Choosing between Sydney and IfA, Hawai'i

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qh695
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:11 am

Choosing between Sydney and IfA, Hawai'i

Postby qh695 » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:25 am

Hi, I am looking for some suggestions on my final decision.
I have received my PhD offers in Astronomy/Astrophysics at SIfA, the University of Sydney and at IfA, University of Hawai'i at Manoa.

The stipend amount is not a concern, Hawaii gives 30+k(TA/RA dependent) while Sydney gives 26k(RTP scholarship as personal funding, no TA required). Hawaii is more expensive in living though.

I have visited both schools in the past and I am fine with living in both places. Of course, I have certain pro-life reasons to prefer Sydney: I am Australian, my partner will be doing her PhD in Astronomical instrumentation at Sydney, we can complete our PhD in 3-4 years(no classes or qualifiers) etc. I am astronomy majored and I have seriously no interest in taking more classes, Hawaii can provide quite the same which it has its MS very focused in doing research projects and simple classes.

My partner she would love to have me come to Sydney but she is okay with Hawaii if it is important for my career.

So cutting out all non-academic reasons, which school would be relatively better in academic development? Hawaii has all the best optical telescopes and a very strong faculty in exoplanets and galaxies(Brent Tully, if you know the Tully-Fisher relation), while the PhD project I have submitted for Sydney focuses on using radio astronomy instruments which is very strong in Australia. Will choosing Sydney be a terrible choice for my career?

If you don't know Sydney, could anyone point out just how Hawaii PhD education really ranks in the US, apart from all the telescopes advantage.

TakeruK
Posts: 848
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Choosing between Sydney and IfA, Hawai'i

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 22, 2017 11:25 am

I think you have described the main (research) advantages of the two schools very well. I am studying exoplanets and I was originally going to consider the IfA at Hawaii for a postdoc but then everyone I would have wanted to work with left Hawaii. However, they are hiring *two* new faculty members right now, probably at least one exoplanets person, so I think it will be a lively place for those interested in exoplanets once again.

I think the stipend would be a concern at Hawaii though. People there say that 30k isn't really enough. I have heard that some of the reasons the *faculty* members are leaving is because they aren't paid enough to be able to afford a home etc. (But this is just what I've heard). Travelling from Hawaii to other places is also very expensive and requires long journeys.

But since you are asking about academic reasons here, I think the biggest question you would have to answer (don't have to say it here if you don't want to) is what you want to study and where you want to work in the future.

If you are interested in a North American postdoc/future academic position, then I think you are better off in Hawaii, where you will be better connected to the North American astronomical community. In addition, the short PhD program in Australia (and other places) will put you at a major disadvantage for North American academic jobs compared to US graduates. Not having classes in your PhD program will put you at a disadvantage as well, unless you have a Masters in Australia. The US has a weird (to me, since I'm Canadian) system! However, if Australia is like Canada where you get a MSc before a PhD, then you would probably be okay. The point is that you need to have some solid background beyond the undergraduate level in Astronomy and having breadth would be really important for long term job success in North America.

In addition, if you are interested in exoplanets, optical/IR observational astronomy, or a career in something like a telescope operator, support astronomer, etc. then you would be much better off at Hawaii.

On the other hand, if you're not interested in leaving Australia in the long term, then I am not sure there is much advantage to choosing Hawaii. I would check out the departments you might want to work at in Australia and see where those people got their PhDs or did postdocs. When I think of Australia, I think of radio astronomy and I know tons of North American radio astronomers move to Australia to have the best possible postdoc for their career. So, if you are heading in this direction for your astronomical career, then I think Sydney is a great choice.

You asked about how Hawaii ranks in the US but without the telescopes? I don't think that's a fair question to ask because the resources available to students at a school is probably one of the most important factors in determining how strong/good the school is for the student. In my opinion, the main (academic) reason for an astronomer to choose to go to Hawaii for a PhD is to have the amazing telescope access. I'm not at Hawaii but at another US school with amazing telescope access and it has really helped my career. It has allowed me to do interesting projects because we are the only people with the ability to do what we are doing.

