Strategies/tricks to get admission at top schools

Discussion in 'Định hướng du học' started by Mister, Aug 21, 2009.

  1. tatchan

    tatchan Viên mãn

    Anh Mister có thể nói thêm về mục in đậm được không ạ. Vấn đề về network và tầm quan trọng của network đã được thảo luận khá nhiều trong topic về " How to build profile to meet job demand" của anh lập ra. Nhưng với trường hợp đang trong quá trình chuẩn bị apply PhD chưa thấy anh nói tới!

     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2009
    livefully likes this.
  2. Mister

    Mister Thèm thuồng

    Tôi đưa ra vài comments về ý này, có thể ko đúng trong tất cả các trường hợp. Theo tôi biết thường các Prof trong khoa đang muốn nhận học trò sẽ contact với adcom để chọn SV. Bước đầu adcom sẽ shortlist các candidate đủ tiêu chuẩn và cho điểm sơ bộ. Các candidate strong nhất sẽ được nhận ngay và có thể cho fellowship của trường. Các candidate còn lại sẽ được thảo luận để ra quyết định cuối cùng. Trong trường hợp có một Prof nào thích một candidate trong list này (vì connection đã có hoặc do tương đồng về research,...) và sẵn sàng cho RA thì tất nhiên anh ta sẽ được nhận.

    Như vậy nếu có connection với các Prof ở khoa đang apply thì họ sẽ tác động với adcom. Trong trường hợp họ có funding và muốn nhận người quen thì tất nhiên là dễ nhất. Nếu họ ko có funding thì họ cũng có thể nói chuyện với adcom và recommend nhận candidate họ quen. Tất nhiên connection là một chuyện, quan trọng là các bác Prof ấy phải nghĩ candidate mà họ giới thiệu thật sự có năng lực và sẵn sàng tác động với adcom. Thường các bác Prof giỏi rất khó để bạn impress họ nhưng khi họ nghĩ bạn giỏi thì họ sẽ recommend bạn rất strong. Vấn đề là làm sao tạo connection và impress họ!

    Connection cũng có thể giúp trong giai đoạn một khi adcom shortlist các strong candidate. Tôi có người bạn làm trong adcom của một trường top và có kể cho tôi nghe một case thế này. Một ông Prof cũ của một candidate gửi email trực tiếp cho các Prof trong adcom của trường đấy để lưu ý trường hợp học trò của ông ta. Ông nói kiểu như: một học trò của tôi tên A.. apply vào khoa các ông năm nay; đây là một trong những học trò giỏi nhất của tôi.... Với các email kiểu này thì ít nhất chú học trò sẽ được vào vòng trong. Trong trường hợp Prof trong khoa bạn đang apply gửi email cho adcom thì nó cũng cũng có giá trị tương tự thậm chí cao hơn vì adcom có thể gọi điện và nói chuyện trực tiếp với bác Prof của bạn. Tất nhiên người gửi email kiểu này phải có uy tín trong ngành chứ các Prof V+ mà gửi thì chắc cũng ko giúp được gì.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2009
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  3. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Nhưng mà các trường tops có rất nhiều stellar applicants để chọn. Em nghĩ ngoại trừ người contact thuộc loại xuất chúng, các bác ấy sẽ có xu hướng không commit với ai để xem tổng thể có thằng nào hơn thằng này không.

    Em nghĩ để contact thành công (giáo tác động gì đó tới adcom, ko theo normal route), int'l applicant cần ít nhất 1 trong những điểm sau:
    - Có sẵn fellowship (full or partial), giống các bạn vef
    - Outstanding publication or research exp
    - Thầy hướng dẫn hiện tại nổi tiếng, và personally email tới targeted prof.
    - Quen targeted prof (qua collaboration, conf ...)

    Cho nên lobby thật sự không đơn giản. Bản thân em 1 tháng trước cũng thử contact vài chỗ, nhưng mà kết quả nhận được là nil, lý do chắc vì ko có cái nào trong 4 cái trên.
     
