for learning coding skills ranging from the fundamentals to more advanced topics.
Those who have a computer science degree should have taken introductory biology and ideally introductory chemistry, but need not have extensive advanced coursework in the life sciences. A degree in the mathematical, physical, or engineering sciences can also be good preparation for our program if accompanied by programming experience and biology research experience.
Lab research experience prior to beginning graduate study is important for establishing a track record of success in open-ended investigation , which generally requires a different skill set from success in technical coursework. Perhaps more importantly, such experience is necessary to test whether you enjoy research enough to make a Ph.D. the right next step for you.
After you've taken a year of courses and have some idea which topics particularly interest you, it's time to start contacting professors by email to look for a research position (either volunteer or paid). It's best if you have a minimum of a year of lab research experience before applying to graduate school, and more is better. You can of course contact genetics, genomics, and proteomics labs, but it isn't necessary that your lab experience be in precisely the same field in which you hope to begin graduate study.
When contacting faculty to inquire about research opportunities, rest assured that you are not doing anything unusual or presumptuous. The best way to make a positive first impression is to write a tailored message explaining your interest in this particular lab and avoid sending the same boilerplate email to many faculty. You don’t need to be an expert to craft such a personalized email; it should suffice to spend some time reading the lab website and perhaps a paper or two and then explain in your own words what piqued your interest. Many faculty are able to budget an hourly wage to compensate their undergraduate research interns, so don’t hesitate to inquire about this, especially if you need income to support yourself.
As an alternative to informally contacting faculty to seek out research opportunities, current undergraduates may consider applying to formal summer programs such as NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). Prospective students who have already completed their undergraduate degrees may consider informally contacting labs to inquire about full-time employment as a lab tech, looking through lab tech position advertisements on the UW employment page, or applying to formal full-time postbaccalaureate research programs such as those sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. It may also be possible to gain research experience working for a biotechnology company or other research position in industry.
To get the most out of your research experience, you should aim to spend significant time reading research papers, giving presentations such as lab meetings, talking to more experienced scientists, and thinking about your lab’s big picture aims in addition to practicing the technical skills you need to carry out your day to day work. These activities will help you write compellingly about your research experience on your Ph.D. program applications and talk with our faculty about your experience, interests, and goals if you progress to the interview stage.
We look favorably upon applicants who have significant experience with leadership and/or scientific outreach, although these are not required for admission.