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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