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Choosing a graduate school

  1. Mar 2, 2005 #1

    nwr

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    I'm an undergraduate senior right now, and I've been accepted to UCSB, UIUC, and UChicago. I Need to decide where to go by April 15.

    I'm interested in condensed matter, so my first inclination is that I would be crazy not to go to UIUC. But of course I'm going to visit them all in the next month or so, do the open house thing, talk to people, and make a decision.

    I just wanted to know if there is anyone on this forum who has any knowledge or experience about any of these three schools that might help me decide where to go. I'm interested in condensed matter, all my experience is in fluids/granular materials and I love it, but I want to look at other areas of research, too. I am sure that it's the experimental side that interests me, though.
     
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  3. Mar 2, 2005 #2

    ZapperZ

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    ALL of the schools you listed have extremely strong programs in condensed matter. I'm sure you know that UIUC is consistently ranked #1 in condensed matter in the country. So you can't go wrong going there in practically all areas of the field.

    U. of Chicago, similarly, has a very respected program in CM. It's vacinity to Argonne Nat'l Lab (it RUNS Argonne for the DOE) gives it a huge advantage in terms of access to Argonne and all of its facilities and expertise. In fact, there's a shuttle bus running between the U. of C campus and Argonne every weekday. So not only do you have your choice of research work done on U. of C campus itself, but you can also pick the various projects (with your advisor's approval, of course) in the Material Science Division of Argonne, or even at the APS.

    Zz.
     
  4. Mar 2, 2005 #3

    nwr

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    Thanks for the info. I'd really like to pursue materials stuff, which is why I'm kind of leaning towards Chicago.

    UIUC's size kind of freaks me out a little.

    Also, I heard the UCSB has no qualifying exam, which strikes me as really strange. They must have some way to weed students out, so maybe they just make the course grading system really hard ... anyone know?
     
  5. Mar 2, 2005 #4

    nwr

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    And another thing.

    I was shocked to get into Chicago, since their average Physics GRE score is 872, and I scored MUCH lower than that. I got in on the strength of the rest of my application.

    So my question is this: does this mean my fellow students are all extra-superb test takers (relative to me), and I'll probably fail their qualifying exam?
     
  6. Mar 2, 2005 #5
    It means you're going to have to study hard for your exam. Believe it or not, some students blow it off and fail.
     
  7. Mar 2, 2005 #6

    ZapperZ

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    You'll notice that, in the thread that I started titled " I have so-and-so degree, can I get into Physics?", I actually said at some point this:

    You just proved that I didn't make that up! :)

    While the GRE is looked at, the REST of your performance as an undergrad, and your letter of recommendations, play a larger role in evaluating your ability to go through the school's graduate program. So don't be so negative about your ablity. U. of Chicago does not need the money to just accept students simply to suck them dry (although, looking at their tuition and fees, one might think that way).

    Zz.
     
  8. Mar 2, 2005 #7
    I'm a current undergrad at UIUC, and I think it's a really great school. Of course it always ranks high in condensed matter. But also, the professors here are genuinely nice people (for the most part - there are one or two exceptions).

    I wouldn't be freaked out about the size. The campus as a whole is pretty huge, but you'll be spending all your time in the physics building, and the department isn't too big.
     
  9. Mar 2, 2005 #8

    nwr

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    Well, obviously.

    I do wonder, however, how much of a correlation there is between performance on the physics GRE and performance on qualifying exams in grad school.

    250+ grad students isn't big?
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2005
  10. Mar 2, 2005 #9
    Last I heard it was 250, but that may have been an older number. I know it is one of the larger physics departments, but it doesn't really seem that big, to me at least. I see the same people in all my classes, and I know quite a few of the professors on a first name basis. I guess if you want to be lost in the sea of students it wouldn't be hard, but if you make an effort to get to know the people in the department it isn't too intimidating.
     
  11. Mar 2, 2005 #10
    It depends on what your qualifying exam covers. I had two qualifying exams - one in quantum mechanics and one in classical mechanics. Not multiple choice like the GRE. Since the GRE covers a fairly wide range of topics, there isn't a great deal of correlation between the exams at my school and the GRE.

    Chances are - if you study hard, you will pass. I think qualifying exams at most schools have gotten easier in this day and age. This is the sort of thing you need to ask about when you visit.
     
  12. Mar 3, 2005 #11

    nwr

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    ZapperZ, I see your location is in Chicago. Are you affiliated with U of C?

    Anyway, I heard some news about UChicago, and I was wondering if anyone here can corroborate it or give me any more details.

    The graduate secretary Nobuko McNeill said in an email to a friend of mine, "Because of the not so great news the Department received last week in terms of research funding, the committee may curtail the number to admit this year. I am just guessing."

    What is that about?
     
  13. Mar 3, 2005 #12

    ZapperZ

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    Well, I work at Argonne, so that's as far as my affiliation with U. of C goes. However, I know a few people there, and have been on campus many times. So I have heard a few things from there.

    I haven't heard anything regarding this piece of info that you got. But considering you got accepted already, this shouldn't be of any concern to you. Every civilian science funding in the US is suffering a bit right now due to the president's budget. What this could mean is that there may be a reduction in the amount of post-doc and graduate student support. However, this is simply a guess, and if I were you, I'd worry about passing my qualifier first and worry about the rest of the stuff you can't control later.

    Zz.
     
  14. Mar 4, 2005 #13

    jtbell

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    I went from a small undergraduate college with about 1000 students, to grad school at U of Michigan, which is right up there with UIUC in terms of size. But in terms of everyday academic life, it didn't really feel that much different. As you say, I spent practically all my time in the physics department, whose faculty was about the size of the entire faculty at the college where I had come from. After I started doing research, I was dealing mainly with a handful of professors, which wasn't much different (in terms of numbers anyway) from dealing with my undergraduate physics professors.

    The big difference was in the overall cultural environment. Living in Ann Arbor was a lot of fun after four years in a tiny college town in Ohio! Not that I didn't enjoy college... it was just a different atmosphere, and I was ready to move on.
     
  15. Mar 4, 2005 #14

    ZapperZ

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    You forgot to mention that just the football stadium alone at Michigan can swallow an entire campus of a small school! :)

    Zz.
     
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