Can’t tell the difference between a “good” school and a top 5 private school

  • #1
ProfuselyQuarky
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I’m not sure what I was expecting to be honest. Definitely not an entire campus population of geniuses but I’ve spent the past 2 months here (albeit as a research tech taking grad classes, not a student) and I guess I was expecting to, I dunno, be humiliated with everyone’s brilliance as well as notice a difference in teaching/lab culture/resources/overall intelligence (however you may define that)/etc.

I recently graduated from just a top 35, that also happened to be a public university and I don’t see a difference in knowledge, research methods, or even immensely greater pressure to publish. Student body size is an obvious difference but I must say that my professors during college made themselves just as available to me as long as I took the initiative to reach out.

I studied vigorously (still do but less so) because I didn’t want to come off as a total idiot and my PI said to chill out and that they expect everyone who joins the lab to be totally clueless having zero knowledge, regardless of whether you’re a new tech, PhD student, or post doc.

I thought maybe it was different at an undergrad level but upon talking to a few undergrads that happily showed me (and complained about to me lol) their current homework, etc, it was the equivalent of calc 1 and gen chem. Again, not sure what I was expecting since of course the school has to make sure all students have to have the same basis of understanding but I am a little confused about how a 17yo manages to beat the odds of sub 7% acceptance rate whilst not knowing how to solve a complex derivative confidently. I know admissions is holistic but still.

Don’t really know why I’m sharing this but I still lurk PF semi often and this experience is making me reevaluate a lot of perceptions I had about academia lol. I’m at this school to increase my chances of getting into a PhD program and all previous people in my place have been admitted to the same school. I’m not expecting to get in, and I’m not even sure if I’m going to apply. But everything surrounding prestige and admittance is much more mysterious now
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Jarvis323
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Not sure how well my CS grad school experience relates to your situation. When I first started I was also going into it studying vigorously and broadly. What I learned was that PhD students end up in a niche. And, they are supposed to end up being the foremost expert in that niche, even beyond their PI. Which niche you find is important, and it isn't easy at first finding the right path.

At first, it can be better to gain a broad understanding of the field and the problems, than to attempt to broadly dig into technical details, which comprehensively would be way too overwhelming and time consuming. Researchers become specialists rather than generalists, and nobody has enough time or space in their brain to learn everything.

What you will end up needing to learn along your research path might be varied, complicated, and largely found in research papers rather than textbooks. You need to self educate on demand. You will have plenty of time to burn yourself out later on. So chilling out a little at first isn't necessarily bad advice. For me, I think it is important to first learn to read a LOT of research papers, and understand the problems and ideas, without worrying about not fully understanding the details.
 
  • #3
gmax137
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In most things, who you are - how you do things - matters a lot lot more than where you do them. The people surrounding you can have a second order effect on your efforts. Sometimes a smaller effect.
 
  • #4
Hornbein
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I went to both a good college and a top 5. The quality of instruction was about the same but the student bodies were quite different.
 
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  • #5
ProfuselyQuarky
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I went to both a good college and a top 5. The quality of instruction was about the same but the student bodies were quite different.
The entirety of the student body or specifically undergrad vs grad?
 
  • #6
Hornbein
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The entirety of the student body or specifically undergrad vs grad?
I was an undergrad in both cases. The schools were within ten miles of one another so no geographical differences.
 

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