Want To Get Into STEM Grad School? A Chemist Answers Admission Questions

The Obama administration has been one of the biggest supporters of STEM education. However, despite massive campaigns to make science and engineering education more accessible, the costs of getting into grad school remains high, while acceptance rates in prestigious universities are at their lowest. Most of the time, graduating Summa cum Laude doesn’t cut it anymore. Tons of research experience, and even knowing a few well-known professors are now important requirements to even be considered for a PhD slot.

Chemist Sam Pazicni visited Reddit’s /r/science to give answer a few questions regarding PhD admissions and help hopeful scientists get into grad school. Given his expertise and experiences is in Chemistry, Pazicni’s grad school admission tips might be a little bit too focused towards his field. However, his tips and advice can be applied to all science and engineering PhD programs out there. Here are a few questions addressed in his science IAMA.

Redditor Crozax asked:

Hello Dr. Pazicni!

I am a physics undergraduate who will be applying to graduate schools in a year, but I imagine many of the same qualities are looked for. What would you say are the top three things that grad schools look for in prospective students? I’ve heard that GREs and GPA gets your name on the desk, but that the letters of recommendation and research experiences are more important for acceptance. How true is this?

Thanks for any insight you can provide and welcome to reddit!

Dr. Pazicni answered:

“Hello! When I’m going through a stack of applications, I look for (not necessarily in rank order) (1) success in coursework that is considered the “canon” of the undergraduate experience, i.e. the stuff we expect you to know if you engage in graduate coursework; (2) research/lab experience, including the products that may emerge from the experience, like publications, presentations, etc.; (3) recommendation letters, especially those that can comment on aspects that the rest of the application doesn’t, e.g. how you are to work with and be mentored, how well you work in a group, creativity, etc.”

Redditor cerseif**er asked:

Hi Dr. Pazicni,

Thanks for doing this AMA. My question is related to relative importance of different aspects of a profile while applying. If a student has poor grades (less than 3.0 GPA) but has done awesome research (including publications), is he still at a disadvantage to student having stellar GPA but not much on research count. Also, does job experience in the relevant field help?

Thank you in advance for your help.

Dr. Pazicni answered:

“I tend to think of applications as balancing acts of each of the typical components: GPA/transcript, GRE scores, past research experiences, personal statement, recommendation letters. You can hopefully make up for a poor area with excellence in another. This can be done rather elegantly with your personal statement and your recommendation letters. If you don’t have a good GPA, but you’ve been successful at research, we would like to know why there is this discrepancy. If a recommender can address this, that’s AWESOME. If you can as well in your personal statement, fantastic.”

The rest of the AMA can be found here. If you are an aspiring scientists who dreams of getting into the PhD program of your dreams, Dr. Pazicni’s answers can be of great help to your application.

[Image from Army Medicine via Flickr]