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Grad schools, nanotechnology, canada vs. us, and more

  1. May 5, 2005 #1
    About me: I want to work in nanotechnology. For this, I'm currently an undergraduate at the University of Toronto in Engineering Science, Nanoengineering Option. I've finished 2 years so far, and I have 2 left as an undergraduate.

    The way things are currently going with nanotechnology, any work in the field is probably fundamental research. That means that I'll probably have to go to grad school. That's fine. I'm not violently opposed to spending 3 or 4 more years in university.

    The problem is that I'm not of any great genius. I currently have a 77%, B+, 3.3 GPA. (At UoT, those three are equivalent, just to be perfectly clear.) If the next 2 years go well, that may be pulled up to something like an 81%, A-, 3.5 GPA.

    I'm also doing some work this summer in carbon nanotubes, a research project with a professor here at UofT. If things go really well, some paper of minor significance may be published. It's nothing too important in the grand scheme of the scientific community, but personally notable for me as an undergraduate planning for grad school.

    This is most likely enough to get me into the University of Toronto's grad school for something like Materials Engineering, doing a nanotechnology oriented thesis towards a Master's and eventually a PhD. Now, I'm not exactly thrilled with the prospect of going to UofT, since I've had it beaten into my head that the top US names are what to strive for: Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Caltech, etc...

    Nevertheless, doing some research, I came across the following list.
    http://ed.sjtu.edu.cn/rank/2004/top500(1-100).htm

    So at least according to one method of evaluation (that has all of the usual suspects near the top) the University of Toronto is in the top 1% of world-wide universities, the top one in Canada, and one of the top 25 in the world. All of a sudden the prospect of getting a PhD from it seems more appealing, since it appears that UofT is in the company of some pretty well-recognized names. (I don't know if this position is commonly accepted - I've heard from UofT that UofT is a world-class university, and from Engineering Science that "Engineering Science is among the world’s top undergraduate engineering programs", but I'd expect to hear that kind of self-advertising)

    But by this point everything is starting to get confusing.
    - Should I be shopping for a name like Stanford, or should I be looking at hundreds of universities for professors whose interests closely match mine?
    - What would be the difference between going to a Stanford versus a Northwestern University? (I imagine both will teach me roughly the same material, with roughly the same amount of talent.)
    - How much importance lies in having your PhD from a particular place? Is a PhD rendered useless if it's from one place... versus being treated like God's gift to mankind if you've got a Stanford PhD?


    Bottom line is I want to work in Nanotechnology, and probably need a PhD to do something interesting. I'm not good enough to get into Stanford; how much should I worry about that? (Worries such as how much will a PhD from a 'lesser' university like UofT hurt me when looking for a research/engineering position at a company.)
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2005 #2
    Is that ranking universal in all fields? It doesn't say much about the specific nanotechnology field....As far as I know Alberta(Ucal or UA) and UWaterloo both have nano tech programmes for grad school and As you said UFT...honestly if you can get just as good a degree here (cheaper in tuition and housing) you might as well stay here. Just build up a research portfolio and good grades and maybe when its time to do a postdoc you can go to the states.
     
  4. Aug 1, 2006 #3
    the shotgun approach

    Hey,

    Reading your post was really familiar for me, because I'm exactly in the same situation as you. I'm a 3rd year engineering science physics option student who is finishing off my PEY term and I am interested in going to physics-y nano research next year in grad school, probably focusing on quantum dots.

    I've got a friend who is very adamant on going to US grad schools, and he keeps trying to sell me on the idea that anyone can get into these schools if they just go about applying properly. He suggests writing the GRE and putting enough effort in so that you can ace it; then he suggests applying to a wide variety of schools and hoping that one will take you. Since each school usually has a quota of Canadian students that they like to hit, even if the competition is fierce for some school there may be a shortage of applicants in others. He suggests using this shotgun approach because of the fact that the name of the school really does matter. When you compare the salaries and grant money that profs receive later in their career, it usually stems right back to where they did their graduate degrees.

    While my average is hovering around 80%, and most top US schools take applicants with 85 and up, I'm still going to give it a shot; I will write the GRE and apply to a bunch of schools... it's the best I can do. And if not, then UofT is a really great school with no shortage of good profs doing nano (I can recommend a few if you are interested)
     
  5. Aug 1, 2006 #4

    Since they legalised gay marriage its been dark in Norway six months out of the year.

    Correlation does not imply causality. I'm willing to wager that the salaries and grant money have more to do with their capability as researchers, which is probably what got them into those schools in the first place. But hey, what do I know?
     
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