As undergraduates, many chemistry students find themselves enthralled with the world of research. In recent years, more than half of the department’s graduates have furthered their education in Ph.D. programs. Schools include Baylor University, Boston College, Brown University, Emory University, Harvard University, University of Illinois, Johns Hopkins University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Penn State University, Princeton University, Rutgers University, Stanford University, Tulane University, University of California–Davis, University of Vermont, University of Virginia, University of Wisconsin, and Yale University, among many others.
Some go on to medical/dental school programs in places such as Emory, Harvard, Maryland, Miami, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, SUNY College of Optometry, Temple, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, among others. Some pursue advanced degrees in teaching, law, or other nonscience professions.
For those who choose to apply their skills to industry or technical positions, chemistry graduates have landed in places such as Covance Pharmaceutical, Centacor Ortho Biotech, Church & Dwight, Clarix LLC, DuPont, Heraeus Materials Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Pharmco, Phase Forward, St. Luke’s Hospital, Southwestern Medical Center, Trevigen, Tyco Health, and Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.
The only question for Frank Bouchard Cortazar ’07 pertained to what kind of graduate work he would do after studying biochemistry at Lafayette.
At first, he thought he wanted to become a research biochemist. Once he figured out he would not have to abandon research altogether as a physician, the path to medical school was clear. Now, this former member of the Lafayette baseball team is studying medicine at the University of Miami. “I plan to work at an academic medical center, where I can divide my time between patient care and basic research,” he says.
He feels amply prepared for his coursework in medical school at the University of Miami. “The study of chemistry requires an investigative and analytical thought process that has served me well throughout medical school,” he says. “I would recommend the biochemistry major as the best possible preparation for any Lafayette student interested in becoming a physician.” Furthermore, he says, the professors “provide their students with unparalleled teaching, research opportunities, and mentorship.”
While at Lafayette, Katie Sokolowsky ’10 was both a Marquis Scholar and an EXCEL Scholar, which meant she had twice as many unique opportunities. Or was it four times that; she majored in math and chemistry. She says, “I was fortunate enough to be able to try my hand at research in two fields, mathematics and chemistry.”
One of her most valuable experiences, she says, was working in Professor Yvonne Gindt’s lab during the summer after her sophomore year. “The one-on-one attention combined with the push to become independent thinkers is a dynamite combination that a small, strong college like Lafayette has to offer,” she says.
Additionally, her work as a supplemental instructor at Lafayette provided good practice for serving as a teaching assistant in graduate school for chemistry at Stanford University. “I was able to prepare extra practice worksheets and hold office hours, learning chemistry better through trying to explain concepts to other students,” she says.
Hannah Tuson ’06 thinks that Lafayette’s chemistry department did “an excellent job” in preparing her for graduate school. She’s studying biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; specifically, her research involves determining how bacteria sense and respond to their environment.
In addition to praising the classes and professors, she says that one of the most key skills she acquired involved familiarizing herself with scientific literature. “Learning to read a scientific paper critically is more difficult than it seems at first, and is an invaluable skill in graduate school,” she says.
Her advice? Get involved in research, and the sooner the better. “One of the most important skills to have in scientific research is the ability to first think of an interesting question and then to design a really good experiment (or several) to answer that question. If you can learn to do that before you graduate, you will be ahead of the game going into graduate school.”
James Vasta ’10 echoes much of the advice of these alumni. He was a Goldwater Scholarship winner who contributed to 13 research articles as an undergraduate, working most closely with Joseph Sherma in chemistry and Bernard Fried in biology. He’s studying for his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. However, when it comes to how he feels about Lafayette, Vasta looks at the bigger picture.
He says that the liberal arts part of his Lafayette experience was equally important. After taking a course called “Intro to World Music Traditions” taught by Larry Stockton, he developed a keen interest in percussion. Lafayette’s curriculum provides freedom to pursue interests, and so he joined a percussion ensemble on campus, an experience he says “was just as rewarding as my scientific research. Put simply, I do not believe that many other institutions could provide an education as rigorous and holistic as that provided by Lafayette College.”