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Science Communication

It may be one of the toughest experiences of your life, but it’s also one of the most rewarding

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
September 10, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 36


There is no doubt that graduate students are the hidden force behind much of the science we cover on the pages of C&EN. Those who have chosen and are currently undertaking the graduate school journey are at a critical stage of their personal and professional development, learning, among myriad other things, to discern what constitutes an important problem to solve. Their ability to do this—discern what makes an important problem—will likely shape their future and determine the field in which they’ll carry out their life’s work. C&EN’s Senior Correspondents Linda Wang and Celia Arnaud recognized this and drove the initiative to pull graduate students into the spotlight and describe their journeys from beginning to end.

Our coverage leads with five features on the various stages of the graduate school journey. The first and last of these stories (see pages 18 and 26) focus on experts dispensing advice for students, whether they are contemplating going to graduate school or close to finishing up and preparing to head out into the “real world.”

The three articles in between (see pages 20–25) weave together stories from a variety of students. “How I Made My Grad School Choices” draws from in-person interviews with students at multiple schools in the Chicago area who are now starting their second or third year of graduate school. Those schools represent a range of types of institutions, and the story describes the factors that drove students to choose to attend graduate school, as well as their university and adviser choices. “The Making of a Ph.D. Chemist” touches on the happy and sad times of the graduate experience, including teaching, experiencing impostor syndrome, and publishing a first paper. “Deviating from the Plan” tells the stories of three people whose experiences include some potholes and detours. But all three have ended up in a good place.

My favorite part of this special package is the graduate student essays. C&EN put out a call on social media inviting graduate students to share their perspectives on any aspect of the graduate student experience. The response was greater than we ever imagined. More than 80 graduate students submitted entries, from which we chose 12, with an eye to balancing geography, demographics, and subject matter. These students represent the future of the chemical sciences, and we want their voices to be heard and to be represented in the pages of C&EN. And who better to tell their stories than the students themselves? In this case we just handed over the mic.

But the conversation should not stop here. We want to use this package to launch a continued dialogue with graduate students. We’ll continue featuring their essays in our newsletter and on C&EN’s website. We want to give them a platform to talk about the issues they face and help them find their community in chemistry. With this in mind, we’ll soon launch a Slack channel for graduate students to share their experiences and find support. In the meantime, we invite graduate students to share their thoughts or join the conversation on social media. Please use the hashtag #chemgradlife to tag your posts.


For those reaching the end of the road in terms of their graduate experience and pondering what to do next, see page 53, where you’ll find a collection of open positions in a variety of fields.

And a final word: If you are a graduate student and are looking for advice or guidance for your graduate journey, please approach what you find with caution. Some of the content I found online is often negative and quite depressing, with headlines such as “Always Prepare for the Worst” or “Nobody Cares about You.” Sure, it’s not a walk in the park—it’s probably one of the toughest experiences of your life, but it’s also possibly one of the most rewarding.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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