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Chemistry Grad School

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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!

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.

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.

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).  


--- Quote from: hmx9123 on July 07, 2005, 01:50:44 AM ---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.
--- End quote ---

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 :)


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