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.

Dr. Michael Pa got a bachelors degree in chemistry from Binghamton University, a masters degree in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Arizona. His research focus was on novel pain killers which were more potent than morphine but designed to have fewer side effects. There may even be a patent or two that came out of it. Prior to all of this, he was a chemist at Procter and Gamble. After all of that, he (briefly) worked as a post-doctoral assistant at Syracuse University, working on novel organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). In between, he did NOT compete at the 1996 Olympics, make the Atlanta Braves opening day roster, or become the head coach of the Indiana Pacers, as he had intended. #fail During this entire time, he always loved helping students, especially if they were struggling with organic chemistry. In 2006, Dr. Pa founded in order to make learning organic chemistry fast and easy. 14 years and about 60,000 students later we are still helping students to learn organic chemistry one reaction at a time at