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How to find a graduate school that matches my research interests?

  1. Mar 23, 2010 #1
    Hi PF,

    As I'm reading more about graduate school, its becoming clear to me that ranking graduate schools as "good" or "bad" is too broad and naive- that its much more fruitful to evaluate grad schools by specific sub departments within the Physics departments.

    But I have no idea how to do this. For example, say I want to go into HEP, or biophysics, or even string theory, how do I find graduate programs that have strong interest in the same fields? This is much more specific than a vague metric of what a "good" school is (such as what USNWR may use) but I don't want to have to mine all of academia and do the sorting myself as to which departments are most productive in what fields...that could take an obscene amount of time. Any place that has already done this for me?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2010 #2
    There are plenty of resources, but few that really "ranks" schools according to research area. A great way is to ask some faculty members at your undergraduate institution. They keep up with who's who and who is doing what, and should be able to point in in some directions.

    Your department should also keep some books on hand, like this one: https://www.amazon.com/Graduate-Programs-Physics-Astronomy-Related/dp/0735405956". This does not rank anything, but gives a comprehensive list of graduate departments in the United States, along with faculty members and their research interests.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Mar 23, 2010 #3
    Once you have gone to the AIP listing of physics graduate departments, you should then go to the websites of the departments, and just see for yourself. As a physics undergraduate, you are a far, far, far better expert of what makes a good physics program than anyone at USNWR.
  5. Mar 23, 2010 #4
    Ranks don't matter. Your supervisor matters. A supervisor with many connections will have the abilities to set you on the right path.

    Also, your supervisor is the one guiding your work. Hence, you should interview your supervisor. Not the other way around. You're interested in establishing a foothold in this area and acquire appropriate knowledge. It is important to ask your prospective supervisor how they plan to do this for you. What do they currently do with current graduate students. Talk to their graduate students. Of course, only go to this length when you have narrowed it down to maybe two prospective choices. Beware that they should be just as thankful that you have chosen them as you are thanful that they chosen you.

    I made the mistake of not doing the above. And going to graduate school currently stands as the worst decision in my life and as the worst decision I have ever executed. (I did not take proper steps in ensuring I'm going in the right place.) Now, any benefits I gain from graduate school will be indirectly related and never directly related. I say indirect because an M. Sc. can get you a job for the sake of the name and degree. But if I were to go to for a Ph. D. I assure you that I would need to do another Master's Degree again or courses to prepare.

    Choosing what to do in graduate school is a big decision and should never be taken lightly. A large majority of progress, guidance and direction will be put into another person's hands (your supervisor). So it is very important that you know that they are willing to act on your best interest whenever possible.
  6. Mar 23, 2010 #5
    I'll be applying to schools this coming fall, and I'm pretty sure I've got my choices narrowed down to a few.

    I Googled the **** out of grad schools and research areas. When I found a department that looked like it may suit my interest, I looked at each professor individually. Looked at their CVs, their publication lists, their number of grad students advised, and the grad students' placements after graduation (big one! more profs should include this info). I've heard it recommended that you should try to find journal articles written by the profs in the department and read them, but really, there's no possible way I'd be able to understand anything. However, I DID go over to SIAM and looked through their journals to see who was publishing in my area of interest. I'd then Google those people to see where they worked and what their department was like.

    I picked up on word-of-mouth and reputation also. For instance, I heard around these forums that both Penn State and Maryland are very well respected in nonlinear dynamics for mathematicians. And, lo and behold, I found that both schools have big research groups in these areas. I don't think I would ever have known that if it wasn't for PF. So keep your ears open for stuff like this.

    It's tough though, because we all know that interests can change. So, if before grad-school I'm really intent on studying subject X, but then I get to grad school and realize I hate it, does the department have other strengths too? Can I jump over to another field easily? For this reason, I'm trying to find departments that are strong in fields that I THINK I may like, but also have strengths elsewhere along with.

    Past this sort of superficial search, I think Norman's advice is best and is something to be taken very seriously. Just, how in the hell do you take time off your senior year to travel to grad schools?! I can barely afford to take an hour long lunch.
  7. Mar 23, 2010 #6
    You should have the background to at least understand something, and be excited about what you don't understand.

    In most situations, you really aren't committed to a research topic until the end of year two. Also a lot depends on the people you end up working with. You might learn to like/hate topic X because so and so does or doesn't do research on it.
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