GRExit: Why We’re Dropping the GRE

The Science Commons Atrium in Emory’s Atwood Chemistry Center.

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?

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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.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form to join our mailing list!

Applying to Graduate School 101: How do I request a reference letter?

A close up view of a chemical in Emory's Atwood Chemistry Center.
A close up view of a chemical in Emory’s Atwood Chemistry Center.

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.

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Hi, Dr. H,

Can you write a reference for me? It’s due next week. I loved your class!

Katie

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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
  • research supervisors
  • internship supervisors
  • academic advisors

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.

Additional Resources:

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form and join our mailing list!

 

Applying to Graduate School 101: How is applying to graduate school different from applying to undergrad?

A bird's eye view of the Science Commons in Atwood Chemistry Center.
A bird’s eye view of the Science Commons in Atwood Chemistry Center.

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.

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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:

What does this mean for you?

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”.

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form and join our mailing list!

 

Applying to Graduate School 101: An Interview with a Faculty Admissions Representative

Students pictured at work in the Wuest Lab in Emory's Atwood Hall.
Students pictured at work in the Wuest Lab in Emory’s Atwood Hall.

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.

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Bill Wuest. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.
Bill Wuest. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.

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.

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form and join our mailing list!

Dr. Wuest is accepting students for Fall 2019. For a list of all faculty accepting students, check out our Research page.

Applying to Graduate School 101: A Letter from the Director of Graduate Studies

Director of Graduate Studies Susanna Widicus Weaver gives a research seminar to new graduate students in August 2017.
Director of Graduate Studies Susanna Widicus Weaver gives a research seminar to new graduate students in August 2017.

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.

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Susanna Widicus Weaver. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography.
Susanna Widicus Weaver. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.

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.
  • If you have questions about research, please contact any research-active faculty member in this Department. (At this link, you can also see a list of faculty accepting students in Fall 2018.)
  • If you have questions about our teaching mission, please contact Dr. Douglas Mulford, Director of Undergraduate Studies.
  • And if you have general questions about our Department or our Graduate Program, please contact me or Dr. Stefan Lutz, our Department Chair.

I wish you all the best as you begin your Chemistry journey.

Sincerely,

Dr. Widicus Weaver

Director of Graduate Studies

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply! Applications received before October 31st will receive an automatic waiver of the application fee (scores and letters may arrive later.) The final deadline is January 1st.