Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Drakon
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Joined: Wed Feb 20, 2013 3:59 pm

Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Drakon » Wed Feb 20, 2013 4:32 pm

Hey guys!

I have been recently accepted by some schools for a PhD in Physics, more specifically in Theoretical Cosmology. However, I have some doubts about which school to choose. Mainly because I am afraid of not being able to work with the kind of research that I was expecting to develop.

I am aware that a great deal of research in Cosmology deals with data analysis (such as the study of Super Novas or the CMB in order to place constraints to some cosmological parameters, among other activities). On the other hand, there is also research that deals with more theoretical questions (such as phase transitions during inflation, quantum field theory in curved space-time, etc.). In addition, it is clear that these research activities are all connected, since they all study the same field that is Cosmology. In my case, although I do have some work experience in programming which could be useful in data analysis, I am particularly more interested in the second kind of research that I've described above.

Having said that about my research interest, the problem lies in the research characteristics of the shcools. Although some of the schools I have been accepted are better ranked than the others, their research seems to be more focused in data analysis. (It doesn't mean that there are no faculty members doing theoretical research, in fact there are some.). The problem is that, I am afraid of not being able to work with those faculty members who develop theoretical research and, consequently, end up getting frustrated with my PhD program. Is that even a possibility? Is it possible that that those faculty members wouldn't have room to advise another student? Should I choose a lower-ranked school which develops mainly theoretical research and be sure of what I'm going to work with or should I aim for the higher ranked school?

Thank you very much, guys!
Last edited by Drakon on Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

TakeruK
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Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Feb 20, 2013 5:35 pm

These are important questions to consider and I think you should talk to the profs at the schools you're considering and ask them if they would/could take you. Are you coming for a visit? That would be a really good time to get a feel for how likely you are able to work on the project you want. In fact, the main thing we talked about during prof-student meetings during my visits was "if I came here and worked for you, what would I be working on?". It's no guarantee that you will get to do exactly what you had discussed, but you'll at least know if they are even considering getting grad students for your particular research interests. In addition, you can meet the other prospective students and judge whether or not there will be a lot of people interested in the same topics. I would actually recommend keeping in touch with the other students you visit with and updating each other on your decisions.

Drakon
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Joined: Wed Feb 20, 2013 3:59 pm

Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Drakon » Wed Feb 20, 2013 5:52 pm

Thank you for your reply, TakeruK.

Unfortunately, since I am an international student, I won't be able to visit any of the schools before accepting an offer. So I guess my only option is to contact the professors I would like to work with in order to assess if they would be able to advise me or not. Is this standard procedure among prospective students? Is there any chance this could be seen as a bad practice by the Professors?

I have also been checking faculty publications on ArXiv and also reading the information available on the Departments websites. I hope that will be helpful as well... :/

Lavabug
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Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Lavabug » Wed Feb 20, 2013 7:20 pm

Drakon wrote:
I have also been checking faculty publications on ArXiv and also reading the information available on the Departments websites. I hope that will be helpful as well... :/

This is good. I would go by what the profs and their grad students have been publishing recently.

Also maybe you could arrange a phone call/interview with potential advisors at the schools you received admission.

Robespierre
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Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Robespierre » Wed Feb 20, 2013 8:14 pm

My research interest is almost exactly the same as yours. Cosmology, but with an emphasis on inflation and other fundamental theoretical questions like multiverse, holographic principle, connection to string theory, cosmological constant problem, etc. It seems to me that Stanford (with Andrei Linde, Leonard Susskind, Shamit Kachru etc.) is by far the biggest in this area. Berkeley's Raphael Bousso (who was a psotdoc at Stanford) also seems to be very active in the same field. These people are usually considered part of the high enery theory faculty though, rather than cosmology/astrophysics.

TakeruK
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Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:17 pm

Drakon wrote:Thank you for your reply, TakeruK.

Unfortunately, since I am an international student, I won't be able to visit any of the schools before accepting an offer. So I guess my only option is to contact the professors I would like to work with in order to assess if they would be able to advise me or not. Is this standard procedure among prospective students? Is there any chance this could be seen as a bad practice by the Professors?

I have also been checking faculty publications on ArXiv and also reading the information available on the Departments websites. I hope that will be helpful as well... :/


I don't think this is bad practice -- I think it's the whole purpose of meeting profs on the prospective student visits. So, like Lavabug suggested, you should get in touch with profs that you are interested in and see if you can have a Skype or phone meeting!

