What is GRExit? A silly term for a big decision. Starting in Fall 2019, Emory’s Department of Chemistry is joining the “GRExit” wave by dropping the GRE test from our graduate application process.
The GRE (or “Graduate Record Exam”) administered by the Educational Testing Service has been a factor in graduate school admissions since the 1950s. At Emory, we have long required the test as one piece of a package intended to allow us to gauge how well students might do in our program. We are committed to the practice of whole file review, meaning we review all of the materials a student submits instead of using any one factor to “weed out” students from our applicant pool. In the past, we relied on this practice to mitigate any outsize impact on GRE scores. However, we were still faced with interpreting scores as a piece of the puzzle….and over time, our graduate committee found that it was very hard to look past particularly high or low scores as they reviewed the remainder of a file.
Added to that impression, we had access to data on students who accept our admissions offer and matriculate. We haven’t found the GRE to be a very good indicator for student success in the first year of our program. Our sample size is small compared to the large number of students who take the test, but there is more research out there that we can rely on. For instance, consider the following:
Research has also consistently shown that the GRE introduces bias into the review process, disadvantaging women, minorities, and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Some references of note:
We are very concerned about minimizing bias in our admissions process. Our entire graduate admissions team undergoes training about the role of implicit bias in their day-to-day life (a program that draws heavily on the book Blindspot.) We have also piloted the use of a shared evaluation form to help faculty review applications with the same questions in mind. And we are always considering new ways to minimize bias in our review process. With issues of efficacy, predictive value, and bias in mind, removing the GRE from our process seemed like the right path. It’s a decision we may revisit if new research or testing options make the GRE more useful. But for now, we are confident that “GRExit” is the way to go.
What does this mean for you as an applicant? Simply put, you do not have to take the GRE to apply to the Emory chemistry graduate program. We will still practice whole file review – we look forward to reading your personal statements, seeing your faculty of interest selections, and hearing the perspective of your recommenders. We also love when students submit the optional video statement!
Because we are committed to this path, we will not be accepting test scores in the application even if you want to report them. If we receive scores from some students but not from others, we reintroduce potential biases from this test, particularly as we suspect that students are understandably more likely to submit high scores. We will carefully review all of the information that we do request and feel confident in our ability to make a thorough review of each application without the assistance of GRE scores.
As another tangible benefit, we hope this will lessen the financial burden of the application process. You do not need to pay to send your scores to Emory, to take test prep classes or buy test prep books, or to sit the test itself.
What do you think about GRExit? Does it make you more or less likely to apply to Emory? Are you planning to take the GRE for other applications? Are you happy to skip it?
Please feel free to share your comments and, as always, to contact our program if you have any questions.
Planning to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications open September 1st, 2018 and are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post provides advice on researching and choosing a laboratory home for the PhD.
In the natural sciences, graduate students eventually join a specific lab. At some schools, the lab selection process happens during the application process or immediately after students arrive on campus. When you arrive at school, you will complete department requirements, such as coursework and TA assignments, but you will immediately focus your research effort by joining a specific lab. At other schools–Emory included–laboratory selection is a longer process.
What is a research rotation program?
At Emory specifically, we offer a research rotation program. The research rotation program requires students to spend about five weeks in three different labs. (Occasionally, students are able to arrange to complete a fourth rotation by beginning their graduate studies in the summer. ) We take our research rotations seriously and feel that they provide unique and important training for our students. First and foremost, students have an opportunity to get a feel for different laboratories and select the lab that is the best fit for them in terms of both science and lab culture. Additionally, students benefit from becoming familiar with the research and resources of labs other than the one they ultimately join. It is common for students to ask rotation advisors to be a part of their dissertation committee (at Emory, this committee is actually convened in the second year so that they can evaluate other program milestones, such as our Second Year Qualifying Exam and Fourth Year Original Research Proposal.)
For applicants, the fact that Emory offers rotations means that they are accepted into the graduate program instead of any one specific lab. As a consequence, admissions decisions are not made by any single member of the faculty but by a graduate committee. It’s 100% appropriate to communicate with faculty whose research interests you, but these individuals cannot offer you admission and you are not required to make a commitment to a lab prior to completing rotations. After rotations are over, students submit their ranked choices for a laboratory home and faculty meet to make final decisions. Most students end up in their first choice because they have used the rotation program to determine where they best fit.
We do ask that applicants identify up to three faculty of interest on the application. This is really important! You do not have to rotate with the three people you select, but your selections let us know that you’ve done your homework (or not) and selected labs that fit with the research interests you’ve described in your application. If your research experience is all in inorganic labs and you select three physical chemistry faculty, it would be helpful to address your intention to shift your focus within the application–otherwise, we might think you don’t understand the research you’re telling us you’re interested in or that you want to do something for which you are unprepared. So, tell us about that pchem course you aced or the research on astrochemistry that changed your career plans.
