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Where should I apply for grad school?

  1. Sep 9, 2010 #1
    I need a few safety schools, and most importantly a few target schools. I'll have no trouble coming up with reach schools.

    The problem is that I have no idea what to look for. I know I want to do Physics, but that's the extent of it. I have no idea what part of physics I'd like to do, but from what I hear, there's no assurance you'll get to do exactly what you want to do anyway (because of funding, etc).

    I know a few things, though. I'd ideally like to go to a larger school than my undergrad school (only 2k people). I'd also definitely rather be in a big, cool city. No crappy second rate cities. As for location, ideally somewhere on the east coast, or California, though I'm also looking at a few places in Chicago.

    Can anyone suggest some places?

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2010 #2


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    You should look at the UC schools. Berkeley may be a stretch :biggrin:, but there are nine other campuses all over the state. Many meet your criteria (cool city? guess Merced is out, haha).
  4. Sep 9, 2010 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I read this and marveled at this.
    • It seemed like an unusual and non-academic criterion to be given such priority.
    • It assumes that out of the myriad permutations of criteria one could use to evaluate cities, you and the readers would automatically agree on which set to use.
    • It assumes there even are such things as "second-rate cities" - ignorming aspects like weather (where again, tastes may vary), an individual's experience with a city often says at least as much about the individual as the city.
  5. Sep 10, 2010 #4
    Well, I'm actually going to dignify your oh-so-subtle patronizing and pretentious response with some thought, which was apparently something below your majesty.

    • Right now I'm finishing up undergrad at a school that I like a decent amount. But there is only so much happening on campus at a given time and it gets especially dull around mid-year, so naturally the area it's in is important. The city I am in is actually very large, population-wise, but is otherwise a pretty poor and dull city. I have liked going to this school, but my biggest qualm is the city I'm in. And I'm not alone, this is a general sentiment here. If I'm going to be spending 6 years in one place, I'm going to make sure I like it this time. I didn't really put much thought into it the first time, and I regret that. So I think it's a fair thing to be given this much priority.
    • Yes, people will generally disagree on which cities are the best. But use your head. I didn't ask people for fine evaluations of the cities, I put forth a vague "good city vs. bad city" criterion. And unless you're a major outlier, most people will agree that NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland are all relatively "nice" or "good" cities, while Oakland, Compton, Detroit, and Flint...not so much. Since it seems like this is a difficult concept for you, I'll explain explicitly. I think most people will agree that a "good" city might have easy public transportation, local events, cool places to go to, and a public that is generally happy and friendly, hence, the cities I named. A "bad" city might have a general lack of things to do or see, not a great infrastructure, a lot of crime, and a lot of unemployed and generally dismal people.

      In the case of this city, one can't really go off campus and meet interesting people. We're in one of the poorest parts of an already poor place. Things like movie theaters are really only possible if you have a car. There aren't many local events. The few parks are filled with homeless. Muggings right next to campus are a fairly common thing. The city is pretty dirty. So I think that even if people have minor differences of opinion on the subject, they could still suggest some schools in nice places.
    • Since I think I just established that some cities are definitely "worse" than others in some nigh objective way, I'll ignorm that first part. First of all, I'm not alone in the sentiment that this place isn't the greatest. It's pretty much generally agreed upon here, calling this place "a gem in the rough" and all that jazz. Secondly, I'm not the type who can't make his own fun. But me and my friends can only do that so much. Eventually, you want to tap into the place you live. So yes, it depends a little on the individual, but the city itself is still a huge factor.

    Someone else was able to understand this and give me a helpful answer. You, on the other hand, gave a useless, obnoxious, condescending answer that suggests you either lack basic reasoning skills or have a very limited knowledge of how the world works. Please avoid wasting your time, wasting my time, and making yourself look like an fool in the future.
  6. Sep 10, 2010 #5
    Declan, I'm 110% positive that insulting an individual who seems to have an established reputation on these forums will facilitate your obtaining a helpful answer. With an attitude such as yours, you should relocate to NYC, not because you'll fit right in, but because a helpful NYC denizen will gladly slap some manners into you in a NY minute. Good luck.
  7. Sep 10, 2010 #6
    Thanks! Berkeley was already on my list, though you're right in that it would be a stretch for me. I've heard good things about UC Davis also.
  8. Sep 10, 2010 #7
    He was a jerk to me without any good reason. I'm perfectly courteous to people until they say something as insulting and annoying as that. It's irrelevant that he has posted a lot on this website. If it helps, picture someone else saying the dumb stuff he did. It seems like common sense that if you are a jerk to someone, you shouldn't expect much better back. If you are essentially calling someone stupid, it seems reasonable that they will defend themselves. It's funny you mention NY-- I'm originally from there, and if someone said something as ignorant and condescending as he did, by your logic, he would be lucky to get the response I gave. But I'm reasonable. What should I do in the future, just ignore trolls?

