Should you go to grad school right after undergrad? Or is it better to get a few years of work experience and then pursue a graduate degree?
Two ACS members share their perspectives on going back to school after working in industry, and share considerations for those making this decision. But remember - ultimately, this is a personal decision and there are no wrong answers!
"Consider... your bandwidth..."
My initial plans were to pursue my PhD in chemistry upon graduating undergrad; however, life had other plans as I gave birth to my son 5 days after matriculating. As a result, I decided to go into industry instead. Eight years later I was in a better position to dedicate myself to studying towards a graduate degree, so in 2020 I began a master’s program in applied statistics.
While I don’t regret my path in life, I do wish that I prioritized graduate studies before starting a family. Having been out of school for a considerable amount of time made this experience quite challenging. Bills, children, household responsibilities, or a global pandemic for that matter do not appreciate the mental stamina that is required to be successful in graduate studies.
For those that are considering graduate studies later in life, I encourage you to consider your family in the process as your bandwidth will not look the same, and their support will be critical to your success. Graduate studies are feasible later in life, but they will require much creativity, dedication, and drive.
"... I was overwhelmed with potential career opportunities..."
Upon graduating with a degree in Chemistry, I was overwhelmed with potential career opportunities, but I wasn't too sure of the career path I wanted to take. I knew it had to be something I was passionate about and that I could see myself doing for my entire career. For me the only way to find that out was to get work experience and apply what I learned in undergrad to further develop my skill sets. I also loved to cook and thought that could be a start in figuring out how to marry chemistry with an appreciation for food and cooking.
That led me to Pepsi, where I have spent the last 13 years honing my technical skills in food science and engineering to develop great tasting products. The exciting part is being able to see your work in the grocery aisles or online. Gaining this work experience post-undergrad has allowed me to continue to chart my learning path and even pointed me in the direction to get my masters along the way in Chemical Engineering. I believe that taking the gap from undergrad to a graduate degree allowed me to really make sure I knew exactly what I wanted to continue studying. This has set the path for the career I imagined.
I believe everyone's path is different but do believe that tangible experiences help bring you clarity and perspective. We are all continuously learning on our career journeys, so even a gap after undergrad is not a gap from continuing your education. Your first career experience is part of your learning journey.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.