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Will I get into a chemistry PhD program?

cassidytibbcassidytibb 1 replies1 threads New Member
edited June 26 in Graduate School
I am a rising senior and am (as many likely are) freaking out about graduate school.
My main concern is that I go to a small liberal arts college with pretty much no research opportunities (Eckerd College), but for the past two years and this coming year (assuming in person labs will exist) I have been a Lab TA (one year general chemistry, second year organic, next year will be doing organic and analytical/instrumental). I also did an REU with UMass Amherst summer 2019, but I worry it is not enough since I see people posting with publications and years and years of research. Below are the rest of my stats, but what is your opinion on my chances of getting into a program (I have a fear I won't get in anywhere)

GPA: 3.93
Majors: Chemistry (ACS), Business Administration
Minor: Applied Mathematics (courses: Calc I-III, Differential Equations, and Complex Analysis)
Chemistry Courses: General chemistry, Organic chemistry (my only non A's, I had just had an accident and found a lot of injuries and spinal compression and unfortunately missed class a lot for PT and pain), Analytical, Instrumental, Physical Chemistry I&II, Environmental Analysis (independent work with ion chromatography), and advanced organic.

I will be taking Biochemistry I this fall and Advanced Inorganic in the spring.

From my GRE Practice Scores: Verbal - 160 Quantitative - 167
(although some schools are already making this optional from covid-19 so not sure how that will impact things)

Outside activity wise I am the VP for our American Chemical Society Chapter.

I am also a first generation college student from a single mother household.

I also developed freshman/sophomore year chronic illnesses and a physical disability that have made my college experience quite an uphill battle that I can speak to as well.

Not sure if there is any other info to really provide, but please let me know what you think! Below are programs I am already interested in applying to (and their caliber is another reason I am concerned that I might get in no where). If you have any program suggestions as well let me know! My ultimate career goals are organic based and ideally in cosmetic chemistry.

Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, MIT, BU, UC Berkeley, NYU, and UMass Amherst
edited June 26
2 replies
Post edited by CCAdmin_Vic on
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Replies to: Will I get into a chemistry PhD program?

  • juilletjuillet 12827 replies164 threads Super Moderator
    Eckerd College is a well-respected small liberal arts college. All the chemistry professors there do research and have recent publications, so I would be surprised if it had "pretty much no research opportunities." Have you talked directly to your chemistry professors about research opportunities with them? (Also, have you looked into opportunities with nearby universities in Tampa?)

    Most undergraduates have no publications at all, but the average good candidate coming straight from undergrad probably has around 2-3 years of research experience by the time that they graduate college (so they started in sophomore or junior year). This is true of students at small LACs as well as students at universities; professors at most LACs still do research. It just may not be as visible and well-funded as it is at large universities - you usually have to ask - but it does still exist.

    Being a lab TA is great but not really the same as being a research assistant - you're helping students execute replications of things chemists already know rather than assisting in the process of creating new knowledge in chemistry. If your summer REU is your only research experience so far, then I'd say getting into a PhD program in chemistry may be an uphill battle for you.

    Talk to your chemistry professors (virtually or in person) when you return to college in the fall. Reaching back to your advisor from your REU is also a good move - get their opinion on your portfolio, since part of their job is helping students determine their readiness and competitiveness for graduate school. Also, seek out opportunities to get some more research experience. You may have to take a year or two post-college to earn more research experience before you'll be competitive for a PhD program.
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  • cassidytibbcassidytibb 1 replies1 threads New Member
    Unfortunately for me, I came in at just the wrong time I suppose. Of our 8 chemistry professors:
    - one doesn't do research with students (just theoretical stuff he does by himself, says it's too advanced for us pretty much)
    - one has not had her own research students the past two years and doesn't seem to have plans to for next year
    - one is strictly biochemistry with emphasis on bio and her research students are her biochemistry II students for the most part
    - one just started during the 2019-2020 school year and so did not have research students then and due to COVID it is highly unlikely she will next year
    - one only has research students (about 2) over the summer, but wasn't granted funding for this summer anyway (even before it was canceled)
    - another has a summer researcher that sort of transitions into a somewhat semester research student, but this student is always a "favorite" student regardless of your qualifications.
    - the next has actual summer interns (I believe 1-2) that end up somewhat continuing work through the semester (more so than previously stated professor) and then has general chemistry students from his particular section do really basic things like unit conversions
    - the final only has one research student whose been his student since last year and will continue through this year. I had offered to do unpaid work this summer with him (since funding was a main issue) but obviously that got cancelled

    The professors only really add new research students in the summer when they have a lot of time to train and teach them. Part of this is because we as students don't have time during the semester, but the professors also don't since they teach a lot of classes and labs. Besides talking extensively with fellow chemistry students I have spoken with professors (because at Eckerd we end up really close with them as we are so small) and the opportunities just aren't there especially since we don't have graduate students to monitor and demonstrate. I am even part of the ACS board and have been trying to work to make our research opportunities in the chemistry department more transparent and have some level of application or a system, but then COVID hit and stopped my attempts to at least help future kids.

    So while it may seem like Eckerd has research opportunities, we unfortunately just don't not in chemistry. There are 15 chemistry and biochemistry majors just in my grade (which is a lot for us) and the past years this number has been increasing which is why there is this new issue of number of positions vs number of students in the major.

    As for research elsewhere, that is precisely why I did an REU as it is literally the only way I could. I have no car, I come from a single-parent household in a very expensive part of the country, have endless medical bills from disabilities, etc. so I can't afford to purchase a car or pay for transportation to Tampa. Public transport would take at least 2 hours to get there due to inefficiency and I can't afford to give up so much time.

    While I thank you for your advice, taking a year or two off for research is quite literally not feasible financially or literally for me for the same reasons I can't try to go to Tampa.
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