From Kevin Tsai (2008) --------------------------------Housing search I guess there should be many people writing about the choice between Center city & West Philly, so I'll leave that to others. If you feel confused about all the neighborhood names in Center city Philadelphia, here's a good community map: http://www.phillyapartmentco.com/maps/center-city-map.html On finding an apartment, I'd suggest: http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/apa/ http://www.phillyapartmentco.com Forget about big sites like Rent.com, those sites only find you places that require you to drive to school. Also, try walking around town, some apartments are not listed on Craigslist. Sometimes "for rent" signs work nice. I found my place by word of mouth, visited a Craigslist listed apartment, whose landlord referred me to his sister's property next door. Getting around town The streets of Philly is a grid. Streets in the North-South directions are in numbers, while the East to West streets are usually named after trees. The whole grid is criss-crossed by Market street (E-W direction) and Broad street (N-S) direction, between 15th & 13th) with the city hall in the center. A trick with finding an address is, for example: 1930 Chestnut means it's on Chestnut street, between 19th and 20th street. The SEPTA bus/trolly/subways are all $2 per ride by cash, but you could get tokens for $1.45 each, one token per ride. There is a token vending machine at the CVS on campus, another hidden somewhere around the bathrooms of the 2nd floor of the Penn bookstore. I prefer cycling as the fastest way of getting around town, bike racks are really easy to find in town; yet the streets are narrow and you'd need to be aware of potholes. Rotations MVP has a great series of chalk talks, they'll give you a pretty good idea on what labs to choose. Yet, there's also some labs that are cool but the PI doesn't have time to do chalk talks. For those, check the faculty list on the CAMB website, and talk to as much of people as possible. I'm sure most people would be happy to help. Class Don't worry too much, give it your best and you'll do just fine. Cell600 should be pretty easy for people with biology back grounds, if not, just study a little harder. Exams are mostly experimental based, for example, "design an experiment to prove something", or "what do you conclude from this data". Practice problem sets should be provided for Cell 600, be sure to do them. From Alyssa Huegel (2008) Advice for Incoming Students: Housing: So many individual factors go into where you choose to live, so it’s hard to offer advice applicable to everyone. There are tons of apartment buildings around West Philadelphia and Center City “West” that would be easy to find/visit/rent from, but there are also many, many individual apartments in buildings with only 4-10 units that are more unique/less dorm-y. The landlords of some of these buildings can be touch and go, so if you’re concerned, talk to others in the building or find reviews online. Housing directly around campus (between 38th and 42nd and between Baltimore and Chestnut Streets) tends to have the highest rent and worst landlords in
West Philly, because of the numbers of students (particularly undergrads) who will take what they can get. If you want convenience, this could be the way to go, particularly in your first year if you’re adjusting to Philadelphia. Moving outside of these said boundaries, but remaining in West Philly will give you reduced rent, but be careful of the area you choose (some parts are more sketchy than others- visit the apartment and you’ll know pretty soon if you would feel safe in the area). However, living in Center City (east of the Schuylkill river) has a ton of perks, and doesn’t create as much inconvenience as some new students imagine- it is only a 15-30 minute walk (obviously depending on where exactly you live) to school, and the bus system is super easy and pretty convenient (and currently less than 2$/ride). Classes: Cell 600 (fall semester) and BIOM 555 (spring semester) are the two core required classes during the first year. You have to take them, and they’ll probably be different from classes in undergrad (depending on where you went to school). There is no busy work, so it’s up to you to stay caught up. Nobody is going to be holding your hand, but there are also a lot of people willing to help if you need/want/ask for it. Everyone here wants you to do well, so don’t be afraid to get what you need to do well. The benefits of doing practice problems and tests can’t be overstated (sometimes old questions even turn up on the exams). Classes in general are meant to get everyone on the same page, expose you to almost every aspect of molecular/cell biology (in some form or another), and teach you basic experimental designs. They aren’t particularly interesting, some of them can be poorly organized/taught at times, but they are pretty important—you will end up using what you learn in lab sooner or later. Lab: even during the first year when course load can be pretty heavy, the more important (in my opinion… perhaps not the same as the professors) part of your schooling is what you are doing in lab. This is where you learn the scientific process hands on—you can only learn so much from a book. Picking a lab: I would recommend NOT picking a rotation lab before you start, you won’t have been exposed to as many PIs/labs to know where you want to rotate. There is no rush, each rotation is 11 weeks so you have until the end of September to pick the first one. Again, giving general advice for picking rotation labs is difficult as everybody is different and wants different things. Try not to pick a lab based solely on the science- you may already think you know you want to spend your life studying malaria/herpes/Ebola but there are a million other things to consider beyond the pathogen the lab works on. Current lab members/size/grad student to postdoc ratio, what the past records of publishing/average years to graduation/what kinds of jobs past grad students in the lab have had, PI’s attitude towards students.. I could go on for awhile. You want to consider all of these things and make sure that each rotation lab you choose is a place you would want to do your thesis (obviously, you won’t know EVERYTHING, and you may change your mind after your rotation, and that’s OK). Don’t freak out too much about this process, but it is a very important one. Plan to spend about 30 hours a week in lab on top of class, the more you put into your rotation the more you will get out of it. Learn what all of the members of the lab do, read read read and read some more, and practice techniques that are new to you. It’s all a learning process, and the more you learn, the better. Grad school life isn’t all work- lots of fun stuff happens too. The amount and variety of planned social events is pretty extensive, and gives you an opportunity to meet people outside of your
