It's not where you go, it's who you work with...

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grae313
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It's not where you go, it's who you work with...

Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:20 am

at least that's what they say.

Now that I have some admission offers, I'm looking even more closely at the research groups I may potentially want to join in graduate school. I wanted to hear people's opinions on what to look for in a professor and a research group.

I know someone (was it you, twistor?) mentioned a webpage where you can type a professors name in and get information about them, like their publications or citations or something. What was that website? If I had the opportunity to work with a "superstar" in condensed matter (so to speak), I wouldn't even recognize it because I don't know who the superstars are. How do I figure out if someone is really well known?


Here's something I like to see in a research group's webpage: pictures of the grad students, and a little information about them. And a list of students who have gotten their Ph.D.s from that group. It is good to see how many people were actually successful in a given group, and it is good to see that they have practice in graduating students with Ph.D's! I always get a little worried when I don't see anything about the students on the research webpage. I like it when I get the sense that the prof knows who his students are and really cares about their success. I also like it when I see some humor somewhere.

How about everyone else? What are you looking for in a research group and how are you going about finding it?

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butsurigakusha
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Postby butsurigakusha » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:41 am

I have talked to one of my professors. He is a recently tenured professor here, and he got his PhD from a "top" school, working with a Nobel Prize winner. He described his adviser as a person who really only cared about research, and had no interest whatsoever in the success of his students. He wouldn't lift a finger to help anyone. His professor even threatened not to approve his PhD if he didn't stay on longer, even after he had secured a post-doc. He was shocked to discover towards the end of his grad school years that other students in different groups actually had helpful advisers, and actually enjoyed their time as a grad students. His advice was to ask around which professors have the happiest students. And if you discover early on that you really do not like working in a particular group, it is okay to switch. Better earlier than later.

I have never had anyone recommend seeking out the adviser who has the most publications, or what not. Of course, I think that will play some roll in my decision-making.

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fermiboy
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Postby fermiboy » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:50 am

I think what you're talking about is called "Web of Knowledge." You can ask it for a prof's "scientific impact" which is some number based on amount of citations and stuff like that. The higher the number the better. You might have to log in from your school's network because it's a subscription service. I can't log in at home but I can at school because we have a subscription. I'm sure your school does to.

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butsurigakusha
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Postby butsurigakusha » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:53 am

Also, when I visited Argonne National Lab, I worked with a physicist who regularly hires post-docs. I asked him what were the things he considered important. He told me the most important thing was publications record. Of some, but lesser, importance was whether the applicant had experience in the same area of research. But, he said he would probably take an applicant with a better research record, but in a different area, over someone whose research was in the same area, but didn't have much of a research record.

I also asked him if the reputation of at the school they receive their PhD from is important, and he very clearly, without hesitation, said yes.

So there it is. Perhaps who you work with is more important, but, at least in the eyes of one person who hires physicists, where also matters.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:57 am

interesting, fermi. I'll have to check that out.

and yeah, butsu, I totally agree with you about finding a prof who actually cares about his students. the scientific impact of a professor is just one thing I want to be aware of when considering a group. Of course, if I could work with someone who was successful, well-known *and* not a jackass.... that would be awesome 8)

and as much as people like to try and play down the reputation or prestige of a school name, it factors very highly in my decisions and I don't think I'm alone there.
Last edited by grae313 on Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:01 am, edited 3 times in total.

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butsurigakusha
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Postby butsurigakusha » Fri Feb 15, 2008 12:59 am

They do exist. Definitely ask around.
Last edited by butsurigakusha on Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:03 am

the problem is, my school is very lowly. there is no research at my school, and my profs really don't know much about professors at other schools. I'm not sure who to ask

tnoviell
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Postby tnoviell » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:13 am

Grae, it's a complicated question, in my opinion. It varies on what you want to do after a ph.d (industry or academia), as perhaps maybe some professors have more connections and networks in either portion (or both). Not many people would want to get a Ph.D from my university (because of its rank), however, there is one professor in the chemistry department who is very well known and regularly gets a huge amount of grant money, and his students mostly find jobs (high paying jobs) very easily.

I don't know how common this is throughout other schools, but that's just one scenario. I would say the difference between the lower ranks and the higher ranks is that the higher ranks have more of those kinds of networked professors. In the end, at least in my opinion, name usually has great network potential, but at the same time, as does an individual.

GCS
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Postby GCS » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:20 am

Regarding the advisor's publications, what I've been told is to check how much they have been publishing in the recent past. Mostly because you want to work with somebody who is active and knowledgeable about the current state of your field. If you're working with someone who is out of the loop they will not be very helpful for your thesis and other research, even if they have been great advisors in the past.

