Is a young department a bad thing?

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In summary, the conversation discusses the potential drawbacks and advantages of attending a young department at a university. The participants mention factors such as the age and experience of faculty members, the school's ranking, and opportunities for research and networking. Ultimately, the most crucial factors for success are the student's own talent, initiative, and compatibility with the department.
  • #1
Is a "young" department a bad thing?

Hello. I am a chemical engineering major and I'm transferring this year. I am still waiting on a couple of schools but have been admitted to GA Tech and to UCLA. Tech's Chem E dept is ranked in the US News rankings but UCLA is not. UCLA's department is relatively young, is that a bad thing? I looked at their site and they do research in areas I'm interested in, but would it be a poor decision to choose a school whose dept is young and is not up here on US News rankings?

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  • #2
It's not clear to me what is important to you. What are your goals?

The possible disadvantage I could see would be that younger faculty members are usually less well-established, and recommendations from them (if applying to grad school) might have a bit less weight.
  • #3
You could try to look up information about the faculty members.
Do they have (for example) NSF grants?
Where have they published? Is their work being cited?
You might look up their thesis topics and see who their advisors were:
Is the department active? Is there a weekly seminar with invited speakers?

I'm not sure what US News uses in their rankings.
I'm not sure how reliable the following ranking is, but you can play around with it

In the long run, what is probably the most important is whether or not
you can work with someone on some topic that you like and can succeed at.
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  • #4
amb123 said:
UCLA's department is relatively young, is that a bad thing?


these kind of questions about good versus bad schools and departments all have the same answer : it's not only the school that counts. The most important factor is your own talent. If you are any good then you can make a young department into something great thanks to your contribution. if you suck, then you will suck everywhere. The clue is to be good and distinguish yourself from the rest of them. The most crucial factors are talent and personal initiative. Trust me, if you are any good, you will move forward in the positive direction, nomatter where you started. Make sure you like the place where you work.

  • #5
Congrualtions on your acceptance to Georgia Institute of Technology, Angela. I am a freshman here at Tech, and a Nuclear and Radiological Engineering major. Both Nuclear engineering and Chemical engineering have small incoming classes, usually less than 100 people, but the advantage of the Chemical department over the Nuclear one is that it is much bigger, about 250 graduate students and I think in the top twenty of the United States for size. I am not sure about the system at University of California, Los Angeles. I do agree with juvenal, though, if you want to go to graduate school, it is best to have professors that are published or have a reputation.
  • #6
I am a math professor at UGA. I amk a senior professor, i.e. I am older than everybody else. In my opinion a young department is a good thing because young peopel are usually more energetic, more knowledgeable about the latest information, and hence can be more helpful.

Now as an old guy i do know more people than some very young people, but the young people also know a lot of people, since they travel more and give more talks.

In science in general I believe young is good. Old people have more experience and maybe more knowledge, but young people have more energy, more new ideas, and can work longer hours without getting tired.

think about it, we are all used to seeing these pictures of einstein as an old geezer with goofy hair, but he burst forever on the world scene with his work at age 26.

I am now 62, but I did probably my most exciting work at 35.

I would talk to the people at both places and go with your gut feeling of who you can relate to and work with better.

sometimes older peopel are nicer and more relaxed and less competitive, but still younger peopel may be mopre helpful. Actually the point is not older or younger, but who is more active. Some old people are very active.

try not to be cynical and opt for the more influential recommendation. the point is to actually do something good, not to worry about how famous the person is who is recommending it. Sometimes I am amazed at how cynical the young people on this site are.

just my opinion of course.
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  • #7
A young department doesn't necessarily mean young faculty. The process of forming a new department takes years, and doesn't usually occur completely out of nothing, but often has existed as an interdisciplinary program or division of another department prior to growing enough to become its own department. Also, creating a new department is an opportunity for a university to recruit in some established people in the field, especially as a chair for the department, and to bring in some young blood as well.

Younger faculty still need to establish themselves and be highly productive to get grants and get tenure, while some older faculty wind up just sitting back and resting on their laurels. Young faculty still have time and energy to be in the labs and work side-by-side with our students, while the older faculty often are dragged off into more and more administrative roles, leaving the day-to-day running of their labs to junior faculty and post-docs. A young department is also less set in doing things a certain way only because they've always been done that way, so they are often more willing to listen to student feedback and adapt the curriculum based on that feedback. On the other hand, an established department will have taught the same classes for a long time, so will have more of the bugs worked out of the curriculum (or could also be stuck in an outdated rut).

The most important thing is to look at the courses being offered. Do those suit your own interests? Are there enough upper level courses to appeal to you? Look at the research interests of the faculty in the program. Is there a common theme to their interests? If so, then that will be the strength of the program. See if that fits with what you want your strengths to be. If there is no common theme (I've seen this more in older depts when people were hired hodge-podge over many generations of dept chairs all trying to take the dept in different directions) then that variety might translate into more variety of classes, or it might translate into a lack of a unified curriculum.

