The Alchemy of Advising

Graduate students in the chemistry department take the intensity of their lives for granted. While undergraduates enjoy three long months of summer vacation, their graduate counterparts say they are lucky if they can escape the lab for two weeks.

But sometimes intensity can be too much, and over the past year the Chemistry Department has implemented a nine-point plan to improve the quality of life for overworked chemistry students.

The process began last summer, when simmering problems with the Chemistry Department's advising system came to head. Jason D. Altom, a fifth-year graduate student, committed suicide last August and blamed the department for failing to provide him with adequate support.

In the wake of Altom's death, Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology James G. Anderson began the process of improving advising and other services for chemistry graduate students.


Now, one year later, members of the department say that the changes have been successfully implemented and, for the most part, have had a wonderful effect on the students.

"A lot of people here feel the administration is doing a good job to turn things around and make it a more pleasant place," says Laurie Deiner, a second-year grad student. "You certainly feel cared about and that your problems will be addressed."

Forging Bonds

According to Anderson, the changes to the Chemistry Department can be broken down into two categories, both aimed to improve relations between professors and students.

The department has improved both the advising structure and the physical structure of the Mallinckrodt Laboratory, the hub of chemistry at Harvard to make them more conducive to communication and camaraderie.

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