As the Hour Draws Near...
A Timeline for Considering— and Applying to—
Chemistry Graduate School
BY JOHN K. BORCHARDT
Attending graduate school in chemistry is a momentous decision that could affect the rest of your life. The process of getting a master’s degree in chemistry usually takes two to three years, while four to six years is the usual time needed to get a Ph.D. Adding up your time in classes and doing research, you can probably
count on working 40 hours per week, often more.
Before making this big commitment, it makes sense to
learn how to decide whether graduate school is right for you
and— if the answer is yes— how and when to apply. There are
many questions you’ll want to find answers to, and at the same
time, you have your undergraduate studies and research, so it
makes sense to start early and pace yourself.
Sophomore and junior years
One of the most basic questions you need to answer is whether
graduate school is a good fit for you, your interests, and your
skills. John Fackler, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at
Texas A&M University, advises students to ask themselves, “Do
I enjoy research and have some competence for it? Is obtaining
new knowledge exciting?” Ray O’Donnell, professor of chemistry
at the State University of New York Oswego, advises students to
consider whether they have a drive for continued studies.
“Ask yourself: Do I enjoy research and have some competence for it? Is obtaining new knowledge exciting?” John Fackler
“The more time you allow
yourself to check out the possibil-
ities, the more chance you have
to test your aptitude and commitment,” advises Louis Kirschen-
baum, professor of chemistry at the University of Rhode Island.
The second half of your sophomore year isn’t too early to begin
thinking seriously about graduate school. Talk to your chemistry
department faculty advisor and other chemistry majors, espe-
cially seniors, about graduate school and careers in chemistry. If
your department has an ACS student chapter, becoming a mem-
ber can help you meet such colleagues. If your department has
a graduate program, discuss these matters with chemistry grad- uate students as well. Your current and former teaching assistants in your laboratory courses are a good place to start. Do your research— Provided that you maintain a high grade point average, the sooner you begin doing undergraduate research, the better. You may wish to begin as soon as your sophomore year. Only then will you know what working in a lab is really like. (By the way, if you do decide to go forward with graduate school, your under- graduate research will be even more helpful. First, the people who will read your graduate school application will be impressed and, second, the experience will help you get off to a stronger start when you begin your thesis research in graduate school.) Your junior year is the time to really get serious. “In general, we ask that students start considering graduate school toward
the beginning of their junior year, when they still have time to
make curriculum changes,” advises Laurel Goj, assistant pro-
fessor of chemistry at Rollins College (Winter Park, FL). “Stu-
dents should plan to complete the ACS-approved program or
the equivalent courses.”
Reach out for advice— Expand your discussions about
graduate school by networking with members of your ACS
local section, and particularly members of the Younger Chem-
ists Committee who went through graduate school recently.
Continue your discussions with your department’s faculty
members and graduate students. Begin asking about specific
graduate schools and their chemistry departments’ programs,
and what these individuals liked most and least about their own
graduate experiences. In the process, you’ll get valuable ideas
about where to focus your efforts.
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad