A rebuttal

The amount of response from y’all has been helpful, if not stressful. Regardless, it’s highly appreciated, and you’re all encouraged to keep posting rumors, fun facts, or reasons why I should drop chemistry all together and move to Fiji to become a massage therapist, or SCUBA instructor. Really, any information you can give me would be awesome.

Under normal circumstances, I’d wait a bit for responses to roll in, and take a bit more time to craft such a lengthy post, but considering that due dates for applications are fast approaching, I’d rather get as many questions/comments out there as soon as possible.

With regards to not selecting some of the obvious choices – Scripps, Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Stanford. The latter three didn’t really have enough professors I was interested in.. pretty much the “two professors I’d like to work with, and then nothing else…” symptoms I had described in the previous post. MIT has Movassaghi and Danheiser, Berkeley has Sarpong and Vollhardt, and Stanford has Wender, Du Bois and Trost (but Trost’s on the older side of things…). Beyond the two obvious choices (for me, anyway) at each university, there’s not much else I’m super into.

Come to think of it, on second thought, although there’s only 2 I’d really like to work with, Wender also strikes me as synthesis oriented, but with an eye towards drug development as well… Stanford may be back on the list, lest my PI and other recommenders crucify me for switching anything up so late in the game.

Scripps and Harvard.. well.. I didn’t think I could get in. I have plenty of research experience, but my grades are (were) only so-so. Worst part of it, it’s really freshman grades and a little bit of soph grades that are lame. (most of which are not chemistry grades) However, at by the start of junior year, and taking on more advanced chem classes, things clicked, began firing on all cylinders, and since, I’ve generally been kicking ass, and taking names. However, at the end of the day, my overall GPA is still lower than I’d like, and (with no ‘supporting info’) I suspected that given the caliber of either institution, they’ll be looking for reasons to not accept people, and that would be mine…

(and for anywhere else, it’s a matter of addressing it on the personal statement or not, which is a tricky proposition in itself)

However, some news has come to me recently, that, while amazing, may be too little too late. Work I was involved with is getting published. I’m going to be on it. Despite the less than entusiastic and stressed nature of this post, there will be a celebratory post with all kinds of glee and exclamation points soon to come. In fact, I’m going to be on two publications. And a patent. Pretty sweet, right? Totally solidifies my application, and (ideally) shows an admissions committee that I’ve turned things around, and am down to work?

I learned that I was going to be on the publications over Thanksgiving break, some undisclosed time after they had been drafted. While I could not be happier with the fact that my name’s going on stuff, I can’t help but feel peeved that I wasn’t informed of their existence sooner… which would greatly have influenced my decision whether or not I’d be applying to places like Scripps. I can still apply to places like Scripps, but for Scripps itself, the deadline is Dec. 1st. In two days. Yeah… As for any other places that I’m scrambling to consider/re-consider, I have to take into account any lead time required for recommendation writers – all other deadlines I’m looking at are in January – so by adding any schools with hard deadlines of Dec 15th, I’ll need to clear it with other prof’s, and fast!

Then, there’s the “issue” of my PI. I came to him with my epic rough draft of the Master list, and he said “narrow it down to about 6 schools. 2 reach, 2 mid-range, and 2 safety.” So naturally, I whittled it down to 8 schools in total, that I thought packed most organic possibility per application. (Before learning of publications) Now, I would feel a bit more comfortable also applying to places with only two professors I’m interested, just to see what happens, especially the ones that claim “we try to not focus on one part of your application, but we do especially consider research experience.” However, I’m not the most comfortable asking my prof. for even more recs, because let’s face it, I’m a bit intimidated by him. I have the recurring fear that if my list were to expand to, say, 10, he’d go all “I thought I told you 6?” For all I know, the difference between 6, 8, and 800 is just a few more copy-paste sequences for him, but considering his recommendation will easily be the most important, I’d like to keep him as happy as possible while writing them.

Yikes. That’s a lot of writing. Anyway, comments and concerns toward this, or anything else are appreciated.

In response to some previous comments:

Everybody: Don’t do total synthesis! It’s a trap!

Fair enough. It aint what it used to be. However, are these cries of warning also intended toward the combination of drug design/medicinal chemistry/molecular pharmacology type work in tandem with heavy duty synthesis and methods, or is that combo wide enough to better support different options in the future? (most likely, continue in academia, or go to pharma.) If that’s still not enough, then what? Is there a last bastion for those of us that want to “make stuff,” or will we forever run into the dilemma of choosing a field we like, but with less job security, or choosing a field we’d rather not do, but take content in being able to find a job later on?

