Thinking about Graduate School in the Natural Sciences?

Are you passionate about research and interested in advancing your education beyond your undergraduate experience? It is our goal to support and encourage your efforts to continue your professional development in graduate school. This page will provide some useful information and contacts for you as you start your journey. You will find information on:

  • What can you do now to prepare for your application to graduate school?
  • Finding the right place to go to graduate school
  • Funding for graduate school
  • The application process
  • What can you do now to prepare for your application to graduate school?

Identify Your Interests

Read the professional literature.

  • Take opportunities to see interesting talks at conferences or given at PLU as part of the Natural Sciences Seminar Program.
  • Look at research programs and faculty web pages at schools of interest.
  • Make a list of scientists doing interesting work and do your homework on their research. Consider contacting them directly.
  • Talk to professors and other Ph.D.s

The following faculty members in the Division of Natural Sciences have a particular interest in mentoring students interested in attending graduate school.

BiologyChemistryComputer ScienceEnvironmental Studies
Romey HaberleJustin Lytle
Neva Laurie-BerryAndrea Munro
Julie SmithBrian Naasz
Tina Saxowsky
Dean Waldow
Neal Yakelis
Peter DavisTom EdgarBret Underwood
Ksenija Simic-MullerKatrina Hay

Identify and Apply for Undergraduate Research Opportunities


  • opportunities offered through PLU’s formal Division of Natural Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program.
  • opportunities offered by PLU faculty members during the academic year. Research PLU faculty interests and inquire about research opportunities they may be offering.
  • seeking research positions through the PLU office of academic internships.
  • summer research opportunities outside of PLU

Finding the Right Place to go to Graduate School

Professional factors that may affect your decision include:

  • The research tools used and instrumentation available.
  • Advisor personality and mentoring style. Are you more suited to a hands-on or a hands-off style of mentoring?
  • Research group size and number of post docs and graduate students in the lab.

If contacting researchers directly:

  • present yourself as an interested student, not as an expert;
  • ask about research projects;
  • familiarize yourself with these projects for the purpose of intelligently discussing current research problems, testable hypotheses, and/or cutting-edge research techniques;
  • send only error-free communications; they reflect on you for better or worse.

To identify a school, consider the following resources:

  • Peterson’s Guide
  • U.S. News & World Report rankings
  • Ask your professors
  • Web resources, e.g., for chemistry

Remember, the prestige of a specific graduate program may be separate from the reputation or prestige of a particular school. In other words, a school you may not have heard of may have an excellent reputation for producing Ph.D.s in a particular field. Depending on the discipline, you may need to apply to a program or to a specific graduate advisor. Consult a PLU faculty mentor for advice, if this is unclear.

Funding for Graduate School

  • Tuition is typically paid for by the Academic Department in which you are a graduate student.
  • Research Assistantships and Teaching Assistantship from the graduate program commonly provide a stipend to live on ($18,000-$33,000).
  • We strongly urge you to consider seeking funding from outside agencies e.g. National Science Foundation or other federal agencies. A listing of funding opportunities can be found here. You will be welcome at any laboratory if you bring your own funding!

The Application Process

  • Start your research into research schools/programs early.
  • Talk to your PLU advisor(s) during your junior year.
  • Take the GRE (general and/or subject test) early in your senior year.
  • Prepare your resume’/curriculum vita (CV) and a personal statement. Given enough notice, a faculty mentor with whom you have developed a relationship may be willing to review these for you.
  • Application due dates typically occur November through early January.
  • You’ll likely need 2-3 recommendation letters. Approach your letter writers early to allow them enough time to write meaningful recommendations.
  • If you are considering a break between PLU graduation and beginning graduate school, be sure you have a meaningful reason to do so, e.g., engaging in a volunteer or service opportunity. Still take your GRE in your final undergraduate year, submit applications, and, if accepted, seek deferred admission.