Thursday, April 5, 2018

How to Extend a Master's Thesis Embargo

Delete, Button, Symbol, Sign, Icon, Web
A former MS research students of mine found himself in the predicament of wanting to publish their MS thesis work, but were unable to because their material was posted on the web via ProQuest.  They had inadvertently lost track of the time needed for embargoing their MS theses to allow for publication in peer-reviewed journals. 

In fact, they discovered that their hard-earned data and analysis was posted without password protection, and freely available to all on the web by third parties, e.g., 'Semantic Scholar'.  This is one repository that adds material from ProQuest with the use of Artificially Intelligent program to capture such material for archival.

Fortunately, there is a way to undo some of this premature posting.  What do you do extend the embargo so you can publish/patent your thesis research?

Step 1: First, contact ProQuest to extend your embargo.  Note that it is possible to request an indefinite embargo.  You would contact them again when you are ready for ProQuest to disseminate your thesis.

Step 2: Contact 'Semantic Scholar' using their "Feedback" box found using the 'Contact' button on the upper right-hand corner of their webpage to send a message.  Include your email address in the message box to ensure you get a response.  You might write something like...

Dear Semantic Scholar:

I am writing to you regarding my posted master’s thesis on your web site: of hotlink)

It is on your site as a result of its release from ProQuest, which I have now embargoed for purposes of potential future patent of the technology contained in the work therein. Since public display of this thesis would hamper my efforts for patenting, I request that you remove it from display on your web site.

Sincerely yours,

My student made this request when he discovered a premature posting of his thesis.  Within the next day or so, he received the following response:

We have removed this paper from our site per your request; the PDF itself should disappear within one week. Please be aware though that it can take a bit longer (up to a few weeks) for the change to be reflected on all parts of our system and on other sites like Google Scholar.

We appreciate your patience.

Semantic Scholar Team

This entire exchange took place within 48-to-72 hours.  After this email interaction, my student was finally able to move forward with completing and preparing the manuscript for peer-reviewed publication.

Did you find this blog-post useful?  Do you have any corrections, updates or insights to add?  Leave a comment below.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Need a 7th Semester Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) Extension?

You must apply for it.  It is not automatically given.
The MS committee examines student requests on a case-by-case basis, and will make a recommendation to the Associate Dean of the MTSU Graduate Studies Office, Dr. Kimberly Douglass, who then makes the final decision on granting the extension.  ALL graduate teaching assistant requests will require the following to be provided to the MS Coordinator, Dr. Charles Chusuei (preferably in pdf format):
1) A letter of support from the major research professor detailing reasons why a 7th semester GTA is needed for completion of the thesis work.
2) A rough draft (OK if it is incomplete--it can be a bare bones version) of the student’s MS thesis, that may include introduction and background of the project and available data pertinent to the thesis and preliminary data up to that point.
3) A copy of all teaching evaluations of classes taught up to that point.  This evaluation may be accessed through your MTSU Pipeline account. Click on this hotlink, to access your teaching evaluation record.
Send these materials to your major research professor, who will then forward them [along with any other information (s)he feels is appropriate] to me.

The DEADLINE for which these materials are due is by the last class day of the 5th semester (barring any unusual, compelling circumstances) so the committee can meet and make an evaluation. 

Note: Graduate students supported entirely by research assistantships and/or other means (i.e., funding independent of the Graduate Studies) are not asked for these materials in order to continue work beyond the 6th semester. 
(In these cases, GTA support is in no way involved.)

The purpose of requesting the teaching evaluation is to ensure that the student can continue to effectively function as a GTA.  The purpose of endorsement by the major professor is to ensure that (s)he is in agreement with the student’s extension request as well as provide background to the specifics of the student’s case.  The purpose of requesting the rough draft is two-fold: 
i) To show satisfactory progress towards completing the MS degree, given the circumstances explained by the major professor.
ii) To assist the major professor in the event that either the MS committee does not recommend extension or the MS committee’s positive recommendation is negated by Graduate Studies.  A working MS thesis draft would enable as soon as possible completion of the degree.