Also, from everybody:

Pick a good PI who you can get along with

Duly noted! Long before I questioned the internet for opinions on grad school, I knew this was going to be a major influence. Hell, even now, with regard to getting recommendations, I’m seeing where it plays a key role. However, I should say that I’m kind of an odd ‘un, in that I still like the idea of spending more time in lab. So what some might consider a lot, I just consider “intense.” And I’m fine with intense, just so long as it does not become “insane.” Presumably with a reasonable professor, that distinction will remain clear…

Via a response to Chemjobber’s Post:

Regarding your personal statement, don’t mention specific profs since the assistant profs are often on admissions committees.

Huh… I’d always heard it doesn’t hurt to name-drop specific faculty if you can readily tie in their work to your overall plans for grad school. Supposedly, it shows why you’d be a good fit there, vs anywhere else. 3rd party opinions?

Paraphrasing: So-Cal ain’t that great, as rent and car insurance are expensive

The rent’s no better in Boston. As for the car situation, I’m very OK with biking everywhere, and Zipcar-ing when necessary (biking is my designated non-chemistry hobby. Also, please note the relative abundance of velodromes in southern California…) But I suppose I’d find out if that system really worked if/when I got there.


Paraphrasing: What about Penn, Princeton, or Columbia?

Looked into all 3. Columbia I’m only really interested in Snyder and Danishefsky (and Danishefsky’s gettin’ old), and at Penn I’m only really interested in Joullie. Actually, in light of recent events, I’d consider adding Princeton to the list for MacMillan, Sorensen, and Doyle. MacMillan and Sorensen for synthesis. No intent to work for Doyle, but just because she’s adorable. Abigail Doyle: Totally Cute.

If I were to add any new applications to the list, they would probably be 2 out of the following 3: Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton.

Have I forgotten anything?


11 Responses to A rebuttal

  1. Stewie Griffin says:

    “Is there a last bastion for those of us that want to “make stuff,”…”
    I would suggest polymer synthesis. Companies like DuPont/Dow don’t seem to be doing massive layoffs. I admit, I don’t find it as exciting as total synthesis but at the end of the day it would be nice to work on something that has real world applications. Let’s face it, most of the molecules we chose as targets for total synthesis are fun but they realistically aren’t going to become the next drug on the market. Plus with polymers you still get to do structure-function relationships which is similar to the med chem structure-activity relationship.

  2. psi*psi says:

    Is there a last bastion for those of us that want to “make stuff”…
    Materials. We NEEEEED people who want to make stuff. And we’ll be much nicer to you than the organic traditionalists will!

    I disagree with Chemjobber. Mention specific faculty–most places will want to know who you should meet during your recruiting visit. Also, contact them before you apply and make sure they’re taking students! (Have good manners and keep it brief.) THE most important thing is to pick a good advisor. Make sure it’s someone who expects reasonable things out of you and not “work 80 hours a week and you can get a PhD in 3 years.” YOU WANT TO HAVE A LIFE IN GRAD SCHOOL. You NEED something other than work going on. Otherwise, when you have a bad lab week, you have nothing else to keep you going. Also, you are going to be working very hard for your advisor…and that should go both ways. It’s VERY nice to be in a well-funded group and get to go to conferences abroad. Money is important–you DO NOT WANT to TA for six years straight!

    Car insurance here is actually much less than I was paying in KY. Rent, however, is double to triple. The stipend is livable, but…uh…much more livable if you’re on fellowship (though they do give you a $2k raise after you pass orals).

    Feel free to email me if you want more insider info on my school 😉

  3. HB says:

    You are going to need a car if you live in Southern California. You may get along for awhile without one, but eventually you will give in.

  4. agiantamongmolecules says:

    Polymer Chemistry = Last Bastion

    1. We make stuff.

    2. Our jobs are a little more stable than pharma.

    3. We’re fun loving, see “hard drinking.”

    4. We’re experiencing a renaissance due to controlled radical polymerization and “click” chemistry. At least that’s what the important people tell me. So there is still plenty of opportunity to do research with no real application.

  5. fentonh says:

    As a mid-career organic chemist without track record in the Polymer Field, how does one get the experience needed for such positions in materials organic chemistry?



  6. OrganicSynthetiker says:

    When people say total synthesis is a dying field, I just assume they mean that you shouldn’t have all your hopes on pursuing total synthesis as a professor (or having an easy time finding a job in the pharmaceutical industry). People just need to go into the field knowing what they want to take out as a skill set, like for any other graduate degree. If you really like total synthesis and methodology development, then just keep going with it. You don’t want to have your graduate education be spent on learning something you really don’t enjoy just so you are easily marketable.

