ACCESS shows grad school’s rigors and rewards

MIT Campus News

On a crisp weekend in mid-October, 24 ambitious undergraduates from across the country arrived on the MIT campus for a program pitching the benefits of a graduate education in chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science. This program, called ACCESS, aims to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in graduate programs at MIT and other research institutions.

Among this cohort were nine chemical engineering students nominated by faculty from Stanford University, the University of North Carolina, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Houston.

“Many of these students may not understand what a doctoral degree enables them to do,” says Paula Hammond, the David H. Koch Chair Professor of Engineering and the head of the Department of Chemical Engineering. “The ACCESS program is intended to get students excited about the opportunities open to them by pursuing an advanced degree.”

To construct a vivid and detailed picture of a graduate career, the three-day ACCESS program offers a series of instructive panels, meet-and-greets with current graduate students, and networking opportunities with faculty and staff. 

The visiting students stepped inside labs to speak with leading faculty researchers and with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, who play central roles in developing research topics, shaping experimental protocols, and reporting results. Through a communications workshop, the students had a chance to work on presentation skills they would likely draw on as members of research groups, and they received advice from admissions staff on the requirements for a successful graduate application in chemical engineering.

The student visitors learned about industry experience offered through the David H. Koch Practice School, and attended a panel discussion led by alumni who described their experiences in graduate school at MIT.

Hammond touched base with some of the participants at lunch, conveying experiences from her own career. She worked in industry right after college, then after two years went to graduate school.

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