Advice for applying to graduate school in Neuroscience

First off, welcome to the world of Neuroscience - its huge with people working solely on computers or bioengineering to people who do direct readings off of brain cells. The important thing about finding a lab for graduate school is finding a good fit, both with your advisor and with the people in the lab. I spend as much or more time in the lab as I do with my husband. Most people spend years picking a significant other but only meet/speak with an advisor for about an hour before picking which college to go to. Its important you like the lab you work in as it is a long term (4+ year) commitment.

A poor fit with an advisor can add years to the amount of time you are in graduate school.

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The Preliminary Exam

While you will probably take a small smattering of courses that have more traditional midterm and final exams, these are not really that critical to your success in graduate school. Rather than caring about your grades in them, the goal is to actually master the materials in relation to your research.

Instead, graduate school typically has three major milestones:

1. Qualifying Exam (aka Quals)
2. Preliminary Exam (aka Prelims)
3. Final Defense

There are a lot of variations on the qualifying and preliminary exams, even within a university. Taking a separate qualifying exam appears to be rare based on other graduate students I have spoken with both within the University of Illinois and from other schools. However, whether or not your program has separate Quals will change the goals and expectations of the Prelim exam.

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