Monday, July 31, 2017

3 Pitfalls to Avoid in Publishing Your Thesis Research (including notes on ProQuest)

A good way to establish your scientific authority is to publish your research in respected, peer-reviewed journals.  This will open career doors as a practicing scientist.  At this current stage of your career, you will lean on the advice and mentoring of your major research professor.  As you become more adept at thinking, carrying out experiments, and writing, you will need less and less oversight, and eventually be able to publish independently.

A general rule of thumb is: if it is not original, it is not publishable.  For example, a policy from the American Chemical Society, the largest publisher in the field of Chemistry/Biochemistry states:

"The [ACS journal title] considers for publication only original work that has not been previously published and is not under consideration for publication elsewhere. When submitting a manuscript, an author should inform the editor of any prior dissemination of the content in print or electronic format. This includes electronic posting of conference presentations, posters, and preprints on institutional repositories and other Web sites. Any content that has been made publicly available, either in print or electronic format, and that contains a significant amount of new information, if made part of a submitted manuscript, may jeopardize the originality of the submission and may preclude consideration for publication."

In other words, premature release of your research data may jeopardize its suitability for publication in respected, peer-reviewed journals. There is a difference between having your results published in an ACS journal versus having them reported in a supermarket tabloid.  To safeguard the quality of the peer-review process, the following precautions should be taken.

1) Do not post good data on social media. New researchers are often excited when they get intriguing results and hence want to disseminate it.  However, posting data on social media in itself may be considered "already published".

2) When presenting work at a scientific conference, do not make copies of original, unpublished research materials and handing them out to your audience.  This especially true, when the experiments are easy to duplicate.  Unless you are presenting at a Gordon Research Conference (in which there is a signed agreement under penalty of prosecution), there is nothing to stop another researcher from running back to his/her lab, reproducing your results and sending it off to a journal before you have a chance to complete your work. A few years ago, I had a master's student who did this very thing as potential employers (as well as peers) visited him at an informal poster session.  It is ok to distribute research articles that you have already published for job search/networking purposes.  

3)  Don't forget to request an embargo to protect your intellectual property.  MTSU requires that all Master of Science theses to be archived on ProQuest to complete the degree. An important reminder when archiving thesis on ProQuest.  If instructions are not exactly followed, you may find that your independent research that you have worked very hard for to be disseminated free of charge on the world wide web. This could potentially preclude any of your efforts to publish in standard peer-reviewed articles and submission of patents.  

It would be wise to search the web yourself to ensure that your work is not prematurely "published" on the web.  One incident during the 2014-2015 academic year during the week before Spring Break, that every single MS thesis from Chemistry MTSU students who graduated that year was disseminated on the web. Fortunately, this technical glitch was caught and corrected before too much damage was done.  To prevent a thesis to be immediately disseminated on the web (which would preclude publication, patent applications, etc.), the student must request an embargo.  It is not automatically given.

Link to ProQuest:

The standard options allow graduate students to select up to 2 years wide dissemination of their thesis/dissertation (see image below).  

There is an option to do an indefinite embargo by leaving the end date space blank.  However, this option is hidden from view to the student. The student must ask the ProQuest technical support to unhide this feature to take advantage of it (see hotlink above).

Only students are able to change their embargo options.  To do so, they must contact the ProQuest Publishing Group. Their phone number is 1-800-521-0600  ext. 77020, and they are open from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Eastern. Their email address is disspub (at) proquest (dot) com

If a student is concerned about their document's inclusion in the JEWL Scholar database as well (s)he can change their options in ProQuest, which will carry over to JEWL Scholar.  And then, the student can contact the library's Dean, Dr. Bonnie.Allen (at) mtsu (dot) edu to request the removal of their document.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Accelerate Your Education: MTSU's ABM Chemistry Program

Abstract, Abstraction, Acceleration
Are you a research-active MTSU student majoring in Chemistry or Biochemistry ready to accelerate your education?  Get on the degree fast track with the Chemistry Accelerated Bachelor's Master’s (ABM) program where you can earn BOTH a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Chemistry degrees within five years of full-time study.

