Graduate School Life (First Year)

So this post will reflect some of the things I have figured out during my first year as a graduate chemistry student at WCU. Some of them to me I feel dumb for not knowing and some of them I wish I would have figured out earlier! Overall my first year (and first half of Summer 2013) has been filled with awesome memories, interesting classes and even more amazing people!  So here it goes!

  • Life as a teacher (of labs) is not as exciting as I would have thought. Sure I enjoyed teaching the Chem 139 lab , both semesters, but at times I did not look forward to it ( mainly when final grades were due). I never imagined a student complaining about a final grade of a 98.4 and I never thought I would have a student try to skip out midway through lab! I did think that teaching these labs would inspire more people to want to study chemistry, but I was also wrong, they were just very glad to be done with it FOREVER!
  • Figuring out my research was not as easy !!!! It took me about 3 weeks after hearing all the professors research talks to finally decide on who I wanted to work with. Then after talking with him (and the other students who knew more about him) I thought about jumping ship and going into a topic that was something that I didn’t feel passionate about. I am glad that I didn’t, I stuck with the original professor that I wanted to work with ( even with his warning and the others).
  • Life could have been easier if I would have just went straight to working. This is something that I had considered before coming to WCU, just get a job, work and begin to pay off school loans. This was an idea in my head simply because of a amazing internship and company that I worked for during a summer. I thought apply there, get a job, and work ( that is if I got a job). But in the end I know that I LOVE school and I really wanted to be able to figure out my area in chemistry!
  • Follow what you think will interest you, no matter how off-the-wall   it may sound. As you have gathered I am hopefully going into the field of Art Conservation or Historic Preservation ( mainly material identification) after this and chemistry  is a amazing tool set to have in these fields. I want to study/ live in amazing places and be able to explore, so these fields fit perfectly. These areas are also something that I am interested in because it isn’t the typical (organic, medical, nano, bio) chemistry that is generally though of, it is truly something different ( or atleast in my mind it is ).
  • Last but not least, enjoy your time here. There are classes, labs and research that needs to be done, but if all you do is that then life gets dull. The first semester I had slightly enjoyed my time here, but was still in the I am new here phase. The spring semester was drastically different! I went out with some other students, took ceramics ( I was horrible at it) and also began to make sure that every week had some “fun” time in it. I really learned how to better balance classes, teaching, failing research, studying, and going out time. Graduate school is different then undergrad, you have less classes and more responsibilities, but it is still college!

Overall, I love being a graduate student (which is why I will be hopefully going to another program after this) . It has allowed me to develop my research skills, my chemistry knowledge, and find a field that I am passionate about. So if you are ever thinking about grad school, I say go for it and don’t think twice about it!

 

How you feel in grad school!

How you feel in grad school!

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Science Is Hard, So Avoid It?

Note: This is not in any way meant to offend people from other areas, it is simply a vent for me!

Well this being a blog that includes all the randomness from the scattered life of myself, I find it OK to share my opinion on why studying chemistry(science/math in general) is important. This post is coming from the possibility of WCU cutting the Master’s program during the program prioritization this year. Tomorrow is the day when we find out, graduate program or no graduate program. The good news is that I am grandfathered in so I am safe and will be able to graduate from a possibly extinct program. So here it goes….

I recently stumbled upon an article stating that people have the intentions to come into college and major in science and math until they realize that the classes are hard. As someone who had the same thoughts as the students in this study, I thought about going into an easier” major. In the end my GPA wasn’t amazing, but I stuck it out and got my B.S. in Chemistry.

So what happens  in these ‘hard’ classes(majors) that is so bad that you change your major/life plan? Well with any major there are exams, readings, homework, and labs/projects; but with science is it harder to succeed with all of this? In my opinion, it can be. You have to learn to study and not just the night before a test ( which can be done in many other classes). You also have to learn to actually learn(as dumb as this sounds it’s true). In some of my ‘general’ courses that are required to broaden my education, I felt that it was a huge waste of time and that anything I needed to learn for a test/quiz could be done the hour before the class. Most of the time, I at least got a B (about 40% of the time a A) and  if I did bad, the professor usually had a curve or a dropped assignment in place to ‘help’ bad grades. To top it off in the ‘easier’ classes/majors , about 60% of the time the professor allowed some outside help on the assignments (in the form of your text-book and/or notes), so this just made the class even more of a ‘wait to the test to figure it out’ kind-of class. But what I found in my science classes is that your grade really reflected what you knew or didn’t know. Yes, there was still a dropped test in most of the classes, but curves were never heard of (at least in my first 3 years, pchem is a little bit different). The grade that you received on you assignment truly reflected your knowledge of the subject, because on these test you had to apply what you had been learning and you had to think! After my first two years in college, I figured out how to study and retain the information into my long-term knowledge.

