Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Graduate School?

Squall181 - 7-10-2013 at 16:54

I am in my senior year of obtaining a bachelor's degree in Material Science and Engineering. I have ambitions of going on to graduate school and pursuing a degree in the same field but I'm having difficulty deciding where to apply to.

Being an amateur chemist/experimenter I enjoy working with glassware, performing interesting syntheses, and making various devices. Over the last year I have been a part of research group where I have been investigating the growth of titanium dioxide nanotubes and their application to dye sensitized solar cells. Although the work has been interesting and informative it has not been fruitful in the sense of publications, but nevertheless my time in the group has allowed me to develop a fondness towards characterization techniques and their use in investigative studies.

I've discussed applying to graduate school with my research professor but he wants me to apply to my current institution and pursue a degree under his supervision. To be honest I would rather work in a more developed lab that has a little more structure, but going to the same school has it's perks too. It's a lot cheaper(in-state) and I'm familiar with the facilities and capabilities of the machines on our campus.

I have begun to look at US news rankings and researching each schools MSE program to see if I'm interested in any research areas there. The problem is that I don't have a real specific area that I would like to pursue, so picking one is difficult.

So I was wondering if anyone would be willing to share any advice on the selection/application process itself or just share your own experience of applying to graduate schools. I hope this thread will not only help me but will be an insightful read for future Sciencemadness scholars.

Thank You,

Crowfjord - 7-10-2013 at 17:21

Check out the research being done at your prospective schools and see what fits you best. Also, don't worry too much about cost; hardly anybody actually pays to go to grad school. Apply for a teaching and/or research assistantship. The school pays your tuition and gives you a stipend to live off of as well.

roXefeller - 28-12-2020 at 18:37

I went looking at a midwest US grad today. I have a bachelors and masters in mechanical engineering, though it was almost chemical engineering given my high school affinity to chemistry. I'm looking at either solid mechanics, nuclear, or chemical engineering to sharpen the spear. Funny thing was looking at the chemical engineering MS they were wanting two bridge courses 804 and 805 from Michigan State, you know to fill the void between like ME to ChemE. So I go looking at the descriptions. Just a pile of standard thermodynamics, heat, mass, species transfer, flow solutions, etc, all the things of my previous two degrees. Maybe the only thing different were items like fractional distillation. It makes me wonder what ChemE really is anymore. Maybe MS chemistry would be better. Certificates? Or just keep with the self-study and approach the pursuits that interest me over a research professor? Some degree of accreditation would be preferable. Anyone have luck with an online/distance MS chemistry?

pantone159 - 28-12-2020 at 18:56

I did not end up going to grad school, but the advice that I heard was to go to grad school somewhere else than where you went to undergrad. You get a different and broader perspective that way.

And yes, you probably will not pay to go to grad school, you will just get to live on poverty level wages while doing so :)

roXefeller - 29-12-2020 at 10:48

Yeah my advisor was a slave driver and malefactor up until the day I quit the research assistant job. Then he returned to his nice self. I think they understand the process to be a trial by fire, and a thorough refining to reach the end. My sister was a different person after she finished her doctoral work.

valeg96 - 29-12-2020 at 11:16

I still don't understand what "grad school" is.

Here in Italy we have a 3-year undergrad and a 2-year master's, with a thesis that requires about 6 months of research under a supervisor.
Then it's either straight into a PhD program (3 years) or temporary paid research contracts (1 year) until you decide what to do with your life, but they are short-term projects under the supervision of a professor and sometimes a company as well, without exams. More or less like an internship, with more freedom than a master's student and less freedom than a PhD.

roXefeller - 29-12-2020 at 12:55

Do students often depart the university after undergrad and take on careers? That's what American students do. We refer to grad(uate) students as those who stay (or come back) for master's work and PhD work, collectively. Bachelors is synonymous with undergrad here. Great English, by the way.

valeg96 - 29-12-2020 at 13:45

An undergraduate degree here is barely worth more than some chemistry technical school qualification; I'd say 90% of students follow up with a master's. Most of them find work afterwards, and only a few embark in a PhD or a short-term research contract. Finding a job is pretty easy even for those who fail to complete their undergraduate degree, though it's all a matter of being satisfied with it. I'd rather not end up mixing surfactants and phosphoric acid trying to "research" a new formulation for floor detergent.

Our master's is mostly focused on exams, and is supposed to let you focus your studies on topics you like. The PhD here is focused on research only; I guess grad school is a combination of the two. Unfortunately you don't get a very comprehensive experience of research with a master's thesis, so that's why most students willing to carry on in academia are given a temporary research contract by their professor. It's like a "parking spot" for you to decide if you like research, and to get ready for PhD admission exams.

roXefeller - 29-12-2020 at 16:21

That is news to me. I was there several years ago in the Tuscan area. Your description of the system of employment doesn't really surprise me, there was a planned feel about everything.

I have a friend who graduated a nuclear engineer back in the 70's from Italy. He was in the area around Venice. He left it once the nuclear winter set in. He's doing mechanical testing now.

valeg96 - 29-12-2020 at 16:32

Anything radioactive related has been eradicated in the EU, especially in Italy. Some research survives in eastern Europe and countries that rely on nuclear power such as France, but the day after the referendum on nuclear matters sanctioned their ban, every research lab started being dismantled. An old professor told me that in my department there used to be a small stack of polonium, and there was a lot going on with coordination chemistry with radioactive transition metals (to study reaction mechanisms, I suppose). The day after the referendum everyone was instructed to just give up on their research and round up anything radioactive so it could be disposed. It was more than 20 years ago, so those involved either died or retired for good, after that.

Any nuclear research still alive is bland stuff like cold fusion and applied physics thingies that have nothing to do with chemistry. No radioisotope chemistry anymore.

Dr.Bob - 1-1-2021 at 17:00

I would agree that moving to a new place for graduate school is usually better for many reasons. Many hiring people view staying at the same school as either lazy or not being able to get in anywhere else.

Depending on your area, a MS may be useful or not, compared to a PhD. In organic chemistry a MS used to be a pretty good thing, but most of the jobs in pharma and industry have moved overseas, so a MS is much less useful now. But for material science, it might be different. Years ago a petroleum chemistry was great, now the oil industry is dying, so inorganic, materials, semicondustors and other areas might be better. You are better to work at a good reputation school with a good advisor than somewhere that is easy, cheap, or convienent. I made some mistakes (I didnit harass some slow profs about reference letters, so missed some key deadlines) in my grad school applications and that hurt me, so get them in soon, but aim high, with some other places as backups. Ask actual graduate students about the advisors at each place and search for feedback on the profs.

Hey Buddy - 27-1-2021 at 07:37

Why go to school when you could just change the world?

[Edited on 27-1-2021 by Hey Buddy]

nobel8.jpg - 118kB

Godrick VanHess - 27-1-2021 at 11:57

Quote: Originally posted by Dr.Bob  
Ask actual graduate students about the advisors at each place and search for feedback on the profs.

I agree, ask actual graduate students about advisors. But grad students will sometimes not tell you about their advisors bad side. I found it useful to ask grad students from other labs about specific advisors in the department. One question that made people noticeably uncomfortable was to ask if there were any advisors I should avoid, but it gave some good insight. Also ask about publication rate, average time to graduation and where students end up. Just some useful questions to ask.

Also remember that you work with you lab mates 24/7 so community can be more important the the EXACT chemistry that you want to do. (basically keep an open mind on what you will work on)