Frequently Asked Questions
(1). How does it work? The goal of the ABM program is to provide our most
meritorious Chemistry/Biochemistry majors the means to complete both the BS and MS degrees in Chemistry/Biochemistry within a 5-year period, culminating with a written research thesis to showcase independent, original research that will be defended in a public setting.  Some courses that you will take will be double-counted as undergraduate and graduate courses.  See the Academic Map below.  You should begin application no later than the 1st semester of the junior year.

(2). What tracks are offered within the ABM program? Three tracks for the ABM degree program are as follows:
i) Materials Track:  This curriculum involves the discovery and design of new materials with an emphasis on solids. With these degrees, students are more likely to be hired as practicing chemists or gain admission to professional 
programs or graduate schools.
ii) Biomolecular Track:  This field involves the study of chemical principles of 
molecules biological in origin.  Research focuses on molecular level solutions to issues and problems in the life sciences related to the environment, agriculture, energy, industry, food production, biotechnology and medicine.
iii) Biochemistry Track: Biochemistry degrees can not only prepare students  for professional careers as chemists, it may also serve as the basis for work in areas outside pure chemistry, such as materials science, medicine and other health-related fields, nutrition, pharmacology, patent law, business, and environmental science.

(3). Do I have the approprite background? If you are majoring in Chemistry or Biochemistry and have and overall GPA of 3.25 or higher, have at least 2 semesters remaining at MTSU to complete your degree, completed at least 75 credit hours, you meet the minimum requirements to apply.  The MS committee will consider your application for the MS program.

(4). Do I need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)?
No.  The GREs are waived for ABM applicants.

(5). What things should I keep in mind to optimize my chances for success? To ensure that you finish BOTH the BS and MS degrees in Chemistry, you should already have in mind a MS faculty mentor with whom you can do your research.  You will want to have on-going undergraduate research in progress that could be transitioned into a master's thesis. Remember that earning an MS degree means that you are doing original, independent research and not merely reproducing already established experiments.  Consult the MS Chemistry Handbook.  Also, see the blog on what you should know and do after being accepted into the MS program.

(6). How do I apply? Fill out the application form and give it to MS Coordinator, Dr. Chusuei, who will forward to the MS committee for consideration. (You may leave the hard copy of the application with Dr. Chusuei in SCI 3065. There is an envelope on the door in case he's not in; alternatively, you may leave your application in Dr. Chusuei's mailbox in SCI 3044B.) Note, that if you are interested in a Graduate Teaching Assistantship for financial support in your 5th year, you must apply separately by filling out the form from the graduate school web site; be sure you email the form to graduate (at) mtsu (dot) edu.  

Academic Map for 3 Tracks in the ABM program
I.                    Professional Materials Track
CHEM 4400 or 4410 Found of Inorg
CHEM 6400  Int Inorg Chem
CHEM 4100 Org Spec
CHEM 5100 Org Spec
CHEM 4600 Intro to Env Chem
CHEM 5600 Intro to Environ Chem
CHEM 4700, Polymers, An Intro
CHEM 5700 Polymers
CHEM 4230 Instrum Anal
CHEM 6230/6231 Int Anal Chem
CHEM 4610 Enviro Chem
CHEM 6610 Enviro Chem
CHEM 4780 Polymer and Mater Chem Lab
CHEM 6780 Polymers Lab

II.                  Biomolecular Track
CHEM 4500 Biochem I
CHEM 6500 Biochem I
CHEM 4510 Biochem II
CHEM 6510 Biochem II
CHEM 4530 Biochem Tech
CHEM 6530 Biochem Tech
CHEM 4400  or 4410 Found or Inorg
CHEM 6400 Int Inorg Chem
CHEM 4520 Topics in Biochem
CHEM 6520 Topics in Biochem

III.                Biochemistry Track
CHEM 4500 Biochem I
CHEM 6500 Biochem I
CHEM 4510 Biochem II
CHEM 6510 Biochem II
CHEM 4550/4551 Bioanal Chem
CHEM 6230/6231 Int Anal Chem
CHEM 4400 or 4410 Found of Inorg
CHEM 6400 Int Inorg Chem
CHEM 4520 Topics in Biochem
CHEM 6520 Topics in Biochem

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Top 11 Things to Know and Do for a Great Start!