program (GAPSA sponsored events, BGS sponsored events etc). Philadelphia is a young city with tons of students, and lots of places to eat and go out, and tons of events every weekend. There is definitely not a lack of entertainment/distraction from school! From Sarah Clark (2008) For housing, many students end up in Center City, because it is nearby campus but also has many restaurants/bars where people tend to go out. If you don't mind being a little further, I lived in Park Towne Place my first year, which is an apartment complex in a great area next to the art museum. It also has a free shuttle down to the University, which I found pretty convenient. Center City apartments are usually more expensive than in West Philly, so I’d recommend sharing an apartment if you want to help bring down costs. Another thing to consider is proximity to grocery stores, especially if you don't have a car. I ended up not bringing my car with me, and it turned out fine. Parking is pretty expensive, and the city is very walkable. The bus/subway system is fine for anything that takes a bit longer to get to. When thinking about lab rotations, starting earlier is better. Professors are very open to having meetings with you to talk about what they're working on, so feel free to set up multiple meetings to figure out whose research interests you the most. Also, I found that talking to the upperclass students about their labs, as well as labs they had rotated in, was a great source of information on the environment of different labs as well as about the Professors. Students are very honest about their experiences, so they can be really helpful in deciding where to rotate. From Melanie Milholland (2008) Where to live: Philly Apartment Co is an awesome resource - they'll do all the searching for you for free. This is better for apartment complexes/high rises. If you'd rather live in an apartment within a townhouse or a low rise, look yourself on Craigslist. There are some awesome finds on Craigslist that will appear and then be taken immediately, so keep checking (daily!) and there will be tons - normally available immediately or within a month or two. Obviously it depends on what you're looking for, but most of my class lives in Center City (within a five block radius!) and it's definitely been awesome - very close to shops/bars/nightlife, but also really great for getting to know and spend time with one another. I honestly spend zero time in West Philly, so I have no advice to give for that. How to survive the first year: I know it sounds trite, but it's very important to lean on your peers. The current first-years are incredibly close, and no matter how busy we are, we always make time to check in with one another. It's really important to stay grounded/healthy/happy and I can't emphasize enough the need for a sounding board. That being said, take advantage of all the time you get to spend with one another in the beginning - these are the people that will most likely be here with you 4 years down the road. This leads me to my next point: play hard. It's just as important to go out and have fun as it is to work hard in lab. I've found that even if I've been at work for an obscene length of time and want to do nothing else but go home and be alone, just going out and letting it all go while laughing hysterically at game night or quizzo an be just as rejuvenating. About classes: nobody's crazy about them, but it's useless to complain. Just get your work done, and work hard in lab. About lab: You don't have to take this advice, but judging from the experiences of myself and my fellow first-years...don't rotate with your favorite PI until the second rotation at the earliest. The first rotation is I'd say the least productive, because there is definitely an adjustment period. No matter if you're coming straight from undergrad or you've
been on your own for a bit, it's a new city and a new lifestyle, new classes, new people, new ways of learning, NEW EXPECTATIONS. Inevitably, the first rotation suffers, and that can be difficult both for your morale and your PI's opinion of you. I'm not saying that you should rotate first in a lab you don't care about and would never consider joining, I would just save the lab that excites you the most for the second or third rotation. About talks: the opening months are loaded with chalk talks from professors to get you acquainted and potentially rotate. Take these seriously - I came in sure about who I wanted to rotate with, then this changed upon going to the chalk talks. I'm planning on joining a lab that I never would have rotated in, had it not been for the chalk talks. Keep an open mind (somewhat) and don't close yourself off to the many possibilities of labs, and many chances to learn new techniques and research areas that you may not have considered before. From Kim Davis (2006): Housing— I would start out by deciding which area of the city you want to live in. Most students live in either West Philly (just west of campus) or Center City (east of campus). Within Center City, a bunch of us (myself included) live in the Rittenhouse Square area, which is the western part of Center City, and closest to campus. West Philly is going to feel more like a college town, with lower priced rent and lots of student housing whereas Center City has more of a mix of people; a lot of grad students from different universities in the area and people that work downtown. I think it’s really personal preference; for me, I had been in grad school for a year and was ready to live in the city vs. a college campus. I had also heard going in that a lot of people move to Center City eventually anyway, so I figured I would start out there and avoid moving later (and I’ve been happy with my decision). You also have to be careful where you live in W. Philly—some neighborhoods out there aren’t the best, so it would be probably be smart to avoid anything west of 50th, or even 45th on some streets (like Walnut or Chestnut). In Center City it’s best to stay north of South Street, and west of Broad (for convenience, if you’re planning on walking to class). The best thing I did, was coming out during a week in June to look at different places. I would definitely suggest coming to see a place in person if you can, and if you’re worried about finding a place to stay while you’re looking, I have two couches that are always open to anyone that needs a place to stay (and I’m sure other people would also be willing). One of the best resources for finding apartments was the off campus housing website. I tried Craig’s list too, but didn’t really have much luck with it. I think I came out to visit about a month and a half to 2 months before I wanted to move in, and some places were already rented but there were still a lot available. Call up landlords a week before you come out here and schedule as many appointments during the time you’re visiting as you can. Remember to bring your checkbook in case you really love a place and need to write a deposit check to hold onto it. Picking Rotations— In the fall semester you’ll have a lot of chalk talks given by professors that function to sell their lab to you. All the professors that give talks should be interested in taking rotation students during the year. We have our own chalk talks with MVP and GTV faculty only, with dinner provided afterwards by more senior students. This gives you a chance to meet other students in the program and talk about what labs are really like before you decide whether or not you want to rotate there. I would definitely talk to grad students that are in the lab before you decide to go there. There are also chalk talks on Thursdays with faculty from all the programs in CAMB, just in case you have many different interests and would like to do a rotation outside of MVP. Most of the students start their first rotation in October, but you also have the option of doing a summer rotation before you start your first year. I believe those start up in June. I remember getting an email about it in the spring, so if you’re interested in that just keep a heads up for information, or you can always email Bob about it.
