...I have a bachelors degree in chemistry. I had decided not to pursue a PhD after seeing the working conditions of those grad students with whom I conducted research (aka, I bumbled around the lab like the undergrad I was). I don't think those students had correct assumptions about what a real working life was like. I don't think they had the same feeling that someone working at a large corporation has: you may be brilliant, but you may still lose your job, sometimes for arbitrary reasons. I think too many graduate students put up with complete BS from a PI because they don't have the private sector experience that teaches you to quit and find a new boss sometimes, or that the people you work for often don't have your best interests at heart.
Summer internships don't solve the problem. After your summer of fun, you get scooped back into the mothership, not having experienced many of the real pressures of industry.
I'd argue a lot of candidates would do well to take at least a year off before starting graduate school. You would then learn valuable life skills: how to craft a resume and interview so someone actually wants to pay you to produce something; how it often happens that companies and your bosses have opposing incentives from what you want in life; you may learn you like something better than chemistry, or that you like a certain aspect of chemistry better than another; etc.
The world will not end. Grad schools will not think you have the plague.As you can see below, I asked about it on Twitter and lots of people responded. Most of the responses were quite positive. As someone who worked for a year as an analytical/formulation chemist in between undergraduate and grad school, I saw a lot of the benefits that folks talk about. I think there are two caveats:
- Financial: what's the typical grad school stipend? 20k? 22k? What's the typical entry-level chemist salary? 30k? 40k? If you take a year to work, the transition from a higher income to a lower one is going to be a challenge (if not a very big one.) Living below your means (always good advice) in preparation wouldn't hurt.
- Time: I know that I'm going to sound like a broken record, but I really believe that your 20s are a very formative time in your life. If you decide to spend some time out of school in your 20s, make it count! Don't hang around your apartment playing Goldeneye (not that I would know anyone who did such a thing), go and learn and experience life and talk to people on other career paths like @jfreebo suggested up there.