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  4. Timmy

    Timmy Viên mãn

    Last edited: Nov 11, 2009
    Mister likes this.
  5. Mister

    Mister Thèm thuồng


    Cái này thì chắc chắn rồi. Connection chỉ giúp strong candidate ở trường top mà thôi. Nó chỉ giúp khi ít ra candidate phải đủ strong để lọt vào vòng trong. Chỉ trong trường hợp người tác động với adcom rất nổi tiếng thì gần như adcom sẽ tin ông ta. Nhưng impress được một người nổi tiếng để họ lobby là rất khó trừ khi chúng ta từng làm việc với họ và họ biết chính xác năng lực của chúng ta. Trong trường hợp bác Prof lobby cho học trò ông ta mà tôi kể trên, ông ta muốn adcom để ý tới cậu học trò và ít ra đọc kỹ application. Tất nhiên ông ta sẽ viết thư rất strong cho cậu học trò nên nếu được xem kỹ, khả năng được là cao. Cuối cùng theo ông bạn tôi thì cậu học trò đấy được nhận. Thư của bác Prof viết cho hắn cực kỳ strong. Bác Prof thậm chí viết thế này: nếu năm nay trường các ông chỉ nhận một người, học trò tôi là người xứng đáng nhất!

    Tôi còn nhớ có một Prof ở UCB từng nói thế này trên web của bác: đừng liên lạc với tôi về chuyện xin làm học trò, tôi sẽ ko trả lời; nếu muốn tôi nhận làm học trò thì hãy đọc các papers của tôi và chỉ ra một bugs/errors trong các papers này.

    Tụi India có một cách impress các Prof thế này. Khi chúng nó học gần năm cuối under thì chúng nó gửi email cho rất nhiều Profs xin intern. Trong khi làm intern chúng nó cố gắng impress Prof host chúng nó. Rồi từ đó chúng nó làm quen với bạn bè Prof này. Nói chung trừ phi chúng ta học under ở trường nồi tiếng và có famous Profs viết thư strong. Còn lại phải tốn rất nhiều thời gian và công sức để tạo quan hệ với các Prof nổi tiếng.
     
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  6. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Có post này trên discover blog viết bởi 1 UWash prof, thấy thú vị, em đưa lên đây bà con bình luận:
    Things the Grad Admissions Committee Does Not Wish to See | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

    Here are some of the things from various admissions files that have made me sad (details changed to preserve anonymity)

    • “I’m sure Stu Dent could do well in graduate school, provided you can get him to talk to you more than I ever could.”

    • Transcripts with three times the number of courses (and substantially better grades) in music than in physics.

    • Deep, Meaningful quotes from rock bands and dead hip-hop artists in the footer of the applicant’s cover letter.

    • “No other institution would benefit more from my presence than yours.”

    • “I only want to work on Topic X! Nothing is cooler than Topic X! My intellectual life is a shrine to Topic X.” Except, our department has no relevant work on Topic X.

    • “Stu Dent has excellent physical intuition and will undoubtedly succeed in graduate school”. Except, Stu has mostly B’s and C’s in their physics courses and a 15th percentile on the physics GRE.

    • Students who have taken no math beyond calculus.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2009
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  7. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Nhiều comments ở dưới entry rất đáng để đọc.
     
  8. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Another great entry:

    The Other Side of Graduate Admissions | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

    Now that late January is upon us, a wave of graduate school admissions letters is soon to come crashing down upon undergraduates throughout the land. The process can be immensely frustrating to a student, as one often has little idea as to what magic ingredient is determining whether one is admitted or rejected from different schools. Having been involved in graduate admissions decisions for much of the last decade, I therefore thought I’d give a summary of how it’s done at UW Astronomy, so students can get a sense of where in the process their application might potentially go astray. My take will be different from other schools and other departments whose admissions committees may emphasize different strengths, but at least it’s one data point where few are available.

    Details below the fold. Enter if you dare!

