The first phase of planning for graduate work in the chemical sciences occurs during your undergraduate studies. Your undergraduate education should help you explore and prepare you for a range of options, including graduate school in the chemical sciences. Fulfilling requirements for your bachelor’s degree and being involved in various activities as an undergraduate student can help you:
Each of the following activities can provide the insights and preparation needed to be successful – whether or not you earn a master’s or doctoral degree.
How can you make the most of these activities? How can you use them to determine whether graduate school is for you?
Chemistry is a broad and expanding field. You will only cover a portion of it in a bachelor’s degree program. Employers and graduate programs will expect that you have a solid understanding of subdisciplines such as analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, as well as an appreciation of polymer chemistry. Some bachelor’s degree programs will also cover other subdisciplines.
Regardless of what it includes and how it is organized, your undergraduate chemistry curriculum should provide a broad background in chemical principles and practices, along with in-depth study that builds on this background. Your chemistry curriculum should also develop skills essential for careers in the chemical sciences.
By learning a range of chemistry subdisciplines, you will gain a broad understanding of the field. Courses may be focused on specific subdisciplines or overarching themes, such as synthesis, characterization, and reactivity. This foundation provides you with the vocabulary, concepts, and skills needed for deeper exploration and helps you identify areas of particular interest.
In-depth courses build on foundation courses, integrating topics and investigating them more thoroughly. These courses should develop critical thinking and problem solving – abilities that employers and graduate programs also expect. Like the foundation courses, in-depth coursework may be focused on specific chemistry subdisciplines or multiple areas. Courses in areas such as materials science, biology, environmental chemistry, and bioengineering will help you explore how chemistry interfaces with other fields.
To the extent possible you should try to enhance your experience both in research and in in-depth course in your area of interest. Such a record will enhance your applications for graduate work.
To have a successful career in the chemical sciences, you need to continuously enhance your technical and professional skills. Graduate programs, as well as employers, will expect that you developed many of these skills as an undergraduate student. Even more importantly, they will expect that you know how to improve those skills and develop new ones.
Consider what technical and professional skills you will need in evolving interdisciplinary and global environments. In addition to technical skills, such as synthesis and characterization, you should be developing skills in problem-solving, the use of the chemical literature, computational chemistry, and safety.
It is important to develop your sense of ethics and practice ethical behaviors. Professional skills cover a wide range of skills needed to be productive in the workplace.
Conducting research is an excellent way to integrate and reinforce your chemical knowledge, while developing your technical and professional skills. Since research is an essential component of doctoral and many master’s degree programs, having an undergraduate research experience will inform your decision to do graduate work.
Undergraduate research can be carried out during the academic year, as well as during the summer. It can be conducted on your campus or at other campuses in the U.S. or abroad. Some undergraduate programs are also trying to include research projects, as well as activities that develop research skills, into courses.
Pursue undergraduate research experiences that involve original projects. These research projects should:
Preparing a comprehensive written report should also be part of your undergraduate research experience. Oral presentations, poster presentations, and journal article co-authorship are also valuable opportunities.
Continuous changes in science and the employment landscape require all chemical scientists to explore options throughout their career. During your undergraduate studies, look for opportunities to talk to others, read about chemical sciences, and envision yourself in different careers. Your answers to the following questions will evolve as you learn more about the wide range of options.
It is difficult to categorize projects and programs in the chemical sciences, given the changing landscape. Most fall into one of the following categories.
Your career path may involve one or more of the following types of workplaces.
Regardless of employment sector, the nature of your responsibilities is likely to change as you get more experience. Anticipate working with interdisciplinary teams of people, some of whom may be international, and taking on leadership responsibilities.
Answering these questions will inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree and your search for graduate programs. Considering whether and where to go for graduate school will also help you answer these questions more deeply.
Even if you know what you would like to do with your degree, it is important to learn about a range of career options. This exploration may open up new opportunities and will help you articulate why you want to do what you want to do.
Your future professional pursuits will be influenced by the people with whom you interact. Connecting with other chemical scientists and students will help you:
Networking is a two-way activity. Even as an undergraduate student, you have valuable insights to share and can offer to help others.
It is never too early to start building connections with other people. Get to know people with a range of perspectives:
Networking with others is not just something to do when you are looking for a job. People who are in your network may help you learn about job opportunities, but they are not the people who will get you a job. In fact, asking them for a job may just prompt them to exclude you from their networks.