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Schools How to know a grad program's strength?

  1. Jun 27, 2016 #1
    So, I've heard that rankings do matter if you want to go to academia; however, I've also heard that a PhD from the University of Hawaii in observational astronomy will be more valuable than one from MIT. So, where can I find universities' rankings by program (for example, cosmology or computational astrophysics)?
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  3. Jun 27, 2016 #2
    Depends on what you are looking for. Think about how many PhDs they graduate and where they go after? Post-docs, Industry, etc.

    You will have to spend time looking into these schools and the faculty to truly know if it's a good program. Even better would be to go there in person and talk to people since not all Profs update their CVs. Or email someone, either a prof or a grad student!
  4. Jun 27, 2016 #3


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    You can't. But by following the dialogue on this and other sites, plus departments' websites, you eventually get a better feel (like you just did with your example). Going to conferences and asking questions is a tremendous resource.
  5. Jun 27, 2016 #4


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    Probably the only way to try to ascertain this information without already being involved in said field is to look at a few of the following data points (arranged in increasing order of usefulness):
    1. Browse the websites of departments of interest and see which areas they have a focus.
    2. Ask a professor at your current institution (if you are attending a school already) and they ought to be able to give you a pretty good picture.
    3. Look through the top journals in that particular field and see who is publishing a lot of high-impact work in the area.
    Ultimately, specific research areas are too opaque for general publications like US News to be able to accurately rank such subfields (to say nothing about the drawbacks to such ranking systems in the first place). You will have to rely on sources that are closer to the subfield, and that is a more tedious process than just buying a magazine and looking at someone's rankings in a table.
  6. Jun 28, 2016 #5


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    You can kind of figure out about program strengths from hearsay, taking with faculty, etc.

    I would say the best places for the subfields you mentioned are Berkeley, Caltech, Chicago, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, and Princeton
  7. Jun 29, 2016 #6


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    UH's degree is better because they have far more observational astronomers than MIT does. Look for how many people the grad school has working in the field you're interested in, how much they publish, how many students they have, whether or not they earn grant money on a regular basis, and so on. Smaller schools often have one or two great programs in particular fields, so just because it's not famous overall doesn't mean it's not a top school for something in particular.
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