Which school is stronger in condensed matter theory?

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  • #1
Zonai
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Hey guys. I have offers to do summer research at both Brown University and University of Chicago this summer, and I was wondering which school has a stronger department in regards to condensed matter theory. Personally, I think it's University of Chicago, but I'm not too sure and I'd appreciate any thoughts! Thank you.
 

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  • #2
gleem
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The University of Chicago according to https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-science-schools/condensed-matter-rankings
 
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  • #3
Vanadium 50
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1. Just because University X is ranked about University Y does not mean every professor or program in University of X is stronger than in University Y.
2. This kind of "box checking" does not work as well as its practitioners think it does. It's a REU, for heaven's sake! Go and do the thing that sounds most interesting and don't worry about your resume.
 
  • #4
klotza
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Probably University of Chicago, but if there's someone at Brown you're excited to work with, don't let the school's rankings dissuade you.
 
  • #5
Dr. Courtney
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1. Just because University X is ranked about University Y does not mean every professor or program in University of X is stronger than in University Y.
2. This kind of "box checking" does not work as well as its practitioners think it does. It's a REU, for heaven's sake! Go and do the thing that sounds most interesting and don't worry about your resume.

I respectfully disagree. There are not many opportunities to impress folks outside of one's home institution, and the REU adviser's letter of recommendation can boost grad school applications. While it is hard to compare institutions with this question, there is a fairly straightforward way to compare how well the actual research mentors/advisers are known in the field.

Look up the two candidate advisers on Google Scholar. See which one has more citations. If one has 10k citations and one has under 1k citations, one is definitely better known in the field than the other.

Of course, this assumes the student can do a good enough job in a short REU to merit an excellent recommendation from each adviser. Now, I don't steer students too much based on this consideration. Picking an adviser and a project that one is excited about is more important. But I am very honest with my own students. If they have a chance to work with someone much better known in a field than I am (say, 10 times the citations I have), I encourage them to jump at the opportunity.

Not that citations are the best way to discern how respected different scientist are in a field, but it is probably the easiest to apply and describe simply in this kind of discussion.
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50
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Look up the two candidate advisers

I don't think you're disagreeing with me. The stronger advisor may not be from the stronger school.

That said, the advisor's name is signature 0.1% of the value of a letter, and the other 99.9% is content. A vague letter from a Mighty Famous Bigshot is not nearly as useful as a specific letter from someone not-so-famous.

But we're back to box checking. It's not always about grabbing that next rung on the ladder. The purpose of an REU is a research experience.
 
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  • #7
Zonai
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1. Just because University X is ranked about University Y does not mean every professor or program in University of X is stronger than in University Y.
2. This kind of "box checking" does not work as well as its practitioners think it does. It's a REU, for heaven's sake! Go and do the thing that sounds most interesting and don't worry about your resume.
Thank you for your input! I understand your point about box checking, and I agree with you there. I asked this question because of the specific situation I'm currently in. As it stands, I know who I'd be working with at Brown, but U-Chicago informed me that they won't know who for sure who my advisor is until May. The research at Brown is interesting, but it isn't exactly what I want to do; at U-Chicago, there are several faculty whose research I would be more interested in, but there is no guarantee I could work with them. So unfortunately, I can't really compare the research projects at both schools, and I'm trying to make my decision based on other factors instead. Furthermore, since I am currently a junior, I am also trying to do research at a school that I may potentially apply to for graduate studies in the fall.
 
  • #8
Zonai
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I respectfully disagree. There are not many opportunities to impress folks outside of one's home institution, and the REU adviser's letter of recommendation can boost grad school applications. While it is hard to compare institutions with this question, there is a fairly straightforward way to compare how well the actual research mentors/advisers are known in the field.

Look up the two candidate advisers on Google Scholar. See which one has more citations. If one has 10k citations and one has under 1k citations, one is definitely better known in the field than the other.

Of course, this assumes the student can do a good enough job in a short REU to merit an excellent recommendation from each adviser. Now, I don't steer students too much based on this consideration. Picking an adviser and a project that one is excited about is more important. But I am very honest with my own students. If they have a chance to work with someone much better known in a field than I am (say, 10 times the citations I have), I encourage them to jump at the opportunity.

Not that citations are the best way to discern how respected different scientist are in a field, but it is probably the easiest to apply and describe simply in this kind of discussion.
Thanks for the response and the advice! I just mentioned this in my reply to Vanadium 50, but I'm unfortunately in a situation where I can't compare research advisors or projects at the two locations. However, I agree that looking at citation counts would normally be a useful tool in making these kinds of decisions.
 
  • #9
Dr. Courtney
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Personally, I tend toward an "expectation value" approach with these kinds of unknowns.

I estimate, to the best of my ability, the likelihood of each possible outcome at the unknown (Chicago, in this case) and use that as a weighting factor to my best estimate of the value of that outcome.

Then I compare that to the known outcome (Brown, in this case) and my estimate of the value of that outcome.

But that's the mental side. Sometimes there's a quiet voice in my heart telling me what to do, and I just go with that. That's the heart side. Should one always "go with your gut"? Not always, but you should at least know what it's saying.
 
  • #10
sysprog
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I admire both of those great institutions (I've worked for UC -- specifically the hospitals -- my Mom went to Brown -- Pembroke College thereat was 'already' admitting women back then) -- it's a tough choice -- I would think that if you don't have in mind a Professor whose work you've identified as something to which you want to contribute, which school is closer geographically should probably be part of your set of determinants; I think that Chicago gets colder than Rhode Island does (in Chicago we don't bother with an overcoat at merely freezing -- 32F is light jacket weather -- below 0F with a strong wind, then fashion stylishness becomes unimportant -- that's cold and we put our real winter coats on), but I just checked and Providence is at 44F right now and Chicago is at 56F . . .
 
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  • #11
gwnorth
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@sysprog the OP will be doing research in the summer. I don't think there's going to be a material difference in the weather between Rhode Island and Chicago at that time of year.
 

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