10
A Perspective from a Former Graduate Student

Judson L. Haynes III

Procter & Gamble

In my graduate education experience, I have come to the conclusion that graduate school is the modern-day version of the mythical labyrinth of Crete, especially for underrepresented minorities. Often, minority students find that there are many unwritten expectations, a lack of a support network, and minotaurs to encounter along their journey. Some make it out. Others have bad experiences, get consumed with the maze, and never make it out.

As a recent graduate of Louisiana State University (LSU), I would like to give my perspective on graduate school, the chemical industry, and chemical education. My career as a chemist began at an early age in my grandmother’s kitchen making soap, probably my first organic experiment. This really sparked my fundamental interest in chemistry. I was fortunate, because my passion for chemistry bloomed while I was in high school. I had a gifted high school chemistry teacher, who also served as the physics teacher. He relayed his passion for chemistry and chemical engineering to me, thereby nurturing my growing interest in these areas.

One thing that really impressed me about him was that one of his former students had gone to the state university and graduated first in his class. More important, this student was graduating with a degree in chemistry and was going to medical school. So, it excited me to know that I had the same teacher. I was sitting in the same class and getting the same notes that this individual had received in his education, and he went on to do bigger and better things.

The real turning point in my education began when I entered my undergraduate university. Hampton University is a small, historically black college, located in Hampton, Virginia. At the time, I didn’t know that Hampton had a very strong (American Chemical Society [ACS] certified) program in chemistry. Chemistry was one of the most demanding majors on campus. When I arrived at Hampton and got settled, I started getting into classwork and had the opportunity to participate in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program.

The MARC program is a federally funded program that provides scholarship money, tuition, and summer opportunities to minority students in science at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The most beneficial part of the MARC program (a taxpayer-funded program) was that every



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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop 10 A Perspective from a Former Graduate Student Judson L. Haynes III Procter & Gamble In my graduate education experience, I have come to the conclusion that graduate school is the modern-day version of the mythical labyrinth of Crete, especially for underrepresented minorities. Often, minority students find that there are many unwritten expectations, a lack of a support network, and minotaurs to encounter along their journey. Some make it out. Others have bad experiences, get consumed with the maze, and never make it out. As a recent graduate of Louisiana State University (LSU), I would like to give my perspective on graduate school, the chemical industry, and chemical education. My career as a chemist began at an early age in my grandmother’s kitchen making soap, probably my first organic experiment. This really sparked my fundamental interest in chemistry. I was fortunate, because my passion for chemistry bloomed while I was in high school. I had a gifted high school chemistry teacher, who also served as the physics teacher. He relayed his passion for chemistry and chemical engineering to me, thereby nurturing my growing interest in these areas. One thing that really impressed me about him was that one of his former students had gone to the state university and graduated first in his class. More important, this student was graduating with a degree in chemistry and was going to medical school. So, it excited me to know that I had the same teacher. I was sitting in the same class and getting the same notes that this individual had received in his education, and he went on to do bigger and better things. The real turning point in my education began when I entered my undergraduate university. Hampton University is a small, historically black college, located in Hampton, Virginia. At the time, I didn’t know that Hampton had a very strong (American Chemical Society [ACS] certified) program in chemistry. Chemistry was one of the most demanding majors on campus. When I arrived at Hampton and got settled, I started getting into classwork and had the opportunity to participate in the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. The MARC program is a federally funded program that provides scholarship money, tuition, and summer opportunities to minority students in science at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The most beneficial part of the MARC program (a taxpayer-funded program) was that every

