Graduate School: A Stepping
Stone to Your Career
BY JOEL I. SHULMAN
ACS Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars
Are you thinking about graduate school? Be sure
to check out the online resources ACS provides
for undergraduate students applying to graduate
school, current graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars transitioning to careers in chemistry.
Professional Science Master’s (PSM)
The PSM degree enables you to obtain higher
level skills in science and business, preparing you
for science careers in business, government, or
nonprofit organizations. PSM programs emphasize writing and communication skills, and most
require a final project or team experience, as well
as a “real-world” internship in a business or public
Public Speaking Tips from
If you have difficulty giving presentations
or speaking in front of people, Toastmasters
International offers a vast library of free information to help you become more competent and comfortable when speaking in front
of an audience. www.toastmasters.org/
Unprepared for Graduate School?
Jessica Letchford and Alison Wendlandt explore
the challenging transition science students undergo as they adjust to the life and rigors of graduate
school. Yale Daily News, April 22, 2009.
Tips for New Graduate Students: How Graduate
School Is Different
Tara Kuther, Ph.D., in a series of articles on
about.com, explores factors that are critical to
being successful in graduate school — making the
transition to graduate school, how graduate school
is different, getting organized, and time management. http://gradschool.about.com/od/
COURTES Y OF JOEL SHULMAN
So, you’ve decided to go to graduate school in chemistry. Congratulations! But have you thought about why you are doing this? Yes, it’s
probably to advance your career as a chemist. But,
what area will that career be? Academic? Industry?
Many — or even most — first-year graduate
students aren’t sure what they want to do when
they finish graduate school. That’s okay; things will
become clearer as your education continues. But
you should be aware that there are opportunities available to you in
graduate school that can both help you decide on your career path and
facilitate your finding the job that’s right for you.
If a career in academe is in your future, there are resources to help
you in your quest. The ACS publication And Gladly Teach (available at
www.acs.org) is an excellent resource for chemists considering academic
careers. Many universities have a program called Preparing Future Faculty
( www.preparing-faculty.org), which addresses the roles and responsibilities
for research, teaching, and service in different campus settings.
If you become more certain you want an academic career, try to
obtain experience in front of a class: being a recitation teaching assistant,
replacing your advisor in a lecture class, or even teaching a course on
your own. And consider taking an education course to learn more about
pedagogy, assessment of student learning, and the technology available to
The best way to learn about industrial research is to do it! Undergraduate internships offer a glimpse of what industry is like, but you can
also consider doing a more advanced-level industrial internship while you
are in graduate school. Many graduate advisors are open to letting you
take three months to do this.
You’ll learn how industry attacks problems in teams, how to communicate scientific information to people outside of your field, and how
the basic research that is the hallmark of academe is reduced to practice
by industry. You will also begin to establish a network of colleagues that
will serve you well throughout your career. If you are interested in an
industrial career, you might also consider taking a course in economics,
management, or entrepreneurship while you are in graduate school.
As with industry, an internship in a government lab while you are in
graduate school can go a long way to helping you understand this type
of career. In addition to traditional laboratory opportunities, careers in
science policy are available at government institutions.
For more information about careers in the federal government and in
the private sector, go to www.students.gov or to www.acs.org/epic.
The bottom line is that graduate school is a time for learning, including developing the skills that will help you prepare for a most satisfying
JOEL I. SHULMAN is adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, a position he
began after a 31-year career at Procter & Gamble. He is a consultant to the ACS Office
of Graduate Education and a workshop presenter for the ACS Department of Career
Management and Development.