Chemistry Major Handbook
Graduates with a degree in Chemistry from Whitman have pursued many different career paths. (2006-2014) Historically, more than half of graduates go on to graduate school for Masters and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry, geochemistry, environmental chemistry, etc. While other students pursue medical school, find jobs in industry, government labs, consulting, etc.
One possible avenue for continuation of your studies in the chemical sciences after leaving Whitman is graduate school. Study at the graduate level generally involves advanced course work and independent research. Most graduate programs in the US offer pathways to a Ph.D. but may also offer study at the Master’s level. Typical work on a Ph.D. takes approximately five years and is designed to develop your critical thinking skills and to prepare you to conduct research professionally in your chosen field. Although many Ph.D. chemists enter the workforce in industry, government, or academia, the skills you develop in pursuit of a graduate degree are applicable in a wide number of fields. The decision of if and when to enter graduate school should be considered carefully as there are significant time commitments involved. It is important to have a clear plan on how an advanced degree fits into your anticipated career path and possible employment opportunities after graduation. If you are interested in graduate school it is never too early to start planning. There are a number of resources available to start the process.
TALK TO FACULTY IN YOUR DEPARTMENT
The first and best resource you have is your advisor or faculty mentor in your department. Talk to them early about your interest in graduate school and discuss which options may be best for you. Some of the most valuable information regarding graduate programs can come from the firsthand knowledge of your professors. They can help you identify strong programs in your area of interest and may even be able to recommend specific labs or research supervisors. This can be very important as your graduate school experience often depends heavily on the lab and research advisor that you choose.
APPLYING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL
Most chemistry graduate programs consider applications in the fall. You should begin contacting graduate programs early in the fall semester of your senior year and plan to have your applications in by the end of November. A successful application can depend on a number of factors.
Strong performance in your undergraduate courses and research can be key to easy admission to graduate school. Plan early in your career to ensure your CV will be as strong as possible for this application period. Undergraduate experience in research is routinely cited as one of the most attractive elements of successful graduate school applications. There are numerous opportunities within the Whitman Chemistry department to become involved in meaningful research. This can lead to presentations at conferences and authorship on publications, all of which will set you apart and further enhance your attractiveness to graduate programs.
Letters of recommendation
A strong letter of reference from your undergraduate research advisor can also be key to a successful application. It is important to build these relationships early in order to maximize your recommender’s ability to comment on your research aptitude, critical thinking skills, and work ethic.
Essays or personal statements
Some graduate programs require essays or personal statements as part of their admissions process. Do not neglect this aspect of your application. This is an opportunity to display all of those hard-won communication skills that you have acquired through your liberal education. While a personal statement is seldom a deciding factor in admission, it can be important in an institution’s decision to offer special fellowships for funding for you graduate work.
The GRE exam
The Graduate Record Exam is a standardized test that is required for admission to most chemistry graduate programs. There is also a chemistry subject area GRE that is required by some institutions. It is important to determine the specific requirements of each program to which you intend to apply. The chemistry subject GRE is offered in October, November, and Aprils each year. It can be advantageous to take the subject test in the spring of your junior year, but the timing may depend on your coursework up to that point.
It is common for graduate programs to arrange for you to visit at some point in the spring semester. Depending on the institution this can be an individual visit or as part of a group. In most cases this not an interview; they have already admitted you and are looking to convince you to come!
They will be showing off the best that their program has to offer, but this is your opportunity to gather valuable information. At this stage you should spend more time asking questions than self-promoting. You will have the chance to speak with professors (potential advisors) and graduate students (potential coworkers). Candid conversations with the later can be a key component in determining what your graduate experience will actually look like. With all of that being said, it is important to take every opportunity to leave a positive impression. Quality interactions with faculty and graduate students here can build connections that will benefit you once you enter the program.
They pay you to go to chemistry graduate school! Any program designed to train research scientists will provide a stipend and health insurance. The amounts and allocation of this stipend can vary but can be in the neighborhood of $30k a year. Often this stipend comes a part of a package which includes salary for teaching responsibilities (lab TA and undergraduate lecture courses). Particularly competitive candidates might be offered greater support in the form of named fellowships. These are designed to make the program more attractive and to reduce your dependence on the teaching-based component of your stipend. Most institutions will offer competitive stipends so it is a good idea to focus less on the specific dollar amount and more on you “fit” with the program. Do, however, consider the cost of living in the area you will be living.
Fellowships as part of the funding section? NSF?
HEALTH PROFESSIONS SCHOOLS
A degree in chemistry is excellent preparation for a career in the health profession. If you are interest in applying to health professional schools after graduation you are encouraged to contact the Director of Health Professions Advising, Kimberly Mueller (email@example.com), late in the sophomore or early in the junior year.