Several weeks from now, the fall ’13 semester will begin. As it approaches, so does the countdown to applying to a four year university as a transfer. I have given a great deal of thought to considering where I should apply. I have ridiculous spreadsheets with all sorts of data. It is a question that I feel like I may have simply researched to death. Ultimately, preparation may serve me well, but it all still seems a bit distant for now. The goal is an advanced degree in biophysics and involvement in research. The vehicle is imagined to be a university with a recognized history and funding for scientific research. Based on those disarmingly straightforward criteria, the list appears to be fairly ambitious.
Reading the admission criteria for various universities more closely always seems to bring up additional “the devil is in the details” issues. I’m still not sure who, or how many, will be on the list; but there are three choices that I simply don’t seem to be able to let go of. For various reasons, these three universities keep clinging to my list no matter how I shift my criteria.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – While the UNC system has a number of campuses, when most people think of UNC, they only think of the Tarheels and Chapel Hill. One of the so called “public ivy” schools, it is one the oldest public universities in the nation. I visited there once, many years ago. It is in-state, has well-funded research programs, highly ranked sciences, and pretty reliable in terms of transferring credits and classes. I feel I would be well served should I end up at UNC. They do not have an undergraduate biophysics program, but they do have graduate program. As far as in-state goes, the other obvious choice would be Duke. Duke simply does not take many transfers and there is no way to know how my classes would transfer. Sometimes I do feel fortunate to have ended up living in a state with two such highly ranked choices. In fact, some Duke supporters might even be surprised at how much research funding Chapel Hill actually attracts. Not as much as Duke, of course, but I believe Duke is very much up there with the Ivy League in terms of research funding. Chapel Hill is simply not as far behind as one might think.
The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) – A member of the Ivy League and founded by Benjamin Franklin, this university is one of the highest ranked universities in the nation and the world. While I have a grandfather and an aunt (by marriage) who attended Penn, I have little personal connection with Penn. One wonderful bonus is that Penn is very close to nearby family, which would make it feel much more like home. That I grew up in West Philly would also add to that “coming home” sort of feeling. Based on objective merits, it would be hard to find a better and more highly ranked university to attend. They have tremendous research funding and a biophysics program at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. As it happens with so many of the top universities, they have limited admissions for transfers, but I can’t help but want to make the effort to apply and see what happens. Acceptance at Penn would be a wonderful affirmation of my hard work. And no, if you are wondering, I highly doubt that I would get any “legacy” consideration at all. My grandfather died before I was born. I am very sure that any acceptance will require merit.
The University of Virginia (otherwise known simply as The University) – Another among the “public ivy” and founded by Thomas Jefferson, UVA has a special place in my heart. When I was much younger, I spent about 2 years in and around the university. I did not actually attend, but had friends there. I spent many hours on the grounds. I occasionally attended lectures, simply for the joy of hearing what was being taught. I spent many hours losing myself in the stacks of Alderman, discovering all sorts of amazing things. One of the most amazing places I have ever visited, that library had so much to offer to anyone willing to explore. Descending into the stacks, back then, was like entering the bowels of an old navy ship. Catwalks, steep metal staircases that seemed pretty close to ladders, a claustrophobic series of steel catacombs that had treasures on every shelf. If you have any appreciation for the printed word, and you are not too twitchy in confined places, it was an amazing place to explore. LOL! Ok, I wax fairly poetic here, but that’s how I remember it. I watched the original Nosferatu (1922) for the first time while sitting in Clemons library late one night. I was also very sad to hear that the College Inn closed down a few years ago. I loved their veal parmesan, no matter what anyone else thought. Like UNC, they only have a graduate program in biophysics, but UVA makes my list on objective merit. While UVA is, objectively, a good choice, it would also mean a lot to me to attend UVA on a personal level. In a way, it would almost have a “closing the circle” sort of feel to it. That, and the grounds are simply beautiful. Regardless of the friends from many years ago, The University is a place that I have never been able to forget. If Penn would give me some feeling of “coming home,” returning to UVA would do so even more intensely. For his gravestone, Jefferson wrote his own epitaph. Jefferson noticeably failed to mention that he was President of the United States, but he made a point to mention that he founded his beloved university. I grew up in Philly, but I similarly fell in love with Jefferson’s university.
So, decisions, decisions, eh? All I can do is apply and see what happens. If Stanford or CalTech were to call, that might be enough to get me to go to California. If MIT, Yale, or Harvard called, It would be hard not to run. If Johns Hopkins came a calling, you could not ask for much better. Some of those ambitions may have to wait for grad school though. I may try a few of those, but I may simply have a better chance as a grad school applicant than an undergrad transfer. Frankly, I can’t find a way to realistically measure my chances. Given the application fees, it is hard to want to send out too many applications that seem like “long shots.” Some things you just have to shoot for though.
Other places that are somewhere on my potential list would be the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas. All make the list based on ranking, research funding, and/or the proximity of a certain Dr. Taylor, who has done some amazing research on re-growing organs. I’m guessing that some of these choices will simply have to be made when I sit down with the applications. Assuming anyone actually sends an acceptance letter, then it will simply come down to what classes transfer and financial considerations. Part of me is almost afraid of finding myself in a situation where my heart and head end up in conflict, but that would only be the case if it was UVA versus one of the very top research universities out there. If UVA does not send an acceptance letter, or tells me that I have to re-take a lot of classes, or ends up really “out there” expensive (relatively, of course), that may help the decision making process. Either way, I guess I will just let future Matt deal with that. For all I know, none of them will send an acceptance letter and I will have to find a plan “C.” I certainly hope not, but if you have no real way of measuring your chances, you just can’t be sure.
If only universities scouted academic talent like they do athletic talent. Then you might have a better idea. Can you imagine? An academic “draft day” or academic “combine,” where universities competed to sign scholarly talent? Maybe it does happen in special cases, but wouldn’t that be cool?! I know sports brings in a lot of money, and certainly provides a lot of exposure for a university, but research brings in money and prestige as well. Not only that, but patents from research bring in more money. I can’t pretend to have any expertise in the finances of universities, but I would think that the money and reputation that comes with high end research would warrant just as much recruiting effort. Though I suppose, since they don’t seem to put the same effort into that, I must be wrong. If it were really worth doing, you would think that they would already do it. Anyway, enough rambling for now. See you next time you decide to wade through my stream of consciousness.