Preparing for Grad School
Coming to Lewis and Clark was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. Over the last four years, I have had the opportunity to play the sport I love and build lifelong friendships, all while obtaining a rigorous education at a beautiful campus. As my time here draws to a close, the next chapter in my life approaches quickly. I have known for a couple of years now that I was interested in pursuing a PhD in chemistry, but having no immediate family members with graduate school experience, I did not know where to start. I seemed to be all alone in the process, but I soon found out that was not the case. I have a difficult decision ahead of me, but I’d like to spend a few words here discussing my experience so far.
The first question you hear is “where do you want to go?”. To be truthful, I did not have an answer two years ago (and I still do not have an answer). The graduate programs I did end up applying to were solely based on what was recommended to me by my mentors in the chemistry department. This is a recurring theme in my undergraduate career: my close relationships with faculty are what have allowed me to keep moving toward my academic goals. I spent time in the career center polishing my resume, and I went to work in writing what seemed like dozens of versions of the same two or three essays. My advice for application essay-writing is to be honest. It is the responsibility of the admissions committee to determine whether you would be a good fit for the program, so to be disingenuous will only hurt you.
Do not be surprised that the graduate school process is much more involved than the essays. The next “phase” is the interview. Before the fall of my senior year, I had only experienced one or two high-stakes interviews. Having now completed over twelve interviews in the last few months alone, I have grown much more comfortable with it all. Admittedly, I am not a naturally talented interviewee. Like any other skill, it takes practice, so do not be discouraged! The interview is really a test to see how well you know yourself, and a “seasoned veteran” might even turn the interview on the interviewers. If you are like me, then you might not enjoy talking about yourself or your personal life. My advice is to practice with a friend or family member. Think of the trajectory of your academic or professional career and tell a story. The goal is to explain the choices you have made along the way, or detail adversities that you have overcome, so that the interviewer can get to know you better. Again, the interview is all about you.
At this point, some offers from graduate programs will start to roll in. There is a lot to consider: location, finances, work culture, housing, social life, etc. This is going to feel like an impossible decision, but as I discovered, you do not need to face it alone! I sat down with my advisors to simply have a conversation. Sometimes it is reassuring to have someone just listen to your thoughts. They were able to put me in contact with LC alumni who had either visited or are currently attending the institutions of which I am interested. As for the particular research groups which did not have ties to LC, I was able to email the principal investigator of the group directly and ask to speak with members of their lab. In any case, everyone I spoke with is more than willing to help. Do not feel alone in this process. If a certain graduate program is right for you, then you should trust that the people in your life will help you get there. The uncertainties in life are never-ending, and graduate school is no exception. Remember to enjoy every moment, what whatever was meant to happen will happen.
-Jordan Gonzales ’21