Researching physics programs

eddiemon
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Researching physics programs

Postby eddiemon » Tue Oct 26, 2010 2:02 pm

I've recently started seriously thinking about which schools I'm going to apply to. I knew a long time ago I was going to grad school for physics, but hadn't thought about school selection.

I have a rough list (~20) of schools I am interested in, but I'm a little lost as to how I should go about researching different programs (strengths, weaknesses). The best I can do now, is look up the faculty list and their research interests, publications, etc. I'm looking for something a little more in depth than simple rankings.

I know it sounds vague, but I would appreciate any general advice regardless. Thanks a bunch.

Note: I tried searching the forums, but didn't come across anything that fit what I had in mind. Not all schools have meaningful profiles here at physicsGRE.com.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby HappyQuark » Tue Oct 26, 2010 2:25 pm

eddiemon wrote:I've recently started seriously thinking about which schools I'm going to apply to. I knew a long time ago I was going to grad school for physics, but hadn't thought about school selection.

I have a rough list (~20) of schools I am interested in, but I'm a little lost as to how I should go about researching different programs (strengths, weaknesses). The best I can do now, is look up the faculty list and their research interests, publications, etc. I'm looking for something a little more in depth than simple rankings.

I know it sounds vague, but I would appreciate any general advice regardless. Thanks a bunch.

Note: I tried searching the forums, but didn't come across anything that fit what I had in mind. Not all schools have meaningful profiles here at physicsGRE.com.


In case you didn't see this uber sexy thread created by an equally sexy member of the forum, it is highly recommended by everyone who has laid eyes upon it and also many who haven't.

viewtopic.php?f=21&t=3453

As for forming a more in depth opinion of schools, the best you can generally hope to do is learn about the faculty and their research via their departmental website and ArXiV, SPIRES, etc. Here is how I went about making my choices

Step 1: Eliminate schools in areas I would refuse to live in. I know most people recommend not letting location dictate your choices but there is no way in hell I'm going to live in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, or Kentucky (among many others).

Step 2: Eliminate schools with a below average number of faculty in the area you are interested in. There is no guarantee that when you get to grad school that you will get to work with the professor you want on the project you want and even if you did, many people change their minds and decide to pursue different topics. You will want to make sure that there is enough faculty that you will have options if this happens. It also tends to be the case that those departments with a large number of faculty in a certain area are also doing some of the better research in that field.

Step 3: Eliminate schools which work in the area of your specific interest to a lesser degree. As an example, it has been my experience that if you want to do research in HEP-EX, you are almost definitely going to be working on either ATLAS, DZero, CMS, BaBar or T2K and Super-K. Most programs have their hand in every pot to at least a small extent and they will claim that they are working in this area when, in reality, they only made some minor contributions. Make sure that if you want to work on ATLAS, for example, that all of your choices have a significant number of faculty working in the area. Additionally, pick a couple of second choices and make sure that the faculty supports those to a good extent as well.

Step 4: Read a bunch of papers by faculty at institutions still in your list and figure out which research you find most interesting and which research your skills and experiences will work best with.

pymtab
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby pymtab » Tue Oct 26, 2010 3:25 pm

good,
now tell me where I can find time for all of this (among gre's, a full time job, SOP writing, soliciting letters of recommendation (and sometimes writing them on behalf of the recommender), doing some research on the side in a nearby institution, and filling forms for a dozen or so universities)

tut tut
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby tut tut » Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:06 pm

Better get started.

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grae313
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby grae313 » Wed Oct 27, 2010 10:07 pm

...which is why most people do this over the summer.

ashowmega
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby ashowmega » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:49 pm

Step 1: Eliminate schools in areas I would refuse to live in. I know most people recommend not letting location dictate your choices but there is no way in hell I'm going to live in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, or Kentucky (among many others).


Come on man, Kentucky has been home to me for last 3 yrs! :)

People are nice and everything, but yeah, can't wait to finish college and get outta' here!

