Browsing: chemistry grad school

Careers in chemistry: What a great idea


career in chemistry
It makes total sense to become a chemist.


Careers in chemistry are a great idea.

People ask me a lot of questions about being a chemist: Why should I become a chemist?  Does a career in chemistry make sense for me or is it for huge nerds?  What is a career in chemistry like?  Will I be stuck in a lab for my whole life? Is it dangerous?  It is boring?  Will I want it to be dangerous?   Will I become a huge boring nerd that only wants to play Nintendo 64, search AltaVista and forgets how to interact with the opposite sex? Do I look good in this labcoat?  What happens if I don’t like wearing safety glasses because I don’t trust them?  How will I find a spouse if I smell like pyridine all of the time?  Will the other chemists make fun of me if I don’t smell like pyridine all of the time?

To me, the answer is crystal clear.  There are many great reasons to become a chemist.  It is breath-taking work.  It is mentally stimulating.  It is essential and meaningful work.  You could make a lot of money.    I could go on and on with the topic, but the fact is that it just makes good sense for a lot of students.

One of the big reasons is that they will pay you to get a graduate degree in chemistry.  TAs teach a class or two a week and make pretty good money for students. This is usually over $20,000 per year and at the end of the week, you are getting paid cash money to go to school, which is an amazing concept.

Just a couple of thoughts on the subject, but it is really worth keeping in mind.  Being a chemist has huge upside and not a lot of downside.  To be frank, there can be a little bit of danger involved but that can be minimized by keeping a good head on your shoulders and following proper safety protocols.  I have only seen a couple of very bad lab accidents and in each case, the incident could have been avoided if the student had used established safety procedures.

But keep chemistry in mind when you are thinking about what to major in.


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Graduate School for Organic Chemistry?? Not a bad idea if I do say so myself.

Graduate School for Organic Chemistry??

A presumptuous congratulations on passing this class.  For some of you it was not easy.  For others, it might have been enjoyable.  And for a select few of you, it was so awesome that you would love to take the class again just for fun.  Right now, I am talking to that last group of students.

If you enjoyed your organic chemistry class, you might want to consider a way to continue the party. That way is to get a graduate degree in chemistry.  Here are some of the benefits to it:

1) Recruiting trips: Rent the 80’s hit movie “Johnny Be Good”.  Your recruiting trips to prospective graduate schools will not be quite that crazy, but each school you are accepted to will fly you out for the weekend to wine and dine you.  This includes meeting the faculty & current graduate students, seeing the campus, hearing about research that you might be interested in and seeing what life as a grad student would be like.  It is a great way to spend part of your senior year and is the first step to picking the perfect graduate school for you.  It is also an amazing opportunity to talk to the graduate students that are already there and find out how life at that school really is.

2) You get paid to go to school:  Almost every university that offers a graduate degree in chemistry will pay you go to school there.  No joke.  In exchange for teaching undergraduate classes and/or doing research in order to obtain your degree, these schools will pay you a stipend.  Generally, it is not much money, but it will be enough for most of you to live on.   Depending on the school, this stipend can range from $15K to $35K/year and tuition is usually covered in that (or is very cheap).  Considering that you are being paid to be a
student, this isn’t such a bad deal.

3) You get to put off starting real life:  If you get a masters degree, it will take you 18 months to three years to complete.  If you get a PhD, it will take you between 4-6 years.  This is all time in which you are still a college student and can continue to party like it is 1999.

4) You will increase your earning potential for your entire career:  With an advanced degree on your resume, you can demand higher salaries for your entire working career.

5) You don’t necessarily even need to become a chemist with your degree:  A sizable percentage of those who get advanced degrees in chemistry never actually become bench chemists, or even stay in the field of chemistry.  I know people that have become engineers, pharmaceutical sales reps, medical examiners, and even FBI agents.  The great part about it is that you have flexibility and aren’t pigeon-held into a chemistry job.

Overall, more education never hurts anyone, especially when someone else is paying for you to do it.  If you are even remotely interested in hearing more about this, I would strongly suggest learning more about a graduate degree in the sciences.  For most schools, you can visit their websites and get more information.  If you decide to start the process toward going to graduate school, you want to
take the GRE exam sometime in your junior year and start applying in the fall of your senior year

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Is a graduate degree in organic chemistry right for you?

 Part 1:  Applying to schools

So you are thinking about a graduate degree in chemistry?  There are endless opportunities in the field of the physical sciences, and chemistry is one of the biggest players in that field.  With a job in the chemistry, you can help humanity, have a stable, well-paying job, and be challenged mentally everyday.  In this three-part series, we will address what is entailed in applying to science programs obtaining a graduate degree, and what type of job prospects you will be looking at once you are finished. 

Applying and choosing a graduate school.


Before analysis can begin, we need to assume that you are majoring in some form of a physical science; this can include physics, biology, chemistry, or biochemistry.  The obvious statement to be made here is that good grades are essential.  One should not shy away from tutoring, if needed.  We recommend a graduate TA at your school or Organic Chemistry Help. In addition to good grades, undergraduate research experience is a huge plus.


Once you enter your senior year, you should consider taking the GRE exam.  While all graduate programs in chemistry do not require this, if you are a good test taker, it can only help you in the application process.  Another benefit is that if you do not score as well as you would have liked, you can just choose not to send your scores to the schools. 

In October or November of your senior year, you should start sending out applications to schools you are interested in.  All will require letters of recommendation, one of which should be from your undergraduate faculty advisor.  If you do not know this professor well, it is a good reason to get to know them before the day you ask for that letter. 

If your grades, letters, and/or undergraduate research make you an attractive candidate, then the interesting part begins:  recruiting trips.  Yes, I said it.  Just like a McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball player, you will be flown to almost all schools that accepted you and “wined and dined” for the weekend, with all expenses paid for by the university.  Most schools plan these weekends for Feb-Apr of your senior year and are a great way to see the graduate school you are considering, meet other prospective students and hear about the research that the faculty is doing.  While you should think of these weekends as a mutual interview, be sure to have fun too.  However, here are some questions it might be useful to have answered:


  1.  What % of students are on RA (research assistant fellowship) by their third year?

  2. Will my funding be yanked should I need longer than 5 years to complete the program?

  3.  What is your % of international students in the program?  (This is not a racist question.)

  4. What % of students obtain a PhD?  MS?

  5. What is the average length of time to complete the program?

  6. To Professors:  Would you consider yourself “hands-on” or a “hands-off” professor?

  7. To Professors: What is your main source of funding?

  8. To Professors: May I see some of your recent publications?

  9. To Professors: Have you ever denied a student a PhD?

 Once you have seen several schools, you will be more comfortable choosing one.  In our next installment of this series, we will discuss the hurdles one must jump before obtaining an advanced degree in chemistry.

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