Moon Moon wrote:I would really appreciate any advice on good cosmology safety schools (and professors at those schools I should look into), and also just any good cosmology schools or people that I'm missing, or any schools on my list that maybe aren't so great for any reason.
As a side note, I would love opinions on whether it is really a good idea to email Profs you want to work with: it feels so contrived to send the standard 'I loved your paper and want to work with you' spiel. Does it really improve your chances of getting in?
Thanks in advance!
I think it's hard for other people to suggest schools and profs without knowing you and your interests! It seems like you do have quite a list and so I'll offer some additional advice in selecting schools/profs. All of this assumes you are interested in a career in academia because I am not qualified to offer advice for non-academic paths!
1. Look at their website or publication record and determine who their former students are. Where are they now? Are these the types of places you would want to work at?
2. Look at their publication record with their students. How often do their students publish? In which journals? Are the students lead authors or coauthors?
3. Read the publications of the professor & their students. You can get a sense of how involved the professor is in the writing process by comparing papers by different students and looking to see if the tone/word choice is similar across students or very different for each student. I am not saying either way is better, as it depends on your own preferences too.
4. Read the publications of the students and determine what kind of projects they are working on. Are they trying new ideas, tackling new problems and performing interesting research? Or, does the professor/group have some massive model that their students just crank through and publish? Are their students just "gears" of their giant research machines, or are they training their students to become independent and established researchers?
For your second question, I personally found it very helpful to email professors before applying. I did not do it to improve the chances of getting in. Instead, I decided that if I was going to spend $100+ and many hours on an application, I would want to make sure I am applying to a school with interests that matched mine. I emailed 2-3 professors per school and asked if they would be taking students in subfield X for Fall 2012 (or whatever your year will be). I wrote a little bit about my own research interests and asked what kind of things they plan on working on with future students. These conversations did help me get a feel for what emailing the professor would be like (although keep in mind that the prof might prioritize emailing their own students more than a prospective) and it often provided useful insights to write my SOP. Also, there were a few times where the emails helped me decide that I did not want to apply to that place (or work with that prof) due to personal or practical reasons (one prof told me that he could take me for the project I was interested in, but I would have to max-out TAing since he had no grant money at all).
For me, on average, I received good responses and had interesting conversations for 1/3 of my emails. Another 1/3 of the emails had polite, but short responses that went something like "Thank you for contacting me. As you may know, our program accepts students to the entire department as a whole, not to each professor. I would be glad to speak to you further about potential research projects after you are accepted"---to these emails, I just thanked them for the response and contacted them again later if I was accepted. And the last 1/3 of my emails did not get any response at all. I think this is a pretty good response rate, and I was lucky that at least one professor from each school replied to me so I got to talk to someone at every school.