Need help with open house decision

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cryingsun
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Need help with open house decision

Postby cryingsun » Sun Mar 13, 2011 11:26 am

Thanks in advance for reading and offering advices!

I have visited U Chicago on a non-open house date, and I am planning to visit Cornell, Caltech, MIT, and Berkeley. My problem is mostly on Caltech and Berkeley. If I visit both for the full duration of their events, I will have to miss many classes, (I have classes on Wed evening and Thur morning and afternoon), and flights from Virginia to California are not too pleasant.

Open houses usually have the following components: welcoming speech, research talk/lab tour, meals with grad students, and parties with grad students ( :x parties). Of course I will arrange meetings with potential advisers, but my question is which of those other parts you guys think are most important? I am thinking about squeezing Caltech and Berkeley into one single visit, something like Caltech on Thur and Berkeley on Fri (Mar. 24/25).

Thanks a lot!

-Jeff

SSM
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby SSM » Sun Mar 13, 2011 12:07 pm

It seems like parts of the visit can just be looked up online, like the part where faculty give talks about their research or if you're given general information about the school. If you have a specific question you can always e-mail, I think that's pretty much the same.

It's obviously important to attend faculty office hours/functions with faculty to see if you actually like the person you might be working with or to see if they like you/have funding for you. I would also place interacting with grad students high on the list, since the point of these visits for me was to gain a feel of how other students like it at your school. I also wanted to see how I liked the general atmosphere since I'd be working with those people for a long time and living in that place for a long time.

Up to you though, I bet you could get good information by sticking to your plan, one day at each.

**Forgot Lab tours: Those are probably important, but again could potentially be looked up online, especially if you know exactly what you want to do.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby HappyQuark » Sun Mar 13, 2011 3:46 pm

You're already in, skip the classes. Most professors will understand and make appropriate arrangements. You only get one shot at choosing the right program so take advantage of the opportunity.

bfollinprm
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Mar 13, 2011 4:00 pm

HappyQuark wrote:You're already in, skip the classes. Most professors will understand and make appropriate arrangements. You only get one shot at choosing the right program so take advantage of the opportunity.


I agree, but also am for combining the visits. I don't think going on the official open house date is that big of a deal. So, you can probably save yourself some missed class time without sacrificing time at both schools (you should really spend at least 4 days out there, or you won't get a feel of anything). If you're just going out to meet a professor, you might as well just ask for a skype conversation.

axiomofchoice
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby axiomofchoice » Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:41 pm

bfollinprm wrote:If you're just going out to meet a professor, you might as well just ask for a skype conversation.


I disagree. I had phone conversation, which I guess is similar to a skype conversation (video chat is awkward in any case especially with stranger), and it certainly is far less informative than a face to face visit.

I would say welcoming speech / presentations about research = good for lazy people who do not like navigating around the department's websites to dig out degree requirements etc., which I guess may or may not be online.
Lab tour = pretty much useless for me personally since I'm of theoretical bend, and also probably not useful for experimentalists whose experiments are not on campus (i.e. CERN). I gather that it's rather useful for especially condense matter experimentalists.
Meals & parties with grad students and/or faculty = the most informative in terms of giving you impressions of the school, the people there, as well as the potential classmates next year. Also who does not like free food and free beer? This is something that you'd probably miss out if you did not visit during the open house.

negru
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby negru » Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:50 pm

The sole reason I'm going to visit is the free food and travel. Requirements like quals etc you find all on the website, research you find on arxiv.

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grae313
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby grae313 » Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:56 pm

axiomofchoice wrote:Meals & parties with grad students and/or faculty = the most informative in terms of giving you impressions of the school, the people there, as well as the potential classmates next year.


Exactly. The chance to hang out with the graduate students and professors and ask them tons of questions about what it's like being a graduate student there is the most important part of visiting. You don't get anywhere close to the same experience when you don't visit on visit days. If socializing has no value to you, then this might not be as true for you.

