PHD Admits : Heer’s Admit To Harvard

DoJMA caught up with Heer Joisher, who is all set to pursue her PhD from Harvard University. Have a peek at what she has to say about her journey so far to learn from her experience and the knowledge she has to impart.


The Choice

  • Why did you choose a PhD over other career options?

I got interested in the subject of Molecular biology after my second year and wanted to explore that domain further. The reason I chose PhD over Masters was because I was more interested in research and the opportunities available after a PhD seemed more favorable.

  • When did you decide that this (doing a PhD) was your calling?

I got inclined towards the idea of doing a PhD towards the end of my fourth year. By that time I had been studying Biology for over two years and had a fair amount of exposure to make the choice of working in that direction.

  • Could you briefly explain the topic of your research and why you chose it? 

I don’t have a topic yet, and as such I will just answer briefly explaining the program. I will be pursuing a PhD in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. It is an umbrella program where you have the flexibility to rotate in a couple of labs and undertake courses in the first year before deciding the topic and lab for your PhD.


The Exams

  • How did you receive the required guidance for GRE and TOEFL?

The official websites have well laid out guidance for the preparation of these two exams. It was also very helpful to consult seniors who had given the tests to plan the preparation.

  • Which sources did you use for the preparation of these exams?

I used the official guide for TOEFL. For GRE, I did the words using the Magoosh App and used the Manhattan 5lb book for Verbal and Quant Preparation.

  • From which year did you start preparing?

End of 4th year.

  • When did you sit for each of these exams? How do you think one must typically space them out?

I gave both the exams in my 5th year – GRE in October and TOEFL in early November. I think this made my crucial months slightly hectic. I would recommend finishing off these exams before you start working on the applications – sometime around july/august would be ideal.

  • How did you get the necessary recommendations from the professors involved in your LORs?

I reached out to the professors well in advance, keeping them well informed about my plans to apply for graduate school. It is generally a good practice to give them a good one month to submit the recommendation. Also, I kept following up once every 15 days as they might forget/skip something.


The University

Please tell us the criterion you had in mind while

  • Shortlisting which universities to apply to.

Research, Exit opportunities and Acceptance rate for international students.

  • Selecting your university of choice.

Inter disciplinary Research Opportunities, Location advantage, Class diversity and Program details.



  • How did you build your profile to suit the requirements of the university? What were the strong points of your SOP, in your opinion, and what was your CGPA before applying?

I had worked on a diverse range of projects all under the broad spectrum of molecular biology by undertaking SOPs, LOPs and summer internships. This helped me gain hands on experience in the field I was applying to. This might have stood out in my SOP.

My CGPA before applying was 8.56.

  • How will you rank each of these, in increasing order of importance, for an admit to a coveted university:

LOR > Projects/Research > CGPA > SOP > GRE > Extracurriculars including PORs > TOEFL

In addition to these, Good fortune – The most important factor! The class size for PhD is relatively smaller. So in most of the good schools the acceptance rate for international students is close to 2-5. Good fortune helps you get through that narrow entry.


The Funding

  • Did you factor in funding while applying to universities?

All the programs I applied to had funding for the students.

  • What are some scholarship schemes available for funding?

There are hardly any scholarships available for international students to apply for funding to pursue a PhD. The only one that I am aware of is Knight Hennessey Scholarship at Stanford University.



  • How did you arrange for accommodation near your university?

Through university housing groups available on Facebook

  • If you could have done something differently, what would it have been?

I would have definitely spaced out the exams and applications more.

  • Any message that you would like to pass on to the readers?

I would recommend planning the application cycle well in advance. There are a lot of portions of the application, like the GRE/TOEFL test, shortlisting the schools, filling in personal information to name a few, that can be done beforehand. This would later on give the applicant time to focus on the SOP. Also, it is a good idea to look at schools holistically and not just based on rankings.