How can I figure out my faculty of interest?
It can be challenging to select labs of interest–after all, you’re still applying! The best way to learn about labs at Emory is to read our faculty websites. This will be true for most other schools, too! On our department website, we’ve gathered all those faculty websites into one place on our Research page. . Keep in mind that faculty websites can quickly get out of date. Once you find someone you’re really interested in, you’ll want to search for their most recent publications and do some reading. This is also the point where you might reach out to the lab directly–let them know you’ve seen their website and enjoyed reading X paper. Then ask a few questions about what they are working on and let them know you are planning to apply. Even if they can’t commit to having you join their lab, most faculty will appreciate the conversation and be more than happy to update you on what types of research the lab is working on. If you are applying to a school where you must be accepted into a specific lab, this same process becomes even more important. Don’t write to faculty and ask “what do you work on?” Let them know that you’ve done your research and ask them specific, informed questions.
How do I know if faculty are accepting students?
At Emory, we’ve marked faculty who are accepting students for next year with an asterisk on our Research page. If the school doesn’t tell you which faculty are accepting students, faculty titles can be a helpful hint. Faculty with the title of “Lecturer” or “Emeritus” are unlikely to be taking PhD students. Lecturing faculty are usually engaged 100% in teaching. Emeritus faculty may still be working, but are likely to be winding down their research programs. Another thing to consider is whether someone is junior or senior faculty. “Junior” faculty (pre-tenure) are often building their lab and you can get involved in their research on the ground floor, possibly with more responsibility. Senior faculty may have the resources to build a larger group or might already have established projects in your area of interest. Rank is not a good reason to choose or reject a laboratory placement, but it’s useful to understand that faculty are at all different levels in their own research journeys and that this may affect how they incorporate new students into their group. If you still can’t figure out which faculty are accepting students, it makes sense to email faculty directly or to reach out to the program administrator.
This post is part of a series about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post provides an overview of the costs–and benefits–of applying to and attending graduate school.
There are two key financial issues to consider when applying to graduate school–the cost to apply and the cost to attend. While other financial issues may come into play, these are the basic concerns most students face and the areas this blog will cover.
Cost to Apply
Most graduate schools require an application fee. The fee goes to pay for everything from the admissions management system (Emory uses CollegeNET) to the salaries of the admissions representatives who spend time reading each application.
At Emory, we are committed the the practice of whole file review–this means that every application is read from cover to cover by an admissions representative. We do not use test scores or any other factor to weed students out of the pool prior to file review. Because of this, reviewing each application takes time and has a real cost. An application fee can help ensure that students are serious about applying while also contributing to the costs of a thorough review.
That said, we never want the application fee to be a burden that keeps students from being able to apply. Emory’s Laney Graduate School is proud to offer a fee waiver to applicants who are affiliated with any one of the following programs:
MMUF-Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship
Many other schools take this same approach and some may offer waivers to students who visit or participate in school-specific programs (Emory STEM Symposium participants receive a waiver.)
If you do not qualify for a waiver via one of these programs, you can still request one from many schools on the basis of financial hardship. For Emory, applicants applying under this designation should meet the U.S. Department of Education definition of “low income” (you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen, you just need to fit the definition in these guidelines.) If you qualify, fill out the form at this link and keep in mind that it may take up to ten days to receive a reply. We cannot extend the deadline for students waiting on the fee waiver process.
To find out about fee waivers at other schools, try Google-ing the school name + fee waiver. Some schools do not advertise their fee waivers in an obvious place, but many do offer them. There is also a consortium called the “B1G Academic Alliance” that offers FreeApp. This allows you to apply for free to any PhD or Masters of Fine Arts program at participating universities. The free waiver is not automatic, but it cuts down on how many places you have to contact. Emory is not currently a member.
Finally, it’s important to note that some schools do not require an application fee at all or offer fee waivers in specific years to specific programs, such as the year of a university milestone or a year in which a program opens admissions or hires new faculty.
Beyond the application fee, there can be costs related to the GRE and TOEFL and a fee for a transcript from your undergraduate institution. The Educational Testing Service offers some support for students facing financial hardship related to the GRE. Emory Chemistry does not require or allow submission of the GRE test, so this is not a consideration for us!(Learn more here.) Emory accepts unofficial transcripts for the application–these are often available free to the student. We do require an official, sealed transcript be submitted directly to the graduate school if a student accepts an offer of admission. We also require submission of either TOEFL or IELTS scores for international applicants. We will waive this requirement for students who have studied for one or more years at a domestic institution. Often, students ask to provide additional documents…subject test scores, certificates, etc. The correct (and least expensive) way to incorporate these is in your C.V./resume or personal statement. Please do not provide materials that are not requested.
