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Specialty Chemistry Forums => Chemical Education and Careers => Topic started by: Hydro46 on July 06, 2005, 10:14:58 PM

Title: Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Hydro46 on July 06, 2005, 10:14:58 PM
Hi everyone. Im Jen, senior chem major at Univ. of Miami, and really starting to worry about grad school. I definitely know I want to do physical, absolutely loved that class. ;D But, I'm not even quite sure what a "decent" gpa to get into a top school is. I have a 3.45, which i dont think is horrible, but i just dont know! And,  how competitive it is to get into grad school? Any light on this subject would really be helpful!
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: hmx9123 on July 07, 2005, 01:50:44 AM
Grad school isn't a decision you should take lightly.  You can think you want to go, apply, get accepted, and defer a year--I wish I had done that, honestly.  You can go anywhere you want if you have the right combination of test scores, GPA and recommendations.  Honestly, I think the recommendations go the farthest.  If you know a certain school you want to go to, find a professor you've had who went there or did a post-doc there--it will help.  The first couple of years of any PhD program worth its salt will be utter misery.  Too much work.  They want to weed people out by attrition.  Then it gets better with your research, and it can be a lot of fun if you like what you're doing.  I got into Berkeley with a GPA that's lower than that, so you'll be fine unless your test scores are horrible.  Competition varies by school.  If you go for one of the top 10 in chemistry, i.e., Berkeley, Harvard, U of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, U of Wisconsin-Madison, CalTech, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, etc., competition will be more selective.  If you want to go to a state school, you'll get in for sure.  Whatever you do, don't get your PhD in chemistry at the same place you did your undergrad--it looks bad on your resume for whatever reason.

My biggest piece of advice is to take a look at the area you want to live in.  Make sure the town and the people in the department are nice, because they will be your support network when you're in grad school.  I should have considered that more before I came out here.  I hate the town of Berkeley, and it was exceedingly difficult my first two years out here.  The only thing that saved me was the comradarie of the grad students here.  This town (and the state, really) is the worst place I could have chosen to live, but the school is excellent and the students are great, so it will hopefully be worth it in the long run.  I would also choose a school that has a good Physical Chemistry program (check out Chemical and Engineering News at your library for the yearly report on grad schools--I think it's in the spring; we might even have a thread about it at the forums here), choose a professor and a project you're interested in, and make sure you like this person well enough to work for them for 5 years.  Your advisor will make a tremendous difference in your life in grad school.

Good luck.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: movies on July 07, 2005, 12:39:45 PM
I agree with what hmx said.  You have to be ready to accept what your life will be like in grad school.  I am in the lab from 8am till 11pm 6 days a week.  Typically physical chem. groups don't work quite the hours that organic labs do, but it's certainly no picnic.  I was willing to make the sacrifice now so that I could have a better life in the future, so that has been my motivation.  I wouldn't recommend going to grad school (at least in chemistry) if you just don't know what to do and want to fill up some time.  The commitment is too big.

The amount of classes you take varies from school to school.  A lot of schools require that you take classes for your whole first year before starting research.  At my school (CalTech) we only have to take four classes and we start independent research our first year.  It makes for a very different feel.

When I was applying to grad schools I applied to a couple of dream schools (CalTech, Yale), a couple of more mid-range schools (UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Emory), and one "safety" school (Oregon State).  When I picked those, I looked at websites of research groups to find professors who did the kind of work that I could get excited about.  I would definitely recommend that.  Also, don't be afraid to apply to a bunch of schools.  If you get accepted, they will almost certainly pay for you to fly out and visit and meet with professors, etc.  I also highly recommend that.  You can't really get a feel for a school without going there and meeting the people (and by people, I mean grad students, the profs are like salesmen on these visit weekends).  If you're lucky you will find a place that just "feels" right to you.  This is way more important than the small differences in the graduate student stipends and such; if you aren't happy it doesn't matter how much money you get.

Finally, I think that your GPA should be fine.  Mine was a little higher, but nowhere near Phi Beta Kappa or anything.  Like hmx, I think that the recommendations are what really get you in to a grad school.  Also, there are generally a lot fewer applicants for physical chem than for organic so it's not quite so competitive.

I hope this information is helpful to you.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Dude on July 07, 2005, 01:42:59 PM
Good advice by HMX and movies.  I would add the following:

1.  What was said about location can not be overemphasized.  Make sure you like the area (i.e. don't go to the University of Alaska, even if they have the best program - if you don't like cold weather).

