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How competitive is cosmology at the PhD level?

  1. Jun 4, 2014 #1
    I am a masters student at some Canadian school best known for astrophysics (and one of the premier schools in the world for white dwarves), dreaming to get into the likes of UPenn (a reach, but not a pipe dream-level reach à la Harvard and Princeton, which some over-ambitious recommender advised me to apply to) for particle cosmology; in other words, the intersection of particle physics and cosmology. My numerical credentials: 3.7 in undergrad (curse you, D in real analysis 2 taken way too early for my own good, second semester in undergrad to be more precise), 3.8 in masters, 910 (87th percentile) on the physics GRE, V162, Q167, AW4.0 (keep in mind that French is my first language) on the general GRE.

    On the plus side: I have done a year of research in theoretical particle cosmology and, if I managed to publish before apps are due, my chances will be that much better. I know, I've heard it all about how competitive particle theory is (VERY competitive), but how does cosmology (and especially particle cosmology) compare to particle theory in terms of competitiveness?

    For the record, the bottom of my list contains Vanderbilt and Dartmouth, and a few publics in between the Ivies (Ohio State, Minnesota and Penn State) with Tufts and Carnegie Mellon thrown in.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 5, 2014 #2


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    OSU, Minnesota, and PSU are all very good graduate schools for physics, much better than Vanderbilt and Dartmouth on the whole. What is your selection criteria for schools you are choosing?
  4. Jun 5, 2014 #3
    I only really asked how competitive cosmology was...

    One thing is clear: it had to have some particle cosmologists. Vanderbilt and Dartmouth were there because they were easier to get into than OSU, PSU or Minnesota.
  5. Jun 6, 2014 #4


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    I am a grad student at a school much like OSU, PSU, or Minnesota. We have several hundred graduate students and maybe 60 faculty. Perhaps 3 or 4 grad students and perhaps 2 professors engaged in what could be said to be particle cosmology. Funding is scarce and getting a funded graduate research position in this field seems to be very competitive. Faculty hires seem almost nonexistant, at least compared with Condensed Matter and AMO. For certain, permanent positions are out there, but in my humble opinion it is futile to enter this field (or particle theory in general) with the hope of a permanent faculty position. Take my words with a grain of salt, as I am speaking of the situation as an outside observer.
  6. Jun 6, 2014 #5
    Then again, how much weight do the subfield of expertise of a professor hold when hiring a professor at a school whose physics department does not offer a graduate degree?
  7. Jun 6, 2014 #6


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    Usually, small colleges that don't offer graduate degrees want their faculty to do research that undergraduates can participate in. In physics, this tends to favor experimentalists or phenomenologists who can set up small-scale projects that the school's resources can accommodate. In astronomy/astrophysics, for example, they might do projects involving analysis of observational data.
  8. Jun 18, 2014 #7
    However, I was under the impression that most colleges that do not offer graduate physics degrees had limited resources to throw on experimental apparatuses, which severely constrains the ability to conduct experimental projects.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but limited budgets favor, on top of particle experimentalists that can readily use collaborations like ATLAS, where one can analyze experimental data, or astro guys, who can analyze observational data, or other fields that can conduct computational research for little cost (compared to some optics, condensed matter or biophysics experiments) theory...

    Because I came to realize that I want to earn a PhD so that I could teach at a physics department without a graduate program. Less research pressure, less pressure to get funding...

    Now, what's your opinion on Lowe at Brown? I have given up on Harvard and Princeton already, so I may as well replace it with Brown.
  9. Jun 23, 2014 #8


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    Don't discount the fact that the barrier to enter a purely theoretical line of research as a undergraduate and do useful, meaningful, and original research is somewhat higher than in an experimental project.
  10. Jun 30, 2014 #9
    Perhaps the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is a good choice, or, if I published by application deadlines, Chicago...
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