We hope that cost will not be a barrier for any Emory applicant. Please contact us if you need assistance.
Also, if you find resources that we have not listed here in your application hunt, feel free to contact us (gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu) so we can add them to this blog. This Twitter thread by @AmaBemma is fantastic and we have incorporated many of the resources mentioned into this post. (Her Instagram also includes many graduate school resources, although the focus is on English PhD programs.)
Cost to Attend
Beyond the application fees, there are some costs associated with attending graduate school. These can include, but are not limited to:
tuition, fees, & insurance
room & board (on or off-campus; more commonly off)
conference, training, and research travel costs
cost of living
We’ll break these costs down down one by one. But first, let’s bring stipends into the mix. Many graduate schools offer a stipend – that means, a graduate student salary. This is called a stipend rather than a salary because it is support for your education with some requirements attached rather than a variable payment based on punching a clock. It is also likely less than you will make in a “regular” research job to reflect the fact that you are in training. Stipends are taxable income. Tuition waivers (money paid on your behalf as a tuition scholarship) are not taxable.
$31,000 base stipend (some students will receive merit fellowships above this amount; all applicants are automatically considered for these fellowships. Raises are given to ALL students, not just new students.)
100% tuition waiver (worth $87,000 in 2018-2019)
100% health insurance subsidy (worth $3,164 in 2017-2018–this covers the full cost of enrollment for health insurance. Students pay insurance-negotiated co-pays and other fees for actual services rendered.)
Cost of living is going to be a factor in how stipends and costs play out for you. Many students move far from home for graduate school and may not be familiar with the costs in a specific city. In Atlanta, housing costs are lower than in other cities. Transportation costs might be higher that some cities, depending on where you live and how you prefer to travel.
Compare potential stipends – or, as you get further along, actual financial packages that accompany admissions offers – by adjusting for the cost of living in different cities. Here is one site that lets you do that https://www.nerdwallet.com/cost-of-living-calculator; there are plenty of others. For example, Nerdwallet shows that you would need $55,262 in San Francisco, $71,490 in Manhattan, and $27,742 in Durham, N.C. to match the spending power of Emory’s $31,000 stipend in Atlanta, GA.
More About Tuition, Fees, & Insurance
Most reputable chemistry PhD programs in chemistry will cover all or most of your tuition cost. You may be responsible for a small contribution to tuition as well as student fees. Additionally, the requirements attached to your tuition waiver will vary. These might include:
required TA service
time limits related to PhD completion
a requirement to obtain in-state residency status within a year (for state schools) which includes the cost of transferring driver’s license and car insurance
All schools will charge some fees and it can be hard to compare. Keep in mind fees that might be rolled in to other costs or they might seem optional while actually being difficult to avoid (like an optional computing fee without which you cannot access campus wi-fi!) Outside of parking, none of Emory’s fees are optional, but they cover a wide range of benefits.
Emory requires students to pay fees each semester of about $100-$400. A full fee schedule is available on the graduate school’s website. At Emory, fees pay for:
access to campus athletic facilities
a one-time transcript fee that pays for all future transcripts
free visits to student health (pay for suggested treatments and medications at the health insurance-negotiated rate)
student activities, including Pi Alpha Chemical Society, our graduate student social and service group that provides free and low-cost activities to all graduate students
Importantly, Emory’s stipend support is not contingent on research or teaching services. All students do some teaching as part of their education and all chemistry students will engage in research, but only through structured activities that are part of their training–not as work in exchange for scholarships and fellowships. Support is also guaranteed to continue at the same level as long as students make sufficient academic progress. We do not require advanced students to compete for their core funding. In fact, advanced students are eligible to apply for special fellowships, such as the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship–and chemistry students have been very successful in securing these fellowships.
Why does insurance roll in to this whole picture? Many schools have a health insurance requirement, meaning that all enrolled students must be insured. Some schools offer health insurance subsidies to help students meet this requirement (Emory pays 100% of health insurance enrollment costs for chemistry students). If insurance is not offered or required by your school, consider that enrollment in health insurance (or not) will be a factor in how far your salary will stretch.
Room & Board
The costs of housing, food, and incidentals will vary from place to place (see the information on “cost of living” above.) School-affiliated graduate housing is less common than undergraduate housing. It’s more likely to be available in areas where the cost of living makes it difficult from graduate students to rent at market rates.
Emory has two housing options that are affiliated with the university. They give preference to Emory students but are not run by Emory. They are President’s Park and Campus Crossings. Both have furnished and unfurnished options and Campus Crossings offers roommate matching.
Emory also offers a moderated web portal called Emory Off-Campus Housing where curated listings for apartment and house rentals can be viewed with an Emory netID and password.
Some general considerations about housing:
Does it matter to you if you can afford to live without a roommate? Our students have found this very possible in Atlanta.