Classes— I wouldn’t worry about classes, because for your first semester you don’t really have any options. We get automatically registered for Cell 600 (BIOM 600), the first year CAMB seminar (CAMB 510) and Biology of Pathogens (CAMB 590). Your schedule would be a little different if you’re doing the Public Health certificate. They take a public health class instead of the pathogens class with the rest of the first year MVPs. You also don’t need to worry about signing up for classes before you get here; that will be taken care of for you in the fall. I think that’s about it, if you have any other questions feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org Looking forward to meeting you in the fall! Kim Davis From Leah Sabin (2006): I think your living situation is pretty important in determining how easy of an adjustment you'll have and how comfortable you'll feel in your first few months. That being said, you should try to choose wisely, even if you're from out of town and can only be in Philly looking at apartments for a weekend. Stick to the guidelines of what people think is safe (ie, no farther west than 44th or maybe 45th in West Philly) because....the guidelines are actually true. Especially if you're a woman. Also, keep an open mind about what type of building you want to live in. I was very against high rise apartment complexes before coming here, but I've learned that they actually can have lots of advantages (like free fitness centers!) and wish I would have looked into them more thoroughly. About rotations: people will start to nail theirs down right away (before classes start) even though you don't have to figure things out until late September/ early October. This can be really stressful because it's easy to feel like you're behind since everything else is new too. If I could do it over again, I would have started talking to faculty earlier, because once classes really get going, it's easy to push the appointments off and tell yourself you'll set them up later. I'm not saying you should have all three set up before you start classes (because there are chalk talks during the first few months to expose you to different faculty) but it's in your best interest to at least put some thought into rotations before your responsibilities start piling up. One last thing- it's very easy/common to feel overwhelmed/out of place/help, I don't have any friends/etc etc. in the first few months, but that's ok, because most of your fellow first years are probably feeling the same way. The earlier you get that out in the open, the better :) From Sarah Galanti (2006): Why you should live in Center City and not West Philly: 1) Better night life (bars, restaurants, etc) 2) More young professionals/professional students, less undergrads 3) Safer (better lit for walking at night and your car/apt less likely to get broken into) 4) All the cool people do it 5) So you can have a life AWAY from Penn campus Seriously folks, it is more expensive to live in center city, but so worth it. If you do choose (wisely) to live in the city, I'd reccommend searching within the following borders: S=South St, N=JFK Blvd, E= around 15th, W=no limit really. South of South street is much cheaper, but also sketchier. East of 15th is perfectly nice, but getting a little far from campus, same goes for north of JFK, but that depends on your personal preference. Rittenhouse Square is in the center of the area I've mapped out and is really a great little city park, so the closer you live to it, the better (and more expensive).
Where and when to search: 1) Philly Apt Co. http://www.phillyapartmentco.com/ Free apartment match-maker company. Really helpful folks. They are the best way to find places at high-rise managed buildings I think. If you think you want to live in a big high rise (there are a lot of nice ones) I suggest looking as soon as possible cuz those apartments get snatched up pretty far in advance. 2) Craigslist http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/ Personal favorite. Actually how my roommate and I found our current apartment. Great for last minute shoppers. In fact, probably can't search for stuff on craigslist more than a month or two in advance. 3) I don't recommend using a site like rent.com or apartments.com because they tell you nothing about what is actually available. Maybe use it to get an idea of places in locations and price ranges that suit you, but then call philly apartment company. In case you were wondering about price range, i think this is about what you can expect: Crappy place in W Philly: $400-$500 Nice place in W Philly: $600-800 Modest place around Rittenhouse: $700-$900 Nice place north of JFK (art museum area) or east of 15th (convention center area): $500-$800 (I sorta just pulled all that out of my ass, but I think it is close to correct) As for classes and rotations and what not, you'll figure it out when you get here. Hope this is helpful. Happy hunting! Sarah Galanti email@example.com From Jessica Taffee (2006): On finding an apartment: I was living in NYC before moving to Philly, so I was at least within a proximal distance, making it plausible to take 2 trips to look for apartments. I visited Philly twice between March and April, and we (my boyfriend and I) scheduled all of our appointments on those days. We used Craigslist and the UPenn Off Campus housing list (http://www.businessservices.upenn.edu/offcampusliving/). The Penn website is really helpful in giving you many parameters around which to base your search, plus, it includes listings throughout Philly. I think