The Master Plan


Dr. Michael Gaines is the assistant provost of undergraduate research, director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Education Program (HHMI) and director of the NIH Bridge Program. Dr. Gaines teaches both undergraduate and graduate level courses with areas of focus in conservation and restoration biology, evolutionary biology and tropical biology.

What is the importance of planning out your college year?

It is important to plan out your college year because you want to have some goal and some timetable for doing the kinds of activities that will enhance your portfolio. Without a plan, you don’t have a schedule of when you want to accomplish several things … the problem is that you are so busy with different activities and so, you really want to be organized.

Which factors do you believe are vital to getting into a graduate program?

A factor that is critical for a graduate program is undergraduate research because you want to get involved as early as possible. What graduate schools are most interested in are your experiences as an undergraduate and what led you to want to pursue a Ph.D. or a master’s degree. By having those research experiences, particularly extramural ones, you promote a global development in your education.

Do you believe that greater priority should be placed on research or shadowing for medical programs, or are both equally important?

Shadowing is more important than research if you are applying for medical school because you go around and you follow a physician in order to get inside perspective.

What would you believe to be a competitive GPA to get into a good medical school? What would you consider to be a competitive MCAT score?

A competitive GPA in the sciences is about a 3.70. The MCAT exam is changing, so a competitive score in the new MCAT would be about a 500, while in the old MCAT, a 32 is a competitive score.

What have you seen most students fail to do in their college years?

I have seen most students fail to show diversity of interest. Students will do things in order to enhance their portfolio for resume-building rather than being passionate about a particular activity. Instead of continuously trying to do what medical or graduate schools want, you should want to do something that inspires you.

Do you have any tips on interviewing for medical schools?

A good tip would be to know what is going on in the world. It is important to be up to date on matters. The actual interview process for medical school is changing, as the medical school might give you a situation and have you react to it instead of just question and answer. You want to go in with confidence while thinking about the ethics of research and medicine.

If there is one piece of advice you would share with a freshman student, what would it be?

You should take advantage of everything this university has to offer you. A lot of students get caught up in only their grades and what their GPA will look like, but you should take advantage of the opportunities out there — whether it is joining clubs or volunteering.


Mrs. Pamela Salemi is the senior biology advisor and has been working with the University of Miami for 14 years. She has worked for human resources over the years and has been advising for a year.

If you were to share one piece of advice with freshmen, what would it be?

To be organized, know how to manage your time and know how to study. Additional perks: to be well-rounded and well-spoken.

What are some of the resources you would recommend utilizing?

I recommend what complements my first three thoughts. A student needs to stay organized and understand how to study for each subject. Information needs to be digested via class time, assigned readings, reviewing notes, labs, etc. … It is important to study from these various sources and understand that there can be a steep learning curve on how to correctly study as compared to one’s high school study habits. Students are encouraged to take advantage of the Academic Resource Center (ARC) or other departmentally-based resource centers.

What is the importance of planning out your college years in advance?

Planning is tremendously important! It is multipurpose. You need to have a vision to see where you are going and know not only where you are today, but also where you will be going tomorrow. Organization is key in being at peace so that you can focus.

When you lay out your four-year plan, you can see and understand the importance of why you are taking courses in a particular order. You also need to plan in order to make room for shadowing, research, volunteering or any other project that will project you as a well-rounded applicant to graduate or medical school — or wherever your goals take you.

What are some things you have seen most students fail to do?

What I like to focus on is what things I have seen that have prevented a student from failure — and that would be organization. Having a personal calendar promotes organization and is a visual on how to allocate your time.

When advising a struggling student, I also strongly encourage them to reach out for help, and to avoid any apprehension they may have about doing so. Students should feel comfortable reaching out to their professors and being proactive about their scholastics.

What is the difference between the traditional and accelerated chemistry route? Do medical schools approve of this?

The traditional four-semester chemistry sequence incorporates Inorganic Chemistry I and II and Organic Chemistry I and II. The new three-semester chemistry sequence was developed to be more consistent with the upcoming changes to the MCAT. It also helps students get into biochemistry earlier, as it will be an added component to the 2015 MCAT. Both tracks will prepare students for medical school, but the three-semester sequence skips a few topics that are not relevant to the pre-health student. Medical schools are receptive to this new sequence.

How important are extracurriculars in a student’s life?

Extracurricular activities are absolutely important. You need to involve yourself in organizations but not to the point that it interferes with your academics.

How can students effectively pick out classes?

Biology majors can meet Biology Peer Advisors or me for advice on course scheduling. It is important for students to have an active relationship with their academic advisors to keep themselves on track academically, but also to be aware of any forthcoming opportunities that they can take advantage of.


Roger Williams, M.S. Ed of the Microbiology and Immunology Undergraduate Dept. is the Director, Student Activities/Advisor and Laboratory Coordinator

Is there any piece of advice you would share with incoming students?

I would advise freshmen not to settle on a major from the beginning, because they still have a great deal to learn. I suggest exploring different subjects and fields, finding the one that suits them best.  Financially, it is wise to have a decision made by the beginning of sophomore year as any later may extend their time to graduate.  Their parents are looking out for their best interests however, it is important that the student recognizes their abilities and limitations early on.  They should keep their eyes and mind open to new things as they will find their own niche in the end, whether it is medical school or something completely different.  Whatever you choose should make you happy.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were our age?

Peanuts are not nuts, I realize now that I should not have taken my undergraduate years for granted. My focus wasn’t there from the very beginning due to a number of reasons.  I was fortunate to work in my field before and after graduation, surrounded by a group of supportive individuals.  If I could speak with my teenage self I would say, be realistic, do your best and take advantage of any opportunities awarded to you.


Barbara Colonna Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer of Organic Chemistry

What characteristics do you see in successful students?

Successful students have many traits that help them in their accomplishments. First of all, they enjoy what they are doing. The most unifying characteristic is that successful students embrace what they are doing. Once you enjoy what you are studying, it doesn’t become a burden, but rather an interest. This interest allows you to feel natural in excelling. Curiosity and an attention to detail are factors that I find common as well. So overall passion, love for the subject, attention to detail and curiosity are characteristics that help students excel in their academics and in life.

What do you like most and least about being a professor?

I love to teach and be in class and interact with the students by answering their questions. The reason I entered my field was that I was fascinated by it and didn’t know too much about it. I was and am completely captivated. So, I really like it when I have the ability to inspire students and get their feedback. I don’t like exams or having to put a grade that sometimes does not fully reflect the student’s efforts. It is a very simplistic way of figuring out what students know and don’t know and it works better for some students than for others.

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