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Offline mugsy777

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Graduate School...
« on: November 12, 2007, 08:22:24 PM »
I have been getting an absolute storm of mixed opinions and information- some say my chances are hopeless, others laugh when I express concern.
I am currently a junior, female, at a top "name-brand" university- I currently have a 3.5 GPA, I have done reasonably well in all chemistry/math courses (with the exception of a C+ in Physics II: E&M  :P )
By no means imaginable am I some sort of genius- I'd say that I am a typical student, who probably struggles more than the average. Obviously I am majoring in Chemistry and I am minoring in mathematics/psychology.
I have completed a 12-week internship over the summer at a pharmaceutical company making organic compounds- it was my own, individual research. My academic advisors at my oh-so-glorious school have basically s#*$ on this, telling me I better do some undergraduate research. I am currently pursuing undergraduate research opportunities for either the spring or summer semesters, but many have told me I have started WAY too late in the game, and have thus ruined my chances for graduate school.

Can one be accepted into graduate school *without* undergraduate research at their respective institutition? I can use a fresh perspective on this.

Offline agrobert

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2007, 09:18:35 PM »
I was currently struggling with the same exact thing.  I am now a senior majoring in Chemistry at UCSD.  I did undergraduate summer research at Cal State University of Long Beach making organic compounds.  I then worked for almost a year at a manufacturing pharmaceutical company off campus and I am now employed for almost a year by a private pharmaceutical research lab where I make numerous derivatives of organic compounds.  I think the private instruction and experience i have had in industry is much better than if I had worked in an undergraduate lab.  I have had academic professors tell me the same thing they tell you though.  I would recommend you taking a undergraduate research position for a semester or quarter for credit but it is not essential.  When applying for graduate school it really depends on your letters of recommndation, which I am sure your employers would be more than happy to write for you.  The problem with this issue is that there is a rift between opinions in industry and academia, its all politics though.  Don't worry.
In the realm of scientific observation, luck is only granted to those who are prepared. -Louis Pasteur

Offline hmx9123

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2007, 09:48:00 PM »
First, you have several things going for you:

1. You're at a good named school.
2. You've got a good GPA
3. You're female and in chemistry (not biochem)
4. You've got an internship under your belt.

There are two things I would recommend if you want to get into one of the top ten chemistry schools for graduate work, and they are:
* getting recommendations from a professor you worked with who is an alum of the school you're applying for
* doing undergraduate research, hopefully for that same prof.

Now, is it possible to get into a grad school without having done undergraduate research?  Absolutely.  Is it possible to get into a top 10 grad school without having done undergrad research?  Possibly.  Is it likely to get into a top 10 that way?  No.  Is it likely to get into a non-top-10 that way?  Yes.

Now, for your professors saying you started too late in the game, that's BS.  You're a junior.  Use this year to get to know professors at your school, and find out who's cool.  Go down to your service facilities and talk up the staff there.  You'll find out who's an *Ignore me, I am a weenie* and who's cool immediately upon talking to the plumbers, the NMR facility people, and the glassblowers.  Professors who treat their students poorly treat service staff poorly or like they don't exist.  Professors who are kind to the staff are generally good to their students as well.  Once you've decided on a prof to work for and whose research you're interested in, then take the plunge and work all summer at his lab.  Summer research is the best anyway.  If you really like the work, continue when you've got time over the school year, write up a thesis and graduate.  If you don't love the work, then write up a nice thesis and graduate.  If you work full time at the lab, you should have enough to write about.

Writing an undergrad thesis and doing research is key in getting into a top 10 grad school.  Starting before your junior year may help spread out workload, but isn't a requirement like your profs seem to think.

As for your internship, it seems very useful.  Are you going to get any papers out of it?  If so, it may be worthy enough for you to use for your undergraduate research, if you go back there again this summer (or whenever it is that you did it).  However, I would suggest working with a prof at the school and doing work there if you are not publishing anything from your internship.

I'm at Berkeley for grad school, and all of the graduate students did undergrad research.  Many of them also did internships.  They all had decent GPAs, and I haven't been able to find any that didn't also teach while they were undergrads, though I haven't heard of this as a requirement (though it certainly doesn't hurt!).

This is just my 2c, of course.

Offline enahs

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2007, 11:23:21 PM »
To get in a school like MIT or Berkley with a full stipend, sure you need undergraduate research. However, in many ways your internship is more valuable then then undergraduate research, especially if you can get a good letter of recommendation from your employer.

And, too late for undergraduate research? I call BS. I mean really, if you start much earlier then a junior year you have very little advanced chemistry knowledge and most of the work you could do or a professor would give you is probably fairly remedial and not very impressive; unless you find a really good professor willing to spend 10 hours extra a week with you teaching you in their private lab.


The real advantage of start research early is it gives you a chance to do a substantial amount of work on a  project and possibly get your name on a paper; which is always impressive.



Now, even if you are doing undergraduate studies at a school like MIT or Berkley, I still find it hard to believe they would not accept you into their graduate program with a degree from their own undergraduate school. That is like saying they do not think their undergraduate school (their selves) prepared you for their graduate school! Sure it is possible they will not accept you, because the amount of applicants those schools get are quite large, and most that apply have a lot of research. But still, I find it hard to believe they would rule you out. I mean, they are the ones that did not advise you to get into research sooner....