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:18 pm

pymtab wrote:good,
now tell me where I can find time for all of this (among gre's, a full time job, SOP writing, soliciting letters of recommendation (and sometimes writing them on behalf of the recommender), doing some research on the side in a nearby institution, and filling forms for a dozen or so universities)


Oh, you're right... Why not ask someone on this forum to slave away for you? I think if you can't find the time to figure this stuff out yourself then you need to rethink graduate studies.

-Riley

pymtab
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby pymtab » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:51 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:
pymtab wrote:good,
now tell me where I can find time for all of this (among gre's, a full time job, SOP writing, soliciting letters of recommendation (and sometimes writing them on behalf of the recommender), doing some research on the side in a nearby institution, and filling forms for a dozen or so universities)


Oh, you're right... Why not ask someone on this forum to slave away for you? I think if you can't find the time to figure this stuff out yourself then you need to rethink graduate studies.

-Riley


Hopefully I won't have an additional full time job during grad school.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Oct 29, 2010 8:06 am

pymtab wrote:
Hopefully I won't have an additional full time job during grad school.


Hmm, my opinion is that Graduate School + Part Time Job with assistantship > Undergraduate School + Full Time Job.

-Riley

eddiemon
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby eddiemon » Tue Nov 02, 2010 1:34 pm

Thanks for the response HappyQuark. That was really useful. Now if only someone with the exact same interests as I would make a sweet spreadsheet like yours.. :P

I can certainly relate to pymtab: I'm taking 7 undergrad courses and have 2 part time jobs (12 hours per week) this semester. It was really stupid for me not to do a lot of this over the summer. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to deal with it.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Nov 02, 2010 3:36 pm

eddiemon wrote:Thanks for the response HappyQuark. That was really useful. Now if only someone with the exact same interests as I would make a sweet spreadsheet like yours.. :P

I can certainly relate to pymtab: I'm taking 7 undergrad courses and have 2 part time jobs (12 hours per week) this semester. It was really stupid for me not to do a lot of this over the summer. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to deal with it.


Positive attitude. (:

I have to admit I also used the same line of approach as HappyQuark. It was easiest to eliminate places I couldn't see myself being happy for 6 years. Sorry for anyone from North Dakota, but I couldn't see myself enjoying that atmosphere.

-Riley

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HappyQuark
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby HappyQuark » Tue Nov 02, 2010 3:49 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
eddiemon wrote:Thanks for the response HappyQuark. That was really useful. Now if only someone with the exact same interests as I would make a sweet spreadsheet like yours.. :P

I can certainly relate to pymtab: I'm taking 7 undergrad courses and have 2 part time jobs (12 hours per week) this semester. It was really stupid for me not to do a lot of this over the summer. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to deal with it.


Positive attitude. (:

I have to admit I also used the same line of approach as HappyQuark. It was easiest to eliminate places I couldn't see myself being happy for 6 years. Sorry for anyone from North Dakota, but I couldn't see myself enjoying that atmosphere.

-Riley


Just thinking about North Dakota makes me gag! I had to work in this tiny podunk town in ND, just south of the Canadian border and it was tortorous. You'd have to be a complete masochist to spend any time there, let alone live there, under your own free will.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby WhoaNonstop » Tue Nov 02, 2010 6:44 pm

Lmao. So I'm assuming you live somewhere close to North Dakota? I'm in Nebraska... Not bad, but not preferred place to live.

-Riley

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HappyQuark
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby HappyQuark » Tue Nov 02, 2010 7:26 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:Lmao. So I'm assuming you live somewhere close to North Dakota? I'm in Nebraska... Not bad, but not preferred place to live.

-Riley


No, I'm in the Mountain west. Think Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Montana area.

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LoronDotCom
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby LoronDotCom » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:00 pm

good,
now tell me where I can find time for all of this (among gre's, a full time job, SOP writing, soliciting letters of recommendation (and sometimes writing them on behalf of the recommender), doing some research on the side in a nearby institution, and filling forms for a dozen or so universities)


Being in a similar situation, I had to get in on this..


