Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Now that I've been accepted into the MS Chemistry program...

Maze, Hedge Maze, Green, Lost, Labyrinth

what are the first things I should know and do?
Navigating the jungle:
(1). Be sure to fill out your 'Degree Plan' to the graduate school in consultation with the MS coordinator. His office is located in SCI 3065. The form to be completed can be found here. This action is required before the beginning of 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. 

(2). First, register for your required core courses. 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.

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