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Last Revised July 10, 2000
Think carefully before you decide to go to graduate school.
Remember that you are making a commitment that may last more than
five years. The PhD is mainly a research degree, so don't go in
this direction unless research work interests you. For many students,
a master's degree may be a better choice for your career goals.
The master's degree is also a good option for students who have
some deficiencies in their undergraduate training and wish to
move a little slower while these problems are being corrected.
At the doctoral level, research advisors will usually require you to work a minimum of 40 hours a week, and some will expect 60 hours a week or more. Graduate courses can be not only mentally challenging but also require a heavy time commitment. Most research groups view college vacations as the best time to get work done, so don't expect to enjoy the same vacations that you have experienced as an undergraduate. In short, don't go to graduate school unless you are prepared to make a real commitment.
All other things being equal, graduates who obtain their PhDs from schools with higher prestige are more likely to be hired. (As noted below, all things are rarely equal!) Rankings of Graduate Programs should be viewed with a large amount of salt, but if you wish to use this measure when you're selecting a graduate school, at least you should look at several different rankings to get more than one opinion. The National Research Council has made the statistical tables from its report on Graduate Research Programs available in Excel for Windows 5.0 format and the tables may be downloaded from the SUNY Stony Brook site. You may wish to look at the Rankings of U.S. Chemistry Graduate Programs by U.S. News and World Report, a news magazine that is well-known for ranking various types of educational programs.
N.B. The following sites may no longer be available!
The National Association
of Graduate-Professional Students maintains an excellent site
with a wide variety of information that will be of interest to
both potential graduate students and well as those who are completing
their graduate education. One of the unusual resources available
at this site is a Customized
Graduate Program Ranking Service,which is based on the latest
(1994) results from the National Research Council. Simply select
chemistry on the first page, then move to a series of criteria,
which you can adjust to represent how important they are in you
choice of a graduate school. These criteria range from traditional
measures, like academic quality, to potentially equally important
criteria, such as how long it takes to get the degree. If the
site is available, consideration of this type of evaluation is
high recommended before you select a graduate school.
As noted above, the prestige can be an important factor in the job market, but other issues are also significant. Many graduate schools have developed strong relationships with particular industries, and some faculty work closely with specific companies. This kind of contact may make it much easier for you to find a position when you graduate. In some cases, schools that aren't considered to be high in prestige may be just as likely to place their students as are those with top rankings. If finding a job is important to you, be sure to ask about placement information when you are deciding on a school. You will probably wish to ask specifically about the placement record for the research groups that you are hoping to work for if you attend the school.
Selecting a research advisor is one of the most important decisions you will make in your career. If you have decided on a specific research area that you wish to pursue, then finding potential advisors who are working in this area should be a major factor in your selection of potential graduate schools. Look up the graduate faculty for the schools you are considering and identify the faculty members who are doing research in areas that are of interest to you. The hard copy of the Directory of Graduate Research will tell you not only which faculty members are doing work that might interest you but also their current level of research activity. If an established researcher has published few articles in refereed journals within the past five years, you must wonder whether he or she is a real possibility as your research advisor. Of course, a faculty member who has just begun teaching will not yet have developed a track record that you can examine.
There are many sources of information about chemistry graduate schools, but if you know what schools you might be interested in, consult the WWW home page at UCLA that provides links to Chemistry and Biochemistry Department Home Pages as well as a great deal of other information. Another source that you may also consult is the ACS Chem Center, which contains material concerned with a variety of job seekers, ranking from new grads to experienced chemists. The Next Wave site, sponsored by AAAS and Science magazine, contains a great deal of useful information about career directions for scientists, including profiles of emerging careers, and advice from experts. It includes advice for all levels from upcoming graduates to post-docs, so you may have to look a little to find what it useful to your situation, but it is worth the effort. Another valuable jobs site is sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and is called Careers in Science and Engineering (Don't go yet! Read the Next Sentence!). There is a great deal of good information at this site, but it may not be immediately obvious what is relevant to your situation. The best place to start is probably the Preface to the document. Go down about a screen to the section titled, Which Sections are for you? and work from there.
The Chronicle of Higher Education hosts a jobs site which is primarily concerned with college teaching and administration. The best place to start is at the Career Center, which lists jobs that were advertised in the Chronicle last week. A password is required to access the current week's listing.
Once you have selected several possible faculty who might serve
as your research advisor at an institution, try to gather as much
information about them as possible. In addition to their publication
records, you should also look at what grants they have available.
Much of the support for graduate students is in the form of teaching
assistantships, that require you to spend time in the classroom.
If an individual faculty member has his or her own grants, it
is possible to obtain a research assistantship. In this latter
case, you will be paid to do the research that is required for
the degree. This may allow you to finish a little earlier than
would be the case if you used only teaching assistantships. These
industrial grants also indicate that the faculty member works
closely with a company that might be interested in offering you
a job when you finish.
Dr. Harry Pence, SUNY Oneonta, Dr. Laura Pence, University of Hartford, and Dr. Alfred Lata, Kansas State University have developed a list of questions that you may wish to ask when you visit a prospective graduate school.
Many Chemistry graduate schools will require the general GRE examinations, and some also require the subject examination in chemistry. Be sure to plan ahead, so that these results will be available when the school is ready to consider your application. The General Test and the Writing Test are separate computer-based tests that are offered all year at test centers worldwide. Appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. Call 1-800-GRE-CALL as early as possible to make sure that you get the test date that is best for you. The GRE Subject Tests are only available in paper form, and will typically be offered in November, December, and April. The Educational Testing Service suggests that official results for the computerized version of the exam should be available to the schools in about two weeks; the results of the paper version of the test require four to six weeks to reach the school. This means that to make sure that subject tests are available, you should take the subject test in November or December.
Most students prefer not to take both the specialized test and the regular GRE at the same time, since each one alone is reputed to leave you feeling brain dead. Remember that some schools begin to look at applications and make decisions early in the spring semester, so dates after late January may be too late, even for the computerized general exams. For information regarding the tests, including sample study questions, contact the GRE website; for subject (i.e. like chemistry) test sties and dates, go to the GRE Test Dates page.
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