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Physics Physicists (Theorists) who started from Liberal Arts College

  1. Nov 6, 2017 #1
    How rare is it that some physics student from a random liberal arts college go on to the likes of Harvard and Princeton for grad school and postdoc and now is a renowned physicist in the field? Do you know anyone like that?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2017 #2

    ZapperZ

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    One of my undergrad summer intern came from Williams College and went on to do his PhD at Oxford.

    Liberal Arts colleges in the US often provide first-class (and expensive) undergraduate education, even in science. As far as I can tell, most of the well-known Liberal Arts colleges in the US have zero problem with placing their excellent students into any brand-name schools here in the US.

    Zz.
     
  4. Nov 6, 2017 #3
    I understand. But if you go through the professors at big/top institutions, rarely will you find one that started off at a Liberal Arts College.
     
  5. Nov 6, 2017 #4

    ZapperZ

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    1. There aren't that many of them when compared to the big schools.

    2. Did you troll through practically every single faculty-member's profile at these big institutions?

    3. After one gets into any of the prestigious schools for graduate work, then your undergraduate institution doesn't really matter directly in your employment anymore. Once you are at MIT, then whether you got your undergraduate degree from Princeton or Swarthmore College does not matter anymore in whether you get a postdoc or employment. Your PhD work is what matters the most.

    Off the top of my head, Thomas Cech is a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and he received his undergraduate degree from Grinnell College. Can't do much better than that!

    Zz.
     
  6. Nov 6, 2017 #5
    Very helpful!!!!
    Yeah, I did troll through every single one.
    And the likelihood of getting into MIT or Harvard would be so low for physics undergrads from liberal arts colleges though. You are nothing compared to people from top undergrad institutions. That is quite frustrating!
     
  7. Nov 6, 2017 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Sorry, but I don't buy that.

    Just like other types of institutions, different Liberal Arts colleges have different "prestige". I doubt that anyone would look down at graduates from Williams College or Sara Lawrence College, et... etc. These are well-known and well-respected Liberal Arts colleges!

    Secondly, getting into MIT, Harvard, etc... for grad school can easily be a crapshoot, even for those who graduate from top-ranked, brand-name schools.

    And finally, here's an article written by Thomas Cech that you should really read before you discourage more people with bad advice:

    http://www.thecollegesolution.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/cech_article2.pdf

    Zz.
     
  8. Nov 6, 2017 #7
    At the small liberal arts colleges you will find brilliant professors who actually teach the classes. I learned intro quantum mechanics from David Park, in a class of 7 students. That was over 40 years ago but I still remember many of the 'lectures' as if it were yesterday.

    https://physics.williams.edu/profile/dpark/

    I went on to graduate school in engineering, not physics. But that was my choice.
     
  9. Nov 6, 2017 #8

    radium

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    I think talented people from respected liberal arts schools generally do well with grad school admissions. There are certain schools like Reed which are known for sending students to great PhD programs. However, you will have fewer options coursewise than someone from a big research university (who may even take several graduate classes) and you won’t have any graduate students around (I had a lot of very valuable interactions with grad students when I was an undergrad). There are research opportunities but likely a lot fewer than at a university, although you can go to other institutions over the summer.
     
  10. Nov 13, 2017 #9
  11. Nov 14, 2017 #10

    symbolipoint

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    Could you choose a word other than "troll" for that? Someone might misunderstand otherwise. Meaning intended was likely, sort-through, search, examine information and assess.
     
  12. Nov 14, 2017 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    Sau Lan Wu graduated from Vassar. John Mather graduated from Swarthmore. Henry Kendall went to Amherst.

    You had a hypothesis. You received evidence against this hypothesis. Then you doubled down. Does this sound like good science to you?
     
  13. Nov 14, 2017 #12

    jasonRF

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    NSF compiles statistics on closely related topics. Check out
    https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf13323/

    Table 4 shows that from 2002-2011 Reed College graduates are more likely than graduates of Yale, Princeton, Harvard, U Chicago, Stanford, etc. to go on to earn a science/engineering PhD. The only schools that beat Reed are 3 schools where a very high percentage of students are in science and engineering: MIT, Cal Tech and Harvey Mudd. The number of liberal arts colleges in that table is, at least to me, quite surprising. Of course, the liberal arts colleges are small so the total number of PhDs they yield is relatively small.

    These data do not answer your "theoretical physicist" question, but they certainly provide some context. Starting at a liberal arts college can work, partially because the only students available to help with research are undergraduates. I know a PhD chemist who earned a BS from a liberal arts college where he started research his freshman year (and he wasn't the only chemistry student to do so!).

    jason
     
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