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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop summer MARC students would go to different universities with different research programs and conduct undergraduate research. This was great for me because every summer I had something to do. I did not have to go out and try to find a job. I was actively participating in my career as a chemist from day one. These experiences were invaluable because they let me learn what chemistry was about. I worked for people who were easy to get along with and others who weren’t so easy. However, I realized that the bad experiences were isolated. Ultimately, the MARC program taught me how to conduct research. I was able to formulate my own theory about graduate school from my undergraduate experiences. For instance, I had one experience during a workshop at Purdue University in the summer of 1992 that focused on careers in chemistry. This workshop gave freshmen and sophomore chemistry majors from various universities across the country the opportunity to go to Purdue University for a weekend to talk with professors and meet with graduate students to find out what chemistry was about. I was able to meet a lot of people and got some in-depth knowledge about graduate school while I was still an undergraduate. I would like to list the summer programs that I attended to show the experiences I was able to benefit from because of the MARC program. I spent one summer in Hampton and a summer at Virginia Tech in the National Science Foundation Summer Research Program. That was a very valuable experience. Following graduation, I spent the summer in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area at the National Institutes of Health, again funded through the MARC program. I would like to pass on some advice to undergraduate students: summer programs are very valuable. Summer programs give you the opportunity to see what a profession is like. If you really want to go to graduate school, it gives you the opportunity to see what it is like, rather than waiting until you have enrolled in a graduate school and then finding out you have been matched to the wrong university. The application process from undergraduate to graduate school was like a maze. Nobody I knew had a clear and direct route on how to enroll in or select a graduate school. So, I chose the same strategy I did as an undergraduate. I applied to a variety of schools, but I made my selection based on what field I was interested in and who the leaders I was interested in working for were within that field. After deciding where to apply, I immediately contacted the various universities and professors at the same time I applied. So, by the time my application arrived at the university, I knew the people there and I knew the people I would like to work with in the department. One thing that I tell students is that it is important to select your university based on your needs. For example, a student might decide to try to go to Harvard, which is a very prestigious school. However, if students want to pursue analytical chemistry, it won’t make any sense to apply there because Harvard doesn’t have an analytical program. If they did choose to go there with the intent of becoming an analytical chemist, it would be a mismatch and they would likely have a bad experience. I have run into a lot of graduate students who have had that experience. So, as I say to students, try to find a university that is going to be a good match for you. Try to identify leaders in your field or your career interest that will help you get to where you need to be or want to be. For those who are undecided about where they want to go, it is important for them to find an environment or a university that will provide support and education according to their needs. Prior to my graduate career, I used my strategy and selected Isiah Warner as the person I wanted as my graduate adviser. I had tracked Dr. Warner’s move from Emory University to Louisiana State University during my junior year in college. I knew about his research and was highly interested in chromatography and spectroscopy, which, as a matter of fact, was the basis of a lot of my foundation coming out of Hampton. Most people probably choose their graduate schools based on location of the school. My outlook was to go where he was, because I knew that I needed to go to that school and get the skills that I needed to be where I wanted. If Dr. Warner had gone to the University of Alaska, I

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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop would have gone to the University of Alaska. This is a very important thing for students to realize: if they want to pursue their dreams, they might have to go and chase them. They can’t just stay in their little box or their little corner of the world and expect their dreams to come true. Graduate school was a new environment, but I was ready for it because of my previous experiences. I knew a lot of graduate students when I was an undergraduate, so I was pretty well prepared for it. When I came into graduate school, I was a typical graduate student in some ways, scared and worried that I didn’t know anything. All I knew is that we had to pass these cumulative exams. This was a major issue. I went in with the expectation that I just wanted to pass one cumulative exam in my first year. I would have called that a victory. I learned immediately, once I got to LSU, that I had to study very hard. I studied with some of my friends, including one of my colleagues, Victor Vandell. Victor and I had a competition to finish the cumulative exams. Victor is an organic chemist; I am an analytical chemist. We both took cumulative exams at the same time and finished them within the first year. That was a major victory for me, especially since my expectation coming in the door was to pass just one within the first year. After my first year, the mythical minotaur appeared. The students at the university believed that minority students were bringing the standards down. Need I remind you that the cumulative exams were blind. You don’t write your name on them. You write your social security number, thus eliminating bias by the grader. In most cases, the cumulative exam topics were as broad as analytical chemistry or organic chemistry, or more focused topics such as mass spectrometry or know all the A-page articles in analytical chemistry for the last 5 years. I don’t know what gave the students the impression that the minority students had some distinct advantage, that we were somehow getting over, and we were lowering the standards. No, the minority students were not lowering the standards. If anything, we were pushing the standards higher, because we came in the door and we studied and worked diligently. And it paid off. A lot of reeducation had to go on in the department as was seen from this experience. Many students had never heard of historically black colleges and universities. Thus, they assumed that the HBCU was an environment where people party for four years and then ended up in the same graduate school. That was not fair. But a lot of them didn’t know that the HBCUs had ACS-certified programs. That means we took the same courses as someone who goes to any certified school. Our degrees were ACS certified, just like our peers. We were prepared just as they were. This was an important reeducation for everyone. I would now like to pinpoint some of the things that made my career in graduate school instrumental to going into industry. The first thing was the development of oral communication skills. We did a lot of presentations. Dr. Warner was very demanding of us. Our group meetings were on Saturday mornings at 8:00 a.m. After three or four years of this, I enjoyed getting up and working on these issues and details early in the morning. I found out that you could do a lot in the morning, especially in a research laboratory that is usually overcrowded. Another thing that was instrumental was presentation skills developed at national conferences. My first major presentation was at Pittcon in 1995. I spoke in an auditorium that seated 500 individuals. I spoke prior to one of Richard Zare’s students, so everybody was in the auditorium. This was my first talk, and I was saying to myself: “There are 500 scientists in here and I am going to address them.” Well, a frightening experience turned out to be a valuable experience. It allowed me to communicate my research ideas and my research work to a larger audience. I got a lot of feedback from that, and I was grateful to have that experience. Also instrumental and very important is the communication skill of writing. We were urged to

