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									From Kim Davis (2006):
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.

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:
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.
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
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 or 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
1st year MVP

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 ( 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
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
         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 (

Off-Campus Living Homepage:
( )

Graduate Student Guide - good links about setting up cable services,
electricity and other amenities, and retail services in West Philly and Center

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://ocl- and Philadelphia Weekly has good apartment listings (pick it up for free
from a yellow box around town or go to; 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

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.


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
( has a course listing and schedule.
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 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 . Other graduate student organizations on campus include: The
Graduate and Professional Students’ Association (GAPSA):
The Graduate Students’ Associations Council (GSAC):
The Biomedical Graduate Students’ Association (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: 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 (; 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

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:
       Craig’s List: (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)

   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

   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. I’ve known people to be very vocal about how
       easy they think (hard) classes are, or even to be not quite honest about exam
       scores. Do not let this get you down. The classes are tough. The exams are
       tough. Do not feel stupid if someone tells you how easy they think everything is
       – there is a fair amount of posturing that goes on, and it doesn’t mean you’re
       not intelligent or don’t deserve to be here.
   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

   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 Haitau Hu (2004):

As I know, most resident students arrive in penn earlier than new semster starts to find a lab for
rotaton in advance, and they can have four lab rotations before the end of first year. This
provides much opportunity to experience different labs, even though only three rotations are
required. For housing, most of us choose to live offcampus (quiet and spacious). Among the off-
campus landloads, I think Alan Klein properties at 4701 pine is a good choice.

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 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
         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

        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

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 first-
years 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 5-
10 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 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.

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.

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.
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 ( ). 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

GAPSA Events

See you when you get here,

George Leslie ( )

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