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Advice on shopping for Physics Graduate Schools

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello all!

I'm preparing to transition out of the military, and will have about 4 courses left on my BS when I do. I think it's about time to start looking at grad schools! (YAY!) However, as I look, the possibilities seem almost overwhelming! My question, therefore, is not about how to apply, or how to prepare; those are both well covered in the 'Want to be a Physcist' series. My question is: what criteria do you use to try to fit your choice of graduate schools to yourself?

Let me expound slightly. I know what my interests are, and what areas of research I'd like to work on; but generally it doesn't seem to matter what the program calls itself when you apply to it, the research you will do towards the back half of the program is mostly dependent on what the university has going at the time. Even then, I'm working towards a career, not a part-time job. If I don't get to do research on, say, solid state physics in self-replicating nanotechnology during school, it's not like I'll never get to dabble in it. Does it really matter if the university I'm looking at calls its degree plan "PH.D in Applied Physics" or "in Condensed Matter" or ...? It seems I should focus more on universities that turn out high-functioning and well-educated physicists, so I should base my criteria on retention, graduation, and post-doc. success.

I put it to you, the interweb of professional physicists! If you were back looking at grad. schools again, how would you base your search? What would you use as the beacon to guide your journey?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
11,265
4,730
I don't think you should rely on us to help you here. My suggestion is to talk with your profs, tell them where you'd like to go careerwise and see if they have colleagues in other universities that they can tap to answer your questions.

Another approach is to research papers in the field and see where these folks went to school and where they currently teach or work. From there you can get a better idea. You might even be able to contact some of them to get their ideas.

I know, I know this takes time but its what you'll do when you become a PhD research, research, research...
 
  • #3
Scrumhalf
Gold Member
97
60
I focused on the researchers. I knew in my sophomore year that I wanted to do work on semiconductors (I was majoring in EE). I would spend weekends at the library, looking up the IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, Journal of Applied Physics, Applied Physics Letters, etc. to see who were the key researchers and publishers in the field. After a few months of this, I had a general idea of which professor at which university was doing the most interesting work. All this was in the days before the web. I also wrote to the professors expressing my interest in the subject and focused on those universities in my graduate school application process. Luckily, I was able to get into the University of Illinois which was (and still is) a major player in compound semiconductor device research.

I would wager that these days, the online information can make this kind of research activity much easier.
 
  • #4
My suggestion is to talk with your profs, tell them where you'd like to go careerwise and see if they have colleagues in other universities that they can tap to answer your questions.
Thanks Jedishrfu, I'm also going through my advisor, who I honestly think would be great to do my graduate studies with. But 'in abundance of counselors there is victory.'

I focused on the researchers ... see who were the key researchers and publishers in the field... I also wrote to the professors expressing my interest in the subject and focused on those universities in my graduate school application process.
Thanks Scrumhalf, I appreciate the advice, especially the specific details of how you went about it!
 
  • #5
radium
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
750
228
For me it was basically matching my research interests with faculty and overall prestige. I made a list of people I was interested in working with for all the schools I was considering and used it to decide where to apply. I also wrote about the professors on the list in each personal statement.
 

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