    * We typically get around 100 applications, plus or minus 20, depending on the state of the economy. This number has been steadily increasing, but the number of students we admit in a given year can vary wildly, depending on our target for the size of the entering class. A few years back we wound up with an entering class of nearly twice what we were shooting for (lucky for us, because all of them were awesome), which meant that applicants for the next year’s class had the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of being admitted. Thus, sometimes schools are harder or easier to get into than you might anticipate.
    * We do not read all the files, I hate to say. The fact is that if you have a GPA that reflects predominantly B- and C-level work, without the counterbalance of a strong physics GRE score or enthusiastic letters, you are not going to be admitted. Therefore we only read files where some weighted combination of GPA, GRE, or letters suggests that the student might potentially be admitted (UPDATE: Note that “read”=”pouring over every detail of your application while taking copious notes”. Every score, letter or essay that comes in is read by someone, which is why we’re able to make sensible judgements about which files need more attention.). We actually consider a few different weighted combinations, and will read any file that pops up above some line in any of the different weighting schemes. The resulting cut usually preserves more than half of the files, so while we don’t read all the files in detail, we at least read most of them. The graduate program assistant also keeps an extra eye out for promising files which might fail any numerical criteria, to make sure that truly unusual cases don’t fall through the cracks.
    * The committee has three people, so we divide the files surviving the first cut into three piles. Each committee member reads one pile, and does an initial rating of the file. The rating flags any files that still fall below the level of admission. The remaining files (usually ~1/3 of the original applicant pool) are then read carefully by the entire committee.
    * By this point, we’ve got a very strong group of applicants to choose from, and yet we still have to winnow it down by a factor of two to three. As a starting point, all the committee members sort the remaining applicants into strict quintiles. We then merge everyone’s ranking into a single ranked list. We then discuss the entire list in great detail, focusing most of our energies on cases where there is a significant dispersion in the quintile assigned by different committee members. The dispersion usually indicates that someone on the committee noticed something in the file that others missed (”You guys missed the part where he said he wanted to study astronomy because the stars control everything we do?!?!?”), or that there’s extra information that someone on the committee had (for example, meeting the student at a conference). This process is both grueling and gratifying. It’s grueling because much of what happens at this point is splitting hairs, as we always have more strong candidates than we can admit. It’s also gratifying because (1) many of these applicants are just phenomenal and (2) we finally get to talk about all these files we’ve been absorbing for the past week or so (seriously, even with all the triage, the committee does little but read applications for a solid week).
    * Based on the discussion, we move people above and below “the line” that indicates our cutoff for immediate admission. This is by far the most painful part, as we are always forced to delay admitting people we’d admit in an instant if we could risk having an entering class of 15. We sometimes get to admit them, but usually a bit later, after we have a sense of what fraction of the first round of admits seem genuinely interested. We’ve noticed a trend of very strong students applying to way too many schools, making it extremely difficult to predict the fraction of our admits who will wind up enrolling. Back when I applied to grad school — you know, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth — we had to type our applications onto forms, which put a physical limit on how many schools you could actually apply to before carpal tunnel set in.

    So, what goes into all the subjective judgment above?

    * Confidence that the student will not fail our rigorous written qualifying exam. We usually judge this based upon excellent work in physics courses, a record of actually taking a lot of physics courses (this is getting to be a real problem, as undergraduate astronomy programs proliferate), and/or strong physics GRE scores.
    * Evidence of research potential. This is usually shown by participating in one or more REU programs, with a big extra bonus point for actually publishing a paper. However, we do sometimes admit students who, while lacking direct research experience, show evidence of tremendous drive and/or creativity.
    * Evidence of actual interest in astronomy. There are a fair number of otherwise qualified applicants who don’t seem to really appreciate what they’re getting themselves into. Instead, applying to grad school seemed better than applying for a real job.
    * Evidence of a fit to the program. Particularly for students near “the line”, it helps if your interests are a decent match to the research going on here. We also look for diversity in the applicants’ interests, to avoid an entering class consisting entirely of budding cosmologists.
    * Evidence that the applicant has inspired loyalty and/or enthusiasm from at least one or two letter writers. There are students with decent grades, GRE scores, and REU experience who somehow made it through school without ever inspiring anyone to jump up and down on their behalf.
    * Evidence of maturity, leadership, drive, and/or independence. Given that we have a surfeit of applicants who are over the bar in terms of physics preparation and research experience, we give an extra nod to applicants who already seem to have their act together in other ways.

    Given all the above, a frequent admissions committee comment is “I’m not sure I would have gotten in….”

    UPDATE: By the way, a common refrain from anxious students waiting for admissions decisions is “WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG FOR THEM TO DECIDE?!?!?!”. If you look at the list of steps above, you’ll see that the process involves the assembly and verification of 100+ applications (each of which involves 6 separate contributing agencies — student, letter writers, transcript office, ETS), careful reading of ~10 pages of documentation for at least 50 files, coordination of schedules for at least 3 very busy faculty members over several rounds of deadlines (first triage, first reading, second reading by everyone, final meeting), coordination of the details of the offers (what financial packages are we authorized to offer, when are visiting days, etc), and THEN, finally, notification of the aforementioned anxious student. If it were as simple as noting your 950 on the physics GRE and dropping you an email, it would be a lot faster, but to do it right takes time. For a large physics department with 500 applicants and a larger admissions committee, the process will be even more involved and take significantly longer. Moreover, because of the coordination of schedules among committee members, we are often unable to predict exactly when we’ll be able to make offers. A few badly timed conferences can set back admission decisions by weeks.
     