People who have actually visited places on an organized visit date ought to be able to offer more informed comments.

To clarify, I'm not saying that it's absolutely necessary to visit during the scheduled visit time, and you can definitely get a ton out of visiting any time and I would very strongly recommend it over not visiting. I just feel like you really don't get the whole experience when you don't come for the visit weekend, and you miss out on a lot of fun social events that can tell you a lot about your future peers and how happy you'd be among the people there.

vesperlynd
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby vesperlynd » Sun Mar 13, 2011 8:20 pm

Well we're going to see how visiting on a non-program visit works at Caltech and Stanford this week. Not really interested in partying ...

Cryingsun -- let me know soon if there's anything you want to know about Caltech, and I'll find out tomorrow or Tuesday. It'll be interesting to see day-to-day operations.

cryingsun
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby cryingsun » Sun Mar 13, 2011 8:50 pm

vesperlynd wrote:Well we're going to see how visiting on a non-program visit works at Caltech and Stanford this week. Not really interested in partying ...

Cryingsun -- let me know soon if there's anything you want to know about Caltech, and I'll find out tomorrow or Tuesday. It'll be interesting to see day-to-day operations.


Well, Caltech sounds like my top choice at the moment, but the thing I am worried about it is whether it is too rigorous and competitive. I heard that their undergrads have very heavy course loads and TAs from schools other than caltech don't know how to do their undergrad assignments. I don't know if their grad classes are in the same spirit. What is more important is under high pressure whether people all keep things to themselves and not help each other. I really want a friendly environment.

Anyway, I would love to hear about any impressions/facts if you don't mind sharing after your visit. Thanks!

vesperlynd
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby vesperlynd » Sun Mar 20, 2011 12:30 am

cryingsun wrote:Well, Caltech sounds like my top choice at the moment, but the thing I am worried about it is whether it is too rigorous and competitive. I heard that their undergrads have very heavy course loads and TAs from schools other than caltech don't know how to do their undergrad assignments. I don't know if their grad classes are in the same spirit. What is more important is under high pressure whether people all keep things to themselves and not help each other. I really want a friendly environment.

Anyway, I would love to hear about any impressions/facts if you don't mind sharing after your visit. Thanks!


So I just got back from visiting. I'll address a few of your concerns in light of what I found out.

1) The undergrad classes are ver demanding. No question. However, the graduate classes are taken pass/fail. I really doubt they are that demanding in light of that.

2) The environment is very friendly. I didn't really sense any negative spirit among the faculty and students. However, several students did tell me that people push themselves hard.

3) The have an all-new astro building which is quite nice. There are several nooks where people can sit on couches are or tables and discuss stuff. There's a kitchenette on every floor.

4) I talked to more experimentalists than theorists The lab facilities are state-of-the-art. JPL does all of their fabrication work for the detectors. The astro groups have many connections and collaborations with JPL.

5) The theorists and experimentalists collaborate quite a bit on projects.

cryingsun
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby cryingsun » Sun Mar 20, 2011 2:18 pm

vesperlynd wrote:
cryingsun wrote:Well, Caltech sounds like my top choice at the moment, but the thing I am worried about it is whether it is too rigorous and competitive. I heard that their undergrads have very heavy course loads and TAs from schools other than caltech don't know how to do their undergrad assignments. I don't know if their grad classes are in the same spirit. What is more important is under high pressure whether people all keep things to themselves and not help each other. I really want a friendly environment.

Anyway, I would love to hear about any impressions/facts if you don't mind sharing after your visit. Thanks!


So I just got back from visiting. I'll address a few of your concerns in light of what I found out.

1) The undergrad classes are ver demanding. No question. However, the graduate classes are taken pass/fail. I really doubt they are that demanding in light of that.

2) The environment is very friendly. I didn't really sense any negative spirit among the faculty and students. However, several students did tell me that people push themselves hard.

3) The have an all-new astro building which is quite nice. There are several nooks where people can sit on couches are or tables and discuss stuff. There's a kitchenette on every floor.