Maze, Hedge Maze, Green, Lost, Labyrinth

Navigating the jungle:
(1). Be sure to fill out your 'Degree Plan' to the graduate school in consultation with the MS coordinator or major research professor (if you know who that is). His office is located in SCI 3065. The form to be completed can be found here. This action should be done within 2 months after your first semester. The coursework plan has largely already been laid out. The purpose of the consultation is to determine what elective graduate courses you will take, which amount to 5 credit hours, which is roughly 2 to 3 courses.

If you need to add or delete courses to your degree plan for whatever reason, you may fill out a revision by filling out this form. Note that in order to graduate with your MS, your degree plan and transcript course listing should match EXACTLY.

(2). Required your core courses first. As you can see from the MS Chemistry Handbook (click here for a pdf copy), which can be found here, the courses will be two of the following courses for your first semester:

CHEM 6230/6231 Intermediate Analytical Chemistry Lecture and Lab (4 credits) 

CHEM 6100  Intermediate Organic Chemistry (3 credits)
CHEM 6300  Intermediate Physical Chemistry (3 credits)
CHEM 6400  Intermediate Inorganic Chemistry (3 credits)

You will not need to pay for these courses before the semester starts, but register for them to hold a spot. This is particularly important for those of you who have GTA assignments.  If you do not register for your classes in a timely manner, then it will be up to you to schedule in your classes so that they do not interfere with your teaching schedules.  

New, incoming students in the Spring semester should register for your courses by the first week of January. New, incoming student for the Fall semester as well as those students returning in the Fall semester, you should register before the last day of Final Exams in the Spring semester.  (You may refer to the MTSU Academic Calendar here.)

(3). Refer often to the MS Chemistry Handbook (vide supra). Keep up to date with the forms found therein, especially pages 10 and 11.  It is a good idea to have in mind prospective MS committee members when you interview faculty (page 10 of Handbook). When you get close to selecting a thesis committee this form should be filled out. Fill out the Advancement to Candidacy form when you have determined your thesis research project, obtain the appropriate signatures and hand to the MS coordinator.

(4). If you received a GTA, you must undergo safety training. If you are scheduled to teach a physical science or general chemistry section, you must attend training and instruction to be administered by Dr. Tammy Melton and Dr. Gary White roughly 1-2 weeks before the start of class; if you are a GTA for Organic Chemistry laboratories, Dr. Leah Martin will have special training sessions especially designed for you. The contact information of these professors are in the above hotlinks.  You will interact with these faculty during the course of your teaching assignment(s).

(5). Safety first: Be sure to follow all the rules and be diligent in instructing students in following them, i.e., as a GTA be sure that your students wear safety goggles, not wear open-toed shoes, etc. You may be subject to legal ramications should an accident occur, and  it is determined that you were negligent. For those of you who are international students, this is a chief reason for the minimum scores required for the English proficiency exams (e.g., TOEFL, IELTS).

On a related note, regarding your own research endeavors under the advisement of your major research professor, no experiment is work sacrificing your life or getting seriously injured. Be sure you are aware of all safety protocols in the research laboratory.

(6). If English is a second language for you, make sure you do the following when teaching labs.  The American students will know you are from a foreign country because of the accent. Don't be anxious about that. The key point in the teaching laboratory environment is to be clearly understood. Speak with enough volume to be heard, and slowly if necessary. There is a tendency to speak fast over words that are difficult to pronounce (perhaps in order to hide this weakness). This strategy does not work, and can make things worse.  When you come across words that are difficult to pronounce, there is no shame in slowing down. A mispronounced word spoken with intention at a clearly-heard volume is much more understandable than one said in a rushed manner at low volume. Student comprehension of what it is you are saying is important for safety in the teaching laboratory (see point #5 above).