  9. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Dành cho các bạn bên Phyics
    An Inside Look at the Physics GRE | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

    I am just back from Princeton where we held the annual meeting of the GRE Physics Committee of Examiners, a group of six, ahem, distinguished professors (we have grey hair) who sit around a conference table working through hundreds of potential and actual Physics GRE problem. Each year new exam forms are completed, new questions added to the pool, statistics reviewed, and a good time is generally had by all.

    This was my last meeting – I have served on the committee for six years. The membership rotates roughly every two years. I had been an external reviewer and problem writer for a couple years, and was then asked to serve on the committee. I am sworn to secrecy about a lot of the details, for good reason, but let me try to tell you from my perspective as an exam writer how to study for this dreaded event in your physics education.

    Firstly, there’s the format. The exam is 100 questions long, and you have 170 minutes to do it. This is, therefore, different from just about every other physics exam you have had in college, where you have, say, four to six problems in an hour-long exam. The GRE Physics problems (or “items” in assessment world jargon) are short, to-the-point questions, and just about all of them are short calculations, if any, and take little time once you see what to do. Writing such questions is a difficult thing to do, let me tell you. We are continually amazed how, after about six levels of review, we can find issues of clarity, reasoning, and even sometimes basic physics correctness in the items submitted to the pool. All the committee members spend a lot of time each year reviewing hundreds of problems, looking for flaws, but more often than you would think the face-to-face meeting in Princeton with the ETS folks reveals something previously overlooked. It’s a really interesting process.

    For each new exam form we eventually arrive at 100 items that test mastery of a clear physics concept or idea, and there is, yes, a certain amount of memorization required in terms of the basic equations learned in undergraduate physics. But there are many problems that can be done using just concepts, and many that can be done with simple dimensional analysis. When there are numerical solutions (and many if not most are in that category) the numbers are chosen so as to allow easy arithmetic – no calculators are allowed.

    My first piece of advice to students studying for this exam is to focus on reviewing the textbook from your freshman introductory physics course. In my years on the GRE committee, when I have needed to consult a text, it is that text at least 80% of the time. If you master every example in there and review the basic equations, you will do really well on the GRE. I have found that only a small fraction of the items on the GRE are actually from upper-level topics like stat mech, quantum, and special topics (solid state, nuclear, particle, cosmology, etc.) And presumably you have been studying the advanced topics more recently anyway. I think the single biggest mistake students make in studying for the GRE is to focus on too-advanced subjects.

    The other piece of advice I give students is to be disciplined in your approach to actually taking the exam. You only have an average of 1.7 minutes per problem! If you get bogged down on a long algebraic calculation, you risk not being able to complete the exam, including items that you would correctly answer in a few seconds. So when you take the exam, read each problem, answer it if you can do so reasonably quickly and then put an X on the problem number. If you think the problem will take some time or a long calculation, put a circle around the number and come back to it in a second pass through the whole thing. But pIck off the easy ones first! It also helps build confidence as you go through.

    Also realize that the GRE penalizes random guessing: your raw score is the number correct minus the 1/4 times the number incorrect. As a result it’s no better to guess than to leave an answer blank if you cannot eliminate some of the five choices. But if you can eliminate some, then by all means guess! Look carefully at the possible answers – sometimes just the units, or magnitude, or mathematical form can give you a way to guess more astutely.

    So just what is the GRE measuring? A critic might point out that it measures the ability to work under pressure, memorization, and quick mathematical reasoning and calculation. Though these are good qualities for a physicist to have, they are by no means the only qualities required for a successful career. I would argue further, though, that the Physics GRE really does test knowledge about basic physics and the ability to analyze physical situations accurately.

    So then how important is the Physics GRE for your career? It turns out that it is in fact quite important. Some of the top programs in the US even go to the extent of requiring a GRE score above some threshold for considering the applicant. I have served on our graduate admissions committee for five years now, and I can tell you that we regard the GRE as just one piece of information telling us how likely a student is to thrive in our program. We do see a clear correlation between an incoming graduate student’s Physics GRE score and their score on the other dreaded exam in a physics student’s career, the Ph.D. written preliminary exam, which is a very different beast. (There was, a few years back, some lore that the GRE Verbal score was a better predictor than the GRE Physics score, and there is a correlation, but not as strong as with the GRE Physics score.)

