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Graduate school help

  1. Jun 27, 2008 #1
    URGENT Graduate school help

    Hi guys,

    I've been getting a few offers from professors at University of Calgary and Manitoba (both in Canada), and I'm unsure which one I should accept.

    I have a strong interest in cancer pathology, unfortunately, most of the profs involved in this area do not wish to take me in. The profs that kindly offered me master's positions in their labs are mainly associated with neurology/neuroscience, this is not my concern.

    From what I learned from other recent graduates, there are a few things I should look into before I agree to join a prof's team:

    1. How many papers the prof publishes on a yearly basis, this seems to directly relate to the funding he gets to support his projects.

    2. His/her reputation and authority in that field (I don't really know how this is determined other than counting the papers that were published on Nature, Neuroscience Journal, etc. and looking for the impact factor rating associated)

    3. The university's rank in colleges across Canada/North America. I personally don't think this is important, but it might play a role if I want to work oversea?

    4. What projects my prof's lab is conducting (currently, one prof studies gene therapy's effect on neurodegenerative disease, one studies Rett syndrome and proper glial cell cycle regulation, and the last one focuses on sodium/calcium exchange channels on neurons and cardiac cells). I think all of them are attractive topics, and that makes it harder for me to decide.

    My question is which one of the above will influence me the most if I planned on getting a job related to neurology (with a decent salary) after I receive a M.Sc.? Based on the researches the profs are conducting, which one carries more "potential" futuristically speaking...?

    I appreciate any grad student, veterans and professionals in this field to give me some advice on which offer I should take. I know it all comes down to my own preference, but I seriously need some suggestions, thanks a lot in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2008 #2


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    Re: URGENT Graduate school help

    I'm confused. You started out saying you're interested in cancer, not neuroscience, and then end by asking what would be best for a career in neurology.

    First and foremost, you want to attend a university where there are labs accepting students to do work you're interested in doing. You do graduate work to specialize in something that interests you, so this is key. If the positions you're being offered don't do what you are interested in, there's really no point, and you'll just be miserable.

    For a master's degree, as long as they have current funding, you don't have to worry so much about them getting future funding. You'll be out before that's an issue. Also, the quality of publications really is more important than quantity, except for tenure review. So, fewer publications but in better journals is better than lots of publications in obscure journals. For cancer research, look for publications in Nature Cell, or Cell Biology as a couple of the top journals people in that field publish in.

    Also, quite frankly, the research you do for your master's degree is not so important as learning HOW to do research when it comes to finding jobs using that degree. The topic of your research becomes more important for Ph.D. students.

    If you're not finding what you need in Canada, cancer research is still one of the few well-funded areas in the U.S. You could consider applying to attend graduate school in the US instead of Canada. If the lab is receiving NIH funding in the US, they're doing good work. In Canada, I think the big funding agency for biomedical research is CIHR, so if a lab is funded through them, it's probably a sign they're doing good quality work.
  4. Jun 27, 2008 #3


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    Re: URGENT Graduate school help

    Partly, it could also mean that the policy is to put the head of depts name on EVERY paper. Or in my field it means they designed/obtained funding for the instrument and get their name on everything it produces.
    Younger profs also publish much more because it leads to jobs - senior staff publish less (but more important?) papers.

    Do they get asked to give keynote talks/head sections at conferences?
    What did their previous grad students go on to do?

    If you are sticking in the field then the group/supervisors reputation is more important. There are a lot of famous groups in obscure institutions. Similairly there are a lot of famous institutes that do nothing in a certain field.
    BUT - if you want to get out of the field and work in law/accounting/business etc then university names can matter - but only if they are in the Oxbridge/Stanford league.

    Pick one that is doing interesting work in a range of fields - this means they will attract good people. Working with good people is generally all that matters.

    I don't know what jobs you would get with an MSC, I would have thought either a PhD or a medical degree would be required?
    But I'm an ex-astronomer so what do I know!
  5. Jun 27, 2008 #4


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    Re: URGENT Graduate school help

    That reminds me of what I wanted to mention in my first reply. Look at the position of the authors on the paper. Someone with a productive lab will usually have a lot of papers where they are last author...in biomedical research, the last author position is considered the "senior" author. The first author on the list is the primary author who did most of the actual lab work, usually. If all their publications have them as a middle author, they are collaborating a lot, but aren't really being productive getting their own work published. Also, their current and past students should be appearing often as the first authors on the work. Otherwise, it indicates their students aren't really getting much done or published or getting the due credit for it, but are getting tacked into the middle of the list as little more than technical help.
  6. Jun 27, 2008 #5


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    Re: URGENT Graduate school help

    It's important to keep in mind that it's not the professor who offers admission, but the department and ultimately the university.

    As an incoming graduate student, I would also consider placing weight on a professor's:
    - personality
    - expectations
    - availability to his/her grad students
    - teaching reputation
    - number of recent grad students (0 can be risky, > 5 and how much time will s/he have for you?)
    - project ideas

    It would look nice on a CV to work for the next big cheese in your field, but that's not always the best enviroment for learning.
  7. Jun 28, 2008 #6
    Re: URGENT Graduate school help

    Thank you so much for your enlightenment and suggestions guys, I think I can finally come to a decision today and get back to the graduate office on Monday (last day for accepting the offer).

    And sorry for causing you confusions Moonbear, I guess I was meant to say that cancer biology was my primary interest, followed by neuropathology. I think the time I spent on most of the 4th year courses studying carcinogenesis and cell cycle regulation pushed me preference toward the field of cancer more than anything else :)
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