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Programs PhD from a regular University

  1. Oct 12, 2011 #1
    PhD from a "regular" University

    Hi, So I recently started grad school going for a PhD in Physics at Oregon State University.So far It seems like a decent program and the research is interesting. I've just started thinking about what kind of opportunities I'll have after I get my PhD though. Every professor here and at my undergrad seemed to have a degree from an Ivy Leauge school.

    Where then do students like me, that aren't from an Ivy Leauge school, go after a PhD in physics? Is it just that I can go to some of the same schools but not get tenure like the Ivy leaugers? Or am I basically stuck going into industry or research at very small schools? Obviously it depends on how well I do here as well. If I do very well here could it be possible to get a job helping with research at say, CERN?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2011 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    First, the odds of you working at CERN are so close to zero as to be indistinguishable. Oregon State has no HEP program, which is what CERN does. If you're working in the wrong subfield, it doesn't matter where you went to school, you're not qualified.

    Second, the thing that matters most is what you do as a postdoc. Obviously getting a postdoc with good opportunities is an advantage, and that is related to where and how you got your PhD. But what really matters is not the overall reputation of your university, but your advisor's standing in the field. If you're interested in, say, cosmic ray physics and your advisor is Pierre Sokolsky (he is arguably the best in the world), that's an extremely strong plus, even though the University of Utah is not ranked very highly overall. That's also part of the reason why at this level, "ranking" doesn't make much sense.

    Finally, there are plenty of people from non Top 10 schools who have become tenured professors or permanent lab staff. However, I think most of them could have gone to a Top 10 school, but chose not to. It's certainly true in my case - I went to a Top 20 school, but I turned down some Top 10 schools. The field is very competitive - perhaps 10 or 20% of PhDs depending on subfield end up in one of these positions, and the Top 10 by themselves graduate more than this.
  4. Oct 12, 2011 #3
    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    In theoretical astrophysics, lots of people end up in investment banking. Most of the physics people I know in the field got their Ph.D.'s from big public universities (UT Austin, UCLA, UIUC, UCSD).
  5. Oct 12, 2011 #4
    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    Thanks for the response vanadium. I was just using cern as an example of a place that would be cool to work but probably hard to get into .

    So finding a professor here who is prestigious in their field would be the best goal for me now, if I wanted the best research position after getting my phd?, right? Of course ill try and balance that with interest in the field.
  6. Oct 13, 2011 #5
    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    The first and most important thing is to find an adviser that you are personally compatible with. You adviser will be GOD for a few years, and finding a professor that will help you with your career but who you do not get along with is self-defeating because it means that you run the risk of not finishing your Ph.D. at all.

    Also, career aspects become rather more important when you put together your committee.

    It's more complicated than prestige. I know of some professors that are considered "average" but they know how to work the system. Also, if you have an adviser that is just new tenure track, it could be very, very good or very, very bad.

    Finally, you have to realize that you aren't likely to get a academic job at all, even if you can walk on water.
  7. Oct 13, 2011 #6


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    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    Best grad school advice I ever received:

    "Your adviser can be your mentor or your tormentor. It's your choice. So choose an adviser wisely."

    The people you work with, your adviser, your lab mates, etc. are at least as important to your well being and happiness with your research as the science itself. I was interested in a group at my university that does really awesome work. However, when I looked into them, I noticed that the adviser was never around and interested more in his start-up companies than his students careers. I also noticed that there was a general aura of bitterness permeating all the grad students in the lab. It didn't matter how cool the work was. I would have been miserable in that group.
  8. Oct 13, 2011 #7
    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    Many people I know went into computer science/IT research followed by lecturing in these subjects, or those with sufficient modesty went into commercial IT support & earned a lot more.
  9. Oct 13, 2011 #8
    Re: PhD from a "regular" University

    How do you find the best advisors for your particular interests? Is there a database of sorts, or do you have to look around, and read journals and such?
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