4) I talked to more experimentalists than theorists The lab facilities are state-of-the-art. JPL does all of their fabrication work for the detectors. The astro groups have many connections and collaborations with JPL.

5) The theorists and experimentalists collaborate quite a bit on projects.



Thanks a lot vesperlynd! :D I'm glad to hear that classes are taken as P/F. Guess people could really concentrate on learning physics instead of passing exams. I'll let you know what I find out at the formal Open House the coming week, although I doubt there's much that you don't know already.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby WhoaNonstop » Sun Mar 20, 2011 4:35 pm

grae313 wrote:If socializing has no value to you, then this might not be as true for you.

grae313 wrote: I just feel like you really don't get the whole experience when you don't come for the visit weekend


Although socializing is important, one night of partying with current and prospective graduate students should not be one of the top reasons that you attend a school. No matter where you go, you should be highly surprised if there aren't graduate students there who will want to go out and have fun from time to time. I actually prefer to go on "personal" visits myself. Open houses are planned because they are efficient for faculty, graduate students, and the department in general. I think a lot more of the school's underlying character can be seen when visiting by yourself. How much is the school interested in your success? Do they make it seem like it was a hassle for you to visit? Were professors able to make adjustments in order to meet with you? At one of the schools a professor invested two hours of her time to meet with me because she was aware of my interest in her research. At another school, they scheduled extra time with the graduate students of the professor I wanted to work with because once again, they knew of my interest in the subject.

I think this is what most people want. At least this is what I'm interested in. People who are committed and will invest time in me. I'm not saying you won't be able to identify this at an open house, I just believe that it is much easier when you attempt to personalize your visit.

-Riley

axiomofchoice
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby axiomofchoice » Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:18 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:Although socializing is important, one night of partying with current and prospective graduate students should not be one of the top reasons that you attend a school. No matter where you go, you should be highly surprised if there aren't graduate students there who will want to go out and have fun from time to time. I actually prefer to go on "personal" visits myself. Open houses are planned because they are efficient for faculty, graduate students, and the department in general. I think a lot more of the school's underlying character can be seen when visiting by yourself. How much is the school interested in your success? Do they make it seem like it was a hassle for you to visit? Were professors able to make adjustments in order to meet with you? At one of the schools a professor invested two hours of her time to meet with me because she was aware of my interest in her research. At another school, they scheduled extra time with the graduate students of the professor I wanted to work with because once again, they knew of my interest in the subject.

I think this is what most people want. At least this is what I'm interested in. People who are committed and will invest time in me. I'm not saying you won't be able to identify this at an open house, I just believe that it is much easier when you attempt to personalize your visit.


It's not about the social scene that I'm particularly interested in. No one surely should decide which school to go based on one night of partying (I much rather sit on the side and watch people party rather than participating in the party itself; and the loud music always makes me uncomfortable anyways), but I would dislike having to keep coming up questions to ask in a formal meeting between one perspective (me) and one or several current students. That would be an awkward situation by my book. So many things cannot (or I don't know how) be asked directly, and I usually forget some things I meant to ask. Having other perspectives to do part of the asking, and observing the current students interact among themselves are much better ways to get information for me personally. Direct interactions are undoubtedly informative, but I feel like I don't get the full picture unless I see the professors and current students interact with others other than myself. Well organized open houses should give many opportunities for people watchers like me 8), while I doubt I would get much of that with non-open house visit unless I'm determined to be a stalker around the offices and hallways.