  7. KC_noN says:

    I disagree with you psi*psi. While I agree there are more jobs in materials vs Pharma syn, there are *not* that much to imply a healthy demand. There are some of us who are having a tough time finding jobs. Places like Applied Materials have shut down research teams. Start-ups are duking it out for funding from a more cautious VC community and are wary to add new hires. The solar start-ups are tough to penetrate, even with top notch credentials IMHO.

  8. Chemjobber says:

    KC-noN: Interested in talking more about materials jobs? E-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmaildotcom.

  9. moleculartist says:

    Do you have any friends going into IT or trying to become steel workers? Probably not, those are dead careers and that stuff was sent to china and india back when W was president. Chemistry is no different. Don’t think that our science is special or unique just because you like it or for any other reason, because it isn’t. I like chemistry and you seem to as well but the MBA’s running the show don’t feel that way, a scientist is just another employee and far less valuable than the salespeople who actually generate revenue. Bruce Roth discovered Lipitor, made billions for Pfizer and was laid off like a chump. You give a company a blockbuster and they give you a pink slip. You will be hired and fired according to the needs/want of the company’s balance sheets and stockholders. We don’t even need to get into the stiff competition for those jobs: either from experienced people in industry who were laid off but still have families to feed or from foreigners willing to work for peanuts. An MBA doesn’t know the difference between a guy who worked for EJ Corey and a guy from Nanjing University, except one of them is probably willing to accept a much lower salary… You finished a total synthesis of some giant molecule? Congrats, so did everyone else whose resumes are sitting in a stack on some HR person’s desk.

    There are no academic jobs and the golden age of pharma was long gone by the time you started elementary school. Do you really want to be begging for a $75k/yr job at a startup after 5+yrs of phd and 2+ of postdoc? 7 years is med school and a residency! A general manager at walmart makes over 100k, family doctors average $191k. People will tell you it’s not about money it’s about the love of the game. Baloney. Try feeding a family with your passion for science. Even if you don’t settle down, at some point you will get really tired of living like a student while your friends who went into banking, finance, accounting, medicine or law are buying houses and nice cars. You need money to live and you will get tired of shaking sep funnels long before you defend your thesis. Setting up rxns will become a chore, this will become just another job no different than flipping hamburgers or filling out paperwork. That love of the game talk that people give is a BS recruiting tactic, “things will be different in a few years” “once the economy picks up pharma will start hiring again…” Total baloney. Those jobs are gone to Shanghai, domestic sites are being closed and consolidated to a few places that no one wants to live anyway (Gross+rotten= Groton, CT; Rahway, NJ etc… not exactly Malibu). Profs need to staff their labs and you are way cheaper than a postdoc or a technician, and your energy and enthusiasm for our science will make you work far in excess of what your stipend justifies. You can manage a walmart or be a dentist anywhere you want to live and make way better money. You may not want to be a doctor, dentist or lawyer but after a while you won’t really want to be a chemist either, you will burn yourself out eventually. And then being a doctor won’t look so bad, living where you want to and having the standard of living and quality of life you desire is worth a ton. Doctors and lawyers also have real skills and qualifications, with that comes real privileges and rights. You could invent lipitor but you can’t prescribe it to someone or even possess it without a real doctor’s prescription. A doctor can cut someone and hand out drugs, he can get out of a speeding ticket because he’s on his way to a “medical emergency” at starbucks. Think about that. Guys from the best labs at Harvard and TSRI are having a hard time finding any jobs, but the worst student and the worst med school in this country can still land a six-figure job in general practice.

    This is a dead end career field, do not let anyone tell you different. But I understand, a few people told me some of the same things I’m telling you and I was hard-headed and didn’t listen. I wanted to do total synthesis and I needed to get that out of my system. I can move on knowing that I knocked “complete a total synthesis” off my bucket list. I hope you avoid the academic pyramid scheme and are wise enough to avoid science but it seems like you also really need to give it the old college try, but I would suggest you look very carefully at each school’s policy for getting a master’s degree. Go work for a few years and have fun, you get to TA undergrads and work in the lab to your heart’s content and you’ll have a job in this terrible economy. Publish a paper or two and get it out of your system, get your masters and apply to professional school. Everyone will be impressed by your background in organic chemistry and you will be on your way to a better life. Heck, get an MBA and become a hedge fund manager, you can retire a multi-millionaire in your 30’s or 40’s and use that money to start your own lab in your garage and do total synthesis. I guarantee you will be better funded than any academic lab I’ve ever seen!

    • Joseph says:

      This is the most depressing and jaded thing I’ve read in years. I wish you happiness in life, my friend.

  10. Chiral Jones, my hat is off to you. Valuable information and excellent clarity you got here! I find your information very helpful. It may help me about related matter. Thanks for sharing. Great job, indeed.

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