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I need your help - transitioning from ChemE to Chem


nechalo

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So, basically, when I started college I had no idea what I wanted to do. Noone in my family is in science, my parents never graduated from a 4-year. I liked Chem/Calculus after my first year so chose Chem Engineering (ChemE) as a sort of dare. Along the way, I found I absolutely loved Physical and Organic Chemistry. I sort of find ChemE boring. I would never have imagined that I would end up liking chem so much (I was huge slacker in high school, <3.0 GPA in HS no chem no precalc even; WAY behind my engineering peers when I started college that's for sure)... but I really feel grad school might be the best thing for me now. I'm going into my 5th year (super senior) with the following stats and relevant experience:

Big state school (big research university, ~top 50)

Chemical Engineering B.S. w/ Honors distinction, Statistics minor

3.6/4.0 GPA

~6 months research (10 hrs/week) in organic chemistry lab, presented this research at undergraduate forum

3 month, full-time internship as Chemical Engineering/R&D associate

----- helped out with process stuff and did a little research of my own which I presented to the R&D department at the end.

3 month, full-time internship in the same company above's R&D Analytical lab

----- this is actually my summer job this year

tutored math/physics/chem to freshman/sophomores starting my 4th year, TAed an advanced ChemE thermo class this past term (solid teaching experience, I don't know if this is at all a plus or not but I love teaching)

3 LOR lined up: 2 very solid, 1 from my Ochem research and 1 from my favorite professor ever at my school whom I took Pchem 2 with. The other from a ChemE professor

I don't expect my verbal GRE to be close to stellar. I should be able to ace the quantitative though. And since I've tutored chem and like it so much I bet I can pull a good score on the Chem GRE.

I love physical and organic chemistry. My top professors I've looked at are computational organic chemists - using quantum, ab initio methods, trying to examine transition states and theoretical reactions/seeing if they work in lab. That stuff seems awesome to me. On a broader level I love studying organic chem, synthesis, and structure but I have a deep appreciation for pchem and desire to pick apart the fundamentals of how stuff operates and interacts (which is not always a focus of synthetic ochem groups). Anything involving that kind of stuff I can see myself liking; I can give names of researchers if that helps give an idea of what I'm looking for in research.

I know I'm not the strongest applicant (but I have come a long way! maybe that means something?), I don't have a single publication in my name and only 6 months of chem research. I'm not even a chem major! Although I have tried to take as many extra chem classes as I can.

I just wonder what I should be focusing on most now? I have an internship and taking a math class this summer... should I drop the math class and go balls-to-the-wall studying for the GREs in my spare time? Also... for my last year I only have 3 ChemE classes I need to take to graduate! (1 each school term) During that time I really want to take some higher level chem classes, graduate level Ochem and Pchem. Or should I instead be begging ochemists or pchemists at my university for positions in their lab so I can get more research experience? I figure, if I do the latter and I get denied from all my schools for Fall 2012 I can apply the next season with maybe nearly 2 years of chem research and even a publication or close to it under my belt if I'm REALLY lucky.

These are the schools I like a lot so far (I don't even know if its worth it to apply to top 10 schools, and I don't care much for prestige just as long as I'm happy with what with what I'm doing and can get a semi-related job afterward whether it is in academia or industry.)

UC Davis

UCLA

UNC - Chapel Hill

University of Michigan

Georgia Tech

UCSD

UCSB

UT Austin

What do you think?

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I know I'm not the strongest applicant (but I have come a long way! maybe that means something?), I don't have a single publication in my name and only 6 months of chem research. I'm not even a chem major! Although I have tried to take as many extra chem classes as I can.

Your GPA shouldn't be too big of a problem (esp. if your GRE Chem is >800), and ChemE is known to be "harder" than Chem, or so I've heard. Whether or not you have a publication won't be the make-or-break factor in admissions. You've presented, and presumably your research advisors will attest to your research ability in their letters. Remember to explain not only your part in these projects, but also the "big picture" of the research, in your statement of purpose. Show, don't just tell, what you did and what you learned.

I just wonder what I should be focusing on most now? I have an internship and taking a math class this summer... should I drop the math class and go balls-to-the-wall studying for the GREs in my spare time? Also... for my last year I only have 3 ChemE classes I need to take to graduate! (1 each school term) During that time I really want to take some higher level chem classes, graduate level Ochem and Pchem. Or should I instead be begging ochemists or pchemists at my university for positions in their lab so I can get more research experience? I figure, if I do the latter and I get denied from all my schools for Fall 2012 I can apply the next season with maybe nearly 2 years of chem research and even a publication or close to it under my belt if I'm REALLY lucky.

I'd recommend starting to study now for the GRE (no need for prep courses), while doing research part-time. You'd be surprised at how much you can improve your verbal score by just memorizing a couple thousand words & definitions a couple days before the exam (google "supervoca gre list").

These are the schools I like a lot so far (I don't even know if its worth it to apply to top 10 schools, and I don't care much for prestige just as long as I'm happy with what with what I'm doing and can get a semi-related job afterward whether it is in academia or industry.)

Looks like you'll get in to some/most of them. Why not apply to a "top 10" school if you're interested in research there?

<3.0 GPA in HS no chem no precalc even

If you don't mind me asking (just curious, no malice/etc. intended), how'd you get into a top ~50 undergrad with that high school GPA?

P.S. Good luck!

Edited by waddle
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If I see an an excellent "fit" in a top university that would be very good! I'll definitely be expanding my search, I'm not close to done. One higher-ranked school I really liked is Northwestern - when I looked it seemed there was a lot of overlap between ChemE and Chem which was interesting.

Thank you for the encouraging words regarding my chances at the schools I listed. They're all ones I'd be very happy to attend, although I'd probably need tuition coverage and a decent stipend to make it viable still...

I actually want to take the new GRE and not sure how I am going to study yet... I am no good at memorizing unfortunately... I just know I shouldn't have trouble with the quantitative and I definitely think I can break 75% chem GRE without much of a sweat. I want to aim for higher than 85% but I know a lot of it can come down to really knowing some finer details. and I will have at least missed out on the whole inorganic sequence when you compare my chem classes taken to an actual chem major.

If you don't mind me asking (just curious, no malice/etc. intended), how'd you get into a top ~50 undergrad with that high school GPA?

I don't mind at all! I never took the standardized tests - ACT/SAT just went straight to community college (the summer right after graduation). Something just clicked sometime during my last year or so of high school and arriving at the CC, I finally got to decide my own schedule, had so much freedom, the instructors were awesome, and just got really into chem/physics/calculus not to mention self-study. (Catching up in math required an intense 8 week precalc class in the summer then calc 1,2,3 in the fall spring and summer semester.) I did really well there, earned an A.S. in one calendar year then went straight to my current university to start my second year. It was quite the journey back then, and couldn't be happier with how it turned out. Only bad thing is that I missed out on a lot of scholarship opportunities that depend on high school success/early placement into unviversity Honors program and such (after transferring I couldn't get into Honors until my junior year) and don't have any general and low level classes to pad my GPA but I try not to care much about that.

Edited by nechalo
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I might suggest applying to Harvard's SEAS. You'll have the opportunity to work with anyone in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, at the med school, at the Broad, at MIT, etc.

You seem competitive.. I also attended community college and share a similar story with you. I had a slightly higher GPA (3.8), but I was just pure chemistry and not chemE.

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