it is hard to know what to look for in an apartment unless you’ve done a lot of living in apartments, but some important things are: location (of course), price, the management company/landlord, how much space you want/need, etc. I live in University City, which I love and will probably stay here for my entire time. If I move, I probably won’t move to Center City. I love that the area is very residential and how beautiful it is in the spring and summer. I’m happy that it only takes me 20 min walking to campus and less on bike. I like that I can easily find parking on the street with a residential permit (this requires you to get a Pennsylvania license and register your car here). I like living in an apt in a Victorian house with a small backyard. I like that I can easily take a cab or trolley into Center City if I want to go out. In regard to University City, you do need to be careful about location. Closer to campus is better, but too close is too noisy with undergrads. I live on Pine St between 42nd and 43rd , and this is a great area. If you go too far west, your walk will be longer and the area can quickly become less desirable. Be critical of landlords and management companies – I think a lot of them aren’t as good to their tenants as they should be. Before signing the lease, read it and make sure you are OK with everything. The Penn website has a list of your rights, so this will make examining the lease easier. Also, if you have any requests for repairs, don’t be afraid to ask, and put it in writing! We asked for several things to be done before we moved in, which is
completely acceptable. In terms of price, factor in what you may or may not be paying for in utilities. On living alone or with roommates: My situation was easy because my boyfriend moved with me. But, if that hadn’t been the case, I probably would have chosen to live alone. It’s easier for me because I’m not the most tidy person, and I would hate to bother someone else with my mess. And, I think it’s hard to pick roommates without even knowing anyone very well. However, if you do want roommates, they will give you company and you can get a larger place that what you could afford alone. On pets: If you are like me, you may want to use the first opportunity you have to get a pet. We moved with our cat, but I really wanted a dog for companionship and protection when my boyfriend is away. We got a White German Shepherd puppy in August (I would have opted for an adult dog, but we decided that the cat wouldn’t be so freaked out with a puppy that would initially be smaller than him), and that was quite an undertaking! I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND this to first years that lived alone or lived far away from campus. I am lucky that when my boyfriend is not working away, he works from home, which is convenient for raising a puppy. Still, I had to coordinate my schedule when he was gone to come home at some point to let her out. I now have someone that will walk her for days that I am unable to come home. Dogs can be a lot of work, so it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Having a roommate helps divide the responsibilities, or at least might give you a break every now and then. Puppies are even more work, and add so much more complication to the already tough first semester. My advice would be to get an adult dog if you want a dog your first year, or wait until you’ve at least picked a lab, giving you more flexibility in your schedule, to get a puppy. I think getting a pet is great thing if you live alone. Living alone can be really lonely, and having a pet can help with that. Cats are much easier pets because they don’t demand as much from you, but if you can’t have cats or dogs, maybe try something else. My friend has two rats that she keeps (contrary to popular belief, rats are actually the most social of the rodents and can be great pets). On starting early: I didn’t choose to start early. Even though I didn’t go straight from undergrad to grad school, I really didn’t get a break. I went straight from college to work, so I felt that it was important to take part of the summer off. I HIGHLY recommend students coming straight from college to not start early. There are advantages to starting early but I think giving yourself a break is necessary. You will be plenty busy once classes start, so relax a little bit before everything starts up again. If you are out of college, starting early might be appealing, but again, take a little time off before starting up again. You should definitely factor in moving to a new city, so if you do choose to start early, give yourself enough time to settle in. I suggest taking at least a month in between school/work, if you do choose to start early. On picking rotations: I picked my first one, almost on a whim, simply because I liked the guy a lot. We got along really well and we thought about science similarly. Luckily, the rotation worked out. I wouldn’t suggest using my method for picking rotations, but I think intuition says a lot. With that being said, I did speak to many many people in the course of my rotation decisions, and I even spoke to faculty more than once. I also chose my rotations as I went along. I came to Penn thinking that I DIDN’T want to work on HIV. Ironically, all of my rotations have been in HIV/SIV labs because I decided that I liked HIV after working on it for my first rotation. Let me assure that your perspective on labs and research interests will change as you go through your first year, so don’t worry about figuring it all out right away.