2.  Professor selection is vital.  Make sure you get along with him/her.  My observations would be to pick a tenured professor (> 6 y at the university) between the ages of 35 and 52 and active in publishing work.  Over 52, and they might have one foot out the door toward retirement and not be concerned about students welfare.  Under 35 or not tenured, they might not be skilled enough to get you decent publications.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but I would say this works 75+ % of the time.  If you don't get patents or academic papers with your name on them, the professor is abusing you and wasting your time.  Although most people generally enjoy what they do in science, the end game is to get credentials so that you can negotiate a higher job salary or be considered for professorship.  Don't let their egos browbeat you into taking your eyes off of your goals in life.  Additionally, make sure that the students get out in 4-5 years.  A professor at Penn (polymer) liked to boast that his students usually have 10 publications at graduation.  Unfortunately, the average stay under that professor was 6-9 years.  A long part of your life to invest.

3.  Your GPA shouldn't be restrictive on where you get in if you scored reasonably well (say > 1800) on the GRE and have good recommendations.

4.  As movies indicated, be prepared to work like a "sweatshop" factor worker.  In other words, you better like what you are doing or you need to seriously look into the economics of getting a job versus going to grad school and potentially increasing your starting salary.  The longer you stay in school, the less your 401K grows.

5.  One other piece of advice.  Be prepared to meet a diverse group of people.  I was one of 4 US citizens in a graduate program of 21 at a US university.  It is very competitive.  Most of the program consisted of "ringers" (i.e. 25+ year old Asian guys with doctorates or the equivalent from China, research experience and coming to the US for economic opportunity).  Those guys were experienced, sharp, and sort of formed a systematic approach to taking tests (ie they were somehow able to get 20+ years of old tests from previous Chinese students).  
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: lemonoman on July 07, 2005, 02:46:12 PM
Whatever you do, don't get your PhD in chemistry at the same place you did your undergrad--it looks bad on your resume for whatever reason.

I know you said, "For whatever reason"...but entering 3rd year (of 4) as I am, grad school is weighing on my mind...and for some reason I always thought I WOULD stay here for my graduate work...

Can anybody try to talk me out of it with logic?  I should probably start looking around, if I'm to move...thanks :)
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: hmx9123 on July 07, 2005, 04:00:53 PM
In chemistry the general thought is that it looks better to have your grad and undergrad at different places because it shows a breadth of academic interests.  It looks like academic inbreeding and like you couldn't make it into any other schools if you go to the same school for grad and undergrad.  I would look for a different school if you're serious about doing a PhD in chemistry.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Hydro46 on July 07, 2005, 04:44:53 PM
Well thank you all for the advice! I guess i should've posted a little more about my motives to going to grad school. I've always had the intent of being a chemist, since high school. And, after college I knew I wanted to pursue a higher degree. This isn't me trying to find another outlet cause i failed the mcat, which i know some of my friends are doing...Anyways, my ultimate school to go to is Penn. My grandfather is a graduate from there in physical chemsitry, so i've been to the campus several times. But who knows if I'll get in. I've been an undergrad TA which is harder than it seems for a year, and I have a 1340 GRE (790 math, 550 verbal). Im going to retake it to try to get a higher verbal.

I am willing to make the sacrifices as you said, of the hells of being in the labs all night. I really appreciate all the advice!!! If you have more, please send it my way
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Mitch on July 07, 2005, 04:45:36 PM
If you can drink you will be fine. ACS, afterall, is short for Alcoholics' Chemical Society.

Penn is a good school, you seem to have very competitive grades and I think you'll do fine. Nice GRE score much better then mine, and I was accepted to Berkeley, although my Math score was higher. ;)
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: movies on July 07, 2005, 04:51:41 PM
Also, working at different universities gives you a broader perspective of science.  Each research group looks at science in a different way.  For example, the group I work in generally looks to solve synthetic problems using transition metal catalysis.  The research group downstairs from us tries to solve synthetic problems without using transition metals (organocatalysis).  The more you experience different schools of thought the more valuable you become as a researcher because you aren't hedged in by someone elses view of science.

In response to what Dude said about working for a tenured professor, this is a very serious concern.  It can be okay to work for a professor that doesn't have tenure (I do) but be aware that you will probably have to really bust your butt because your prof. will need all the good results he can get in order to earn tenure.  A lot of the older profs. are much more laid back because they have already proven themselves.  If you do decide to work for a young prof. who hasn't come up for tenure yet, be prepared and make sure that you feel confident in the profs. ideas and that the work will result in tenure for the prof.  The rewards are great if, when you are looking for a job, your prof. can write in your letter of rec. that you were responsible for him getting tenure.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Dude on July 07, 2005, 06:14:53 PM
Did the GRE test change?  I took it in either 1994 or 1995 and I remember three sections (math, english and analytical (logic reasoning)).  My recollection was that the scale was 800 max for each subject for a highest possible score of 2400.  If the test basis is 1600 or even 2000 max, then your grades and score should get you into the Penn chemistry department without any problem.


