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What're the differences between highly rated Physics PhDs

Posted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 8:24 am
by michael
Hows it goin all?

Firstly, I'd like to appologise if this has already been adressed elsewhere (please direct me to the threads if it has).

I live in Ireland, study in England (Cambridge), and am very keen on doing a Physics PhD in the USA. I am hoping to go to one of the top ranked schools since I trust that they are top ranked for fairly good reasons. However, I really don't know the difference between doing a PhD in one such school and another. Infact all I really know (or think I know) is that American physics PhDs involve 1-2 years of classes, the bulk of research will be done after the first two years are complete, and the PhD takes 5-6 years from start to finish.

In the statement of purpose, we are often asked what appeals to us about the particular institution we are applying to. Of course I would like to answer this question so I can write a good statement of purpose, but also I genuinely would like to know a bit more about what I am signing 6 years of my life towards! The schools I am keen on at the minute are below, although I intend to half the length of the list before applying:

UC Berkeley
UC Santa Barbara

I don't really know which exact area of physics I want to persue yet, so I'm looking for somewhere with a lot of freedom in the first two years, which allows students to get a better feel for what they like. Saying that, if I had to choose now, I would probably sway towards theoretical qauntum condensed matter, so I am going to restrict myself to applying to schools which are strong in that field (I think I have already done so in compiling the above list).

So what I would like is any information at all which can highlight the differences between what doing a PhD would be like at any of the institutions above, bar geographical factors. I am going to make a few extortionate phone calls today, and audaciously ask the physics department whats good about their PhDs as opposed to other places, and I will put anything intersting I hear down in a reply to this thread. Please add anything you know at all that may be useful.

Thanks for your time and help,


Re: What're the differences between highly rated Physics PhDs

Posted: Fri Sep 05, 2008 2:12 pm
by Juston
One thing that's helped me is to look at the faculty of each department, and see which faculty members are doing research that I feel comfortable doing for 4-6 years (this has really helped me in narrowing the list of schools I want to apply to). You can even contact them and ask them about their research, and whether they can advise more students. Some faculty members are overloaded with students, so you'll have more luck with some than others, but it's an important thing to know. Choosing the right faculty member as an advisor, I'm told, can make a huge difference in getting a postdoc.

A friend that's going to UC Santa Barbara tells me that they're really flexible in allowing students to move around. Plus, there's no written preliminary exam (just an oral one), so that's another plus. On the down side, the UCs don't seem to accept a lot of overseas students.