I also want to stress how important it is to find a lab that works for your personality and research habits. Honestly, you really won’t know until you rotate whether or not the lab is going to work for you, but how you get along with the PI can say a lot. I’m a person who needs a balanced life, between spending time with my boyfriend, taking out my dog, and keeping up with my hobbies. One reason why I really like the PI in my first rotation was that when he found out that I sing, he encouraged me to keep doing it, in a very sincere way. I won’t do good science if I am unhappy with my life, no matter how excited I am about the research. Therefore, it is very important to me that my mentor understand that and be OK with it. So, of course, you can’t necessarily talk about these sorts of things upon meeting faculty, but trust your instinct. There is only so much I can rationalize about my rotation picks. The rest was based on a ―feeling.‖ From Lauren Mays (2005): My best advice for finding an apartment in Philly is to make as many contacts as possible. I didn't come to Philly to find a place until late June, and I had no problem getting a great apartment. So, don't stress about the time limit. If you're from out of town and can only make one trip to the city to find a place, then I'd suggest concentrating on scheduling appointments to view as many places as possible while you are in town. I must have looked at 12 different buildings - and while several of them would have worked, the apt. I'm living in happened to be the last place I looked. So, you never know. I live in West Philly and it's nice for several reasons: it's close to campus, so I can walk to school instead of worrying about public transit, it's a little more residential instead of the big-city feel (which was nice for me cause I've never lived in a city before, so it was a good transition), and it's more affordable than center city (I'd say around $500-700 per person for a 2 bedroom). If you're looking in west philly I'd suggest staying east of 45th, south of walnut, and north of baltimore. If you'd prefer living somewhere downtown then I'd suggest Center City (still close enough to school to be reasonable... Old City is great, but way too far). Apartments are more pricey downtown, but if you look around you will probably be able to find something reasonable (I know a few people that live in the Fitler Square area - around 20th and locust. Also check out 2400 Chestnut; it's a high rise downtown, but right on the river so it's close to campus and a lot of Penn grad/med/law students live there). If you live downtown you'll definitely be closer to the nightlife and all the best shops and bars, etc... To be honest, I'm glad that I lived in west philly my first year - it was a good transition to get used to the city. But, now that I've been in Philly for a year and know my way around (which areas are safe and which to avoid), I think I'd prefer to live downtown in the future. Hope that helps! Good luck in finding a place, and congrats on your decision to come to Penn! From Joanna DiSpirito (2004): Hi guys, I did my first rotation last summer and moved to Philadelphia in June. Last year, around this time, I used Penn's off-campus housing website (see link below) to search for one-bedroom apt listings in West Philadelphia. I was interested in living between 30th and 45th, and Walnut and Baltimore. I used that as my main search criteria on their website, plus other amenities (i.e. heat included in rent, washer/dryer, etc.) I made a list of available apts. and visited in the last week of April with my parents, narrowed down the list, and finalized my lease via mail when I was still at college. I live in a one-bedroom on 41st and Pine and love it! I rent from Urban & Bye and if anyone is thinking about renting from them, you can email me with any questions (they have been excellent thus far). In my opinion, the neighborhood is very safe (and pretty), I enjoy being only 5 blocks from the lab, and I find it very easy to get around without a car. Through the Penn Grad Student Guide (see link below) I was able to link to local utility companies and set up accounts for my cable, internet, and electricity before I moved in, and set up a date to have service workers come to the apt when I knew I would be moved in, which was very convenient. Also, as a side note, my apt was a complete dump when I came to visit, and I wasn't too hot on it. But my dad thought it had a lot of potential and we spent a few days cleaning, fixing, etc before I moved
in and now it is great- so previous tenants can really let a nice place go-don't be afraid to get a place you can fix up, if you have the means to do so. If any of you are planning on doing a summer rotation, I would be more than happy to answer any other specific questions via email. I found that it was nice to be settled in before classes started, but by all means take a break this summer if that is what you want to do! Most of my classmates moved here sometime in August and adjusted perfectly fine. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions. -Joanna (firstname.lastname@example.org) From Helen McGraw (2003): Finding an apartment Look for an apartment a month or two before you want to arrive. You can do quite a bit of advance searching online, but it’s a good idea to come look around in person in order to avoid nasty surprises. The Penn Office of Off-Campus Living has a good website (http://oclserv2.busi.upenn.edu/) and Philadelphia Weekly has good apartment listings (pick it up for free from a yellow box around town or go to http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/); the online version comes out Tues night and the paper version is out Wed morning. If you need a place to stay when you’re in town apartment-hunting, The Bank St. Hostel (32 S. Bank St. 215-922-0222) is cheap ($20/night) and located near the subway. Most apartments will require first (and sometimes last) month’s rent and damage deposit when you sign your lease. It is easy to find apartments that allow cats (sometimes with a $250 deposit). If you have a dog, the Fairfax (4247 Locust St.) is one of the few dog-friendly buildings. Most first-years live in West Philly or Center City (on the west and east sides of the Schuylkill river, respectively). In West Philly, most students live between 40th and 45th St. and between Chestnut St. and Baltimore Ave. (west of 48th St. and north of Market is sketchy). West Philly is convenient because you’re close to campus; in Center City you’re closer to bars and fun things to do. Your stipend is enough to live alone in a one-bedroom apartment if you want to; if you want extra spending money or company, you can find roommates through the Off-Campus Living website or by e-mailing other graduate students. I live in The Fairfax, an apartment building on Locust and 43rd St. where a lot of other grad students live. I pay $730/month for a studio; one-bedrooms are $850-$900. This includes gas and water but not electricity (my electric bill is usually $15-$20/month). This is expensive for West Philly (you can typically find a one-bedroom for $600-$700), but I like the building and there are a lot of perks: it’s about a 15-minute walk to campus, there is someone at the front desk 24-hours a day (who will sign for packages), laundry in the building ($1.50 wash, $1.50 dry), a bike room, recycling, and pets are allowed. Courses Since all of your first-year courses are picked for you, there isn’t much selection to do. The courseload in first year is quite light; you may want to consider taking an additional seminar course in your second semester to make life easier in second-year. The BGS website (http://www.med.upenn.edu/bgs/) has a course listing and schedule. Rotations The chalk-talks in the first few weeks are a great way to get a glimpse of what different faculty work on and see what is of interest to you. All of the faculty also have websites that give a description of their research. When you find someone who interests you, send them an e-mail to make an appointment to talk about possible rotation topics. Don’t be afraid to talk to lots of faculty: they like talking about their work and they love it when students are interested. No
