Traditionally in the chemistry field, the pursuit of a graduate degree meant bypassing a master’s and going straight for a doctorate, explained Jimmy Franco, chair of Merrimack College’s chemistry and biochemistry department.
But a changing landscape of more chemists opting to enter industry rather than academia has made a master’s degree more sought after.
“There is a lot of excitement right now in chemistry around research-intensive master’s degrees and how they can provide a leg up in the job-search process,” said Franco, who is also a professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
In response to these changes, Merrimack College has launched a master’s in applied chemistry that will welcome its first cohort in fall 2023. This 11-month, research-focused graduate program will provide students extensive, hands-on lab experience and teaching opportunities. Students in the inaugural class will also receive presidential fellowships which covers 100 percent of tuition.
“What makes this program unique is the students will serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate labs,” Franco noted. “This provides the graduate students with leadership opportunities, being in charge of a room, presenting and explaining chemistry and science to a large group. It will embed those soft skills they will need in the workforce along with science and research skills.”
A key initiative in Merrimack College’s strategic plan, the Agenda for the Future, is to invest, promote and encourage expansion into graduate education and better support and incentivize research. This new program helps to fulfill that initiative in a number of ways.
“It will certainly help us grow into that university model,” Franco said. “As we were planning this program, we asked ourselves how this would best fit in Merrimack’s growth and help us become a more research-active department.”
In recent years, Merrimack College has made extensive additions to its science and research ecosystem, highlighted by the opening in fall 2022 of the state-of-the-art Center for Innovation and Research in Engineering and Computational Sciences. This facility at 510 and 530 Turnpike St. added more than 25,000 square feet to the campus footprint, and houses a myriad of labs, collaborative workspaces and classrooms for students and faculty.
Franco added Merrimack is uniquely positioned to provide graduate students with the facilities, tools and support more typically found at larger research institutions, but at a more personal level.
“We are big enough to have all the opportunities students will need, but still small enough for students to really connect with their professors and get extensive hands-on experience,” he said. “This program is really going to give students a competitive edge in the job market.”