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.