Chemistry B.S., 2003
I earned a chemistry degree from ISU in spring 2003 and am now a second-year Ph.D. student in chemistry at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Graduate school has been the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding thing I've ever pursued.
I work in Dr. Julia Kubanek's marine chemical ecology lab. Entering graduate school, I would have never envisioned myself working in a marine lab. Graduate school really opened my eyes to the broad range of opportunities in chemistry-- at Georgia Tech, chemistry students are working on projects ranging from designing nanomaterials for NASA space shuttles, to developing industrially useful polymers, and using computers to simulate chemical and biological processes.
I'm investigating how marine organisms synthesize chemicals to protect themselves against microbes and predators. I also examine marine natural products as sources of human pharmaceuticals. My work is exciting because of the constant potential for discovering new compounds and better understanding biochemical processes.
My "typical" workday varies greatly, so I never get bored. I spend the majority of my time in the lab, using techniques such as high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), and mass spectrometry (MS) to isolate and identify marine products. My work involves trips to the ocean and nearby wetlands to collect samples. I also spend a lot of time reading about possible research ideas; in graduate school, you typically design your own projects. This is intimidating at first, but the freedom is great-- I can research nearly anything I want. The rest of my time is spent in classes or attending seminars. Graduate school is loaded with opportunities to learn, and nearly all graduate students receive a stipend that covers living expenses and full tuition (even out-of-state!). Graduate school is a great way to get paid to learn.
After earning my Ph.D., my opportunities will include careers in industry, government, or academia. Ultimately, I plan to pursue a career as a chemistry professor.
If you're interested in graduate school, take as many chemistry courses as possible. By completing elective chemistry courses as an undergrad, I was much better prepared for graduate school. Also, don't limit yourself only to electives in chemistry; the sciences are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, so coursework in biology, physics, math, and computer science is also helpful. Finally, undergrad research and summer internships are great ways to get a better idea of what graduate school is like.