Now on to the possibility of getting rid of the graduate program here at WCU. The main reasons that have been discussed is out low graduation rate. This simply means that in a 2 year time period, there are not enough Master’s students graduating. Now my goal is to be done in 2 years, but I can see how it could take longer. Science isn’t a fast subject! It is slow, time-consuming, and at times disappointing. This is now almost the year mark of me being here and all I have gotten done (that is useful) is 8 pigments spectrums for the library I am making and a 75% complete prospectus! Yep, that is it. It isn’t alot but does that mean I don’t work enough, in my opinion and my advisor, I work plenty. Last night I was in the Raman lab till 10pm ( I got here at 9:30am). So why is this all I have gotten done? I first had to come up with my own research projects, learn how to use an expensive (aprx $400,000) instrument ( and pray that I don’t mess it up), fix the messed up instrument ( up to 7 times now) and figure out the best way to make the measurements I am doing. That may not seem like a lot, but it is ( or at least to me it is). Now if a ‘prioritization committee’ or person is ever questioning why there are not enough people finishing, I would be more than happy to let them spend a week with me and see how slow doing research is!

In the end if they get rid of the slow working grad students in the chemistry program, I just see it hurting the school. Not only is science about discovering new things, it is also about inspiring more students to get into this ‘hard’ major. We all teach undergraduate labs (3 each and 10-ish grad students total) and that will be alot of faculty to hire to cover all we do ( and we work for much less!). So to WCU , I certainly hope you keep this program, because we made it through the ‘hard’ major and now we are here to do bigger and better things, and the school is part of that.

So till tomorrow, the Decision Day for the graduate program.

-Caitlyn

Link to ” A Major in Science? Initial Beliefs and Final Outcomes for College Major and Dropout”  Paper that was mentioned

And to anyone looking into a ‘hard’ major go for it!

And also this was not in any way meant to offend people from other areas, it is simply a vent for me!

Why Chemistry?

I have asked myself this question many times over the last 5ish years of college ( and so have others). So here is how my college career went….

Freshman Year

Came in as a pre-pharmacy major, along with 200 other students at Wingate University, thinking that if I could make it through pharmacy there would be a nice pay check at the end. Had 2 chemistry classes, 2 calculus classes (at 8am EVERYDAY!) , intro into biology and the other courses outside of my major area. Didn’t do very well my freshman year, it was a hard adjustment for me considering high school was very easy for me, which lead me to realize that Pharmacy school wasn’t going to happen! So change of major I was undecided!!!

Sophomore Year

This year to me can be summed up with one dreadful topic, Organic Chemistry! This was a class that seemed to crush quite a lot of dreams for pharmacy school, but for me it was just on the track for what I needed for a Chemistry degree (still have a undecided major though).  Throughout this year I spent countless hours at “the boys apartment” studying till well past midnight for Organic and cramming even later at my apartment with my roomie Danielle. I must give a shout out to the boys though, there were 8 in the apartment, with 3 boys now on their P4 year ( and so is Dani!!!) and one who is a graduate student in Biology at UGA. So needless to say half of this apartment was dealing with the same stress as I was (I didn’t have the pharmacy school applications and GPA requirements though). Studying with the boys, mainly two (Chris and Papa Bear Jeremy) really got me through this year. The boys were even my lab partners in Physics 1&2 and Organic. It was a sad day though when all of them were into the Pharmacy program at Wingate because I knew they wouldn’t be in my classes for the next 2 years.  Well at the end of this year my advisor ( who must have hated dreaded dealing with me changing my major ) put that I was officially a chemistry major.

Junior Year

This year is when things started to turn around, minus the next two sentences. I came into this year switching my major again, this time to a chemistry business degree. I took 2 business classes that fall ( Accounting and Management)  and quickly went back to just Chemistry! This year is probably when I got hooked on the idea of really trying to do something with chemistry, all because of research and the classes! This year I took 2 Analytical courses ( learning about different instrumentation ), a Hazardous Materials ( we set things on fire, set off explosions,etc.) and Inorganic Chemistry.  All of these being upper-level chemistry courses meant that there was a lot more “real” chemistry involved. “Real” chemistry to me is doing things that involve more than reading a lab manual like a recipe book. I also worked on a basic research project that involved using GC and some GC-MS to try and identify components of two similar aromatherapy oils ( easy and basic, but was a way to start researching). I then went on to getting a summer internship at Goulston Technologies R&D Department (Monroe, NC) working on research involving textiles. This internship gave me the experience to see how it is working in a  R&D department and using chemistry in a real-world scenario.

pchem

Senior Year

This was my favorite year , if I can disregard  the having to think of the what to do after graduation.  I went out more, had a lot more fun and still did better in classes. I attempted to improve my Organic Chemistry grades by retaking both classes ( not much improvement in the end) and had the capstone course of any undergraduate chemistry degree, Physical Chemisty. A favorite bumper sticker that was at the ACS regional that year in Richmond, VA explains exactly how I felt after passing it!  In the end I did more research ( 4 posters and a possible publications worth), finally found a direction/major, and had to start thinking about graduate programs.

In the end I would say that I eliminated other options of majors and that left me with Chemistry, unless I wanted to spend another 3 years to restart completely. I wouldn’t have thought that at the end of my 4 years at Wingate, I would be graduating with my B.S. in Chemistry, but that’s what happened. To be honest I know that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the professors that guided me in the right direction (Dr. Hall , Dr. Dahm, Dr. Voegtle (now Clontz)) and for some amazing chemistry/pharmacy friends that made hours of work much more enjoyable.. Chemistry simply  became the best option at first, then turned into something that I enjoy studying, a topic that I could see myself in for the future, a possible career path, and something that challenged me on the daily basis.