    Anyway, this has nothing to do with the actual thread. Does anyone else have any suggestions for target schools?
  9. Sep 10, 2010 #8


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    You need to calm down and stop insulting people who are trying to help you. Vanadium was not obnoxious, and he did not give you a useless answer. He made valid points: That when deciding on which graduate school is the best for you academically, it is not usual to have your major criterion whether or not the city is "Crappy"; and that different people's idea of what is a second rate city could be very different to yours (you state that you have set out criteria, but "big" and "cool" are hardly very specific!). You're not going to get very far here if you keep the insults flowing.
  10. Sep 10, 2010 #9
    I don't see anything insulting in this; he/she (I don't know Vanadium 50's gender) thinks your idea is wrong, and it is okay to say that on an online forum (and of course, it is totally okay for you to respond to that comment as well). I've had plenty of people who told me my ideas/thoughts are wrong, and some of them (especially math professors) seemed a bit intimidating, but that's how I learn stuff; it's always good to hear another perspective.

    Name calling, or any kind of ad hominem attack, on the other hand, is rude.
  11. Sep 10, 2010 #10
    He gave me a pretty useless answer in that he didn't actually suggest anything. He simply made a pretty snarky comment about how no one could suggest anything, despite the helpful post right before his. If someone "marvels" at something you said and it's clear they don't think it's actually brilliant, it seems to follow that they are marveling at your stupidity, which I found rude.

    As for the criterion of the city, I think I explained why it's a big deal to me. Beyond that, there are still going to be many options even with that restraint. And even if it is unusual, it doesn't seem enough so to insult me for it. And like I said before, though "big" and "cool" are hardly specific and people might have different ideas, I think there are some pretty clear indicators that everyone can agree on, like the examples I gave.

    It would have just been a little off topic to just point out I was wrong, but s/he also said it in a way that's inescapably kind of rude. If he had simply disagreed with me, I probably would have been completely civil. I've also had professors tell me I'm wrong, many times. But they have never been rude about it, even if they were intimidating. I'm interested in other perspectives, but not when they start off by saying that they're amazed at my stupidity.

    His may have not been of the form "You are a xyz", but it was still pretty much an ad hominem attack. He cast the first stone, without reason. That seems pretty rude. No one likes being called stupid, even if they have been, and especially when they strongly feel that they haven't been. My first response did have insults (and yes, I probably shouldn't have stooped to his level, and should have just explained why I disagree), but it is still me defending myself against a pretty inflammatory remark, which people seem to be ignoring for the most part.
  12. Sep 10, 2010 #11


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    Vanadium does make reasonable points.

    The most important point I think he made is that the city shouldn't be your number one criterion for a school. The location, can and should, play a role in your decision, but there are other important things you need to think about first when making this decision.

    For instance, If your not sure about your research interests, you want to apply to departments with a lot of options. If, in two years, you decide that you want to do high energy, and you are at a department has a strong condensed matter group, but a non-existent high energy group, you're in trouble.

    So, IMO, you should find physics departments that fit your interests and goals, and then break them down by rank, location, cost of living, etc.

    My advice:

    1. Find departments with lot's of different kinds of research work going on. (Give yourself options in the future.)

    2. Split them up by relative ranking. (If you want help in this regard, you'll need to provide more information. No one can tell you what is a safety/target/reach for you without knowing your research experience/GPA/GRE etc.)

    3. Organize your Reaches/Targets/Safeties by Location, from best to worst in your opinion.

    4. Apply to schools that appear at the top of the resulting lists.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2010
  13. Sep 10, 2010 #12
    I agree, people will disagree about the weather of Chicago. But even the ones who hate the cold will agree that it's a pretty buzzing city and a center of culture.

    That's actually something helpful I've been told before, about applying to places with lots of options, which I'm definitely going to do. The physics department here actually has the exact combination from your example.
  14. Sep 10, 2010 #13


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    Don't write off some of those small-to-midsize Midwestern cities. I thought Ann Arbor (U of Michigan) was pretty cool while I was there for eight years (then again, I grew up in a grubby Ohio steel mill town, so what do I know about cool? :uhh:). Madison (U of Wisconsin) impressed me as rather similar when I visited there. I understand Austin (U of Texas) is somewhat similar. These schools have wide-ranging physics programs.
  15. Sep 10, 2010 #14
    Thanks, I'll check these out! Good target schools for me, probably.
  16. Sep 10, 2010 #15
    Here are a few more large schools with good physics graduate programs in 'world class' cities:

    - University of Washington
    - University of British Columbia
    - University of Toronto
    - McGill University

    (Hopefully you have nothing against Canadian universities.)

    These schools are all roughly in the middle of the 'top 100' schools; I don't know whether they will be reach schools, or safety schools, or target schools. Anyway, I hope this helps. Good luck.
  17. Sep 10, 2010 #16
    Hmmm, thanks, I'll check them out. I actually like the idea of going to school in a different country, but I was advised against it for some reason. But I'll look at them!
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