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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop continuously write up our work and submit it for peer-reviewed publication. We got bashed often, but we learned a lot about writing papers and doing research. This is instrumental, because in academia publish or perish seems to be the theme. If you don’t prepare to write in graduate school, you are going to have a difficult time when you get out because your expectations are different from that of the discipline of chemistry. Another important asset in graduate school, similar to undergraduate school, was the availability of instrumentation, which at LSU was incredible. Even my undergraduate university, which was funded mostly by national funding councils, had ample instrumentation. For instance, at Hampton we had spectroscopy instrumentation. At LSU, we had a better grade of spectroscopy instrumentation. It was important throughout graduate school to learn how to use and repair instruments that are state of the art. This allowed us to go to conferences and talk with vendors who were selling state-of-the-art instruments. This was especially helpful because my professor liked to buy instruments without a service contract. Imagine toiling away in the lab for years and the instrument breaks down when you are getting critical data. We had to learn how to fix all of our instruments. We often complained a lot about this, but it was an important skill. It improved our problem-solving skills, in addition to applying problem-solving skills to our research. It was important to know how the instrument worked as well as how to repair it. I would like to give a few suggestions from my experience and from talking with some of my colleagues about faculty and funding agencies. Professors are busy people. We all know this. We forget, however, that students imitate the behavior of their professors. If the professor doesn’t come to seminar, students think they do not have to come to seminar. If the professors don’t show up, students think they do not have to show up. They believe that the most important requirement is to get the professors’ research done by any means necessary. Graduate school education is more than just research. Part of graduate school is interacting with people from various countries and different nationalities. It’s also learning from different people with different aspects. There are clearly a lot of things that go on in graduate school, but I would like to ask the faculty to keep in mind that the attitudes you project are important. Often, the students try to project those same attitudes without realizing they might not have the stature of the faculty. I want to tell the funding agencies how great it is that funding is available. I am a product of taxpayer money. Taxpayers paid for my undergraduate education. They paid for my graduate education. They paid for my summer education. This is very valuable. I learned early that if I dug in and really got involved, I could spend time advancing my career and learning at the same time. I never had to worry about money issues. There was constant funding. I knew that as long as I performed, the funding would be available; I would rather perform in a chemistry laboratory than work at McDonald’s flipping hamburgers for the summer. I would encourage the funding agencies to continue funding graduate students and to continue funding outlets so that graduate students can grow. I would like to introduce a new idea to funding agencies—diversity. I guarantee that if funding agencies explicitly say that diversity should be a part of research programs that you would see universities and departments currently resistant to this change begin to make changes. I would like to briefly talk about my transition into industry. For me, the transition felt strange because I had never really had a job. All of my experience was in research. Here I am, 27 years old, a full-grown adult, accepting a position at Procter & Gamble. This was my first job. I have been in school all my life. My transition from graduate school to Procter & Gamble was very smooth. At Procter & Gamble, I will have responsibilities for managing people, working in teams, and communicating. These were three skills that were constantly reinforced throughout graduate school, which emphasized learn-

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Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences — Issues for the 21st Century: Report of a Workshop ing how to communicate with other people, communicating your results and your ideas, both verbally and in writing, working in teams, and also just learning how to get along with everyone. The minotaurs will always be there. The problems and issues that conquer students will always be there, and the maze will always be there. Students don’t necessarily want a map of how to get through the maze. The most important thing is to get students involved early and often and keep them motivated.