one’s feelings will be hurt if you go talk to them and then decide not to do a rotation there. You don’t have to decide all three of your rotations all at once; just set up your fall one within a few weeks and you can pick your winter and spring rotations as you go along. Look for a lab where you like the people and the atmosphere, but keep in mind that there is usually a high flux of people through a lab: there will (or at least should!) be a completely different set of grad students and post-docs between when you start in a lab and when you leave. Also look for experienced post-docs in a lab, as you will have as much, if not more, interaction with them than with the PI (depending on the lab). Taxes Taxes are not withheld from your paycheck but you are still responsible for paying them. You will not be issued a W-02, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pay taxes. The H&R block website will do your tax return for free if you make under a certain amount of money (which you will for the foreseeable future). If you plan to set aside about $150 a month for taxes, you should be fine. After first year you’ll need to file estimated taxes, where you will pay your tax bill in four installments throughout the year, but you shouldn’t need to do this in first year unless you have some other significant source of income from which taxes aren’t withheld. Moving expenses and textbooks are tax-deductible, so keep your receipts. Living in Philly The Graduate Student Center has a number of orientation activities at the end of August and beginning of September that will introduce you to the city and other Penn graduate students. They also organize a number of fun activities throughout the year. Check out http://www.upenn.edu/gsc/ . Other graduate student organizations on campus include: The Graduate and Professional Students’ Association (GAPSA): http://www.gapsa.upenn.edu/ The Graduate Students’ Associations Council (GSAC): http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~gsac/ The Biomedical Graduate Students’ Association (BGSA): http://www.med.upenn.edu/bgsa/ Many students find having a car to be more bother than it’s worth; you can get most places you need to go on foot, bike or by public transit. If you only need to drive occasionally, Philly Car Share may be a good arrangement: http://www.phillycarshare.com/. If you will be bringing a car, you probably want to keep it registered elsewhere (e.g. your parents’ address), to prevent your insurance rates from skyrocketing. If you live in West Philly, you can park on the street reasonably easily. In Center City, you need a parking permit to park on the street, which means that your car will have to be registered in Philly and your insurance will skyrocket. From Tasha (Natasha) Girgis (2004): 1. The Penn off campus living website is a good place to look for an apartment. They might also want to check Craig's List Philadelphia (www.craigslist.com; this can also be a good way to find furniture etc.) 2.Check the reviews of landlords/management companies on the off campus living site. Some have horrible reputations and this is an easy way to avoid a miserable first year. -Ask about pest problems and what the landlord will do in the event that you find yourself living with roaches or mice. -Ask if heat is included in the rent (heating is v. expensive in the winter). -Ask about garbage removal. -If they plan on having a car they should probably ask about parking. Parking in a building's garage or lot can be really, really expensive. -They should also ask about the dimensions of stairways etc. if they are going to be bringing large furniture so they won't be stuck with a couch that they can't get into an apt. -Bring an air conditioner.
If they are planning on living in W. Philly they should know that 40th-42nd is teeming with noisy undergrads during the year. Places a little farther west are quieter and a little cheaper. In terms of safety, it has been my experience that it is best to stay between Walnut and Baltimore and not go any farther west than 46th or 47th (but Walnut gets a little sketchy right around 43rd). Also, if you hear from any of them that they can't come down to Philly to see an apt., please feel free to put them in contact with me if they want someone to go see a place for them. Some landlords won't rent sight unseen and if there is someone who can't make the trip to Philly I would be happy to help. From Jessamina Harrison (2004): I think that one of the things that made the move easier was to find a roommate that was also a first year CAMB student. It was nice to be on the same schedule for orientation and the beginning events. Just to be able to talk to someone who is going through the same things you are is a relief, but that's not to say that they won't meet a ton of really cool people once they get here. I'd also recommend that the first years, especially in the beginning months, go out and do things together. It just helps everyone get to know each other a lot quicker, and they might as well take advantage of the 'free time' that will soon become just a wonderful memory! ;). Other than that, Philly is an amazing city, which makes it that much easier to feel at home. And of course they can always email or talk to us 'older' students if they ever have any questions. We've all been there and won't mind offering the help. From Emily Rudomin (2005): Finding a place to live 1.) Some websites: Penn Office of Off-Campus Living: http://www.businessservices.upenn.edu/offcampusliving/ Craig’s List: www.craigslist.com (Updated daily. LOTS of listings. You can also find roommates, furniture, etc.) 2.) Most students live in West Philly or Center City. West Philly has a reputation for being a bad place to live – I don’t think this is true at all, but there are neighborhoods you should avoid. I wouldn’t go any farther west than 50th street; the area gets a little shady around there. West Philly can be pretty quiet, so if you’re looking for lots of things to do, you will probably be happier in Center City. However, Center City is a little farther from school, and it’s more expensive to live there. You need to decide what your priorities are. 3.) Many places are cat-friendly, and there are some apartment complexes that allow dogs as well (e.g. Garden Court, 47th and Pine). You may have to look a little harder, but you can definitely find a place where you can keep animals. 4.) Lots of places don’t become available until a few months before you move in. If you’re looking for something starting in September, you probably won’t find anything yet (but start looking now if you want to do a summer rotation) Lab