So, basically, there are a lot of things that can factor into a dept being good or bad, and its age is really a minor component of that. (Oh, though new depts often do have much newer facilities too, unless an older dept just got an infusion of new money).
  • #8
Thank you all very much for your replies. I know that if the student does poorly it is a limiter, and I know that having a great department won't necessarily make me great.

That said, reading what has been written, I am now leaning more toward UCLA than GA Tech. The research at GA Tech, which has a 100 year old Chem E dept, does seem rather scattered.. where the research at UCLA seems more focused in certain areas, and what is better is that these are areas of interest to me.

I know these type of threads get old, and I appreciate the time you all have taken to write replies here. I did check the "rate a chem e school" and from what I put in UCLA ranked higher than GA Tech, and Berkeley and Austin ranked higher than them both (still waiting on decisions there.)

  • #9
Admitted to Berkeley. This is an opportunity I cannot pass up. So, moving across the country.

Chemical Engineering double major with Materials Science.

Thanks everyone!
  • #10
Congrats, amb123! The bay area's a wonderful place.

- Warren
  • #11
have you visited the berkeley area? it is very exciting but not always the most wonderful place to live. It used to suffer from a lot violence and craziness. In 1992, 4 months there was almost more than i could stand.
  • #12
By contrast, mathwonk, I've lived here for almost four years. I went home to NC for a week to visit my family recently, and was practically begging to go back to San Francisco after only a few days.

- Warren
  • #13
ahhhh, the blessings of youth.

I was last there in 1992. for the first few weeks i was in 7th heaven,...great bookstores, wonderful record shops, a fantastic library, fine restaurants, etc etc, etc... a teenager even gave me a free ticket to a rock and folk concert just for giving her directions to the amphitheater.

Then the disgusting street people began to get to me, the wall to wall beggars and con artists. The first day i eventually gave away the entire $35 I had budgeted for that day for food, to hustlers looking for a handout.

One night I invited a so called homeless guy to eat with me at the mexican retaurant and he said "that spicy food does not agree with me, could you just give me some money to get a smoked turkey sandwich at the deli?:

(That would have cost about twice what I was spending on my own meal.)

After another few weeks there, I was economizing by walking the 6 miles round trip to work, and one night on my way home, a car pulled over and the driver rolled down the window and asked if I could spare any gas money.

So I gave him the $2. I was saving from not taking the bus, and he said: "Is that all you have?" Then he drove off without giving me a ride.

At the end of my stay, the grad students went out on strike from not being paid enough and I had to choose between crossing a picket line or not getting my work done in the library.

Then a grad student on his way home like me, got shot to death by a mugger because when asked for his wallet he asked the mugger: "why are you doing this man?" This happened one block off the main thoroughfare at about 10pm at night.

One afternoon when crossing the street in the crosswalk, a car accelerated trying to hit me, and I had to dive off the road to avoid being killed or maimed.

I began to notice the bus stop shelters had all the plastic windows smashed out,a nd no noe ever replaced them, like it was a war zone.

It just seemed like an insanely unfriendly place, and I have never been back, nor tempted to go.

If you want to live in a place like that just be aware of what it can be like, or learn how to survive there.

me I'm just a country boy - I like to live where my neighbors are friends and not trying to rob or kill me.
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  • #14
mathwonk said:
The first day i eventually gave away the entire $35 I had budgeted for that day for food, to hustlers looking for a handout... One night I invited a so called homeless guy to eat with me... So I gave him the $2.
All of these interactions were, honestly, your own fault. As sad as it is to say, the majority of homeless people are homeless for a reason -- most are mentally ill, and few are really starving. Avoid personal interactions with them. If you want to give to charity, donate to the Red Cross, donate to the Salvation Army, or donate to a local shelter. There's no reason whatsoever to give away your last dollars to a person you don't know, and you shouldn't have done it. That they took advantage of you is totally your own fault.
Then a grad student on his way home like me, got shot to death by a mugger because when asked for his wallet he asked the mugger: "why are you doing this man?" This happened one block off the main thoroughfare at about 10pm at night.
This is anecdotal; it doesn't mean Berkeley is inherently more dangerous or less friendly than other places in the country.
One afternoon when crossing the street in the crosswalk, a car accelerated trying to hit me, and I had to dive off the road to avoid being killed or maimed.
Again, anecdotal. Accidents happen. You have no way to know that the driver was actually trying to kill you, and you're just making assumptions to support your own bias.
I began to notice the bus stop shelters had all the plastic windows smashed out,a nd no noe ever replaced them, like it was a war zone.
Perhaps some kids had recently gone on a spree; the city certainly would take a little time to fix them. I'd hardly characterize Berkeley as a "war zone." Despite the homeless presence, it's really a lovely little community full of culture and life.