As for time investment, this must be significantly different based on previous research experiences and specific fields. Unless one has significant research experience in the particular field of the professor, I would not take the willingness of the professor to talk/take lots of time to meet as an indicator of any sort, especially if the professor or the particular field is popular. If I want to be a string theorist (fortunately not :)) and there is nothing in my past experience that shows whether I will or will not be a good string theorist, I would not be surprised if a string theorist professor takes only lukewarm interest to me, especially if there are 10 perspective students every year who want to be string theorists and among them only one or zero will end up making it.

cryingsun
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby cryingsun » Sun Mar 20, 2011 9:46 pm

axiomofchoice wrote:
As for time investment, this must be significantly different based on previous research experiences and specific fields. Unless one has significant research experience in the particular field of the professor, I would not take the willingness of the professor to talk/take lots of time to meet as an indicator of any sort, especially if the professor or the particular field is popular. If I want to be a string theorist (fortunately not :)) and there is nothing in my past experience that shows whether I will or will not be a good string theorist, I would not be surprised if a string theorist professor takes only lukewarm interest to me, especially if there are 10 perspective students every year who want to be string theorists and among them only one or zero will end up making it.


Well I have been thinking about this issue, namely the warmness of the potential adviser. Some professors are just more out-going than others, and that characteristic is barely correlated with the potential matchness between you and him/her. For example one potential advisor I called was very out-going and sounded really warm, while the other professor (Asian) looked not so interested in me while it is typical for Asians to be more reserved.

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grae313
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby grae313 » Mon Mar 21, 2011 12:07 am

I'm certainly not saying people should make their decision based on how much fun they had at the visit weekend party--that's definitely not the point I'm trying to make and I'm somewhat insulted that that's being implied. I've hosted students who came to visit outside of the scheduled visit weekend. I take them to dinner and I'm allowed to invite a handful of grad students on the department's dime. They get to tour a few labs and talk to those grad students too. All of this pales in comparison to how many people (students and professors) you get to meet and interact with during the regular visit weekend. Another example: during the visit weekend we take students to tour the CNF, and there is a staff tour guide who leads the student's through and shows them around. We wouldn't pay for a tour guide for just one person and you aren't allowed to just wander in a place like this and look around. If you don't click with your host, you get a chance to meet tons of other people during visit weekend. There are scheduled events to do and see things you might not have thought to do or see on your own. Furthermore, interacting with the pool of prospective students can be really enlightening.

Again, visiting outside of the scheduled time is still extremely useful. Some people may prefer it. I would still advise anyone who asked me to attend the scheduled visit weekend if possible because I feel you are exposed to so much more of the school and the department. My opinion is undoubtedly influenced by my personality -- I have friends and, although I'm an introvert, sometimes I like to do stuff with other people outside of my house. My peers are a huge part of why I'm ridiculously happy in grad school and the feel of the department, the attitude of the grad students, and the people in my class set the stage for this. I can see how all of this wouldn't be relevant for some people, but for most people I think it's quite relevant and it's much harder to gauge when you only meet a few people from a few research groups.

So anyway, if you think individual visits are better I don't think you're wrong, I just think we disagree :)

vesperlynd
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby vesperlynd » Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:54 pm

cryingsun wrote:Thanks a lot vesperlynd! I'm glad to hear that classes are taken as P/F. Guess people could really concentrate on learning physics instead of passing exams. I'll let you know what I find out at the formal Open House the coming week, although I doubt there's much that you don't know already.
Glad I can help. Are you visiting Berkeley this week too, by chance?

Also, I visited Stanford last week if people are curious. My base impression is that the place is a country club like several students and professors told me.

axiomofchoice
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby axiomofchoice » Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:06 pm

vesperlynd wrote:Also, I visited Stanford last week if people are curious. My base impression is that the place is a country club like several students and professors told me.


What attributes of country club do you refer too?

cryingsun
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby cryingsun » Mon Mar 21, 2011 8:04 pm

vesperlynd wrote:Are you visiting Berkeley this week too, by chance?



