Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grad School FAQ

People have been asking a lot of questions about my grad school plans. I've constructed this FAQ to answer some of the most common ones.

Q: Where will you be attending graduate school?

A: I will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Q: So you're going to get a master's degree?

A: No. As is common in the natural sciences, I was accepted directly into a PhD program without any prior graduate study.

Q: And what exactly will you be getting a PhD in?

A: Chemistry, with an organic major, and potentially a chemical biology minor. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based compounds.

Q: How long will your program take to complete?

A: Most students complete the program in 5-6 years, depending on rate of research progress. The PhD is awarded upon submission of an acceptable dissertation documenting an original contribution to the discipline. This takes different people different amounts of time.

Q: Wow, won't you be totally sick of school by the time you're done?

A: I will not be attending school in the traditional sense. I will have a full schedule of coursework and teaching in my first year, and will move into full time laboratory research by my third year. Graduate school will be more like a full time job.

Q: But aren't you going to pile up a mountain of debt?

A: No. My tuition is paid by my department and I will receive a livable salary.

Q: So what do you want to do when you finally get out?

A: The chemistry PhD is uniquely flexible in that a very high proportion of degree holders work in industry, often for pharmaceutical and oil companies. Others work in government labs or in academia. At this point, I am leaning toward an industrial career, but I have been told that I will not really have a good idea of my career goals until a couple of years into grad school.

Q: So you could be a professor when you get out?

A: Not quite. Most academic positions require postdoctoral experience. Postdocs are typically 1-2 year positions dedicated to full time research, and are usually conducted at another institution. Industrial positions do not usually require postdoctoral experience.

Q: When does your program begin?

A: Next August. Can't wait.

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