Sophia Robinson graduated from DePaul in 2015 with a BS/MS in Chemistry. Here she reflects back on her academic career at DePaul University’s Department of Chemistry with Associate Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Lihua Jin.
Accomplished: DePaul University, BS/MS Chemistry 2015
Current: University of Utah, Organic chemistry graduate student
Jin: How has your MS study at DePaul helped you reach where you are now, a PhD student at a top research lab in the country?
Robinson: As an undergraduate, I switched my major to chemistry in the winter quarter of my junior year because I was enjoying my biochemistry class so much. I realized I wanted to have a career in chemistry but felt I had not yet put enough time in at the bench to commit to a PhD program. With more experience in the lab, I became confident that I had the passion for research and personal drive to succeed in a PhD program.
Having an MS was somewhat advantageous for my graduate school applications as it showed my commitment to my education and that despite additional years of study after undergrad; I was still passionate about chemistry and research. Chemistry PhD programs are making an investment in their students and as an applicant it is important to demonstrate your passion for research, chemistry, and that you have the drive to not only finish the program but hopefully make important contributions to science during your time there.
Jin: What aspects of your MS study at DePaul have been the most beneficial to you for your growth as a graduate student?
Robinson: By far the most beneficial aspect of my MS study was my research experience. The MS program gave me the opportunity to have my own research project with more independence and also the valuable experience of writing a thesis. Having written a MS thesis, I feel better prepared for how to approach my PhD dissertation and most importantly, stay organized to keep putting the whole story together much easier.
The graduate courses I took at DePaul made me better prepared for the courses I am taking now which means it takes less time to master concepts in more courses and thus more time for applying for fellowships and focusing on research. The summer chemistry journal club is a really great thing to be involved in and DePaul chemistry has a lot of opportunities for you to hone your public speaking skills. Being able to talk about science, present your research to an audience, and answer any questions is essential. For many people public speaking is difficult, but taking advantage of any opportunity to present your research or an article is going to help you improve as a public speaker.
While I was at DePaul I also had the opportunity to attend multiple conferences and present my research which was a great experience. I gave a flash talk and presented a poster at the 28th Annual Gibbs Conference on Biothermodynamics in Carbondale, IL. I also had posters at the 2014 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Conference in San Diego and the 2014 Yao Yuan Biotech-Pharma Conference held at IIT in Chicago. I received a travel grant through the College of Science & Health to help cover the cost of traveling to the ASBMB conference.
Jin: What advice would you give to the current and future graduate students of DePaul Chemistry?
Robinson: Your professors are extremely valuable resources. The professors want to help you and see you succeed. Take the time to think through problems on your own; don’t just consult the internet right when you get stuck. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you don’t like to ask questions in front of the class, go to office hours. I am the type of person that likes to work alone and figure things out on my own, but you can end up wasting time if you are too reluctant or proud to seek help.
My first few years of undergrad I didn’t talk to my professors much at all and never went to office hours. If I had started going to office hours sooner and engaging in conversation with my professors about applications of the concepts I was learning in class, I think I would have gotten involved in research sooner. Talk to them about their experiences during their graduate studies, postdocs, and job search. They have had experiences, good and bad, that you can learn from and that will help you make better decisions when you encounter similar situations.
Also, sleep is important, don’t underestimate its value.
Jin: Is there anything you wish you have done differently while in the program? Or is there anything about the program you wish would change in order to maximize the learning and training for the graduate student?
Robinson: My one regret is not joining a research group sooner in my undergraduate career. My research experience at DePaul helped me realize what type of research I was most interested in and I wish I would have figured that out sooner. If you have any interest in research, I strongly recommend you try to join a lab and get some experience to see if it is right for you. I always wished more courses were available each quarter so I could select my courses based on interest rather than meeting requirements, but the number of courses is based on the demand and this is a common complaint in many graduate programs.
Thanks to Sophia for the candid interview. We wish you the best in your studies at University of Utah.