No, I will visit Berkeley on their Open House. Just trying to go with the normal route which hopefully maximizes information gain.

vesperlynd
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby vesperlynd » Tue Mar 22, 2011 9:50 am

axiomofchoice wrote:What attributes of country club do you refer too?
You had to see the place. It's definitely a school for the rich. They have their own upscale shopping center on campus (Bloomingdale's, Nieman Marcus) - it's not for the graduate students, unless they're independently wealthy. Professors told me specifically that the undergrads especially are treated like "guests". I guess they should be considering that a large chunk of them don't receive any aid. Anyone driving on the outskirts of the campus (which is huge), would not be able to see any of the buildings. You have to drive into the campus - reminds me of a few spas around where I live. The main way in is Palm Drive, which incidently, is lined with palm trees (not native to the area). Several buildings are named (William Gates Computer Science, etc). The Memorial Church and Main Quad are beautiful. Free shuttle service to most places on campus. The faculty and staff get caltrain passes. I don't know if the students do, but my host didn't have a pass.

It kinda peeves me that they claim they can only afford to pay for part of the health insurance. If they were really so concerned, they'd cut part of the stipend and pay the other half. Right now, students are having to pay that half, and pay more in taxes because of the slightly higher income. They're actually losing money if you think about it.

Other than that, the professors were great. They have a very strong relationship with SLAC, and grad students can easily work in either KIPAC or PS in SLAC, or Physics or Applied Physics. Most students take advantage of the rotation system and do at least a couple of rotations. Some people work for four different profs before settling. During my visit though, one of the profs I'd arranged to meet completely forgot about the appointment :x

bfollinprm
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Mar 22, 2011 11:43 am

vesperlynd wrote:
It kinda peeves me that they claim they can only afford to pay for part of the health insurance. If they were really so concerned, they'd cut part of the stipend and pay the other half. Right now, students are having to pay that half, and pay more in taxes because of the slightly higher income. They're actually losing money if you think about it.


Expenses that are related to health care (such as paying insurance) are deductible from federal income tax. I bet that's also true for CA state tax, since they in general have more deductions there than we do at the federal level. You might have to set it aside ahead of time as pre-tax income, but you definitely don't pay taxes on it.

vesperlynd
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby vesperlynd » Tue Mar 22, 2011 12:23 pm

bfollinprm wrote:Expenses that are related to health care (such as paying insurance) are deductible from federal income tax. I bet that's also true for CA state tax, since they in general have more deductions there than we do at the federal level. You might have to set it aside ahead of time as pre-tax income, but you definitely don't pay taxes on it.
Oh. Did not know that. Still, it peeves me that they claimed they couldn't afford it, even with their $14 billion endowment and $125 application fee (higher than everyone else). I'd love to know why they charge a higher fee then everyone else. If they couldn't afford it, they wouldn't be building eight new buildings for the business school. They also wouldn't have a shopping center right on the campus either.

Ruby890
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby Ruby890 » Tue Mar 22, 2011 1:27 pm

Historical tidbit about the Stanford Shopping Center --- Stanford’s founding grant prohibits it from selling its land. So instead it collects rent from all of the users it has allowed to develop its land, including the shopping center, faculty housing and the research parks on either side of the campus!

axiomofchoice
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Re: Need help with open house decision

Postby axiomofchoice » Wed Mar 23, 2011 11:56 am

vesperlynd wrote:It kinda peeves me that they claim they can only afford to pay for part of the health insurance. If they were really so concerned, they'd cut part of the stipend and pay the other half. Right now, students are having to pay that half, and pay more in taxes because of the slightly higher income. They're actually losing money if you think about it

vesperlynd wrote:Still, it peeves me that they claimed they couldn't afford it, even with their $14 billion endowment and $125 application fee (higher than everyone else). I'd love to know why they charge a higher fee then everyone else. If they couldn't afford it, they wouldn't be building eight new buildings for the business school. They also wouldn't have a shopping center right on the campus either.


That peeves me, too, but as long as their stipend level is higher by the appropriate amount, that is not a big negative for me. On that note, their travel allowance at $250 is downright miserly for people flying out from the other coast. Oh well, I like their research and the rotation system, and definitely the Cali weather. How do you find the the tone of the department? From reading the several pamphlet-like pdfs on their website, it does seem to be a friendly and caring place.




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