Applying 411

Another! interview with a graduate scholar

It’s always good to get multiple perspectives on the graduate school application process. That’s why we have asked current scholar Maddie Dekarske to answer questions her experience applying to graduate school in chemistry. Maddie is a third year scholar in the Wuest Group. She received an NSF GRFP Honorable Mention in 2018. She is a member of AWIS and an accomplished researcher–read about her work slaying superbugs in this recent Emory News feature!

Q. What made you decide to apply to Emory?

I attended a small, women’s college in Atlanta, but for graduate school, I wanted to move out of the South; however, upon scanning through Emory’s Department of Chemistry’s website, I saw multiple faculty members that piqued my interest. This solidified my decision to apply.

Q. How did you choose Emory over other schools?

Emory Chemistry swept me off my feet! At recruitment weekend, the Department of Chemistry was transparent in their expectations for future graduate students, and the graduate students seemed genuinely happy. Furthermore, the Department gave off the vibe that there was a real community here, which as a Third Year graduate student, I can definitely attest to (peep that Community Coffee Break with the Wuest Lab bake-off).

Q. What was the most challenging part of the application process?

For me, the most challenging part was putting words to paper. I struggled with how I could describe myself that showcases my achievements without sounding trite. So, I wrote and told myself that I wasn’t allowed to use the backspace button, because bad writing is better than no writing. Then, I walked away from it. Later, I came back, proofed my essay, and took it to my undergrad’s Center for Writing and Speaking for edits.

Q. Now that you’re in grad school, what have you done to be successful? What do you think successful grad students have in common?

Goals, communication, and patience. A PhD is a marathon—not a sprint. I set goals every day and think about how I will move my project forward that day, but I also have larger goals, such as project deadlines, taking on an undergrad, industry internships, etc. However, I recognize that setting and keeping goals will only propel me so far. In my opinion, communication and patience are also cornerstones of success. We seek to share our science effectively, but navigating difficult conversations with our peers and PIs is important too. Plus, having patience with others—and yourself—is key to healthy grad school habits and good lab dynamics.

Q. Is there anything you wish you had known before applying to graduate school?

My undergraduate training was at a small women’s college where we didn’t even have research labs to join. I obtained research experience through external opportunities, but there was still some lab/group culture that others understood and that I felt like I missed. I wish I had known how to interact with PIs because I’ve found that this is wildly different than my experiences with professors in undergrad.

Q. Do you have any tips for students starting the application process?

Start early and proof your work! Starting early enables you to take time away from your essay/answers, come back, and catch things that you would not have caught otherwise (e.g. awkward wording, colloquial speech, active-passive mixings, etc). Plus, it gives your letter writers more time too, so that they can give you that marvelous(!) letter.

Next in Applying 411: Understanding teaching opportunities during graduate school