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Chemistry Admissions: No Subject Test


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Hi all,

I was hoping to get some advice/opinions from current graduate students who had a similar situation/profile as me. 

I'm currently at a top liberal arts program (Williams College), and over the past few months I really debated what I wanted to do post-graduation. I was good at science in high school so I naturally transitioned into chemistry. I enjoyed chemistry so I never really thought about career options (or I did, but I didn't take anything seriously) until this summer, when I realized reality was about to hit me. I've heard tons and tons about how organic chemistry is over-saturated (my previous field of interest), but more broadly that chemists have a hard time finding well-paying, fulfilling jobs.

In addition, this summer I worked in the laboratory of a world-renowned chemist. I enjoyed the work I was doing, and I enjoy being in lab. However, a part of me was very conflicted, especially when one of the grad students asked me a very profound question, "Are you passionate enough about science that you are willing to work for minimal pay and ungodly hours, while some of your peers will already have started their career tracks?" Especially coming from Williams, I know for a fact some of my peers will be making 80-120k straight out of graduation. And, while currently I would be more than willing to take a Cell/Nature publication over that sum of money, I began to doubt whether I would be able to maintain such a high level of passion for 5+ years of time. These doubts became pretty significant when I factored in the possibility that even after getting my Ph.D. I might be working for low pay. Now you might think, if you really love a field, the finances shouldn't matter so much. I think this desire of mine to not only be in a field I love but also have a very well-paying career stems from the fact that my parents are immigrants from Mao-era China. Growing up, I was subtly indoctrined with the idea that my life purpose is to make up for the lost dreams of my parents. To clarify: my parents are great; they never forced me to do anything and for the most part they've been very supportive of my choices. It just happens that this is the culture and the mindset that they know, and so in parenting me, this idea slowly ingrained itself into my own mindset. 

Hence, over the past few months, I heavily debated whether I wanted to go into a graduate program, rather than say into an MBA or directly into an 80-120k paying finance job. However, I realized at the end of the day that my overarching passion is in science, and that I can't really see myself not getting a Ph.D. at all (in terms of having the credentials). So, I've finally committed to going through with it. This brings me to my current predicament. Today, I just realized I made a huge slip-up and missed the last offering of the chemistry GRE for this year.

For most of the universities I'm looking at (Berkeley, UCSF, Scripps, Caltech, MIT, WUSTL, Northwestern) it is recommended but not required. From what I've seen online, people are still able to be accepted having not taken this exam. However, Harvard and Stanford - two of the schools with really interesting PIs I'd like to work with, has it as a requirement. Am I screwed with regards to admissions to these two institutions? I sent them an email detailing why I missed the deadline, and they responded by telling me I can still apply. However, the feeling I got from those two emails was that my application will be significantly weakened due to the fact that I am missing that score. Would you say it is still worth it to submit applications to these institutions?

My second question is, for the highly recommended institutions, how does my profile compare to that of an individual who gets considered?

I'm a 3.85 student, 3.93 or 4.00 as a chemistry major (depending on if mathematics/physics courses are included in that calculation). General GRE - 169/167/4.5 - 99th/97th/80th percentiles. I've worked in a laboratory for the past 2.5 years. Unfortunately, no publications as of yet - one might happen later this year. Finally, I conducted a summer internship with a Nobel laureate (probably the strongest part of my application). I don't know how much the lack of publications hurts me. Coming from Williams, it is much harder to get on a paper, so not sure how this factors in.

Finally, if any of you have advice on the initial mindset/ideas that I presented in the first few paragraphs, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks everyone!

tl;dr - I missed the Chem GRE, should I still apply to Harvard/Stanford although they require it? (2.5 yrs research experience, no publications, worked with a Nobel laureate, 3.83 GPA/3.93 or 4.00 major GPA, General GRE - 169/167/4.5 - 99th/97th/80th percentiles.)

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With that GPA and research experience, you should definitely apply! I don't know for certain how things work for chemistry, but in my field (neuroscience) even the programs like Stanford that recommend it but don't require don't actually care about it. It could be a little different for chem programs since there's a dedicated subject test but since Williams is such a strong school, and you have a great GPA, GRE scores, and fantastic research experience, you're more than all set.

If anything, if you took it and did poorly, I would think that it could even hurt your application. As of now, I'm sure there's no doubt in your abilities as a chemist. I went to a similarly ranked school and didn't do as well on the Biochem subject test as I would have liked, so I don't think I'm going to submit it, even to the schools that recommend it.

If you're still concerned, maybe reach out to a couple of program directors and PI and see what they say?

Good luck!

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This is a well written post!  It is clear from your passion in chemistry that you should definitely do your chemistry phd now, because you don't want to regret this decision 5 years later because being in a lucrative profession that you absolutely hate is much worse than being payed low doing something that you love.


 As for stanford/ harvard, if its required, its probably required for a reason so yes, I think it will most likely hurt your application.  This being said, there is no reason to assume that you cannot be accepted because you dont have a chemistry GRE.  However, since the odds are lessened, I think you should consider only applying to either harvard or stanford and spend the rest of your time and energy on perfecting your applications to your target schools.  You don't want to spend too much of your limited resources on something that is a worse bet from the beginning.


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