The Dirt on Grad School
The Dirt on Grad School
Your buddies and roommates are fairly clueless. Talk to someone who has actually come out the other side of the whole process.
Please keep in mind that a bigger school or higher ranked school may not be the best school for you and rankings tend to be very biased. Know what you’re looking for. One U may rank highly in the overall grad department score but very low in the specialization you want to study.
A good faculty mentor can only do so much. If you aren’t willing to push your self and to work hard you will not succeed.
Experimentalists are most marketable if they have hardware and software experience.
What to Expect When Accepted
- In general, you should:
- be invited to campus for a tour. The U should pay for your entire visit but you may be expected to pay for things upfront & get reimbursed. Try to have them book as much as possible for you so it’s direct billed to the U.
- be given the opportunity to meet with a wide range of faculty – but you must make it known what you are interested in!
- be given the opportunity to meet with current grad students. Try for alone time with grad students who are working with your prof. of interest. They’re more likely to give you an honest opinion that way.
- Understand that in most hard sciences you will not be accepted to graduate school unless they have guaranteed funding for you in terms of a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA). You should not be taking out loans for a hard science grad school!
- Expect that your international colleagues have already used most of the 1st year grad texts as their undergraduate texts. If you were the star of your undergrad institution in the US chances are you will not be the star in a multi-national grad program in the US. It’s okay.
- Getting into grad school is a business transaction. You were not admitted because the U is nice. The success of the department is measured by the success of the students. The U asks: if I invest in this person, how likely are they to succeed. You should ask: if I spend the next 5-7 years of my life studying at this U, will this best prepare me to succeed?
Hard Questions: Prospective Grad Schools and Faculty Advisors
- What is the attrition rate in percent and how many students are accepted yearly?
- What tests are there along the way to the degree?
- What material do each of these tests cover?
- What is the policy of passing tests? If you fail so many times do you get booted from the program?
- Ask the faculty exactly what they are working on. Working on CMS does not mean the faculty will have anything to do with the Higgs. Therefore what you want to work on may not be the same topic as is assigned to you for your thesis.
- Where is the experiment/theory performed? Where will I be expected to be stationed? Oftentimes students and postdocs are sent to live at the experiment. Be open to moving after classes are done.
- How large is the experiment/theory collaboration? This is important for networking.
- What is the total size of the faculty’s group?
- Will the faculty you are interested in be accepting any new grad students in the coming year?
- How many students have the faculty had in the past 10 years? What have they gone on to accomplish?