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Department of Chemistry Graduate Chemistry Society

Incoming/ First Year Resources

Incoming/ First Year Resources

Transitioning from undergrad to starting graduate school? We’ve all been there and been just as confused about the process. Here are a few things you need to know when starting your graduate degree with us:


How do I find where to live?

Luckily, we have a list of some apartments where grad students from our department live for you to consider. Some graduate students also rent a house together if they know each other very well.

  • WSU Housing
    • relatively low cost and close to campus (a short walk or express bus ride)
    • Steptoe is the only complex that allows roommates and/or pets
    • If you plan to move with a significant other, you must be married to live together
  • DabCO
    • has many different properties in apartment land
    • most on the express bus routes
    • Birch Hills is the only one that allows pets
  • DRA
    • many different complexes and houses
    • spread out around town, some are on military hill (on the same side of Grand by Dismores), some near apartment land (near Valley road)
  • Coug Housing
    • mostly aimed towards undergrads
    • most properties located on College Hill, close to Greek Row
  • Cougar Ridge-
    • allows pets and has air conditioning
    • on the express bus routes
  • Most grad students move at the start of their second year, so if you aren’t a huge fan of where you live during your first year, that’s normal! You’ll see many different complexes during your first year as you hang out with other students and get an idea of where you want to live next.

Applying for Residency:

During the start of your second year, you will have to apply for residency if you aren’t already a Washington resident. You need to begin that process as soon as you move. What do you need to do?

  • Get a Washington driver’s license or ID. How do I do that?
  • Register your car with WA
    • You need your WA license first
  • Register to vote (this can be done when you get your drivers license)
  • Lease agreement (you can ask for this from your apartment complex, you need to show that you’ve lived in Washington uninterrupted for a year)
  • In the spring, file your taxes as independent (this means your parents can’t claim you on their taxes)
  • Bank statements– not required, but help in establishing you’ve made your home in Washington

All these items must be completed by the end of August your first semester here so that you have been an established resident of Washington for a year when you apply for residency. For an idea of what the graduate school requires, go here. To apply for residency, you will need to turn in this questionnaire along with documentation to the graduate school (French admin) by the 30th day of classes in your second year.


How do I pick an advisor?

Picking an advisor is a big decision that is the first big step in your degree. Here’s what to consider, good and bad:

  • Pick a division: AER, Pchem, organic, inorganic, CBS, materials– this will narrow down the classes you will take and the advisors that align with your interests, however, don’t be afraid to look outside of your division!
  • The average PhD in this department lasts 5 years (it varies group to group and division to division), so you need to pick an advisor who you can see yourself realistically working with for that long
  • You won’t spend 5 years with your group members, but you will have close interactions with them and need to get along with them as well. They will be able to give you a better picture of what it is like working for that boss. Ask multiple group members–it will help you determine if there are favorites
  • When you are trying to join a group, the group members themselves will not tell you the things they dislike. Ask other people in the same division for any red flags before you join. However keep in mind, some aspects someone might think is a negative thing, might be a plus for you– your needs will be different from other grad students
  • Read this article about joining toxic groups
  • Ask your potential advisor these questions before you fully join, you need to interview them as well!
    • What happens if the advisor leaves the university (accepts an offer elsewhere, moves to industry, doesn’t get tenure, etc)? Will you be able to move with them, or find another group to finish out your degree? What if this happens at any point during your degree?
    • How is it decided who is put on TA vs RA when funding for RA positions are limited?
    • How long is the typical PhD in your group? How many people leave with a masters vs. a PhD?
    • What are the typical jobs people get after leaving the group? How long is it before people find jobs? (Do people get postdocs or positions in national labs? Go into industry? Postdoc in academia?)
    • What is expected in terms of manuscripts before graduation? How often do manuscripts come out of the group? How much of the writing process would I be expected to be responsible for?
    • How much time do you have to allocate to helping your PhD students?
    • How have you handled the COVID situation in your group? Have you advised everyone to work from home as much as possible? Are they expected to be in lab every day under the lockdown? What about social distancing/scheduling protocols? Is there any enforcement/repercussions for group members that don’t follow the rules?
    • There are more questions you should ask group members and your potential advisor here in this guide by ade_lady on twitter


I joined a group and I’m having second thoughts if it was the right decision…

You don’t have to leave with a masters degree; you can see if there is another group you can join that works better for you. Don’t be afraid to look outside the department as well– some chemistry grad students have advisors in the materials science and chemical engineering departments. If left with no other options, you can always transfer universities, but this is a very, very rare case.


Advice for being a TA (and juggling classes… and joining a research group)

Some people have teaching experience before graduate school, others don’t. While TA training is a good starting point, it won’t cover everything. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Stay on top of grading– for 2 sections, it piles up quickly. Usually, there is a deadline for when grades need to be entered for each lab, but do not wait until last minute or let it pile up until the end of the semester
  • You will get faster at grading over time. You learn what you look for and prioritize with practice.
  • Remember that your students are students— they have lives and other classes out of your section. If you’re having a bad week (you have exams, didn’t get grading done), be honest with them
  • Be honest with your PI about your workload– if you have a lot of grading and classwork that needs to be done, research may be postponed for a bit
  • Don’t expect to study the same way as you did in undergrad and have it work. You have more responsibilities now and need to manage your time wisely; it will be a learning process and that’s ok. Figure out what works for you.
  • That’s not to say don’t do any research– try to get as much as you reasonably can, even if it’s just a little bit. Your first semester is going to mostly be getting used to your research group and WSU. Don’t expect to have a paper ready within that time.


Is there anything else I need to know?

  • You will not receive your first paycheck for about a month after you get here. Your first week “on the job” is TA training (the week before the fall semester starts), make sure that you budget accordingly
  • If you don’t have a car with you in Pullman, you want to familiarize yourself with the bus system. If you plan on driving, you need a parking pass and familiarize yourself with the parking maps and the special conditions where you don’t need a permit to drive to campus. If you plan on walking, prepare to walk uphill both ways, in the snow in winter.
  • You will owe roughly $1500 in fees at the start of the semester that isn’t covered by your stipend. You can either pay it all at once or sign up for payroll reduction where a small portion of that is taken out of your paycheck over the semester
  • You need at least one friend ASAP- not just an acquaintance, someone you can vent, cry, laugh, and celebrate with.
  • Develop a work-life balance and don’t rush your degree: trying to get everything done in as little time as possible is the best path to burnout and eventually leaving your degree. As long as you are making progress, do not fret. Also do not feel guilty for taking breaks when you need it. Watch that movie, take a day to go hiking or get out of Pullman, spend the night playing games with friends, take an occasional vacation. Your mental health will thank you in the long run.