Your reasons and motivations might change over time, but
some sense of focus and purpose are essential to choosing a
graduate program that fits your needs and to staying moti-
vated over the long run. Having a general idea of the time and
financial resources you will need and how to gather those
resources will help you go in with a sense of confidence. For
many people, taking some time to work after their bachelor’s
degree gives them this sense of direction, and it allows them
to build up their resources before returning to school.
laboratory instruments, or you could learn to write computer
programs and create visualizations of your data. You could
master a particular type of synthesis and apply this knowledge
to designing new synthesis methods. Perhaps your knowledge
of statistics gives you the ability to evaluate published studies
to see whether the results support the authors’ claims. Critical
thinking, problem solving, independent research, and collaboration skills are all things that you can apply in any career you
might find yourself in.
Choosing a specific area of interest will help you research
the type of educational background needed to land a job in
that area, as well as select a type of graduate program and a
few candidate schools. Be aware, however, that your chosen
field could undergo a rapid and unexpected expansion or
contraction while you’re working on your degree, and the job
market could look very different by the time you graduate. If
the career sector you’re preparing for takes a nose-dive while
you’re in school, it may be hard to change directions. Building
in some flexibility will help you adapt.
Even though many graduate programs focus on exploring one specific area of research or preparing for one specific
industry sector, a sense of flexibility will be necessary after
you graduate. Industries change, your interests evolve, and
new fields emerge. Bear this in mind, keep your eyes and ears
open, and enjoy the ride.
Nancy McGuire is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring,
MD. She has a Ph.D. in solid state chemistry and began
her career doing applied research.
Making the decision
For some new graduates, moving on to graduate school is a
foregone conclusion. For the rest of us, it’s a major decision
that requires some idea of why you’re undertaking this effort.
Author’s acknowledgment: Many thanks to Sam Pazicni, an
assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire, for
brainstorming this article with me. Pazicni presents Graduate
School Reality Check workshops at ACS national meetings as
well as ACS webinars.
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