1.) Before you start orientation, you should look over faculty research interests and get a sense of who you might like to rotate with. There will be chalk talks as the school year begins, but you should definitely get an idea as to who you want to talk to as early as possible. Some labs are definitely more popular than others, so it is to your advantage to make decisions early. 2.) Personality matters. If you love the research a lab is doing, but really get a bad vibe from the people, think carefully about going there. Most people here are very nice, but there are personality clashes from time to time, and they can really make for a bad rotation or thesis. 3.) It is your choice whether or not you do a summer rotation. There is something to be said for taking the summer off and enjoying yourself – it is the last summer vacation you will have, and you could probably use a break before 5 years of non-stop studying and stress. On the other hand, a summer rotation means more time to devote to your research, fewer people vying for a spot in a popular lab, and the chance to start your thesis work early. 4.) Your classes are your first priority. Your PI should understand this, and should be flexible when it comes to how you spend your time. I’m not recommending slacking off in lab, but if you need a few days to study, take them, and don’t feel badly about it. If your PI – or the person training you – gives you any trouble about taking time to study, talk to your advisor or someone else. The expectation of you in your rotation is that you will do the best work you can; but there should not be an expectation that you will work X hours per week or publish a paper. 5.) Rotations are a chance to decide if you like a lab, and they are also for the lab to decide if they like you. Learn as much as you can. Ask people questions. You don’t have to publish a Nature paper, but try to be the sort of student your PI would like to keep in the lab. 6.) Ask students what they think of labs you’re interested in. Don’t just ask current thesis students – also ask people who rotated there and decided not to stay. No lab is perfect, so you should get all the information you can about a lab’s good and bad points. General advice: 1.) Basically everyone who ends up here is very smart and accomplished. But when you get a lot of smart people together, some people will make better grades than others. It can be a real shock to no longer be at the top of the class, and some people adjust better than others. 2.) On that note, your grades don’t matter. They really don’t. All you need to do is pass. Don’t worry if you aren’t making all As. Your PI won’t care. It has no bearing on future postdocs or jobs. 3.) Exams for the two core BGS courses (Cell 600 and Gene Expression) are very experimental in nature. Don’t focus upon tiny details, but definitely make sure you’re clear on experiments. You’ll either be asked to interpret data or design an experimental setup, which is harder than it sounds, so know your assays! 4.) In the first few weeks, all of the MVP first years end up hanging out together because they don’t really know anyone else at that point. Definitely make a point
of spending time with your classmates during the start of the year unless you really, really do not have the time. This is when friendships are made, and if you wait until spring semester, you will find it much harder to get to know people. 5.) Make sure you have something to do that lets you blow off some steam. First year is hard, because you have to juggle a lab rotation with difficult classes that you don’t necessarily even like. It’s really important to have a little down-time. Save about $200 a month for taxes. You need to file estimated quarterly taxes, and they are more than you might think. From Chwan-Hong Foo (goes by Foo) (2004): 1. Housing. It's generally more affordable to live with a roommate so if you are thinking of spending less on rent, find a roommate and find a place at West Philly (as compared to Center City which is generally more expensive). So how does one go about finding a roommate? Obviously, fellow 1st years you've met at the recruitment weekends are possible options. Personally I think it's more suitable to find a roommate who is also a graduate student since you two will have a lot more in common and will be better at understanding one another's situation/workload. So emailing GAPSA and BGSA would be useful when hunting for roommate(s). Alternatively, look for a roommate who shares a common interest (hobbies, culture, religion). For example, if you're into cycling, email people at the Penn Cycling Club and ask if anyone is looking for a roommate. Go to http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/osl/orgmain.html for a list of student organizations. Lastly, you should start hunting for an apartment soon before the good ones get signed up by others. 2. Arrival time at Philly. Personally I think it's a good idea to move into Philly AT LEAST 1-2 weeks before the semester starts. That should give you sufficient time to move in, settle down the apartment, and to familiarize yourself with the area around your apartment (such as grocery locations, local restaurants, barbershop etc). More importantly, by arriving early, you can start talking to professors about your first rotation even before the semester begins. This is especially important if you want to rotate with the "more popular" professors. 3. Furniture. If you're looking for furniture, IKEA at Philadelphia has some pretty affordable options and if you don't mind used furniture, there are some locations in Center City that sell used furniture that are affordable and has pretty good quality considering the price. 4. One last advice. Ask questions! Don't be shy to ask current graduate students for advice whenever you're not sure about something. With email, it's so easy and efficient. From Heather Marshall (2004): Since I have a dog I had a really hard time finding a place so I wanted to let incoming students with pets know that there is a fantastic landowner that allows pets -of any sort or number- without requiring a deposit that has a few nice places close to campus. the buildings are very quiet and places nice and mostly clean. Additionally they have a 24hr door person, a very nice courtyard and dog run and shuttles to and from the medical school quite often during the year proper. they come highly recommended by me. for more info here is there name and web site: Alan H. Klein Properties, The Fairfax & Garden Court Plaza http://www.penngradapts.com/. Also it isn't easy to find, but Penn has a web site that lists local land owners that allow pets it's URL is http://www.business-services.upenn.edu/offcampusliving/. I have one more tidbit of advice for incomming students - keep a journal of prelim ideas. You may think that you'll remember what you were thinking was a good idea (and why you
