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Topic: (Yet another) Thread Asking for Grad School Advice  (Read 4378 times)

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Offline Consequentium

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(Yet another) Thread Asking for Grad School Advice
« on: September 11, 2017, 09:13:57 PM »
Hopefully, even though these questions are specific to me, someone else can get use out of the answers. (And hopefully, I'm on the right sub-board topic.)

I am a little bit of a misfit as an undergrad. Flunked out of college almost ten years ago and came back to finish up my BS in chemistry. Almost done, and thinking about grad school. In itself that's not unheard of, but I had a hard time getting into a research lab and only recently started doing work for a materials lab in time to get about a year of research in before I graduate. I did do a year of research for a soap company, but it's a small business with no research division to speak of--I was the research department, being the only chemist in the building. I'm proud of what I was able to do there, but I don't feel it translates as the kind of research people are looking for on paper.

Between the flunking and the lack of research experience, I'm wondering if it's even worth applying to grad schools. I've got decent (but not stellar) grades, and the PI of the materials lab has been really impressed with my work ethic and my ability to comprehend what I've been working on, so I can get a letter of rec from him and some other professors, but that's about the best I can do.

My other question is somewhat related, but I've been interested in nuclear chemistry ever since I read Glenn Seaborg's autobiography. I am a US citizen, with no other citizenships. But I was born and did live in the Middle East for a while. I have non-citizen family there, and my credit is terrible (for now). Should I stay away from that field altogether? I hear it's in crisis right now, but it seems kind of odd to have to give up before starting.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: Is taking a gap year detrimental when it comes to applying to grad schools? I can probably get my profs to write their letters of rec and hold onto them for
 now, if I'm worried their memory of me will fade. But honestly, I have a lot on my plate right now, and I don't have the money to pay grad school app fees and GRE testing fees right now. There are people who believe in me who will pay some of it, but I don't want to take advantage of that generosity right now if I think I can do better later. I feel like my grades are improving across what's left of my schooling. It seems worthwhile to apply after that has happened, rather than before.

So I guess my questions boil down to: Are there grad programs interested in a student like me? Is nuclear chemistry a no-go for someone who has bad credit and a funny foreign name? And, are gap years harmful to a grad school app?


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Re: (Yet another) Thread Asking for Grad School Advice
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2017, 10:23:42 PM »
1. Your background is unusual, and possibly a challenge to be overcome, but a lot can be accomplished with good salesmanship. Tell a convincing story, get a good letter of recommendation, and get a decent GRE score. Ten years ago is a long time - I think selection committees will be more interested in what you've done lately. In fact 10 years is so long ago you may not even need to mention why you left.

2. I don't know much about the field of nuclear chemistry, sorry. But it does not seem to be very popular at the moment, I agree.

3. Taking a year off isn't going to kill your shot at graduate school, and may even help if you do something worthwhile. You should discuss some of this with your professors, as they should be able to offer some guidance.
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 Consequentium

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Re: (Yet another) Thread Asking for Grad School Advice
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2017, 08:44:15 PM »
You should discuss some of this with your professors, as they should be able to offer some guidance.

Thanks for the advice. I really do hope that no one thinks I'm the same person I was in my late teens/early twenties!

My one problem with talking to professors is that I find I get all kinds of conflicting advice! In a way, it's reassuring though, because it means that selection committees are made of people who make decisions based on their own idea of what's important. If nothing else that takes the sting out of future rejections, but it tells me that I should really try to find a program that is run by people who share my idea of what's important--at least to some extent.

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