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Topic: From biology to organic chem as a grad student without physical chemistry  (Read 6041 times)

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Offline istvanasz

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I am a physics professor who also does premed and grad school advising. I have a student who finds himself in an awkward position and I am unsure as how to guide him. For completeness sake, I posted this to a physics forum that I belong to, but the advice was vague. Thus I turn to the experts.

My student has a degree in biology, with emphasis on synthetic organic chemistry. His overall GPA was ~ 3.2 (3.4 in major). He did some unpaid research in one of his professor's lab for about a year. He applied to five organic chemistry programs (3 PhD; 2 MS) last fall, including UT and Purdue, and was turned away from all of them. His only feedback was from UT, where one committee member (harshly) wrote that his application had no merit. He was even rejected from his alma mater, which is a Tier II university in South Florida.

I don't think a 3.4 ought to rule out PhD possibilities. The student is smart - he got solid A's in two graduate courses he took as a junior) - but has some social issues (Aspergers). Beyond possible interpersonal issues, one area of obvious concern is that he has taken no physical chemistry classes. He didn't need it for his major and claims it would have required him to take a total of five additional courses outside his major to finish the physical chemistry series at his school. My question is thus: is physical chemistry a prerequisite for acceptance to a PhD program in organic chemistry?

If it is not a prerequisite, can anyone suggest a few decent schools where this is not the case (and we'll take it from there).



Offline Babcock_Hall

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It is not a requirement for all master's level programs, which might be a better choice for this student.  A student who wants a Ph.D. but is turned down for acceptance can do a good master's program and apply to Ph.D. programs later.

Offline Corribus

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Did the student take the chemistry GRE?
Personally I think it wouldn't make a lot of sense to go for a chemistry PhD (any kind) without some kind of basis in physical chemistry. Although not the P-chem issue especially, it may be that PhD programs are confused by a biology undergrad who doesn't have some prerequisites for a chemistry degree program.  You said that in order to take P-chem, he'd have had to take several other courses as well - it's possible that these other courses (I'm assuming math courses are included among them) are also contributing to the student's weakness as an applicant. Certainly biology majors can become competent chemists and even be accepted into chemistry PhD programs, but most PhD programs have a list of coursework they expect to see in an applicant, and I'm guessing P-chem is just about always there, as well as many of the classes that are prerequisites to P-chem.

Enrolling in an MS program first is not a bad suggestion. Alternatively the student may just bite the bullet and take physical chemistry. One other possibility is that the student can apply to biology PhD programs and then express an interest in going more in the chemistry area once he begins to look at research labs. Interdisciplinary study is common and you're not necessarily locked into the department to which you apply. That's something the student should verify up front during interviews, though.
What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?  - Richard P. Feynman

Offline spirochete

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Re: From biology to organic chem as a grad student without physical chemistry
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2017, 12:20:36 AM »
If he really just wants to do synthetic organic chemistry he does not exactly need to take physical chemistry. Some synthetic organic programs accept people without even having a chemistry major, so P-Chem is not needed. I was personally accepted into multiple organic chemistry programs with such a background. They were very respectable programs, although not top 10% programs.

I am thinking that he either applied to the wrong programs, or there is something else wrong with his application, like a lack of research experience?

A more well rounded chemistry program will require P-Chem, analytical and inorganic, as well as organic. But not all programs require this.

Edit: I should add that I am referring to phd programs.

Offline marquis

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Re: From biology to organic chem as a grad student without physical chemistry
« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2017, 03:45:01 PM »
Hopefully, this isn't too late.  State schools are required to have special facilities available for the disabled (aspergers  should qualify).  Please check with the schools for this person and make appointments.  Then talk with the department heads about the requirements.  You would be surprised at the differences!!!

Most chem depts are not happy about having disabled of any kind.  Make sure you have all your ducks in a row and then approach through the the disability office!

Good luck.
« Last Edit: December 14, 2017, 04:46:48 PM by marquis »

Offline Raphael

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This is a very late reply, but there are schools out there that will accept people missing classes such as pchem. I personally think the reason he got rejected had more to do with his gpa and less to do with him missing classes (though, that didn't help).

He should try some other state schools and maybe ask some programs if they have many students that in the program that have degrees other than chemistry in them. Some schools seem to get desperate for TAs and will take a "chance" on people that do not have a chemistry BS/BA/have a lower gpa. Assuming he has some kind of foundation in chemistry he has a chance with the right school.

Offline orgo814

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Were his GRE scores at least respectable? Some programs care about them more than others. But, if he is missing a significant math background, then they may want to see a very high quantitative GRE score (just a thought).

Offline Borek

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Sorry guys, locking the thread - it is over half year old, I strongly doubt your answers are still relevant.

If anyone has new information to add, please contact me privately.
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