thought so) when the time rolls around for your proposal, but trust me multiple rotations later it all blends together. As well, this way you can add supporting evidence or modify your thoughts on the proposal as you learn more rather than have to recall and synthesize everything at the last moment. From Lamorris Loftin (2004): Sorry for taking so long to reply to the new student advice email. The main suggestions I have are to come to Philly to view apartments in person. Trying to coordinate things through friends that live in the city is a bit difficult. Also, after living in center city for the first year, I would advise first year students to stay in west philly. I think they'll eventually end up in center city. However, most of the other first year students, the majority of the people you know and will interact with, live in west philly. So, you'll end up there most of the time anyway. Also, a lot of the adjustment issues first semester center around arranging your apartment. Since rent is cheaper in west philly, you have a little extra money to play around with if you live there. From Abigail Druck (2004): In terms of living: The first step is to figure out what neighborhood to live in. Though most firstyears live in West Philly, I live in Center City and love it (being from New York City, I think that made the transition easier). What I didn't know when I looked at apartments was that anything near a Green Line Trolley is especially convenient-- though center city is a great walk to campus on a nice day (or some people bike there), the trolley can get you to class in about 510 minutes, which is also great. I looked at Penn's campus housing website for ideas, and then called various management companies and made appointments with them, and spent a day here looking at apartments. A heads up-if you are planing on living with another person, one bedrooms in Center city can be VERY small, and so it is worth looking at two bedrooms if you can afford it. Also, look at Rent.com for ideas. Moving in around Sept. 1st worked well for me--it gave me about a week to unpack/furnish/settle in, and you can also ask to move in a couple of days early, and your lease will just be prorated for those extra couple of days. In terms of school, the first month was harder then I expected--it was more of a transition than I imagined, but I was also not happy in the lab I was rotating in. Some advice about that: I know that this is stressed by everybody, but speak to people in the lab, and more importantly, speak to other people who have rotated there, if possible. They can best tell you what or what not they liked about their rotation, which can offer insight that grad students who have chosen to stay don't have. Also, and this may sound silly, if a PI you interview with pressures you to come to their lab (or assumes it just by your meeting with them), don't just go to their lab because it is easier then explaining to them that you are meeting with other people. Take our time in choosing a lab and do as much background info as you can (which is sometimes easier said than done). Lastly, if you are having a hard time, don't wait until very late to speak to someone about it--Bob and Paul are excellent people to talk to and they can help you out a lot. Hope this helps! Please feel free to give them my email address if I can be of any more help to them. Abigail From George Leslie (2003): Thoughts on Philadelphia from a long time resident and current MVP Grad student. If you are moving to Philadelphia from another large city then you are probably aware of all the good (and sometimes the bad) that a big city has to offer. To help anyone with their transition to Philly I just wanted to address a couple of quick points: First is finding a place to live where you are comfortable. About half the grad students at Upenn live in West Philly and the other half in Center City. I live by Rittenhouse Square in Center City and think it’s the best place to live, but that is a matter of taste. I walk about 15 blocks to school, which takes a little more than 20 minutes. Days I am running late I catch a bus that runs up
Walnut Street every ten minutes. On the bus the commute is less than 5 minutes to get there. Tokens for the bus are $1.30 and you can get them at drug stores and other places. The best resource for finding an apartment in Philadelphia is without question the ―Philadelphia Weekly‖ (PW) paper. http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/?inc=classifieds&type=1 Apartments in West Philly can be found through the University housing page but anyone looking to live in Center City would be making a mistake not to read the listings of PW. Unfortunately many apartments in Philly don’t get advertised until the month before they are available. More than a few times my lease has been 3-4 weeks from running out before I found my next apartment. It can be nerve racking but it is how it goes here. Also never pay the fee at one of the Apartment Locators that advertise unless you don’t care about your $. All they have is what’s listed in the PW real estate pages and the bogus apartments they list hundreds of dollars below what they really cost. Rent in West Philly is a bit cheaper but not much. Really nice 1 Br apartments can be found in Center City for around $650-$750 although the best deal is to share a place if you can and then a great place can be had for less. Converted brown stone type houses offer more interesting apartments than the high rises and Center City is safe enough that a doorman is really a luxury and not an necessity. For a reasonable walk to the University I’d recommend living between the following streets: Broad Street to the East, Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the North, and Catherine to the South. That area covers 12 x 14 city blocks. As a final though on housing - I’d also recommend Craig’s List Philadelphia for finding a place. This is especially true if you are looking to share. I’ve found several great housemates by putting a free ad up on the list. http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/ The second bit of experience I wanted to share was that Philadelphia has a lot of cultural events that get overlooked by many new residents. From the Orchestra (Student Rush tickets are $10) to the many museums and historical site there are tons of things to do other than go to bars. Of course there are also plenty of really interesting out of the way Pubs worth visiting as well! One of the best kept secrets if you like Museums is the Rosenbach Museum on 20th & Delancy Street ( http://www.rosenbach.org ). I am probably going overboard so I’ll stop here and offer anyone with any questions about the program, what is expected, and University groups that you might be interested in outside of lab - please feel free to contact me and I’ll try to help if I can. The last bit of advice I’d give is to check out the Grad Student Center (GSC) and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) events page. They have some really great orientation stuff to compliment what the MVP department provides. Grad Student Center http://www.gsc.upenn.edu/ GAPSA Events http://www.gapsa.upenn.edu/events/ See you when you get here, George Leslie ( email@example.com )