Anyways, my opinion is that you have two good options and I think you would have to think about what your long term goals are in order to make the best decision for yourself. I think both these schools could be the right choice, but they will lead you towards different career paths, so choose wisely!

qh695
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:11 am

Re: Choosing between Sydney and IfA, Hawai'i

Postby qh695 » Thu Mar 30, 2017 12:22 am

TakeruK wrote:I think you have described the main (research) advantages of the two schools very well. I am studying exoplanets and I was originally going to consider the IfA at Hawaii for a postdoc but then everyone I would have wanted to work with left Hawaii. However, they are hiring *two* new faculty members right now, probably at least one exoplanets person, so I think it will be a lively place for those interested in exoplanets once again.

I think the stipend would be a concern at Hawaii though. People there say that 30k isn't really enough. I have heard that some of the reasons the *faculty* members are leaving is because they aren't paid enough to be able to afford a home etc. (But this is just what I've heard). Travelling from Hawaii to other places is also very expensive and requires long journeys.

But since you are asking about academic reasons here, I think the biggest question you would have to answer (don't have to say it here if you don't want to) is what you want to study and where you want to work in the future.

If you are interested in a North American postdoc/future academic position, then I think you are better off in Hawaii, where you will be better connected to the North American astronomical community. In addition, the short PhD program in Australia (and other places) will put you at a major disadvantage for North American academic jobs compared to US graduates. Not having classes in your PhD program will put you at a disadvantage as well, unless you have a Masters in Australia. The US has a weird (to me, since I'm Canadian) system! However, if Australia is like Canada where you get a MSc before a PhD, then you would probably be okay. The point is that you need to have some solid background beyond the undergraduate level in Astronomy and having breadth would be really important for long term job success in North America.

In addition, if you are interested in exoplanets, optical/IR observational astronomy, or a career in something like a telescope operator, support astronomer, etc. then you would be much better off at Hawaii.

On the other hand, if you're not interested in leaving Australia in the long term, then I am not sure there is much advantage to choosing Hawaii. I would check out the departments you might want to work at in Australia and see where those people got their PhDs or did postdocs. When I think of Australia, I think of radio astronomy and I know tons of North American radio astronomers move to Australia to have the best possible postdoc for their career. So, if you are heading in this direction for your astronomical career, then I think Sydney is a great choice.

You asked about how Hawaii ranks in the US but without the telescopes? I don't think that's a fair question to ask because the resources available to students at a school is probably one of the most important factors in determining how strong/good the school is for the student. In my opinion, the main (academic) reason for an astronomer to choose to go to Hawaii for a PhD is to have the amazing telescope access. I'm not at Hawaii but at another US school with amazing telescope access and it has really helped my career. It has allowed me to do interesting projects because we are the only people with the ability to do what we are doing.

Anyways, my opinion is that you have two good options and I think you would have to think about what your long term goals are in order to make the best decision for yourself. I think both these schools could be the right choice, but they will lead you towards different career paths, so choose wisely!


Thanks! I suppose you mean 'exoplanet-everyone' as in Andrew Howard? Yeah talking about Hawaii without the telescopes is a little bit unfair.

I don't know how much will classes mean in my resume, because most of my undergrad deparment's junior and senior year classes are taught with the first year and second year masters. So our curriculum pretty much covers most of the graduate class education and its in China so I am pretty much done with all the maths and physics (don't ask me why I ended up taking the whole Chinese college entrance exam, I thought Chinese education was good), and research is pretty much a DIY learning process, my professors suggest that I will probably do fine.

I suppose it is a matter of interest in research then. It sometimes makes me feel narrowing myself up after knowing all those different fields of research, I've done X-ray astronomy and asteroseismology with Kepler (with a mix of exoplanets) in the past few years, and I have no idea what the outcome will be when I graduate. X-ray is kinda in the mess right now and I haven't got a school to do that any more, but my focus was on large catalogue transients so that pretty much fits with Sydney's work except it is in radio.

PS. Sydney's department is great, the Sydney Institute for Astronomy has quite a lot of famous professors such as Joss Bland-Hawthorn, Elain Sadler and Tim Bedding. The detailed program I proposed was to complete a large transient Survey using radio telescopes and novel data mining.




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