Do you want pets? Atlanta is VERY pet friendly, including in rental apartments. The cost of a pet fee can add to start-up costs in a new living situation.
Are you in a position to consider purchasing a home and, if so, is your school of choice located in an area with affordable housing stock? Home costs are rising in Atlanta, but still affordable within driving distance of Emory. We have a few students each year who purchase a home or condo, often renting rooms to other students.
Do you have accessibility or health needs related to housing? Both of Emory’s affiliated complexes have accessible units and are on a shuttle route that connects to Emory healthcare locations
How will you get to school?
Many schools charge for parking on campus. Emory allows students to buy a yearly parking pass to a specific deck for about $650. Some schools have less expensive parking, some offer a “hunting” pass where you can park but must find a space in one of any number of decks, some schools only offer satellite parking to students, etc. Consider if your school is accessible by walking or public transport. Consider your level of comfort with your transport options and whether you will have access to a car. Consider your probable working hours and family needs.
Transportation and parking is one of those tricky financial and time costs that many students forget to consider. Think also about the cost of moving to school from home. Some schools offer moving subsidies (unfortunately, Emory currently does not). Emory does offer an early stipend start date of August 15th so that students are compensated for orientation activities.
A note about food? Well, graduate students are experts at finding free food and many universities offer multiple events monthly or even weekly with some free food. This is not to suggest that students should rely on free food and we strongly support (and provide!) a stipend that allows students the spending power to manage food costs alongside other imperatives. But finding free food is a skill that many graduate students excel at!
Conference, Training, and Research Travel Costs
From application fees to apartments, many of the considerations listed here are most important to a new graduate student. Keep in mind the costs that you might encounter as your career progresses. When will you want to go to conferences in your field? Do you need to use a research instrument at another school or train with someone off-site? Will study abroad be part of your graduate student journey? (Emory’s NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization offers funded study abroad opportunities for graduate students.)
At Emory, Laney students are eligible to apply for up to $7,500 of non-competitive research and training funds called Professional Development Support (PDS) Funds. Additional conference and research costs are often (but not always) covered by a student’s P.I. The Graduate Student Council offers a $250 conference attendance grant to students. Our students have also been competitive for fellowships that fund conference travel (sometimes as a supplement to a larger fellowship award, sometimes as a smaller award given directly by the national organization of a specific conference.)
Other things can come up over five or six years that might surprise you. The following questions cover a few more (although still not all) additional financial questions. You don’t need to have all the answers to attend graduate school. No one has a crystal ball (or, if you do, call us! we’re curious who’s getting the next few Nobel Prizes in Chemistry!)
What are your options if you need to take time off for personal or health reasons? (Emory offers a stipend pause with program and graduate school approval)
Will the ability of a partner to find a job or a child to attend school near your selected grad school change your financial picture?
Will you want to take time off for parental leave? (Emory does not currently offer parental leave, although grants sometimes allow this cost)
Do you have the wardrobe required for future career milestones? Conferences? Interviews? When will these costs factor in?
Will you need to pay fees related to visas, passports?
How often will you travel to visit friends and family? What are the costs? Will work schedule flexibility be a factor in how far ahead you can book flights?
Are you responsible for parents, dependents, etc.?
Are you aware of tax laws that might affect you due to factors like marital status, citizenship status, etc.?
Beyond the Numbers
Budgeting is essential for graduate students (we like YNAB!) But many graduate programs offer support that makes graduate school a sustainable financial option.
Without a doubt, pursuing a graduate education comes with a cost: though they can come close, fellowships may not cover 100% of your living costs, and by going to graduate school you are delaying or interrupting your professional career and the climb up the salary ladder.
If you decide to make that choice — because you are committed to pursuing your curiosity, to developing your capacities, to contributing to the development of knowledge and the advancement of the public good, or for some other reason — and if the Laney Graduate School turns out to be the place for you, then we are committed to providing the financial assistance to make it a feasible and attractive option.
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post provides tips on requesting reference letters to accompany your application.
Hi, Dr. H,
Can you write a reference for me? It’s due next week. I loved your class!
Katie, Dr. H is not amused.
It’s hard to ask faculty for reference letters. You are literally asking them to say nice things about you, on paper, and then submit this nice note to strangers for review. And your future seems to kind of depend on what they say.
Make it easy for yourself and your recommenders. Send an email to your intended letter writer that includes the following information:
What you are asking for, including where you are applying and why
How they know you (including full name and course titles, if applicable)
Deadline for submission (send EARLY!)
Please and Thank You
Any materials (resume, personal statement, etc.) that the letter writer might need to review before writing
Use your judgement to tailor your request to specific faculty, but those are the basics. If you know someone really, really well, you might not need to offer a lot of specifics about how they know you. But it is still helpful to tell them why you are asking for the letter–what story can they tell about you that will help convince an admissions committee that you will be an awesome grad student?
