The Chemist: How to Get in Grad School

Hey everyone! This week we decided to give you some tips on how to be a good recruit when you go to career fairs, but since I'm in grad school I figured the better topic would be tips on making it to graduate school - if that's something you're interested in. For the readers that are looking for jobs, check out Soyo's post!

Okay, so here we go...

Grad schools seem to look for a few things when reviewing applications and I'm going to go through my top 3 in this post.

1. Research/Internships

Graduate school in science is research based, so getting research/internship experience beforehand is really important. Programs like seeing that you have spent time in the lab for at least a semester to get your feet wet. This goes the same for internships. Sometimes instead of research opportunities, you can get internships working in your field and that works as well. The main thing they want to see is that you know your way around a lab and can think through problems because that's all you're going to be doing while getting your next degree. I will say though, don't just do research just to put it on your resume, actually do it to learn something. Try to find someone on your campus that is doing something interesting and learn everything you can, techniques, instrumentation, data analysis, how to write a research paper, etc. It'll definitely pay off.

2. Recommendation letters

Make sure you always choose the right people to write your letters! I cannot stress this enough. Pick the professors that actually know you and can speak towards how you are as a person - i.e. your interpersonal skills, work ethic, organizational skills, etc. - because that can make the difference. A lot of times applications require you to have a letter written by your academic advisor, so if you don't have a relationship outside of registering for classes, try to build one. For those that are doing research, your research advisor is also a good bet, because they know you and how you work, so look to them as well. The other thing that comes with this is making sure they all turn things on time, but that's a topic for another post. Overall, really think about who you're going to ask to write these letters because it definitely matters. Those are the people they will contact to ask follow up questions.

3. Grades

I put grades last because it's important, but only to a point. You do not have to have a 4.0 GPA to get into grad school, I know I didn't. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your GPA for your major is around a 3.2 -3.3. I think what programs really like seeing is consistency and progression. I had a really bad semester at Pitt, but I turned it around and that meant more than the fact that I didn't do so hot in a chemistry class. If you're struggling in classes, get help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a tutor or going to office hours. You'll realize very quickly that in grad school it's a team effort and I found myself always studying with other people and picking their brains. It really can help in the long run.

Those are really the things I think you should start focusing on. Other things like community service, clubs/organizations, and awards/fellowships also are important, but they are more so good enhancements, you don't necessarily have to have them. If you have any other questions about what I did to get in grad school, tweet me and we can talk about it.

See you next week!

-The Chemist

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