Offline mugsy777

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2007, 10:30:14 AM »
Thank you for the wonderful insight. You saved me from my series of panic attacks!
Fortunately, I sent out a few e-mails to some professors at my University with a cover letter describing my internship experience and a resume; it looks like my top choice professor may actually be interested in finding a place for me in his lab. At least he replied with some very kind words and set up a meeting. (At my school, it is virtually impossible to get a professor to notice you, without banging down the door...)
oy vey, this is stressful

Offline mugsy777

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2007, 10:32:56 AM »
Oh! For graduate school, an employer from an internship can write you a letter of recommendation, correct?  I got along with my mentor extremely well; he assured me that he would write a nice letter. I remember when I wanted to apply for some REU programs, they all wanted academic letters of recommendation...which are REALLY easy to get when there are 600 students in your organic class...not.
So it's all about those staff recs, huh?    ::)

Offline enahs

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2007, 04:38:05 PM »
Yes, if the internship was in the field of interest. They are basically saying they do not want a letter of recommendations from your boss when you worked in a grocery store. They want it to be in the field of study.

Offline SM30

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2007, 01:35:03 AM »
It would help also if you put up a little more information. I'm applying for grad school myself at the moment and there's a lot to take into consideration (or so the schools claim). Ugrad research experience, GPA, quality of school, field of research, schools youre applying to, GREs..etc. I noticed someone posted about their school having a lot of grad students that had teaching experience as undergrads. I've heard this now about multiple institutions and I have no idea how these people are gaining this experience. If you go to a big school with a good grad program there's no chance in hell you get a real TA job. You may be a grader for a quarter but what does that really mean? The TA positions all go to grad students. You can tell from the posters before me that whether or not the school is top 10 decides on how much the ugrad research experience plays a roll in admissions. Berkeley/MIT/Harvard= probably a lot, Miami/UCDavis/Vanderbilt= probably not so much. Not to say that those schools are no good, its just that they need students too and there are far fewer applicants so the cant be too choosy. A plus, being a female in chemistry does increase your chances (probably even more so in physical chemistry).

Offline enahs

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2007, 08:46:44 AM »
Quote
I noticed someone posted about their school having a lot of grad students that had teaching experience as undergrads.


Undergrad's teaching experience usually means tutoring and/or doing some kid of work with students in high school or lower grades.

Offline SM30

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #9 on: November 15, 2007, 01:35:56 PM »
oh, well thats not very legit. Anyone can say they tutored someone. I thought all these people had verifiable TA level teaching experience. Thanks for letting me in on that.

Offline enahs

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #10 on: November 15, 2007, 07:20:44 PM »
Quote
oh, well thats not very legit. Anyone can say they tutored someone. I thought all these people had verifiable TA level teaching experience. Thanks for letting me in on that.

There are school sponsored as well as other various organizations that sponsor tutoring. Not just saying tutored somebody. But there is a paper trail and somebody that can get in trouble for saying you were involved in tutoring when you were not.



Offline hmx9123

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2007, 01:38:51 AM »
If you go to a big school with a good grad program there's no chance in hell you get a real TA job.

I did my undergraduate at U of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign, a school with an excellent graduate chemistry program.  I was a TA (a full TA, not a grader) for 4 years, and the last year of that I was the head TA for the course (I had grad students working for me as an undergrad).  So, yes, it is possible.  I got the job because I had a good recommendation by someone who really liked my work.

In some large schools, like U of I, there are too few graduate students to do all the teaching, so they hire undergrads.  They usually only hire the best undergrads, though, so the competition is fierce.

Quote
Undergrad's teaching experience usually means tutoring and/or doing some kid of work with students in high school or lower grades.

The ones I was speaking of had real TA jobs, or at the very least a supervised TA job whereby they taught a class under graduate student supervision.  I did manage to find three people out of my class of 88 graduate students at UCB who had not taught while at the undergraduate level.

Though you may get an OK rec from staff, I wouldn't waste my time unless the staff member knew you personally for some reason, and I don't mean you were a student in their class.  I would definitely get a rec from your employer, even in place of an 'academic' rec.  Enahs is correct when he says that they want a rec from someone in the field, and not your old Burger King manager, so send them the old intern employer rec.

Offline Yggdrasil

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2007, 02:16:05 AM »
One thing to think about is that you don't have to enter grad school right after you finish your undergrad.  I know many people who took a year or two off to work (either in industry or as a tech in an academic lab).  This has a few good advantages.  First, it gives you more time to acquire research experience and make progress on your research project so that you can get close to publishing something or better yet, get something published.  Second, having the extra time off without classes gives you more time to get a better idea of your research interests and which schools have faculty who are doing work that is interesting to you.  Also, by taking a year off, you won't have to try filling out all of your applications while you are busy with classes during your senior year and you won't have to miss half of your spring semester classes going to interviews.  Finally, this could also help you get into your grad school of choice if you manage to work for a professor at the institution you want to get into.

Offline SM30

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2007, 09:02:14 PM »
well i have to say. I'm very surprised that so many of the students had legit TA jobs. I only saw one class (a biochem one) that had an undergrad TA. Absolutely none of the organic courses has pure undergrad TAs. I hope all these schools don't expect everyone to have that opportunity to TA. You would imagine they would take a year of work experience more seriously than TA experience, but who knows. Being able to independently work on a research project seems like it would be more beneficial in obtaining a PhD than teaching students. By the way, is it true that acceptances are mainly given mid-late jan and early feb. whereas rejections are just mid feb and later?

Offline enahs

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Re: Graduate School...
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2007, 09:20:15 PM »
Quote
I did manage to find three people out of my class of 88 graduate students at UCB who had not taught while at the undergraduate level.

To be clear, I was speaking within my experience. I do not have experience at any big fancy schools!


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