(7). Scout the Chemistry graduate faculty research. Before selecting an advisor, take time to learn about their research by perusing their web pages (found here). If a faculty member happens to be presenting a research seminar (see point #8 below), that is a perfect time to see them and ask them about signing page 10 since can be considered a form of research discussion in his/her group.

(8). Pay attention to the seminar schedule. Click here to see the latest seminar schedule.  It is generally expected that all graduate students attend seminar, esp. those that are held on "dead hour", where there are no class or GTA duty conflict. Attendance will be taken and reported to faculty who may use this information for various purposes, such as assigning grades for CHEM 6640, scholarship and fellowship award decisions. You may lose your GTA position or assigned desk space in the write-up rooms if absences are deemed excessive.

(9). Communicate. Be sure to keep your major research professor in the loop of your research activities, and your thesis committee informed of your research activities, especially as you approach your thesis seminar defense. Your thesis defense seminar abstract should be approved by your thesis committee and advisor prior to submit it to the Chemistry seminar coordinator. 

(10). Learn to manage your time and  your energy. Being able to pursue your research research simultaneously along with coursework obligations and attending seminars is all part of the normal responsibilities of a graduate student. You will only be here for 2 years and should finish your MS thesis work at that time.  You are permitted up to 6 semesters of GTA support (including summer, which counts as a semester.) A 7th semester may be granted, but an appeal is required to do so.  

(11). Follow the appropriate time table. You should have the Degree Plan form submitted before the start of your first semester. Preferably before the start of your second semester, you should have already selected a major research professor and have already begun research work. In the middle of your 2nd semester, you should have selected your thesis committee (form on page 11 in the Handbook). Remember, not everything works the first time.  Leave room for trial and error. It is not uncommon to work on a project for months and learn that you have been going down the wrong path. That is why it's call re-search (as in 'again and again').

Prof. Jim Tour of Rice University (one of our past seminar speakers, and a well-known researcher) said of his field of nanotechnology, "Typically 90% of your research efforts will not work. But, you live for the 10% (that does)." This sentiment applies here. Leave ample time for you to make research mistakes that you can correct before you run out of research support (in the form of a GTA or research assistantship).

The Advancement to Candidacy form (see point #3 above) should be filled out and handed to the MS coordinator before your final semester.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Applying to the MS Chemistry Program

The following are answers to frequently asked questions from prospective students interested in applying to the  MS Chemistry program at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). 

(1). Where do I go to apply to the Master of Science Chemistry Program at MTSU?
To apply to the MS Chemistry program, go to this website, and follow the instructions therein.

(2). What are good scores to get on the Graduate Record Exam?
To be competitive, you should aim to achieve 50th percentile scores or higher on the Quantitative (which measures mathematical ability) and Verbal sections (which measures reading/critical thinking ability) and an Analytical Writing score of 3.0 or higher (click here to find out what this number means). 

The Chemistry MS committee, which reviews applicants will consider these scores along with other credentials you provide to make admissions decisions.  Note that these standards change from year to year for Verbal and Quantitative scores. To get an idea of "how good" your scores are, check the ETS web site.

(3). Is it required to have an undergraduate Chemistry degree to qualify for admission?  
No. A minor in Chemistry with additional coursework in Quantitative Chemical Analysis (CHEM 2300 at MTSU) will suffice.

(4). As an applicant, am I automatically considered for a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA)? 
No. Assistantships are considered separately.  To apply, fill out this form and email the pdf with signatures to graduate at mtsu dot edu (address disguised to cirvcumvent spammers). Admission into the program does not guarantee financial support. There are a limited number of spots, and applications for these positions are competitive. If you don't immediately get a GTA position (and if you qualify) you will be ranked based on your credentials and waiting listed.

