Do You Have the Passion?
My greatest fear transitioning into graduate school was self-doubt:
Am I smart enough to really do this? As an undergraduate, I strug-
gled with understanding much more than the first few paragraphs
in scientific papers, much less following the logical conclusions in
the results section and making sense of the materials and methods.
Reflecting back on my relative inexperience as a scientist, my
greatest pleasure in graduate school has been transitioning from
being a complete novice in my field to becoming a published author
with some expertise, albeit still growing. Hard work, persistence, and
even some luck all have gone into building my skill set, but I think
one of the most important factors has been a passion for my field.
Graduate school can really only be described as an act of love.
This may seem surprising given that textbooks and scientific
papers are written in an almost sterile manner. But go to any thesis defense and listen, not so much to the content of the talk but
rather to how the student presents it. Reactions, crystal structures,
and microscopy images— any type of data, really— are presented
objectively… but approached almost as if they were great paintings.
I have even heard a fellow student describe J-coupling on an NMR
spectrum as “beautiful.”
The passion for improving not only my scholarship but also my
craft as a scientist is what drives me to stay up all night monitoring
a reaction or even spend hundreds of hours on microscopy to consistently reproduce the one perfect image. I think I asked the wrong
question when I started graduate school. The question I should
have asked was not, “Am I smart enough?” but rather, “Am I passionate enough?”
Nathan Cook is a fifth-year graduate student at Rice University.
His research focuses on the interaction of metal complexes with
Solving the Graduate
The process of applying for and choosing a graduate school is similar to assembling a large puzzle. First, you must decide which pieces
to use, and then figure out how to fit them all together.
I entered a chemical engineering program as an undergraduate
with a broad career goal of helping develop treatments for diseases.
After working as a tutor, I realized I had a passion for teaching,
and that I could combine it with research by working as a university professor. Obtaining a Ph.D. seemed like a logical next step.
Jorge L. Santiago Ortiz is a third-year graduate
student in chemical and biomolecular engineering
at the University of California, Berkeley.
Opting for a Professional
Science Master’s Degree
As an undergraduate, I majored in biochemistry because
the discipline combined my two favorite high school
classes. By the time I was a senior I knew that I loved
doing research and came to the conclusion that I wanted
to get a Ph.D.
After attending the Graduate School Reality Check
event at an ACS national meeting, I learned about Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degree programs. I talked
to a representative for the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)
of Applied Life Sciences about their Master of Bioscience
inChemistry • www.acs.org/undergrad