What I've been doing is looking up professors and then putting their name in the ArXiv, since everybody posts their papers there nowadays. That gives you a number of the total papers posted; you can see the dates of all the papers to see how often they have been publishing lately; and you can glance at the papers themselves to see what they have been working on recently.

Also, many profs list recent papers in their websites, or have a direct link to the ArXiv.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:22 am

what is the best way to see how many times an author has been cited by other papers? If a prof publishes like mad but no one reads them, it's not that great. I think citations would do more to indicate a successful prof--as in, when they publish, people take note. it shows their work has some influence.

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jdhooghe
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Postby jdhooghe » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:41 am

I have had a blast at Chico. The physics faculty is great and is always ready to help us out. The lectures are never.. blah....blah...blah...Newton...blah...The enthusiasm they have for the material is infectious and creates a wonderful environment in which to learn. This doesn't mean to say that the work is easy, in fact, it is always challenging. I hope to go to a school with faculty as wonderful as I have experienced here, with research that they are passionate about and eager to sit down with you and talk about without the slightest bit of provocation. This is why I dislike most math professors(I love math which sucks for me but they are so dry).

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PeterGriffin
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Postby PeterGriffin » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:36 pm

http://www.slac.stanford.edu/spires/
(even gives you the citation index; good for hep, nuclear,...)

and if you want to know whats burning:
http://xstructure.inr.ac.ru/index.html

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PeterGriffin
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Postby PeterGriffin » Fri Feb 15, 2008 1:39 pm

and as grae already mentioned arxiv
http://arxiv.org/

and for you ranking lovers: http://www.citebase.org
(for hep, use the citation summay on spires)

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Fri Feb 15, 2008 8:14 pm

was it you, twistor?


No.

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guguma
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Re: It's not where you go, it's who you work with...

Postby guguma » Thu Feb 28, 2008 12:03 pm

Actually what grae has brought to our attention is just the heart of the problem. I want to end the dotted sentence like this though "It's not where you go, it's who you work with and what you want to do". There are many possibilities on what you want to do. Do you want to be a top class data analyzer? Do you want to be a good string theorist? Do you want to be the administrative head of a particle experiment? Do you want to be at a high paying but easy going research institution? etc...

After the mid of the 20th century the meaning of "physics" as an academic endeavor has changed a great deal. Early on you just wanted to be a physicist and pondered on. Nobody actually cared on the quantity of your publications but on the quality. Nowadays it is different, you have to merely survive by publishing articles even if you like the content of your work or not. I do not know if you heard about J. Van Paradis you can look for his articles form the "Web of Science". You will notice that he is like an article publishing machine but after some point he shows a deceleration on his article publishing speed. What you will also notice is that this deceleration is due to his death. You did not misunderstand me; he first died and then his article publishing speed is decelerated, but not STOPPED. It is obvious that some other people wanted to use the reputation of J. Van Paradis and added his name to their articles providing that they used incomplete works by Van Paradis to complete this article.

J. Van Paradis is a well known astrophysicist, he has more articles than Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, etc... but what is the point. I am sure that you get what I mean.

After this example I want to go back to the original problem. It is actually what you want to do. And no matter what you want to do, you have to learn how to do, and you need a good mentor for that. If you will be working with someone and the only thing you do is to handle the calculations of this someones' researches without not even understanding the general idea behind the researches or where are these researches going; you are going to end up metamorphosed into a walking computer algebra program.

On the contrary, if you work with a person who shows you how to conduct a research, how to think through all the enormous publications work going on in physics, which idea to pick up as a reasonable and a promising one, how to connect the dots and how to triangulate then you are going to end up a physicist.

So it is first what you want to do, then who (or which group) can provide you with the abilities and resources necessary for your goal. You should have done this before you have applied though...

You can use help of both arxiv and web of science for choosing. You have to read the articles of the people you are considering. Even though you will not get the whole content of the paper, just take a brief look at it, read the abstract, and see if you enjoy the train of though process of that person or group.

For example if you want to be a high energy theorist but on phenomenology, then why are you applying to Harvard? Harvard High Energy professors are working on strings, they will be no use to you.

I hope that I managed to explain myself clearly.

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grae313
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Re: It's not where you go, it's who you work with...

Postby grae313 » Thu Feb 28, 2008 1:37 pm

guguma wrote:So it is first what you want to do, then who (or which group) can provide you with the abilities and resources necessary for your goal. You should have done this before you have applied though...


I did, thanks :)




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