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Happy grad students?

  1. Sep 11, 2011 #1
    I am thinking of going to grad school for EE or Applied Math, and I wanted to ask about personal experiences. What made you choose the grad school you chose? Are you happy there? Did the weather affect you? If you could choose a grad school over again, would you use a different criteria to select a grad school? I'm not really interested in going to the "best" school, I just want to be happy working with fun and intelligent people.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2011 #2
    Are you only looking for responses from people in EE or Applied Math? I don't fit the bill for that but I can make a comment that I think applies everywhere.

    Grad school was fun and fulfilling for me because of the fellow students that I worked with. We all became good friends and helped each other get through it. I think building those interpersonal relationships with people on the same path as you is very important to making the whole thing enjoyable. That probably applies to any area of study.
  4. Sep 12, 2011 #3
    As a data point, I received my Ph.D. in physics about 5 years ago, but I think your questioning is reasonable for any current or former graduate student too answer (to some extent... even though other EE's or Applied Math people can give you better directed responses regarding particular programs).

    Well, to be honest, I mostly applied to reach schools in fabulous locations... and I got stuck with the lowest on the reach list, which was really ok... because its reputation increased when I got there, and for most people, it IS now a reach school. I was also accepted to an institution that has REALLY good name recognition (and a real reach school), but that particular application was in a different field (EE rather than physics... primarily because of two particular people in the department), and was both in a nastier place (weather/location)... and offered less funding (with more expenses via living expenses in the location).

    My grad school was in Colorado (CU Boulder... which does, I'll note, have an applied math program)... As I'll say, I only really applied to great locations... and honestly the weather does tend to affect me (humidity makes me sleepy and certainly LESS happy). In Boulder, the mountains to the west block most of the humidity... even in winter (we only had snow every once in a while... and when we did it was this great dumping of snow that was FUN).... so it was great. Surprisingly, sometimes there were sometimes even 70's Fahrenheit on Christmas (unless there was snow).

    I'd use the same criteria (a great program in a great location)... but I'd be more aspiring on the actual negotiation for a spot in a research group (I was having great performance in the 1st year grad courses and had lots of prior research experience, so I would have probably been competitive for these spots).

    Don't get me wrong: I really liked my research group and advisor (and tried to go for "balance" not "stress")... and it's not like I'm currently completely unemployed with the NOW limitations of children/spouse that I have and the bad present economy). But note: I didn't really think about the HUGE importance of massive amounts of publications and the connections that are made with the very top-tier researchers (which would have likely led me on a different path in my personal life but in a much more fulfilling direction in my career). I also think I would have just stayed more motivated with more stress... so part of my problem with the less stressful research program was just that it was less stressful (I'm sure I could have gotten more out of it than I did... honestly, I rather need stress to accomplish good things or I become a slacker).

    But beyond that... yes... grad school was happy. One of the best periods of my life.
  5. Sep 15, 2011 #4
    I just started, but I can give you some information on how I chose where to apply, and how I decided where to go.

    Realize that, when pursuing a Ph.D., you will spend a substantial (4-7 years+, depending on a number of factors) amount of time at that school. So, yes, it is important to apply to and attend somewhere that you think will be a comfortable place where you enjoy living for that duration. If you have had the fortune of traveling around, maybe you have an idea of where you would like to live, and where you wouldn't. I have had this fortune, and so I had a pretty good idea of where I would like to live, and where I wouldn't. I also wanted to use this time to live somewhere quite different from where I grew up. Weather is important, because it's something you will have to deal with. So, of course, location, weather, available activities in the vicinity, ease of traveling to and from the area are all important considerations when choosing where to apply, and, ultimately making that decision on where to attend.

    That being said, deciding on graduate school is far from just deciding where you want to live. You have to make sure there are researchers at these potential universities with whom you would like to work. Funding is also an important consideration, as is average time to completion, which can certainly depend on department politics. As a graduate student, you will be spending a very substantial amount of time at the school working, and less time doing other things in the vicinity, like you may have in undergrad.

    Unfortunately, choosing a graduate school is a many-variable problem, and you have to do your best to optimize all of these variables. (Unless, of course, you only end up accepted into one place. This was the case for me, and it greatly simplified my final decision. Deciding where to apply was the most time-consuming part of the process for me.) If you find a school that isn't "ivy league", but has active researchers in your field, is in a location in line with your preferences, and you have good financial support, you have a good impression of the folks there, I say to go for it. School visits can hopefully bring a lot of these factors to light.

    As for happiness, well, if you're studying in a field you love, and you like doing research in that field, then, yeah, I think you will be happy. I am happy. Busy, but happy.
  6. Sep 15, 2011 #5
    I applied to six different schools. All of them had research that I was interested in, and I remember UT Austin particularly because of Weinberg's book on General Relativity and one of the thermo textbooks, and that some of the professors were frequent posters on sci.astro.

    Really happy with my Ph.D.

    Not me, but is was critical for my wife (who I met in grad school).

    Nope. Also to a large extent they choose you. I applied to six graduate schools and got admitted to four.
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