    In considering an applicant we look at a number of things, including the applicant’s own statement, experience, letters of recommendation, and their undergraduate transcript, in addition to the GRE general and subject scores, to get an idea of the whole student. My own observation is that students below about the 30% level have a very hard time attaining a Ph.D., though this is by no means absolute. I am sure there are tons of very successful physicists out there who, for whatever reason, scored poorly on this peculiar exam and went on to great careers.

    So, to of those of you facing this exam in a few weeks, I wish you good luck! Review your intro course, get a good night’s sleep before the exam, and make sure you pick off all the easy problems that you can!
     
  10. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Bài này của Sean Carroll:
    Unsolicited advice, 1: How to get into graduate school | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

    Your humble bloggers here at Cosmic Variance have spent quite a bit of accumulated time in academic and research settings — in fact, my guess is that none of us have spent an entire year away from such a setting since the age of about six or so. That’s a lot of accumulated wisdom right there, and it’s about time we started sharing it. Since it’s that time of year when applications are being sent off to graduate schools, I thought I would start off by letting everyone in on the secret to how to get accepted everywhere you apply. Of course I can only speak for physics/astronomy departments, but the basic lessons should be widely applicable.

    So, here goes: have great grades, perfect GRE scores, significant research experience, and off-scale letters of recommendation. Any questions?

    If, perhaps, it’s a bit too late to put that plan into action, here are some personal answers to questions that come up during the process. Co-bloggers (and anyone else) are free to chime in with their own take on these complicated issues. Keep in mind that every person is different, as is every grad school — in fact, specific schools might behave quite differently from year to year as different people serve on the admissions committee. Don’t sink your sense of self-worth into how you do on these applications; there’s a strong random component in the decisions, and there are a very large number of good schools where you can have a fun and successful graduate career.

    * What do graduate school admissions committees look at?
    Everything. Keep in mind that, unlike being admitted to college (undergrad), at the grad school level the admissions are done by individual departments, with committees comprised of faculty members with different kinds of expertise, and often students as well. They’ll look at your whole application, and in my experience they really take the responsibility seriously, poring over a huge number of applications to make some hard decisions. Still, it’s well-known that careful examination of a thick file of papers is no substitute for five minutes of talking to someone, which schools usually don’t have the luxury of doing, so decisions are always somewhat fickle.
    * Even my personal essay?
    Well, okay. I wouldn’t sweat the personal essay; in my experience it doesn’t have too much impact. Let’s put it this way: an incredibly good essay could help you, but a bad essay won’t do too much harm (unless it’s really bad). To a good approximation, all these essays sound alike after a while; it’s quite difficult to be original and inspiring in that format.
    * Are GRE scores important?
    Yes. At least, in the following sense: while bad GRE’s won’t kill your chances, good GRE’s make it much easier to admit you. (We’re speaking of the Physics GRE, of course; the general tests are completely irrelevant.) It stands to reason: given two applicants from similar schools with similar grades and interests, there’s no reason for a department to choose the student with lower GRE scores. At the same time, you can certainly overcome sub-par GRE’s by being outstanding in other areas; this is particularly true for students who want to do experiment. I know at Chicago that we let in students with quite a range of scores.
    * What about research experience?
    Research can be a big help, although it’s by no means absolutely necessary. These days it seems that more and more undergrads are doing research, to the point where it begins to look unusual when people haven’t done any. There is some danger that people think you must want to keep on doing the kind of research that you did as an undergrad, although I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Mostly it shows some initiative and passion for the field. It can be very difficult to do theoretical research as an undergrad, but that’s okay; even if you eventually want to be a string theorist, it’s still great experience to do some experimental work as an undergrad (in fact, perhaps it’s especially useful).
    * How do I get good letters of recommendation?
    It’s more important to have letters from people who know you well than from people who are well-known themselves. One of the best side benefits of doing research is that you can get your supervisor (who hopefully has interacted with you quite a bit) to write letters for you. It’s really hard to write a good letter for a student who you only know because they took one class from you a year or two ago. Over the course of your undergrad career, you should find some way to strike up a personal relationship with one or more faculty members, if only to sit in their office now and then and ask some physics questions. Then they can write a much more personal and effective letter. Of course, if you are just a bad person who annoys everyone, it would be just as well to stay hidden. (Kidding!)
    * Is it true that the standards are different for theorists and experimenters?
    Typically, yes, although it might be different from place to place. Because a lot of undergrads haven’t been exposed to a wide range of physics research, a large number of them want to be Richard Feynman or Stephen Hawking or Ed Witten. Which is great, since we need more people like that. But even more, we need really good experimenters. Generally the ratio of applicants to available slots is appreciably larger for theorists than for experimenters, and schools do take this into account. Also, of course, the standards are a little different: GRE’s count more for prospective theorists, and research experience counts more for prospective experimenters. And let’s be honest: many schools will accept more prospective theorists than they can possible find advisors for, in the hopes of steering them into experiment once they arrive.
    * So should I claim to be interested in experiment, even if I’m not?
    No. Think about it: given that schools already tend to accept more students who want to do theory than they can take care of, what are your chances of getting a good advisor if you sneak into a department under false pretenses and have to compete with others who came in with better preparation? It makes much more sense to go someplace where they really want you for who you are, and work hard to flourish once you get there.
    * Do I need to know exactly what I will specialize in?
    Not really, although in certain circumstances it can help. Professors like to know that someone is interested in their own area of research, and might push a little harder to accept someone whose interest overlaps with their work; on the other hand, most people understand that you don’t know everything after three and a half years of being an undergraduate, and it can take time to choose a specialization. In particular, at most American physics departments (unlike other countries and some other disciplines), it is generally not expected that you need to know ahead of time who your advisor will be when you arrive, or which “group” you will work in.
    * Should I contact faculty members individually if I’m interested in their research?
    That depends, mostly on whether the person you are contemplating contacting is desperate for more grad students, or is overwhelmed with too many requests as it is. In popular areas (ahem, like theoretical particle physics, string theory, and cosmology), there are generally more applicants than departments have advisors for. In that case, most people who receive random emails from undergraduates will just urge them to wait for the admissions process to take its course; remember that it’s a zero-sum game, and for everyone who gets in there’s someone else who doesn’t, and it would be a little unfair to penalize those applicants who didn’t contact faculty members personally. On the other hand, if you have reason to believe that someone you’re interested in working with is trying to get more students, or if you think your case is somehow unique and requires a bit of attention, feel free to email the appropriate faculty member with a polite inquiry. The worst that can happen is that you get a brush-off; I can’t imagine it would actually hurt your chances.
    * Is my life over if I don’t get into my top grad school?
    Yes. Well, only if you let it be. The truth is, how you do in grad school and beyond (including how you do on the postdoc and faculty job market) depends much more on you than it does on where you go to school. In the next episode of “unsolicited advice,” we’ll think about how to actually choose where to go, including how to get the most out of visiting different schools.

