Frequently Asked Questions
- What coursework should I be pursuing as an undergraduate in preparation for graduate studies in genetics?
- How many applications do you receive for your graduate program and what is your acceptance rate?
- What factors do you evaluate in reviewing applications for admission?
- How are thesis advisors chosen?
- How are students in your program supported?
- What are the requirements for completing a Ph.D. in your program?
- How long does it usually take to complete the Ph.D. in your program?
- What is the cost of living in Madison?
- What areas of research are available?
- Why should I choose Wisconsin for graduate studies in genetics?
Students majoring in a variety of different subjects as undergraduates decide to pursue graduate studies in genetics. Regardless of your major, upon entering our program you should have a strong foundation in math and science. We expect you to have completed at least one semester of calculus. Although not required, courses in statistics and computer programming are encouraged. Minimally, your science background should include one year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics, including labs. In addition, you should have completed courses in general genetics and biochemistry. Additional coursework in molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology, population and evolutionary biology are also very useful. Because communication skills and the ability to think logically and critically are essential for success in science, courses in written and oral communication, philosophy, and logic are helpful. Finally, we expect you to have obtained at least one semester (and preferably more) of research experience by participation in an independent research project. Note that if you are otherwise qualified, but you have not taken all the required courses, you may still be considered for admission and allowed to make up the deficiencies by completing additional courses during the first year.
Typically, we receive about 130-150 applications. About 65% of these applications are from domestic students and 35% from international students. Generally, we extend offers to about 20% of these applicants and 40-50% of the students receiving an offer decide to accept.
The admissions committee gives each application careful consideration to get a sense of the total individual. We try to identify those students who have the right combination of academic ability, creativity, motivation, self-discipline, commitment, initiative, and personal skills to become successful researchers. Fluency in English is an important additional criterion for international students. To evaluate these criteria, we examine:
- transcripts to gauge academic performance as well as the breadth,
depth, and rigor of the undergraduate coursework;
- GRE scores;
- the applicant’s personal statement, which should include:
- descriptions of why you have selected a career in Genetics;
- what special accomplishments or qualifications you have that demonstrate your potential success in this field;
- what your long term goals are;
- letters of recommendation from individuals who are able to comment knowledgeably on your academic ability and research skills as well as on your maturity, drive, independence and other personal traits.
Students who meet our initial criteria for acceptance are invited to visit for a personal interview. After these interviews, the admissions committee meets again to make final decisions on the basis of all the available information. In the case of international students residing abroad, personal interviews are usually not possible. In that case, telephone interviews are often arranged.
The Genetics Training Program includes 60 faculty trainers from 20 different departments. Students are free to work with any of these trainers, regardless of their departmental affiliations or the physical location of their labs. To learn more about the research programs of our training faculty, please visit the Genetics PhD Training Program.
We encourage prospective students to initiate contact with faculty whose research is of interest to them. During the first week of orientation, faculty trainers give brief talks about their work. Subsequently, incoming students choose 3-4 laboratories to rotate through during their first semester. These rotations consist of 4-5 week research projects that give students a chance to experience the environments in different laboratories before choosing a thesis advisor. The choice of a thesis advisor is typically made at the end of the first semester. The decision is a mutual one between the student and the potential major professor. Some students find that they need to do additional rotations to find a "home." We are committed to ensuring that our students find the right environment where they can work productively and successfully.
All students in our training program receive full support, including a stipend, health care benefits and tuition costs, as long as they make satisfactory progress towards the degree. This support is provided by one or several of the following: an NIH Training Grant, professors' research grants, and University fellowships. Additionally, we encourage outstanding students to apply for prestigious outside fellowships, such as Howard Hughes and NSF Predoctoral Fellowships.
The essential requirements are to complete the necessary coursework, complete the disseration research, pass a written comprehensive exam (Prelim A) and an oral exam defending the research proposal (Prelim B) and obtain one semester of teaching experience. Core courses include: Microbial Genetics, Advanced Genetics, Eukaryotic Molecular Biology, Genetics Seminar. Students are also required to take 4 credits in seminar courses and to present an annual seminar describing their research. Any additional coursework is determined in agreement with the student's thesis committee. We expect that students will spend the vast majority of their time working on their thesis project.
Although the length of time varies from student to student, we expect students to complete their degree in 5-6 years. Most students do finish within this time frame although some students take a little less time and some take a little more.
The cost of living in Madison is much less than in most big cities. Financial support for graduate students includes a stipend ($18,500 for 2001-2002), health care benefits and tuition costs. To have the same buying power as in Madison, a student in Boston would need 1.4 times more money, in New York City 2.1 times more, in San Francisco 1.4 times more and in Palo Alto 1.5 times more.
But Madison is more than buying power. Madison has consistently been ranked as a great place to live:
- “Number one best places to live in America.” Money Magazine, 1996.
- “This isn’t HEAVEN, it’s MADISON!” Outside Magazine,
- “One of the 10 most enlightened towns in America.” Utne Reader, 1997.
- “The best place to raise children.” Zero Population Growth, 1996.
- “The fourth best place in the country for cyclists.” Bicycling Magazine, 1997.
With 60 faculty trainers in our program we have broad representation in most areas of modern genetics research. Research is being carried out on the major genetic systems including phage, bacteria, yeast, Arabadopsis, maize, nematodes, fruit flies, zebra fish, mouse, and man. Research areas include microbial genetics, developmental genetics, evolutionary and population genetics, plant genetics, neurogenetics, medical genetics, gene regulation, and genomics. To obtain further details about the research programs of our training faculty, visit the Genetics Ph.D. Training Program. We encourage prospective and incoming students to contact faculty whose research programs are of interest to them.
Although students ultimately choose a particular graduate program for a variety of different reasons, we strongly feel that the Genetics Training Program at Wisconsin is second to none in what it offers:
- We are one of the oldest and finest centers for genetics research in the nation.
- We maintain an active and vigorous presence in most areas of modern genetics research.
- Not only are our faculty outstanding researchers, but they are also dedicated teachers and mentors who are committed to the training of the next generation of geneticists.
- A primary goal of our program is to attract and train first-rate graduate students, as well help to ensure their long term success.
- Beyond the genetics program itself, the UW-Madison has one of the largest and strongest biological research communities in the
academic world with over 700 faculty distributed among several dozen departments. With the availablity of outstanding research
facilities and unusually strong interactions and communication among departments, UW-Madison provides a superb intellectual and
physical environment for graduate training.
- Finally, the quality of life in Madison is virtually unmatched. Consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the U.S., Madison
offers affordable housing, convenient transportation, a beautiful setting surrounded by lakes, rich ethnic and cultural diversity, and almost limitless opportunities for recreational activities. Whether its sports or symphonies Madison has something for everyone. And when the lure of big cities becomes irresistable we are only a three-hour drive from Chicago and just over a one-hour drive from Milwaukee. Indeed, Madison is such a lovely place, we sometimes have a difficult job of persuading our students that it is time to leave!