Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Graduate school dilemma-solicitng opinions

  1. Jun 5, 2013 #1
    Graduate school dilemma--solicitng opinions


    I started a thread a couple of days back that never really caught on. I'd like to phrase the question a bit more generally so that those with experience can give some advice.

    I currently am deciding between applying to grad schools Caltech and Glasgow University for space systems engieering. Caltech is one of the top 3 American schools in astronautics, but doesn't seem to have exactly what I'd be looking for in terms of research (though I admit I don't completely know). It also requires a more extensive application which involves taking the general GRE and a couple of other things. I have some postive contact with the department, suggesting I apply, but no one has or will gaurantee me anything.

    Glasgow is respected in Europe, but is not the same level as Caltech, and is virtually unknown in America. It also charges (a lot) in tuition fees, because unlike in America, graduate school is not typically paid for by the uni in the UK. That being said, it has research projects which are extremely similar to my own interests, a PI who (1) lets grad students publish as first author and (2) has already invited me to join the group--unofficially gauranteeing me a spot.

    Which one should I apply to? Both? Would going to a less prestigious school ruin my career? Would going to a prestigious grad school but doing research in something closer to propulsion than full on systems engineering bar me from entering the field? Thanks for the thoughts.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 5, 2013 #2
    When a student from EU goes to the US to study is considered as "international student" and the tuition fees for example in Georgia Tech are more than 30000 USD. Similarly, when a US citizen comes to study in EU, is considered as "international student" and the tuition fees are more than 15000 EUR. Whether one can afford it or not is a personal matter.
    As for your 2 choices (regardless of money), I would apply to both of them to ensure that I would be offered a position to at least one. In case I had an offer from both I would consider other factors such as the research topic. If I don't like it why should I do it? Of course this is my point of view. Other people may prefer to study in a really well-known university even if they do research on a completely different subject that the one they like. And I'm asking (myself), would I be productive and efficient if I worked on something that I don't really like even if that was at the best university of the world?
    Another factor that many people consider seriously is the weather and the every-day life in the place they are about to go. You may find it silly but some people drop out of universities in foreign countries because they can't get used to the weather and/or life.

    I don't think I helped you a lot but at least you have another opinion now.
  4. Jun 5, 2013 #3
    Thank you for your thoughts, Aero_UoP!
  5. Jun 5, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Any good advisor (and most bad ones) will allow this.

    The bottom line is think about where you want to work. If you are concerned about the lack of reputation of Glasgow over here in the States and do want to come back here after graduate school, perhaps check and see if this particular professor has connections with industry or academia on this side of the pond (depending on your eventual preference in employment). If he does, great. Otherwise, you may have to do something like a post-doc at a more well-known place in order to get the job you want (which may be inevitable anyway).

    The bottom line is that in graduate school, especially for a PhD, it is more important to go to the school that has a research group that is simultaneously great at what it does and that interests you. If that happens to be at a less known university, then for you, that university is better than Caltech. The strength of places like Caltech is that nearly every research group is great at what it does.
  6. Jun 5, 2013 #5
    Thank you for your thoughts, boneh3ad. I had thought of that, and certainly hoped that such postdocs (which I had planned on doing) at well known schools/national labs were still available for a Glasgow PhD. Most of what holds be back is the large tuition. About 30,000/year in US dolars, and none of that is payed for by the school. Since UK PhD's are three years instead of 6, that's about 90,000 in loans. For someone like me who will graduate from undergrad not owing a penny, that's really scary! Are aerospace PhDs typically able to pay back such large loans?
  7. Jun 5, 2013 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I am not sure you fully understand how the education system works over there. As far as I know according to a good friend of mine from the UK who was a post-doc in my lab, yes a PhD is generally 3 years over there but that is because you have to have a master's degree first. Do you have that? Otherwise I can't imagine it will only be three years.

    Also, the school doesn't pay for PhDs but the professors over there certainly still do. You shouldn't have to pay for your PhD. My (former) post-doc friend didn't pay a cent. Shoot, he didn't even pay for the master's degree because he got it through his work at MoD.
  8. Jun 5, 2013 #7
    Masters is typical, but no one has ever said I needed one. I guess they'll admit me to the masters+phd package if they think I need one, which as you said means 4 years rather than 3.

    To my knowledge that's only the case if the prof has funding or a grant to do so. I do not think that's the case here, and the PI has been rather coy when I've asked him about funding; the only decent option looks like fulbright and that's only 1 year even if I got it.
  9. Jun 6, 2013 #8
    Actually, the MSc for an international student in the UK costs about 30000USD (tuition fees about 15000 GBP but with the conversion rates it must be around that amount in usd - living costs+housing are extra). But I think when you do a PhD they actually pay you instead of being paid by you. I think they pay about 15-20000 GBP which are enough only to cover your living expenses for a year but it's something. I can't swear though.
  10. Jun 25, 2013 #9
    I'd go the CalTech route were I in your shoes. Last thing you want to do is go heavily into debt getting a graduate degree and then have problems getting employment. If you go to a #3 school in the US, you'll get employed. If you go to a lesser known UK school, you may not. Minimize the risk and maximize the reward, I tend to think CalTech sounds like it will let you do that. I'd be especially wary if they (Glasgow) don't help you pay for grad school there in the UK. Most graduate work pays for itself via grants or some other external funding, sometimes internal funding like fellowships and assistantships.

    Also, as a warning, just remember that if the research sounds fun and interesting, it's probably a ploy to recruit students. Real graduate work is more often tedious, boring, and difficult. Difficult means it's useful though, which means future security in work or academia.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook