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What are the top skills I need as a biology major looking to go into grad school/academic research?

I am currently a sophomore in college majoring in biology. Now that I am soon entering the second half of my undergraduate education, I am starting to think more about my career plans. My goal after I graduate is to go to grad school for my phd. Besides internships and lab experience, what else would you advise I do or learn to prepare?

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Rian’s Answer

Hi Christian,
One thing that I would recommend to you is to look into volunteering around your community. Volunteering can help showcase to programs your breadth and can help expand your perspective which can become useful when studying certain topics. It's also a great way to give back to your community and can be a chance for you to share some of the research and information you've learned with people who generally may not have had the opportunity to learn about it.
Thank you comment icon Hi Rian, I like this idea! Christian
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James Constantine’s Answer

Hello Christian,

Preparing for Grad School as a Biology Major: Top Skills to Develop

As a biology major planning to pursue a PhD in graduate school, there are several key skills you should focus on developing to be successful in academic research. Here are some of the most important ones:

## Research Skills

One of the most crucial skills for academic research is the ability to conduct and analyze research effectively. This includes designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions based on your findings. You can develop these skills through lab courses, internships, and research projects.

## Writing Skills

Academic research requires strong writing skills to communicate your findings effectively. You should work on developing your ability to write clearly and concisely, with a focus on scientific writing style and format. Consider taking courses in technical writing or science communication to improve your writing skills.

## Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is essential for success in academic research. You need to be able to analyze complex problems, evaluate evidence, and make sound arguments based on that evidence. Developing these skills will help you design better experiments, analyze data more effectively, and draw more accurate conclusions.

## Collaboration Skills

Collaboration is a vital part of academic research. You’ll often work with other researchers, both in your lab and at other institutions. Developing strong collaboration skills will help you work effectively with others and build a strong network of colleagues in your field.

## Time Management Skills

Graduate school requires excellent time management skills. You’ll need to balance coursework, research projects, teaching responsibilities, and other commitments. Practicing good time management now will help you succeed in graduate school later.

## Computer Skills

Computer skills are increasingly important in academic research. You should be comfortable using tools like Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and statistical analysis software like R or SPSS. Familiarizing yourself with these tools now will make the transition to graduate school easier.

## Communication Skills

Effective communication is essential for success in academic research. You’ll need to be able to explain complex concepts clearly and concisely, both in writing and in person. Developing strong communication skills will help you present your research at conferences, write successful grant proposals, and collaborate effectively with other researchers.

Authoritative Reference Titles and Descriptions:
The Graduate School Handbook: Preparing for Success on Campus and Beyond - This book provides practical advice for graduate students on developing the skills they need to succeed in their programs and beyond. It covers topics like time management, collaboration, communication, and more. This resource was used to provide tips on developing essential skills for graduate school success. (
Scientific Writing and Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Engineers, and Medical Professionals - This book provides guidance on scientific writing and communication, including how to write clearly and concisely, how to present data effectively, and how to communicate complex scientific concepts to a general audience. This resource was used to provide tips on improving writing skills for scientific research. (
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) - The NCBI offers resources for biology majors looking to improve their computer skills for academic research. Their website includes tutorials on using tools like BLAST, PubMed, and GenBank, as well as other resources for biology researchers. This resource was used to provide tips on developing computer skills for biology research. (

Thank you comment icon Great advice James! These are all very helpful. Thank you for the reading recommendations! Christian
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Mahi’s Answer

As a biology major aspiring to pursue grad school and academic research, it's important to develop a well-rounded set of skills to thrive in the field. Here are some key skills that will be beneficial:

Research Skills:

Understand and apply research methodologies.
Design and conduct experiments.
Analyze and interpret data accurately.
Familiarity with statistical analysis.
Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving:

Develop the ability to critically evaluate scientific literature.
Identify gaps in existing knowledge.
Formulate hypotheses and design experiments to address specific research questions.
Lab Techniques:

Gain proficiency in various laboratory techniques relevant to your field of study.
Familiarity with cutting-edge technologies and equipment used in research.
Scientific Writing:

Communicate research findings effectively through scientific writing.
Develop skills in writing research papers, grant proposals, and other academic documents.
Communication Skills:

Present research findings at conferences and seminars.
Effectively communicate with peers, collaborators, and other professionals in the field.
Time Management:

Efficiently manage your time to balance coursework, research, and personal life.
Meet project deadlines and stay organized.
Adaptability and Flexibility:

Be open to new ideas and methodologies.
Adapt to unexpected challenges in your research.
Collaboration and Teamwork:

Work effectively with fellow researchers and lab mates.
Collaborate with professionals from diverse backgrounds.

Attend conferences, seminars, and workshops to build a network within the scientific community.
Establish connections with professors, researchers, and professionals in your field.
Ethical Conduct:

Understand and adhere to ethical standards in research.
Be familiar with responsible conduct of research principles.
Computer and Data Analysis Skills:

Learn programming languages relevant to your field (e.g., R, Python).
Gain proficiency in data analysis software and tools.
Project Management:

Plan and execute research projects efficiently.
Develop skills in managing resources and budgets.
Thank you comment icon Great advice! Christian
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Karin’s Answer

Hi Christian,

Biology is a very wide field. In grad school, you'll specialize in something. You'll need to narrow it down a bit before you can know what the "top skills" are. If you intend to be a wildlife biologist studying elephants in Africa or a microbiologist in the lab will make a difference. But you'll figure out your preferences in the next two years. Your field of specialization will also not be entirely your choice because you'll need to find an advisor who is willing to take on students and has funding for a project.

Having said that, getting into research, even if it is not in the field you want to go into is always important. Talk to your professors if anyone will take you on for an undergraduate research project. Find out if your school does any research summer program. Try to find a summer internship at any of the national labs. I have attached links to some of the undergrad programs.

Also important: internships. You can check on job search sites like Indeed or LinkedIn for internships in industry.

See if you can acquire any additional skills that set your apart from all the other graduates. Coding comes to mind. There is a wealth of online courses available. Some are free, some cost money. YouTube and FreeCodecamp are a good starting point to browse and find something that you enjoy.

A good statistics course including data analysis and learning SPSS would also be useful.

I hope this helps! You have a bit of time to figure out where your passions are.


Karin recommends the following next steps:
Thank you comment icon Thank you for the advice Karin! Yes, I agree that biology is a wide field and it is important to narrow down your research interests. I realize how broad the field is and how skills are specific to what you study/research. I will definitely work on improving my statistics knowledge and coding skills! Christian