Most faculty will want at least 2-3 weeks to complete a letter. Some might need longer. For Emory Chemistry, you can submit requests for letters as early as September 1st (when our application goes live) and we will pair them with your application as they arrive. You will need to indicate the contact information (email and snail mail address) of your letter writers to submit your application, so you’ll want to make sure your writers already know that you’re listing them even if they plan to submit the letter at a later date. We will send your writers a direct request for their letter via email to keep the correspondence confidential.
One thing that can confuse applicants is whether or not they should waive their right to review their reference letters. It is your legal right to review letters submitted on your behalf. Graduate schools give students the opportunity to waive this right to help ensure that faculty feel comfortable writing a thorough and honest letter. Even if faculty have nothing but nice things to say, they may not want you to be looking over their shoulder! Generally, admissions representatives might assume that letters will be more honest and comprehensive when a student waives their right of review, so it is a good idea to do this if you feel comfortable. Faculty might also disclose statistics related to OTHER students (such as your grade compared to others or a class ranking) in a confidential letter that they could not include in a letter that you would have access to in order to protect student privacy.
In terms of who to ask for letters, the key criteria is to choose people who know you well. This might include:
instructors from college courses
Generally, each letter should come from someone who interacted with you in college (not earlier). For students applying to graduate school after being in the workforce, we are happy to review letters from people familiar with your college or work experience. Letters from friends, neighbors, and family are not useful (in the rare case that you were taught or supervised by someone in one of these categories, the letter should address these unique circumstances.)
It’s also helpful if letters can speak to your chemistry experience–three letters from non-chemistry professors might make it difficult for us to get a full picture of your preparation. Finally, keep in mind that it’s important to ask for letters from someone in a leadership role–a letter from your research supervisor is more appropriate than a letter from the graduate student who trained you on an instrument. If that graduate student really does know your work, you might ask them if it is okay to include them as a reference when you send that polite email to your P.I. to ask for the letter. For instance: “I worked closely with NAME on PROJECT and they are willing to provide you with details about my progress.”
Finally, it might be helpful to know that it is generally considered good practice for college faculty to decline to write a letter if they cannot be positive. This doesn’t mean that letters can’t provide real critique, but if a faculty member does not feel you are prepared for graduate school or actually didn’t enjoy working with you, custom dictates that they would decline to write a letter for you rather than sending a negative reference. This is a CUSTOM not a RULE. If you are in doubt as to whether a letter will be positive, you should have a professional conversation with your possible referee to ask if they would be willing to write you a supportive letter. If not, thank them for their time and, if you are comfortable, ask them for their advice on how you might improve your work so that they will feel comfortable writing for you in future.
Reference letters are a key component of your application. Request them early and thoughtfully. For the chemistry graduate program at Emory, we require three letters and allow up to four.
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post by our admissions team addresses the differences between applying to college versus graduate school.
Applying at the graduate school level can be confusing for applicants because of some key differences between graduate and undergraduate programs. Specifically, most undergraduate programs have a central admissions process that selects students for admission into the school. The admissions committee might consider the student’s preparation for a specific major, but students are admitted into the college and then choose a course of study for themselves. For our undergraduates, we trust the Emory College admissions team to bring in great students–but it’s the student’s who decide to come through the Department of Chemistry’s doors.
For graduate schools, the application system is still often shared at the school level. However, the specific application you see is more than likely tailored to the individual program to which you are applying and the majority of the review process is also likely to be handled directly by that program. At Emory, you apply to the chemistry graduate program using CollegeNET, the Laney Graduate School’s online application system. Laney immediately forwards those applications to chemistry—there is no additional screening at the school level. Department of Chemistry faculty, led by a graduate committee, then conduct a whole file review of each application.
Some specifics in our application:
You can indicate one or more chemical disciplines of interest (biomolecular, inorganic, organic, physical, theoretical)
Most of your questions about applying will be answered by the program directly rather than a central admissions office. For our chemistry program at Emory, your most direct line to admissions officers is to email gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu. That mailbox is shared by all key admissions administrators and we can respond quickly to your questions from a central location, conferring with multiple people, if needed. There is also a lot of good information on our website, including frequently asked questions. If you make a mistake on your application or need to make a change, gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu is also the right contact.
It still makes sense to become familiar with graduate school that houses the program to which you are applying. Emory’s Laney Graduate School website describes many school-level policies and programs in which the Department of Chemistry participates. Prospective students might be particularly interested in the Professional Development Support (PDS) program that offers students up to $7,500 over the course of their graduate career for conferences, research travel, and training outside Emory. The IMSD program in which chemistry participates is also administered at the school level.