What hmx said is what I heard when I was in school.  However, I am aware of several top-notch professors and industry/government scientists that went to the same school (undergrad-grad), so it is not a necessarily a career death sentence.  If you really like where you are, follow your instinct and create your own path.

Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Hydro46 on July 07, 2005, 11:03:54 PM
it did change. they have the verbal/quant on a 1600 scale. and an analytical writing section from a scale of 1-6. I left that part out, but i did fine on that section. you can also take it on computers, which was bizarre, and you get your score right then and there.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: hmx9123 on July 07, 2005, 11:24:11 PM
I hated the computer based test.  It gives me a headache to look at a computer screen for too long.  Strange, considering that I'm doing just that now...

There's a lot of fantastic advice in this thread.  If you get good recs, you'll be in.  Being an undergrad TA is a tremendous asset to getting into grad school.  Almost everyone here in the synthetic dept at Berkeley had undergrad TA experience.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: movies on July 08, 2005, 01:42:12 AM
I took the GRE about 2 weeks before they changed it because I was much better at the logic problems than at analytical writing.

You know how they have that section where you do some problems that they are testing out for future use?  I got one of the analytical writing questions.  I had no idea how to handle it because I hadn't studied for it at all.  I ended up just skipping it.  Good times.

I liked getting my scores right away.  I always hated wating for them to come in the mail, although I got really nervous about how they say on the computer screen that the scores they show you aren't official and you have to wait for them to send you the letter to be sure.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Hydro46 on July 09, 2005, 08:15:06 PM
Since everyone seriously have been so helpful, I have another question. I'm not really worried about the letters of recommendation since my p chem professor told me without even asking him he is going to write one. And three others I have asked and they said of course. I am worried, about the research "experience". Now, i am signed up for undergrad research all next year, Im doing a thesis with my advisor. But, I have nothing published. Ive been doing a little research online about grad school in chemistry, and some sites have been saying that publishing a paper is the most important thing on your resume. Now, I didn't even know this to begin with. And 2, its a little late in the game to get anything published next year before I apply. Is having something published really this essential? Or, If i state Im currently doing research and get a letter of rec from my advisor, that this would be enough.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: hmx9123 on July 09, 2005, 09:00:10 PM
If you're doing research and writing a thesis on it, you'll be fine.  Most undergrads don't get a paper published while they're in undergrad, even if they did publishable work because of the time it takes to publish.  You would be in trouble if you didn't do any research, but since you're doing some and writing a thesis, you'll be fine.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: movies on July 10, 2005, 04:22:06 AM
Agreed.  If you do happen to get something published while you are an undergrad, then that is a huge plus.  However, professors know that this is a rare occurence.  As I mentioned in another thread, my undergrad work didn't get published until this year, and I'm heading into my third year of grad school.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: Jd1828 on July 13, 2005, 11:02:51 PM
I am also looking to go to grad school soon.  I am starting my senior year of undergrad in the fall but because of the order I have to take some classes in, I will have to take another year to finish.  I figure that this will give me 2 school years and one summer to do research and what I hear from my advisor is thats a lot more than most undergrads do.  I hope this will help make up for my low gpa (exactly 3.0 right now) but I still have to take pchem so I don’t expect it to go up much.  I was thinking that all my research will look good and allow me to get to know some profs that could write recommendations.  Right now Im not too concerned with where I go but if I will have the grades to go to gradschool.

I have a question about the whole different school for gradschool idea.  Right now I go to one of U of Minn’s smaller state school and I planned on going to the main campus for gradschool.  Does that still count as being the same school?
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: movies on July 14, 2005, 12:52:26 PM
I know that some grad schools have a minimum GPA requirement, but I don't think it'd be an issue.  Might be worth checking on though.  I think that most chemistry programs will look at your GPA in your major as well.  I don't think it would be as big a problem if you were going to a different campus.  Certainly in the UC system there is no problem (ask Mitch!).  There are some great professors at the Twin Cities campus too.
Title: Re:Chemistry Grad School
Post by: hmx9123 on July 14, 2005, 06:46:00 PM
Yeah, the 'same school' thing means just that--the exact same school.  If you go to a state school then to another in the same system, that's fine.  It's when you go to Minn state at town A and stay there for grad school that's a problem.