    Actually this episode was not completely unsolicited; thanks to Philip Tanedo for suggesting we share some of our invaluable insight. See, sometimes we really do listen.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2009
  11. iCyborg

    iCyborg i am a cyborg

    Unsolicited advice, Part Deux: Choosing a grad school | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

    Our first installment of unsolicited advice concerned the difficult question of how to get into graduate school; this one presumes that one has successfully leapt the hurdles of GRE’s and ornery admissions committees, and is faced with the perilous decision of which offer to accept. (If one has either one or zero offers, presumably the decision-making process is somewhat easier.) We will not, at the moment, be addressing whether you should be going to graduate school in the first place, or how to succeed once you get there.

    This is a much more difficult task than the first installment. Not that it’s more difficult to decide where to go than to get into grad school in the first place; just that it’s much more difficult to give sensible advice about how to do it. When it comes to getting into grad schools, everyone agrees on the basic notions: good grades, test scores, letters, research experience. Choosing where to go, in contrast, is a highly personal decision, and what works for one person might be utterly irrelevant to someone else. Rather than being overly prescriptive, then, I thought it might be useful just to chat about some of the issues that come up. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide for yourself how to weigh the various factors.

    * Why do you want to go to grad school in the first place? Sure, maybe you should have already given some thought to this question — but now is the time to get serious. Is your goal to become a professor or other professional researcher (which is typically assumed)? Or is it just to get a Ph.D., and then see what happens? Or is it simply to learn some science?

    As a general principle, the purpose of grad school is very different from that of your undergraduate college education. At least in the U.S., college serves multiple purposes: training in some concentration, to be sure, but also a broadly-based liberal education, as well as more general exposure to critical thinking, and crucially important social and personal aspects. Grad school is much more focused: it serves to train you how to be a working research scientist (or whatever, although I’ll be speaking as if it is science you’ll be studying, as that’s what I know best). In college it’s good to be a broad person and cast your net widely in the oceans of learning and experience. In grad school, however, there is a lot to be said for focusing as much as you can on the specific discipline in which you are specializing. Not that you should stop having broad interests, but it might make sense to sacrifice some of them temporarily to the goal of becoming an expert researcher.