Another major difference is a more personal one—college students can get a lot out of the experience even if they have no idea what they want to do. Graduate school is suited to students who feel ready to devote themselves to intensive study in a discipline. You can’t apply to the chemistry graduate program at Emory and then decide to complete a degree in physics or biology (although you can apply to up to two Emory programs with one application). Graduate school requires students to be committed to a particular course of study. There are opportunities to customize, but also an expectation that students will specialize. That doesn’t mean we won’t help you or that you won’t get to explore–it does mean that graduate school in general, and our program in particular, is probably not right for you if it’s just the “next step”.
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post is the fourth in the series, an interview with current graduate student, Morgan Bair Vaughn (Dyer Group).
Q. What made you decide to apply to Emory?
There were a few factors . The first is that the chemistry program is one of the top ranking programs in the country. Additionally, Emory offered opportunities that would help me gain the experience I need for my desired career after graduate school. For example, the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship is an award that provides support for students to teach their own class for a semester in their last year at graduate school. Currently, I’m teaching a section of Chem 150, which will give me valuable teaching experience beyond a teaching assistantship. Finally, Emory is in the Southeast near my family. I am close to my family so staying close to them geographically was important to me.
Q. How did you choose Emory over other schools?
Weighing the pros and cons of each school can be difficult, but the one thing that pushed me to accept Emory over other schools is that there were multiple professors at Emory that I was interested in working with. I narrowed down my labs of interest after visitation weekends, and Emory was the only place where I could see myself in more than 1 or 2 groups. The piece of advice that I heard over and over again from professors and graduate students alike was not to go to a school where there was only one professor I’d want to work for. There is no guarantee that you will get a position in the lab, even if the professor likes you. Things happen; professors move, lose funding, or can only accept so many students into their lab in a given year. Additionally, at Emory first year students do a series of research rotations to learn what it is like to work in a few different labs. Student tend to start rotations with a particular lab as their top pick, but often their top choice changes throughout the rotations as students realize that they prefer certain areas of research, or they like the environment and culture of a particular lab, or they like the mentoring style best of one professor. It is important to go to a school where you have options and a chance to explore them prior to making a final decision on which lab you join.
Q. What was the most challenging part of the application process?
I found the writing the Statement of Purpose to be the most difficult part of the application process. (Hey! We can help with that.) When I was applying to graduate school, I wasn’t sure what research area I was interested in pursuing. I had bioorganic and organic synthesis research experience from undergrad, but I also enjoyed all of my chemistry classes. All areas of chemistry seemed interesting to me! So, deciding which professors I was interested in working with was quite a challenge for me. Ultimately, I picked professors from all different divisions. This isn’t necessarily a strategy that I would recommend, but it worked out because I was able to explain why I was interested in each research group. That is the important part, explaining why you are interested in a group and how your previous experience will be helpful.
Q. Now that you’re in grad school, what have you done to be successful? What do you think successful grad students have in common?
I think the most successful graduate students are the ones who start graduate school with a goal in mind and know why they are pursuing a PhD. The reasons for going to graduate school can vary, from wanting to become a professor, patent lawyer, industrial research and design scientist, or simply to gain a very high level of knowledge in a topic of interest. Having a goal provides focused motivation and allows students to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Starting graduate school, I knew that I enjoyed teaching and envisioned working at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI). Since being in graduate school, I’ve learned that there are many other options for education besides the traditional classroom. Now I am considering a much wider range of career options from medical science liaison, to science communication and writing, in addition to teaching at a PUI or community college. To learn more about these opportunities I attend events on campus with Emory Alumni such as a breakfast with science writers and a Q&A session with high school teachers.
Knowing your goal is important, but so is actually completing the work required to earn a PhD. To that end, I urge students to treat getting a PhD as a marathon and not a sprint. The research necessary to write a dissertation cannot be done all at once; it takes time. The way I’ve approached it is to find a nice comfortable pace to work at, one that I’m making good progress in the lab, yet I can sustain for many years. When a big deadline or yearly report comes along I can push a little harder when necessary for a short while. Then, I go back to the same pace as before. Often, I see students in crisis mode around yearly reports, frantically trying to complete as much work as possible, only upon passing, they drop down to doing almost nothing. I don’t like to do that; it is a very stressful way to operate! Work on your project every day, bit by bit. Just like science as a whole, occasionally there are leaps and bounds, but most of science happens incrementally, bit by bit.
Q. Is there anything you wish you had known before applying to graduate school?
I wish I had known how helpful visitation weekend would be to make a final decision about which school to accept. [Note: Emory Visitation Weekend is by invitation only and will take place February 23rd-25th, 2018.] When deciding which schools to apply to, be open minded. It is difficult to know the culture and environment of a school just by looking at the website. Pick several schools where there is some research you are interested in and where you wouldn’t mind living for several years. After visiting, I had a much better idea of what each school was like. If you can’t attend visitation weekend, I highly recommend contacting the school to ask about speaking with a few of the graduate students to get their perspective. I also wish I had known that lab websites are often out of date. While the overall research area of a group doesn’t change too much over the years, the current individual projects may be quite different than what’s posted online.
