Some people who earn a Ph.D. do so because
they are extremely motivated to be among the 2%
of the population who have Ph.D.s, or to be considered “the best
of the best.” For many others, however, getting a Ph.D. credential and the title ‘doctor’ are small recompense for a five-year or
longer investment of time and effort; the ends will not justify the
means. I’ve also seen many students who choose to go to graduate school for no particular reason at all. People in this category
tend to be more apathetic about their studies and research and
more likely to drop out of graduate school. They seem to lack the
commitment to education needed to succeed.
I’ve also observed some patterns among students who had
successful graduate school careers characterized by positive
research experiences, gainful employment, and personal growth
Successful Ph.D. students are often motivated by a passion to
deepen their knowledge of chemistry. Graduate school demands
a paradoxical combination of qualities from the student. For
example, you must be willing to become an expert at the same
time that you are augmenting your overall knowledge base. In
fact, when you complete your thesis, you will be the only person
on the planet with expertise in that specific area! If you go on to
work in industry, you will be considered an expert in your field
and will be treated with much respect by your co-workers.
Get your thinking in order
Be honest about your true reasons for attending graduate school.
Proper alignment of priorities before enrolling in graduate school
can yield fantastic, long-term career opportunities and personal
A very wise chemistry professor once told me: “Always get
your thinking in order first.” Why is it so important to consider
the question, “Should I go to graduate school?” The path to even
getting into graduate school is long, often lasting 8–10 months,
and is fraught with the highs and lows of any major life decision.
However, that process pales in comparison with the commitment
needed to survive and succeed in earning one’s degree!
Graduate school involves year-round coursework, reading,
writing, presenting, and of course, research lab work that leads to
a dissertation. Earning a terminal degree is not meant to be easy,
and definitely is not for everyone. If you get your thinking in order
ahead of time, the probability of success rises exponentially. Put
simply, if you have dedication for science, you should consider
attending graduate school. And if your motivation is strong, it will
be one of the most gratifying experiences of your life. Good luck…
and never stop asking questions!
Matthew J. Mio is an associate professor at the University of Detroit Mercy in the Department of Chemistry and Biochem- istry. In his more than eight years as a faculty member, the most enjoyable part of his career has been academic advising and helping students with their pre-professional training.