    The reason for this is that, like it or not, you are entering a competition. Not necessarily grad school itself (where grading and suchlike are notoriously relaxed, although there may be competition for advisors and fellowships and such), but the ultimate job market. Most people who go to grad school want to get jobs as scientists, probably in academia. There are far fewer such jobs than there are grad students, so most people who get a Ph.D. will ultimately not succeed in becoming professors. And the other people who want those jobs are also very smart and dedicated. So, if you are serious about choosing this as your life’s path, it makes sense to really devote yourself to your craft during your grad school years, and give it your best shot. I personally think that the rigorous training provided by a Ph.D. is extremely useful and rewarding even if you don’t become a professor, but you should certainly enter the fray with open eyes.

    If becoming a professor is what you want to do, you should choose your school accordingly. At the same time, I’m a firm believer that your life doesn’t completely end just because you’re in grad school, nor that the process itself should be unpleasant. It should be extremely challenging, taking you to the limits of what you are capable of doing — but the days you spend in school are also days that you are alive, and you shouldn’t completely shut yourself away. That’s the difficult balance to strike. (Told you this wouldn’t be very helpful.)

    * How prestigious is the school and the department? Prestige is something that is much more relevant (to the extent is is relevant at all) to your undergraduate school than your grad school. Not that it’s completely irrelevant, but the prestige of your advisor is more relevant than that of your department, which is much more relevant than that of the university as a whole. Of course, there are tight correlations between these different kinds of prestige, but they are not perfect.

    Although we had a debate about this in comments to the previous advice post, I still think that the identity of the school/department from which you get your Ph.D. is essentially irrelevant to ultimately getting hired as a faculty member. This is not some utopian perspective that we live in a perfect meritocracy in which where you come from doesn’t matter; rather, what matters is where you are doing your postdoc(s), not where you went to grad school. Of course, where you do your postdoc might be affected by where you go to grad school! But more important is who your advisor is.
    * What kind of advisors are available? So now we get to the nitty-gritty. The single most important influence on your graduate career will be who your advisor is. Sometimes you might know precisely who you will be working with before you actually get to the school; this is more common in chemistry and biology than in physics, where the “lab” you will be associated with is all-important. But in physics, it’s more common to first arrive at the school, and only once you are there will you try to hook up with some advisor. (I know that MIT accepts people into different research groups, but most schools simply accept you into the department as a whole, without any hard and fast rule about what group you will be in, much less which advisor you will have.)

    Of course, picking an advisor means picking a specialty. Some people know exactly what they want to do before they arrive; that’s not necessary, but it helps. The point is, get some feeling for the faculty members who might realistically become your advisor. Are they active in research? Do they have personalities you could get along with? Do they have sufficient funding? Are they looking for new students, or over-subscribed? Do they let their students freelance, or guide them closely? Do they actively support their students in their later careers, or simply wish them well? Your Ph.D. advisor will very possibly be writing letters about you for decades to come — choose someone with whom you will be proud to be associated with, and who will take some interest in your well-being.

    As far as choosing your field of specialty is concerned, many factors come into play. Of course you should do something in which you are interested. But you also want to get a job, and the job market can be different in different fields. (Most notoriously, it’s somewhat better in experiment than in theory.) The point is, what specialties represent the intersection of “things you think are interesting” and “things that might lead to a rewarding career”? If that intersection is empty, you might want to rethink this entire process.

    Keep in mind also that some advisors are harder to get than others. They might simply be more popular, or have less funding, or about to switch fields or go on a three-year sabbatical. Find out! There is no rule that says that, simply because you’ve been accepted to a department, the faculty member of your choice must take you on as a student. All else being equal, it’s nice to maximize the number of faculty that you might possibly wind up with as an advisor. Much can happen along the way to your Ph.D., and it’s good to have options.
    * What is the scientific environment like? Grad school is a crucially important time of your life, when you make the transition from being a student to being a researcher. You won’t do it alone. Are the other students in your prospective department and group people who you could learn things from? What about the postdocs? Postdocs, who are experts in their fields but were just recently students like yourself, are often the most valuable sources of insight as you are struggling to learn the ropes. What about other professors in the department — could you imagine dropping into their offices to talk about science, or are they overly intimidating (or, much more likely, never around)? Do people have lunch together, and hang out more generally, or does everyone go their own way? A supportive and useful environment goes a long way to molding you as an effective researcher in your own right.
    * What are the departmental requirements? A couple of years ago the University of Chicago held a celebration for the centennial birthday of Enrico Fermi, who was a Chicago faculty member. The department brought back a number of people who were graduate students in the 1950’s when Fermi was there. Put them all in a room fifty years later, and do you know what they talked about? The candidacy exam, that hazing ritual by which a young student proves that they are ready to take on research.

