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3 tips to boost your graduate and postdoctoral experience

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As a part of our regular engagement with members, the ACS Insight Lab, an online panel for ACS members, hosted a discussion board to allow students to get advice from chemical professionals. The focus of the conversation was how to prepare for graduate school and what to expect.

After a lively and engaging discussion, we selected three questions and a few of their answers to share with you. Check out the advice below! (And, if you like what you read below, join the ACS Insight Lab to participate in future discussions.)

Student with books.jpg

Which skills should I gain during graduate school to make me an attractive candidate for an industry position?

• Learn how to fit into any team and be able to adapt your role as the team changes. (Hint: You must know your strong points and embrace your weak points.)

• Become comfortable with getting in front of a group of people and speaking clearly and competently. Also try to master written communication and graphics tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Lightroom, etc.). This will show that you are capable of articulating and presenting clear, concise ideas and findings to fellow scientists and non-scientists.

How should I select from graduate programs of varying prestige?

Try to get into the most prestigious school for the following reasons:

• Funding: The faculty there will in general have more grant money for funding your studies so you won't have to serve as a TA as much.

• Contacts and networking: Again, the faculty will have more contacts (former students, contacts via consulting, etc.) so that they hear about more potential openings and can recommend you for an interview.

• Recruiting: Companies have limited resources so they will usually pick a small group of schools that they will visit. The better the department, the increased odds of more companies coming in for interviews.

Which basic prerequisites should I have to start my PhD?

Your acceptance into a PhD program puts you in the top 5% of the general populace in terms of academic ability so don't ever forget that. Here are a few steps that can help:

• Be organized .Once you know what you're going to do, make a detailed plan of execution and modify as you go.

• Reach out to senior grad students; they are among the best resources you'll have. They know everything that could go wrong and by talking to them you can save yourself a lot of heartache and wasted time. If necessary, go out of your way to be friends with them.

• Set time aside for a little socialization and professional development. This will keep you motivated to complete the task at hand.

Aside from these helpful pieces of advice, here are a few ACS graduate school resources that were also shared during the discussion:

Thanks to everyone who was a part of the discussion! Interested in sharing your ideas and opinions with ACS? Join the ACS Insight Lab today and help shape the future of ACS.

New Contributor III

Three further recommendations:

  1. Ask the potential chemistry department for statistically valid data on the employment outcomes of their recent graduate students. If the department can't or won't provide this data, then be careful. Recent statistically valid data means what happens to their students after any time as a post-doctoral laboratory worker. It also means accounting for all of the department's graduate students, not just the Supermen and Wonder Women.
  2. If your eventual career goal is to become an assistant professor, then first look at the most recent pedigrees of a given department's assistant professors (this is always easy to find on their websites). Apply to the same universities as those most recent pedigrees. If your graduate school applications to those departments are not accepted, then plan for a completely different employment outcome. In doing so, then consider the first addition to the list.
  3. Keep in mind the "Law of Supply and Demand". This means that graduate students having English as their native language are in short supply, because departments need teaching assistants. The also need "hands in the laboratory". So you can be picky. On the other hand, there are many more chemistry graduates looking for employment than there are available jobs. And so here the potential employer has the choice. Also because the "native language law" is not as important in employment as for the graduate school program.

Great additional advice!

New Contributor III

Hello Ebony,

You may also wish to consider the discussion under the following recent


On Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 1:28 PM, Ebony Shamberger <>