Q. Do you have any tips for students starting the application process?
Start now, don’t procrastinate! Applications take time and professors need advance notice to write reference letters. Conversely, you do have to actually submit the application. It is good to be detail oriented, but you must be able to let go.
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post is the third in the series, an interview with Bill Wuest, Acting Associate Professor of Chemistry, Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator, and current faculty member of the Emory Chemistry Graduate Committee that reads and responds to applications.
Q. What made you decide to apply to graduate school?
I was fortunate to have laboratory experience both as an undergraduate and during my summer internships at a pharmaceutical company where I interacted with both graduate students and research scientists. My first hand knowledge of what graduate school was about and the need for such a degree to get the job that I wanted drove me to apply.
Q. How did you choose where to go?
I remember sitting down with my undergraduate advisor during the Fall of my senior year and picking 8-10 schools that fit my interests. He pushed me toward some and away from others. I then visited some of the schools that I was accepted to (I regret not visiting all!) and based on those two trips I was able to make an obvious choice.
Q. When you’re reviewing applications now as a faculty member, what makes an applicant stand out?
First and foremost is research experience, especially those that have actively sought summer research experiences or other labs to expand their skill set. I also like to see some diversity in the applicant’s interests – did they play sports, do outreach, participate in clubs? Work-life balance and time management are critical to success in graduate school and showing that attribute in the personal statement is important.
Q. How much do you care about metrics like the GRE score and GPA?
They typically do not factor into my decision unless they are extraordinary (in either direction). I pay more attention to what classes the student has taken and how well have they done in courses that directly relate to the program they applied for (organic, physical, etc).
Q. What makes for a successful personal statement?
The best statements are those that are well-organized, well-written, and tell a unique story. Stick to the experiences that were transformational in your career and tell them in necessary detail. I love to hear about the book or class that challenged your perception or the experiment that wouldn’t work at first but you “tweaked it” and it transformed a project. The latter I find most important as >90% of graduate school is overcoming problems and persevering.
Q. What is the best way for applicants to share previous research experience? Can someone succeed in grad school if they don’t have much of a research background?
Use the personal statement to explain not only what you did in the lab but why you chose that area! Explain what you learned and also how you would either like to expand on it or change direction completely. Anyone can succeed in grad school even if they’re fairly new to research; however, if you can find research opportunities, it is worth pursuing them. That might mean looking for summer opportunities or internships or taking a gap year to work in a lab. These are all aspects of your application that will make you stand out!
Q. Are there common mistakes you see students make on graduate applications?
Try and tailor your application to the school you are applying to. Mention who you would like to work with, why you might want to be in that particular area, share any ties you might have to the department. Too many applications are boring – that is, generic and cookie cutter. Try and make yours stand out!
Q. How do you go about reviewing an application?
I typically look for any overlap to my research and network first. Do I know any of your advisors, letter writers, former students from your program? Any way I can obtain an extra data point to calibrate me to your file. If not, I will review your research history, transcript and personal statement to see how you would fit into the dynamic we have at Emory.
Q. What advice do you have for applicants?
This might get me in trouble with my colleagues but do not be afraid to contact the faculty you are interested in! Let them know about your application and your interest in their research. Your enthusiasm for the program will improve your application!
Q. What qualities make for a successful graduate student?
Perseverance, work ethic, and open mindedness are the 3 most important skills in my opinion. Intelligence and experience come with the territory and are easily taught, the others are not.
Q. Many chemistry departments invite admitted students to a recruitment weekend. How can prospective students make the most of this experience?
Go to as many of these events as you can! Each department is different and you will learn a lot about the “personality” of each at the visit. During the weekend try and talk to as many people as possible. Find the student in the shadows who looks disgruntled, talk to faculty outside your research area, ask people what is their least favorite thing is, find out what the average time to graduation is, do the students go to conferences, where do they work afterward, etc.
Q. What advice would you offer to a student who is trying to decide if grad school is the right path for them?/What should students ask themselves before applying?
Again, talk to as many people as possible. Work with your advisor and ask if they can put you in touch with alumni who have gone in different directions. Grad school is a significant time investment during an important part of your life, I would strongly discourage people from applying if they think its just “the next thing to do.” You need to be invested and excited about the opportunity, not just lukewarm.
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post is the second in the series, advice on writing a personal statement from Kira Walsh, Outreach Coordinator in the Department of Chemistry.
The personal statement is a challenging genre. You’re tasked with packing years of experience into just a few pages. You want to sound smart and unique–but there are only so many ways to explain that you won an award or researched in a lab. How many times can you say “It was a great experience” in one document? Do you sound too confident? Not confident enough?