Another thing you can do in addition to arXiv and websites is to figure out who their current/former students are and search for papers by that person too! Then you can get a sense of what kind of things they get their students to work on.

Drakon
Posts: 5
Joined: Wed Feb 20, 2013 3:59 pm

Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Drakon » Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:34 pm

Lavabug wrote:This is good. I would go by what the profs and their grad students have been publishing recently.

Also maybe you could arrange a phone call/interview with potential advisors at the schools you received admission.

TakeruK wrote:
I don't think this is bad practice -- I think it's the whole purpose of meeting profs on the prospective student visits. So, like Lavabug suggested, you should get in touch with profs that you are interested in and see if you can have a Skype or phone meeting!

Another thing you can do in addition to arXiv and websites is to figure out who their current/former students are and search for papers by that person too! Then you can get a sense of what kind of things they get their students to work on.


Thank you Lavabug and TukeruK. I think that is indeed the best thing to do. I will definitely try to arrange a skype or phone meeting with these professors in order to get an idea of how it would be to work with them and also if it would be possible to work with them.

Robespierre wrote:My research interest is almost exactly the same as yours. Cosmology, but with an emphasis on inflation and other fundamental theoretical questions like multiverse, holographic principle, connection to string theory, cosmological constant problem, etc. It seems to me that Stanford (with Andrei Linde, Leonard Susskind, Shamit Kachru etc.) is by far the biggest in this area. Berkeley's Raphael Bousso (who was a psotdoc at Stanford) also seems to be very active in the same field. These people are usually considered part of the high enery theory faculty though, rather than cosmology/astrophysics.

Hi Robespierre, we have similar research interests indeed! Unfortunately I haven't applied to neither Stanford nor Berkeley. I understand that I am not at that level yet, and to get there I will have to put a lot of effort on my graduate work. But who knows, maybe it would be interesting to apply for a post-doctoral position at these Universities in the future.

Robespierre
Posts: 30
Joined: Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:22 pm

Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Robespierre » Wed Feb 20, 2013 11:16 pm

I hope we'll be reading each other's papers in a few years!

Drakon
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Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Drakon » Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:14 am

Robespierre wrote:I hope we'll be reading each other's papers in a few years!

I hope so too, Robespierre! That would be great!

By the way guys, as I said before, I've been reading the Departments websites to gain some knowledge on the research that is being conducted by the Professors. So I came across the web page of a Professor who holds the title of "Research Professor". Since I had never heard of that kind of title before, I decided to look for its meaning online, and found the following "definition":

"A research professor is an employee of an academic institution who focuses on performing research, doing little or no teaching. Research professor positions are sometimes described as “post doctoral programs on steroids,” because they allow people to focus on research and take advantage of the institution's facilities and faculty without the need to teach students. For universities, maintaining research professors is a way to add to the reputation and body of knowledge of the university, as the university can attract attention and interest when these employees publish research results."

Now, does anyone know if a professor in this position would still be able to advise a student? I ask that because this Research Professor seems to conduct very interesting research, and it would be sad if I couldn't even think of considering him as a potential advisor.

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Tom Joad
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Re: Cosmology: Which School Should I Choose?

Postby Tom Joad » Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:16 am

Drakon wrote:
Robespierre wrote:I hope we'll be reading each other's papers in a few years!

I hope so too, Robespierre! That would be great!

By the way guys, as I said before, I've been reading the Departments websites to gain some knowledge on the research that is being conducted by the Professors. So I came across the web page of a Professor who holds the title of "Research Professor". Since I had never heard of that kind of title before, I decided to look for its meaning online, and found the following "definition":

"A research professor is an employee of an academic institution who focuses on performing research, doing little or no teaching. Research professor positions are sometimes described as “post doctoral programs on steroids,” because they allow people to focus on research and take advantage of the institution's facilities and faculty without the need to teach students. For universities, maintaining research professors is a way to add to the reputation and body of knowledge of the university, as the university can attract attention and interest when these employees publish research results."

Now, does anyone know if a professor in this position would still be able to advise a student? I ask that because this Research Professor seems to conduct very interesting research, and it would be sad if I couldn't even think of considering him as a potential advisor.


There's a research professor at my current school and I know that he occasionally advises undergraduate students for research, so I don't see why he wouldn't have graduate students working with him as well. I mean, if the world makes sense, then a research professor would be a great advisor, since they'd have much more time devoted to research and securing funding. However, the world doesn't always make sense :).




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