- Warren
  • #15
for give me, of course it does not matter what happened to me 13 years ago. things are poerhaps better today, and no doubt young people are more savvy.

but be careful. it is not like living in most cities.
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  • #16
thanks to everyone for their replies. I am very excited about this move. I an going from ft. Lauderdale, so although not From a "big" city... I have seer crime and homeless. I will update you once I get there. :-)
  • #17
I wouldn't be surprised if Berkeley has cleaned up a bit over the years, just as NYC has (especially Times Square). Having lived in the Bay Area for a bit, and visited Berkeley many times I can say that it's a very nice community, as chroot says. There's a lot of hippie, crunchy types there, who are supposedly more tolerant and free-lovish than the average American. The nightlife doesn't seem to be all that great, and you'll have to go into SF for that.
  • #18
amb123 said:
Hello. I am a chemical engineering major and I'm transferring this year. I am still waiting on a couple of schools but have been admitted to GA Tech and to UCLA. Tech's Chem E dept is ranked in the US News rankings but UCLA is not.

You will be sorry for not going to Gergia Tech, well I may be wrong but you are one lucky individual. People would kill to go to Georgia Tech (well not exactly since it is clearly ranked as having the most challenging university experience). Bottom line is they seem to not like international students (like myself) for whatever reason.

I agree with what Marlon said though, talent is talent and you can go anywhere and to great things. I guess once you know what you want you don't need school reputation to get it. I wanted to go to Georgia Tech but I might be going to Florida Tech instead, the admissions people at Georgia Tech are not the most helpful.
  • #19
As a student at GaTech, I will admit that I do not hear much of a difference between the reputation of Berkeley and here. The office of admissions is definately not helpful to anyone, even to an in-state student like myself. It took a long time for me to find out how to get transcient status at another college over the summer.
  • #20
only a ga tech student could possibly think ga tetch and berkeley have comparable reputations.
  • #21
Congrats amb123! I've only visited Berkeley (within the past few years). While I was there, it was absolutely beautiful! Sure, like any college town, there was a run down area, and a section of town that I probably wouldn't want to walk around in alone at night, but it didn't seem nearly as bad as some other cities and towns I've been in. There was clearly an area of town that was inhabited by students, and then there were the neighborhoods with the cute little cottage style houses and beautiful gardens with the most fragrant flowers! I found a really nice, cozy coffee shop close to a bookstore...what more could you ask for?! So, yeah, in just a few days of visiting, I found it to be a very easy place to get around and find things. A very cozy place. Best of wishes!
  • #22
Thanks, Moonbear! It's been a stressful couple of years in community college. It is difficult to stay motivated when everyone around you seems not to know/care about where they are going and only want to pass the class, not do well.

But, it's worth it. I am very excited to be getting a real college experience. I certainly doubt that i'll have regrets about not going to GA Tech as Berkeley is consistantly rated well above GIT for the program I am studying, (and most others!), and from what I hear of the Bay area, I may finally have found my place. I would've made the best of it at GA Tech, but I'm very glad that I got Berkeley.

  • #23
amb123 I must say I was not carefully following your posts or I wouldn't have said that; thought that you were comparing Ga Tech and UCLA. I have now realized that you got into Berkeley. As for Berkeley and Ga Tech I would say that Berkeley is the better school (for crying out loud, this is the home of PSpice :) ). Though universities should come up with a system where people could just take their acceptances and give it to someone else (like we international students who are forced to deal with stuff like the SAT).
  • #24
Best of luck to you, exequor. I replied to your pm also:)

  • #25
I know this is from the depths, but I just wanted to tell everyone that I found Berkeley to be a lovely place that I quickly fell in love with while I wandered around there for 5 days this past weekend. The school has a great feel, the town is like no other, and I wouldn't trade this opportunity for the world. I can't wait to move, we're leaving in a month and already have an apt (that was tough!, if you are going, plan to do some searching for an apartment, use craigslist, and be prepared to move in very soon!)

Thanks again to all, just wanted to update about the town. Oh, and yes, there are homeless, but hell, it is so nice there I can see why they don't mind living outside! They weren't terribly persistent in asking for money, and not mad when you ignored or said no. I suppose you could go broke if you handed your money out to everyone who asked, though, but that wouldn't be terribly smart of you! Overall, it is a great place with loads of culture, politically active folks (you'll never see better bumper stickers, and I saw 2 protests in 5 days), oh, and lots and lots of great food (indian, ethiopian, korean, vietnamese, the list goes on, and on..

Take care:)

1. Is a young department less experienced and knowledgeable compared to an older one?

A young department may not have as much collective experience or knowledge as an older department, but this does not necessarily mean they are less capable. In fact, a young department may bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table.

2. Are there any advantages to being a part of a young department?

Yes, there can be several advantages to being a part of a young department. These include opportunities for growth and development, a more collaborative and open-minded environment, and the potential for faster progress and adaptability.

3. Can a young department still produce high-quality work and results?

A young department can absolutely produce high-quality work and results. While experience and expertise are important, hard work, dedication, and a strong team dynamic can also lead to successful outcomes.

4. Is a young department more likely to make mistakes or have a higher failure rate?

It is possible for a young department to make mistakes or experience failures, just like any other department. However, with proper guidance, support, and a learning mindset, these mistakes can be valuable learning experiences and can lead to future success.

5. What steps can a young department take to ensure success?

A young department can take several steps to ensure success, including setting clear goals and expectations, fostering a positive and supportive team culture, seeking guidance and advice from experienced professionals, and continuously learning and improving their skills and processes.

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