Dude, you're almost there! GRE's should already be done or will be done in a week so that's basically a non-issue at this point.

You shouldn't be writing any letters of rec for yourself on behalf of someone else.. Ethically that's not cool, and not really fair to you either, is that sort of thing common?

I recommend getting a significant other or trusted family member to help you fill out all the application garbage. It's just data entry and if they have a link to your school's website and your transcript they can do almost everything, which will free up your time to write the SOP.

The worst part of the whole thing is the damn full-time job. Because of that it means to do everything you just have to sacrifice sleep. :cry: I'm a big fan of 10 minute power naps. And if you can sleep on the can it's the best because no one's going to question you if they think you have a BM problem. :o

I think I can out-do your self-pity party though. I lose at least 1 precious weekend of study time every month because my biggest supporter (i.e. best friend, i.e. husband) already got accepted to a physics grad program out of state and lives 500 miles away! Getting back the point of the thread though.. that helped a lot in narrowing down my potential programs. ;)

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grae313
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby grae313 » Wed Nov 03, 2010 1:12 pm

LoronDotCom wrote:You shouldn't be writing any letters of rec for yourself on behalf of someone else..


Nope, this is actually accepted and common practice. Lazy-ass professors have you write your letter of rec (most are kind enough to provide a template or example from past students) and then you submit it to them and they edit it (maybe completely, who knows). You never see the final version.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby WhoaNonstop » Wed Nov 03, 2010 1:17 pm

LoronDotCom wrote:You shouldn't be writing any letters of rec for yourself on behalf of someone else..


Yep, I know one professor who does this at my school. I'd say it is fairly common. I'd assume, however, that these are typically recommendations that may not have as much weight.

-Riley

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grae313
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby grae313 » Wed Nov 03, 2010 1:36 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
LoronDotCom wrote:You shouldn't be writing any letters of rec for yourself on behalf of someone else..


Yep, I know one professor who does this at my school. I'd say it is fairly common. I'd assume, however, that these are typically recommendations that may not have as much weight.

-Riley


What do you base that on? My research adviser for a year and a half asked me to do this and I wrote mine based on an example he provided me from a previous student. In grad school when I was applying for an NSF fellowship, I asked the admissions secretary which of my three letters they found to be the strongest (so that I could ask that person again for a letter) and they said by far it was that one. My guess is that this has much more to do with the fact that he was writing about my research potential whereas my other letters were from people I did not do research with, but still. I don't think your assumption is valid. I ended up asking this person for a letter for my NSF application and I'm sure he basically recycled my grad school letter because that dude is suuuuuper lazy, and my fellowship application was successful.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby HappyQuark » Wed Nov 03, 2010 1:38 pm

grae313 wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote:
LoronDotCom wrote:You shouldn't be writing any letters of rec for yourself on behalf of someone else..


Yep, I know one professor who does this at my school. I'd say it is fairly common. I'd assume, however, that these are typically recommendations that may not have as much weight.

-Riley


What do you base that on? My research adviser for a year and a half asked me to do this and I wrote mine based on an example he provided me from a previous student. In grad school when I was applying for an NSF fellowship, I asked the admissions secretary which of my three letters they found to be the strongest (so that I could ask that person again for a letter) and they said by far it was that one. My guess is that this has much more to do with the fact that I was writing about my research potential whereas my other letters were from people I did not do research with, but still. I don't think your assumption is valid. I ended up asking this person for a letter for my NSF application and I'm sure he basically recycled my grad school letter because that dude is suuuuuper lazy, and my fellowship application was successful.


I made a minor correction to your statement :wink:

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Researching physics programs

Postby WhoaNonstop » Wed Nov 03, 2010 5:23 pm

Let me rephrase what I said. I agree with you my assumption isn't correct but I'm not sure one case could prove this either way. I was making a bad assumption based on the professors I know at my school who do this. Anyways, I think writing your own recommendation letter is unethical.

-Riley




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