Monday, November 29, 2010

Help Chiral Jones pick his graduate school

Chiral Jones is looking to apply to graduate school in organic chemistry. He's posted a pretty darn comprehensive list of universities that he's looking at. Go over there and help him out.


  1. holy jeez. thanks for the mountain of referrals!

    and yeah, come on by. If you happen to know anything about the departments or individual professors, I'd appreciate insider tips on what to be on the lookout for if I go visit any of these schools...

  2. @chiraljones: Noooo!!! Run away!!! Save yourself from chemistry grad school!!!

    Okay, being serious now. I would avoid attending the UC system, which is financially in shambles. Unless you're on an NSF, NIH, NDSEG, or Hertz predoctoral fellowship, you risk having to teach nonstop at UCI, UCLA, and Santa Barbara. Although the weather in Massachusetts can suck, the sunshine and surgically-enhanced beauties aren't worth the financial burden (i.e., high rent and car insurance) of living in So Cal. Although you have shrugged off Scripps, I would still consider applying since KCN, DLB, and PSB are swimming in research funds, plus there's no teaching requirement. Why aren't you considering Stanford?

    Regarding CSU's NMR setup: When you're working 12-14 hours a day, missing walkup time is not catastrophic. Anyway, labs are a bit antiquated.

    Pitt and UT Austin: Have friends who got PhDs from both schools; heard mostly good opinions about both places in terms of research and quality of life. Austin is a great college town and both cities are affordable even on typical grad stipend. Exam grading at Austin can suck though because the classes are freaking huge.

    UNC: Go there for analytical or inorganic; teaching requirement is easy.

    Yale: Bioorganic is stronger there; for synthetic organic, consider Columbia, Penn, or Princeton. You haven't listed Harvard, but it seems like Shair and Myers are the only total-synthesis-oriented people there. Also, another friend found it to be a hostile/cliquish work environment. Princeton currently edges ahead because of its brand-new laboratories. If you can get into D-Mac's lab and do well, he will be an ardent supporter.

    Regarding your personal statement, don't mention specific profs since the assistant profs are often on admissions committees. Designate which professors you would like to meet once you've been admitted. Also, wherever you end up, don't be too extroverted or eager to answer questions; your classmates may mistake your enthusiasm for arrogance. It's good that you're open to working for ambitious junior faculty; they can be more likely to push for your success than established professors.

    While your passion for total synthesis is admirable, I would advise flexibility in your research interests. Unless you are backed by a big-shot professor (rising-star assistant rank included), limiting yourself to total synthesis will set you on the path to CRO servitude or dissuade multidisciplinary departments from hiring you as faculty. Many of us professional chemists are doing research that is drastically different from our graduate work.

  3. "limiting yourself to total synthesis will set you on the path to CRO servitude or dissuade multidisciplinary departments from hiring you as faculty."

    And then at the risk of being cliche, total synthesis ain't what it used to be:

    I was once like you are now, and I know that it's not easy,
    To be calm when you've found something going on.
    But take your time, think a lot,
    Why, think of everything you've got.
    For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

  4. chiraljones: Congrats on getting 2 publications and a patent! BTW, unless you know something that I don't, Jung is at UCLA, not UCI.

    IMHO switch UCSB and UCLA for Stanford and Princeton. Without knowing who your adviser is, it would be sweet if you could "represent" at an elite instituion. C'mon, take a chance! Alluding to Anon5:00PM, Irvine is the best UC for organic synthesis in terms prestige AND performance. UCI has a healthy distribution of senior and junior faculty, great analytical facilities, and on-campus industrial recruiting. Plus, all of the folks I've met from there seemed nice and genuinely excited about their research.

    At the risk of sounding uber-cynical and presumptuous, you have a major advantage (outside of your research experience) in applying to large public universities: you're a US citizen who's fluent in English. State schools need a steady supply of TAs to teach labs and recitations. Foreign grad students often don't pass the English proficiency tests and are thus barred from teaching.

    Also agreeing with Anon5:00PM, don't name-drop in your personal statement. Be tactful and focus on how the PROGRAM fits your academic interests. It would be awkward to mention a prof who you later find out is moving or no longer taking grad students. Anyway, the profs already know about their achievements, so there's no reason to pay them lip-service.

    Furthermore, you need to get over your GPA insecurities: it is what it is, so look ahead and by all means don't dwell on your GPA in your application. Although your tattoo is badass, you shouldn't portray yourself as a once-wayward college hoodlum who found his true calling and straightened that for the Hallmark Channel!

    Advice for your campus visits once you've been accepted: Try to stay with current grad students when possible. UCI used to offer this accomodation option; it was cheaper for the department, plus the grad students got paid to host. As with bar-hopping, staying with grad students allows you to gain more honest opinions about the particular grad program. Also, be mild and pleasant when meeting with faculty and students. Do whatever you can to avoid being the "OMFG-I-hope-he-doesn't-matriculate-here-dude".