I’m going to share a method that I think leads to great personal statements–and it’s deceptively simple.
First, though, it’s important to remember that the admissions committee wants you to succeed. They want to get to know you. They want to recruit awesome students and build the careers of future leaders in the field. Don’t let the personal statement be an obstacle. We are excited to hear what you have to say and we’re not setting out to be critical. At Emory, we are particularly interested in your experience of and interest in research. If you’ve been in a lab, we want to hear about that–particularly the things you really enjoyed or the challenges you overcame. If you don’t have a lot of research experience, tell us WHY you want to spend more time in the lab!
Now, about that method. There is no magic bullet–nothing will work perfectly for everyone. But a mistake students make in crafting a personal statement is to focus too much on making things sound good and not enough time on sharing their own voice.
Simply put, your statement should be honest. The secret is: tell the truth.
Don’t tell us that everything has always been bright and shiny and perfect. It’s helpful to know what you’ve experienced that didn’t go right. We’d rather hear that you were professional and capable in a difficult situation than be told that you “loved” your laboratory experience even though you spent all your time washing test tubes and waiting for an experiment that never. seemed. to. work.
There is, of course, a caveat to this advice. Don’t tell us your deepest, darkest secrets (unless they are clearly chemistry related.) Relationships, family matters, roommate troubles–they probably don’t belong in your statement, except where addressing them is key to your personal academic journey. Use your judgement–if you wouldn’t tell a professor at your current school, probably don’t tell us. (There’s always Post Secret.)
Sometimes, seeing an example can really help. I’ve asked one of our current graduate students, Anthony Sementilli (Lynn Group), to share a short section of a personal statement before and after a “truthy” revision.
Example: The Truth About Tutoring
Personal Statement Draft One:
[The students I tutored in the academic retention program were] usually the most driven and enthusiastic students I’ve had, and as someone who also depended on financial aid, I was sympathetic to my tutees’ struggles.
Personal Statement Revision:
Understandably, students sometimes became upset after having the academic dean insist they seek extra help on top of recovering from tragedy. However, as someone who also depended on scholarships, I was sympathetic to my tutees’ struggles. I’m grateful that I could help my tutees pick up the pieces because it taught me the greatest lesson I’ve learned as a teacher so far: the most important students aren’t always the ones that come to your office bearing an apple with your name it. Over three years, I’m proud to say that I helped almost 20 students keep their scholarships.
Anthony is a great writer. In both drafts, the information is clear and persuasive. However, in the second version, Anthony makes the story a little bit less cheerful. It was challenging to provide mandatory tutoring! He had to build empathy with the students he worked with and also learn the lesson that student interactions can be rewarding and important even if they are not overwhelmingly positive. The specific facts–3 years and 20 scholarships saved–really makes Anthony’s point.
Good luck with your personal statement! Share your story and tell the truth!
This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post is the first in the series, a letter from our Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Susanna Widicus Weaver.
Dear Applicants to the Emory Chemistry Graduate Program,
As Director of Graduate Studies, I want to welcome you as you begin a truly fantastic journey on the path to becoming a scientist. Applying to graduate school is an important step in your journey, and I hope that our Emory Chemistry community can help guide you along this career path. This is a special year for me to lead our admissions team as I recently started my own journey by taking on the role of Director of Graduate Studies. I look forward to getting to know each of you via your applications and am committed to building a great graduate class for entry in Fall 2018.
It is an exciting time in our Department as many changes are taking place. In 2015, we moved in to a new, beautiful addition to Atwood Hall, giving us room to grow our research capabilities and expand our teaching endeavors. This new space inspired the reform of our teaching mission, and we are implementing “Chemistry Unbound” this fall. This full revision and rebranding of our undergraduate chemistry curriculum opens up new opportunities for graduate students to become involved in our teaching mission. Additionally, we are aggressively hiring faculty members who, through both research and teaching, offer innovative pathways into a deeper understanding of Chemistry. Lastly, we always strive to disseminate our science through an active outreach program that seeks to inspire and engage our community.
The Graduate program is at the heart of our Department, and our success in these endeavors depends on its students. Graduate students participate in our teaching mission by serving as undergraduate teaching assistants, aid in outreach activities to engage the community in our work, and contribute to the research endeavor via their own independent research. To join our Department as a graduate student is to fully immerse yourself in the world of Chemistry.
Emory Chemistry has a wonderful team in place to help you on your journey.
If you have questions about the application process or our outreach activities, please contact Kira Walsh, our Outreach Coordinator.
If you have questions about our graduate program, please email gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu; this will connect you with our entire admissions team, including Graduate Coordinator Ana Maria Velez, Kira Walsh, and our faculty Graduate Committee.