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How can i best salvage my chances of going to grad school for chemistry?

  1. Jul 17, 2009 #1
    I've bolded the essentials of this topic.

    My background as an applicant to grad school is not very strong at all. Here are the main obstacles I'm facing:

    -No relationships with professors
    -No research experience
    -Mediocre grades at the first university I attended

    I am a transfer student and since transferring turned my act around, so the last point may not matter as much. My GPA at the school I've attended for the past 2.5 years has been a 3.6, with my chemistry GPA being about the same or slightly higher.

    Unfortunately, I have never cultivated a relationship with any of my professors and typically when I had a problem in a subject I figured it out for myself with the book. For a BS at my school you either have to do a senior thesis or get a minor and I minored in math. Now this fall will be my last semester before I get my BS in chemistry and I'm feeling doubtful about my ability to get into a good graduate program. My problems are due largely to my failure to overcome my shyness or laziness and build relationships with professors.

    My general GRE test scores are good - I've never had any trouble with standardized tests - and I haven't taken the chemistry subject GRE yet.
    Do you think I would be able to use the time I have left to get as much face time with professors as I can, and possibly get a spot in some lab then pump them all for recommendations in October? Or would I stand better chances if I took a year to work in a research lab, so I would have experience and the recommendation of someone who knows my work well? Basically what are my options looking ahead...

    I really do want to continue my studies and get a PhD in physical chemistry as I have never been satisfied when we skipped over material in my classes because it was "beyond the scope of this class".
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2009 #2


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    In my opinion, the lack research experience is going to hurt you the most. Unfortunately, one semester of research as part of a senior thesis is not going to be enough to make up for it. Most schools require at least a semester of senior research, so it won't set you apart from the rest of the applicants.

    Here's my advice to you:

    1. Study like mad for the ChemGRE from now until you take it in October. A great subject GRE score will help, but will not be a deal maker. A bad one will hurt your chances dramatically.

    2. Work to get letters from the professors. At least one should be from a professor who knows your research skills. The person advising you for your thesis will have to fill this role. One should be from a advanced course you did well in.

    3. Work as hard as you can on your senior thesis so you get the best letter you can from your thesis adviser.

    4. Be realistic about where you send applications. Applying to all top 10 or even top 50 programs is not a good idea. Have some realistic safeties in the list. Smaller state schools with PhD programs, etc.

    5. Consider applying to Master's programs. Getting into a master's program will be easier for you, though funding will be harder to get. The plus side is that you will be able to use the time in the master's program to get your much needed research experience and make some closer relationships with professors. Also, it will show PhD programs that you can definitely handle graduate course work.

    6. If you don't get in, don't give up. Try to find a job working in a lab. This will be valuable experience for the next time you apply the following fall.

    Good luck!
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the reply. If I did get into a smaller or less prestigious school/program, what would my career options look like? I have heard that some companies only hire the top X% from a certain set of schools, and that if you want to be a professor, you really have to graduate from a top tier university.
  5. Oct 24, 2009 #4
    lol, this just came up as the 3rd result for a search i did. i had forgotten about it but since im here again i guess ill post an update

    i joined an organic group and while i will graduate without having done a thesis(not required if you do a minor at my school) or having done my own research, i will at least have had some research experience. i'm going to ask the professor whose lab i work in for a recommendation. HOPEFULLY he will say yes. i talked to my pchem professor and apparently he not only remembered me but had a very positive impression and is willing to write me a good letter.

    i still need a 3rd letter of recommendation, and i missed the deadline for the subject GRE for chemistry (i didnt realize you have to register so far in advance). so maybe i'll get lucky with the "standby" option and maybe ill just have to apply to schools that dont have a hard and fast requirement for the chemistry subject gre.

    the next problem that has arisen is that i am finding organic chemistry and work in the field more and more accessible while the more i look into what people are doing with physical chemistry, the less it reminds me of what i liked about my undergraduate physical chemistry and modern physics courses
  6. Oct 25, 2009 #5
    ChemHopeful I am in a similar situation as you with respect to the subject GRE. I wasn't able to sign up for it, so I will try for a stand by option. But, realize that it does not have much impact in admissions decisions, at least to chemistry programs. I e-mailed Berkeley, UCSF, and UCSD, and they all said that while they do require it, they will still make a decision without it, as long as it is taken before the Fall term begins. Hell, UCLA doesn't even require the test in the first place. With that said, the most important factor to admissions is your research experience, and your letters of recommendation. If you can squeeze in teaching experience (a lab, or a tutorial/recitation) that's even better.

    The main thing is research experience though, have a good attitude and make a good impression during your group presentations and as long as your PI writes in his letter of rec that you're a hard worker then you're fine.
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