Department of Cat-Mistry

An adoptable cat at Java Cat Cafe as photographed by Dr. Fred Strobel.

Sadly, the Department of Chemistry isn’t really becoming the Department of Cat-Mistry. Alongside research and teaching excellence, our scientists have a sense of humor. While we aren’t ready to turn our back on the real science of chemistry, we do deeply appreciate the cats (and their people) who helped us kick off April with a smile.

The Department of Cat-Mistry remains available at this link if you’re not ready to let the dream die!

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?

orange line

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!

How to Respond to an Offer of Admission to the PhD Program in Chemistry

Students shake hands at a Recruitment Weekend poster session.
Students shake hands at a Recruitment Weekend poster session.

If you received a 2018 offer to join our PhD program, congratulations!

Emory University’s Laney Graduate School is a member of the Council of Graduate Schools and we do not require any student to respond to an offer of admission prior to April 15th. However, we would love to hear from you as soon as you know your decision!

To officially accept an offer of admission, you should log in to CollegeNET and follow these instructions.

If you have questions–about your offer, the program, or anything else–please feel free to contact us at gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu.

Dr. Widicus Weaver: Outer Space and Outreach

Scientific outreach events give us the opportunity to disseminate our ideas, share our scientific discoveries, present collaboration opportunities, or even inspire the next generation of scientists. On Wednesday, November 8th, Dr. Widicus Weaver shared her passion for astrochemistry, biology, and space with a room full of enthusiastic second graders at Westchester Elementary School. She discussed topics ranging from star formation to molecules in space, drawing from her research on pre-biotic astrochemistry. The children even had the chance to look through hand-held spectroscopes!

Outreach events like this one allow scientists the unique chance to bring awareness to the scientific endeavors taking place here at Emory and provides those in the community the chance to learn a new topic from a true expert. The children who attended Dr. Widicus Weaver’s seminar got an exclusive look into the amazing science happening far beyond our planet.  Some photos from the event are shown below.

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.

orange line

Hi, Dr. H,

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

Katie

orange line

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:

orange line

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: Interview with a Graduate Student

Lasers in the Dyer Lab.
Lasers in the Dyer Lab.

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).

orange line

Morgan in the lab. Photo provided by Morgan Bair Vaughn.
Morgan in the lab.

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.

orange line

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.

orange line

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.

orange line

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.

Department Events Calendar 2017-2018

There is always a lot going on in chemistry! Below, you will find the schedule for departmental events during the 2017-2018 school year. This schedule only encompasses department-wide events to which students, staff, faculty, and postdocs are invited. You can find out about all the rest of our events–including research seminars as well as events for specific programs and student organizations on our print and online calendar.

Department Events 2017-2018

Welcome (Back) Celebration
Friday, August 25th @ 4pm in the Science Commons
Grad students, undergraduate majors, postdocs, staff, and faculty are all invited to a BBQ to kick off the year!

Holiday Celebration
Friday, November 17th @ 4pm in the Science Commons
This year we’re shifting our holiday celebration to Thanksgiving so that students and faculty can enjoy the party before exams! Join us for a Thanksgiving-themed holiday celebration.

Visitation Weekend Research Gathering
Friday, February 23rd @ 4pm in the Science Commons
All are welcome at our annual poster session and party for prospective graduate students. Join us to learn about the ongoing research of Emory groups. RSVP required.

Have a Great Summer
Friday, April 27th @ 4pm in the Science Commons
Celebrate another year of Emory Chemistry by looking back on student accomplishments. Graduate and undergraduate awards for 2017-2018 will be distributed at this event. RSVP required.

Commencement
Monday, May 14th in the Science Commons following the all-school ceremony.
A formal gathering for graduates and their families to celebrate their accomplishments with the chemistry community.

 

Congratulations, Dr. Jessica Hurtak!

Jessica pictures in the Derek Tan Lab, Chemical Biology Program, Sloan Kettering Institute.

On Friday, May 16th, 2017, Jessica Hurtak successfully defended her thesis,”Exo-mode oxacyclization strategies for synthesis of trans-fused polycyclic ethers: the ABC ring sector of brevenal”. Jessica’s thesis committee included her thesis advisor, Dr. Frank McDonald, and members  Dr. Simon Blakey and Dr. Nate Jui.

Currently, Jessica is a postdoc in the laboratory of Derek Tan at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Congratulations, Dr. Hurtak!