    Different departments put up different hurdles requirements between you and your Ph.D. What are the required classes? Are there many breadth requirements? Are the courses interesting, and are the faculty good teachers? Is there a general exam? An experimental requirement? How long does it take to get a Ph.D.? (This last question is likely to vary significantly from advisor to advisor — some advisors like to keep their students as worker bees in their vast empires, while others consider students a burden and want to get rid of them as soon as possible.)
    * How is life as a student? Probably the single most useful way to learn about different schools is to talk to the students who are already there. Email them, or seek them out during visits. They will usually be willing to give you the inside scoop (and will be much more well-informed and honest than faculty members). Is there competition for the best advisors? What is the departmental atmosphere like? Do you get nice offices? The more students you can talk to, the better — people can have wildly different experiences in exactly the same environment, so it’s good to collect a bunch of data.

    “Life as a student” includes life outside the lab. What is like to live in the location of this particular university? Is it a big city or a college town? (And which do you prefer?) What is the cost of living? Are there dorms, or do students generally live in apartments? Do you need a car? Details, details. Are the necessities of grad student life — movies, coffee, pizza — within easy reach?
    * How would you be supported? Another crucial issue. At some point you may have had the happy realization that most grad students in the natural sciences don’t actually pay those exorbitant tuition bills — in fact, you typically get paid to be a grad student, either through teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships (in roughly ascending order of desirability). So, is there enough support to go around? Is the stipend enough to actually live on? What are the chances of getting RA’s or fellowships, so that you don’t have to teach all the time? Getting some teaching experience is extremely valuable and rewarding, and you shouldn’t avoid it entirely. But it’s not the reason you are in grad school. Research is hard, and takes a lot of time — if you have to teach a huge amount, it can slow down your progress towards a thesis.
    * What should you do about your significant other? Now we’re getting serious. So you want to go to MIT, but your sweetie has the job of his/her dreams in Seattle. Should you suck it up and accept the offer from UW, or try to make a long-distance relationship work? Or forgo the temptations of romance, since your career is more important and love never lasts anyway?

    Look, I can’t help you here. All I can do is sympathize and recognize that these are real issues, not trivia. Like I said, your years in grad school are years of your lives, and shouldn’t be sacrificed utterly to your work. But sometimes a long-term plan involves temporary steps backwards to achieve a better ultimate goal. You have to decide for yourself, keeping in mind that there are no objectively right answers.

    That last little motto applies not only to romantic entanglements, but to choosing a grad school more generally. It’s really hard to know ahead of time what place will be right for you. Different people will have very different ideas from mine, and you should listen to all sorts of perspectives (which will hopefully emerge in the comments). Think about it carefully, but don’t be afraid to trust your instincts as well. Your comfort level is important. If, after making your decision, you feel as if a great burden has been lifted and you’re happy inside, you’ve probably done the right thing. Good luck!
     
  12. livefully

    livefully Full steam ahead!

    Đây là 1 số tips ngắn của MIT về "Applying to Graduate School". Từ guide này có thể tìm thêm các resources khác về SOP, LOR ....
     
    thethidie, pbk52, Co*m He^'n and 3 others like this.
  13. hienguyen

    hienguyen Thèm thuồng

    Đợt trước thấy vietphd nhắc đến bác Trần Hữu Nghị và bác Kim Thanh Tùng. Không hiểu giờ hai bác ấy đã tìm được vị trí công việc tốt chưa nhỉ?
     
  14. nhanlevent

    nhanlevent Cowboy

    Đây là profile của một giáo sư ở Washington DC http://www.american.edu/kogod/faculty/kbaker.cfm. Tôi học ở trường này nhưng chưa học giáo sư này. Tóm tắt là

    - MBA
    - DBA in finance
    - 2 masters
    - 2 PhDs
    - CFA
    - CMA
    - Professional musician

    Chịu không nổi.

     

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