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Topic: Intriguing Graduate School Route  (Read 4429 times)

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Offline zdsync

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Intriguing Graduate School Route
« on: March 26, 2010, 02:48:55 PM »
Hi all. I'm a recent chemistry college grad planning to take a rather nontraditional route to graduate school. I have a few concerns about it so I was hoping that I could get some advice from more experienced and objective minds than mine. 

I graduated in May 2009 from a top 20 liberal arts school with a B.S. in Chemistry (A.C.S.-certified); my overall GPA was a 3.25 and my major GPA was 3.15 (my general science GPA is a tick better). The only significant black mark I have on my transcript is my senior fall in which I overwhelmed myself by taking biochem, p-chem, and inorganic all at the same time. I didn't fail any of my classes but it still wasn't pretty. However, the following semester I was able to bounce back and put up decent marks in second-semester p-chem and advanced organic. I also spent a summer and a full academic year working in a synthetic organic laboratory as an independent study. I have no official publications but I have given symposium presentations and written analytical reports for the faculty. Long-term, I want to get a Ph.D. in Chemistry with a focus in Organic Synthesis.

After a grueling 8-month job search, I've recently landed a job with an environmental analysis laboratory for which I'll be doing a lot of work with GC/MS and a little bit of ICP and AA. Obviously, this isn't that related to organic synthesis, but the pharma market is in the tank right now and it's incredibly difficult to make any headway on that front with just a B.S. I'm happy to be working in some chemical capacity, and I know it'll look good on my resume, but I'm concerned that my lack of a more research-oriented lab position will make me look less competitive against others who, for example, are coming from a year or two of work in the pharmaceutical industry. 

I'm also seriously considering the Peace Corps for next year; I'd like to go off and do some humanitarian work before I focus on my career. I recently spoke with a recruiter and she made it pretty clear that there's a 99.9999124435% chance I'd be assigned to work as a chemistry teacher since they're always in need of more math/science minds. I know teaching chemistry for the Peace Corps would look fantastic to grad schools, especially since T.A.-ing is such a huge part of the process, but I'm also concerned about how such a long break from a laboratory environment (the Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment) would look. Also, by the time I'm applying I'll be a good three or four years removed from doing anything related to organic chemistry, which could make me look rusty.

So that's where I'm at right now. I'm generally comfortable with my plan, but there are still a few uncertainties floating here and there. Any general thoughts on my situation or advice for the future would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to read this! Cheers.

Offline stewie griffin

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Re: Intriguing Graduate School Route
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2010, 05:06:20 PM »
I think you'll be fine. I went straight from high school to college and then straight to grad school thinking I needed to rush my life along. Now that I've got a little more than a year left in my PhD I sometimes feel I missed out a bit on some of life's opportunities to travel (like you could do with Peace Corps). I think between college and grad school would be an ideal time to get some "life experience" as it'll put your futures days as a struggling grad student in perspective. Other advantages of working "in the real world" include being better equipped (perhaps) to deal with office/lab drama as well as better equipped for office politics when needed.
Personally I think the potential disadvantages you list are not nearly as bad as you think they would be. A great work ethic can be far more valuable/attractive than somebody with all A's and fresh from college, and your jobs/traveling would give you a chance to prove your work ethic. Perhaps you'd be a bit rusty in organic, but why couldn't you bone up on your own time with books and recent literature? Furthermore, grad schools don't expect you to show up knowing everything about organic... that's why you take at least another full year of graduate level organic classes. As far as being concerned about how your research experience thus far will look... I think you'd be far more attractive than you think. Most students don't get a paper from undergrad research so you're no different in that aspect. I did 2.5 yrs of undergrad research and really it was just me learning how to do research rather than me actually getting quality research done. Other than that I had a summer internship at Pfizer. I really believe that the internship is what's helped me out the most b/c it's actual real world experience. You'll have far more than just a summer's worth of experience.
I think Peace Corps teaching could be really valuable if you plan on becoming a teacher. If not then I don't think most grad schools will care. I mean yeah you'll be a good TA, but in my experience the prof's you'll be doing research for don't have a clue about or care about how great a TA you are. Your job is to do research first, and teaching comes second in the eyes of most profs.
I say go for it and enjoy it. Grad schools aren't going anywhere.

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