The MS committee meets to discuss rankings for GTAs. It is possible to be accepted without support. It would be wise to include favorable, non-required items (e.g., letter of recommendation, etc.) in your application to maximize your ranking.

(5). As an international student (where English is not the official language) I am interested in obtaining a graduate teaching assistantship.  What credentials should I have to qualify for this support?  Is there a minimum TOEFL or IELTS score required?
If you are from any of the following non-US countries, an English proficiency exam is not requiredAustralia, Barbados, Botswana, Bermuda, Bahamas, Canada, Ireland, Ghana, Grenada, Guam, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad and Zimbabwe.

For those of you who are not in this category, the minimum requirement for TOEFL is a score of 21 on the speaking section or 6.5 on the IELTS speaking section.  These scores are required by the state for GTA. In the field of Chemistry where there are laboratory practicums involved, laboratory safety is paramount. Relevant to spoken English proficiency, we in the Chemistry department want to prevent accidents that may result from a misunderstanding of instructions given to students by the GTA. Furthermore, it is recommended that you have a total score of at least 39 on the TOEFL and a 12.5 on the IELTS.

One more important detail: do not forget to include the WES evaluation that converts your grades from your undergraduate university to U.S. grading standards.

(6). May I use an unofficial, non-US transcript for evaluation purposes?
International students must submit an evaluation for every non‐U.S. transcript before their application can be fully processed. You can see this requirement on the International Students Admissions page.  A list of accredited evaluation services can be found here

(7). What documents do the MS committee look for in considering an applicant for admission? 
The Chemistry MS committee examines your academic transcripts.  Did you take the correct courses to be considered? Do you have the appropriate undergraduate preparation in these subjects: general chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, biochemistry and analytical chemistry? Your grade point average will be examined as well as your GRE exams. If you are an international student, your English proficiency exams will be considered in the case mentioned in point #4 above. 

(8). What other materials can I submit to make my application more competitive? How do I get these items to be considered? 
Other documents that the MS committee may review include: statement of research interests, letters of recommendation from faculty, statement of purpose, resume or vita, published, refereed journal articles authored/co-authored by you. If you have a letter of recommendation from a current MTSU Chemistry faculty member expressing support, this can be especially helpfulTo ensure that these documents be considered in the application process, these should be emailed to: graduate at mtsu dot edu [email address disguised to circumvent spamming by robots].  

(9). Are there particularly good times to apply to the program?
The Chemistry department evaluates applicants on a rolling basis. Note that the MS committee also ranks applicants according to credentials for GTA spots. Preference is given for spring consideration from applications received by October 1st, and summer/fall consideration given for those applications received by March 1st.  

Although it is not required that you apply by these dates, the advantage of doing so is that there would be ample time for you to be considered for GTA positions for ranking purposes. An early application would permit more consultation time to improve your application.

(10). What is an "M number"? Is there a preferred venue for checking my admission status?  
When you apply and become a part of the MTSU community, you will be assigned a personal identification number known as the "M number", which will consist of the letter "M" followed by 8 digits.  You should also obtain an MTSU email account and begin using to communicate with various parties.  In some cases, there may be issues related to privacy of your personal records. To ensure that this information is protected, use your MTSU email address. I know personally of a case in which the email sender of a supposed student was not the student who I thought I was communicating with.

(11). Do you offer the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in "Chemistry"? A non-thesis master's degree?
At this time, no, for either of these options, but...

i) The Chemistry Department participates in various Science PhD programs, namely, in Molecular BiosciencesMath and Science Education, and Computational Sciences (see hotlinks herein).

ii) There has been discussion regarding a coursework-only option (e.g., a Master of Arts in Chemistry), but there are no concrete details at this time.  We are still researching the 'market interest' for it.  If there is an interest, please 'Post a Comment' below and let us know your thoughts.

(12). What research areas are available to me as I navigate through the MS program?
Check out the various faculty pages within the MS Chemistry program web site.  You may contact them regarding possible research opportunities.

Additional questions may be directed to the MS coordinator: chusuei (at) mtsu (dot) edu.