Student-run mentorship program helps Ph.D. applicants

Lauren Smith

Nov 3, 2023

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Source: Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Graduate students in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Chemical Engineering are supporting those following in their footsteps.

The Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association (ChEGSA) offers a mentorship program to all prospective applicants to the Ph.D. program in chemical engineering, particularly those who may face unique challenges in their pursuit of higher education. The program, in its third year, is led this year by ChEGSA DEI co-chairs Carolina Colombo Tedesco and Mayra Gonzalez.

Both Colombo Tedesco and Gonzalez are second-year Ph.D. students in chemical engineering. Their experiences navigating the application process as international students help them empathize with applicants from diverse backgrounds who may face obstacles in accessing educational opportunities and resources. With the mentorship program, ChEGSA is actively working to remove these barriers, especially for individuals who identify as from underrepresented groups, and create an inclusive environment where every student can thrive.

As a department and community, we need to reach out and say, ‘Yes, it’s possible.’

Carolina Colombo Tedesco, Ph.D. student, Chemical Engineering

"Some students may not see themselves in graduate school at all, or at CMU. As a department and community, we need to reach out and say, 'Yes, it's possible,'" says Colombo Tedesco. "We want people to know they have the opportunity," adds Gonzalez. "Mentees receive an application fee waiver, so they know they get the chance, and they will have someone to help them."

Applicants are paired with a current ChemE graduate student who has volunteered as a mentor. The pairs spend at least one hour in conversation before the application deadline. Mentors review and provide constructive feedback on their mentee's CV and application essays. Mentees will also receive an application fee waiver.

Prospective applicants for fall 2024 admission who are interested in being paired with a mentor should fill out this form by November 24, 2023. Early application to the mentorship program is encouraged because spots in the program are limited.

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Andrew Ashmar met his application mentor Arsh Bhatia in-person at the open house for accepted Ph.D. students last year.

First-year Ph.D. student Andrew Ashmar participated in the program last year. His mentor was Arsh Bhatia, now a second-year Ph.D. student. They both emphasize the value of having someone alongside you through the application process.

"I have a huge family, but nobody has pursued an advanced degree in anything STEM-related," says Ashmar. "As a student from an underrepresented background, when I decided I wanted to get a Ph.D., I had no idea how to approach the process."

"This program offers perspective and advice from someone who has successfully gone through the process," says Bhatia.

Ashmar remembers talking to Bhatia about finding schools that are the right fit. "That really helped me finalize my list of where I was applying, which had been one of the bigger challenges for me," says Ashmar.

While ChEGSA's mentorship program has no connection to the admissions process, Ashmar says it helped him to understand what schools were looking for in an application.

"We are offering informal help. It's not like an interview. Mentees aren't being evaluated and shouldn't need to prepare," says Colombo Tedesco. "It's an open, honest conversation with a grad student who has been through this not so long ago."

Current ChemE graduate students who are interested in volunteering as a mentor should fill out this short form by November 24, 2023. Any graduate student in the department (Ph.D. or master's, all years) can be a mentor.