Time to choose a graduate school

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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Chad » Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:42 pm

I am a senior that is looking forward to graduate school. However, I feel lost when it comes to trying to pick a particular school.

So far, I have been accepted with department or university fellowships to Indiana University (PhD in Biology) and Ohio State University (PhD in Biochemistry). I have an interview at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine for a PhD in Biochemistry and Structural Biology early in March.

I have learned that there are a TON of factors to consider when trying to pick a graduate school. This is somewhat overwhelming so I would like to know what factors are most important? For example, I would love to attend Mayo due to its reputation for top-notch physicians and biomedical scientists, but it is far from home. Should location be an important factor? What other factors should I deem as most important?

What kinds of questions should I ask these schools when I go to visit them within the next month? If you had to make this choice, which school would you attend from the three listed above and why? Thanks! I appreciate all your help.

Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Kevin Rogers » Sat Feb 12, 2005 8:56 pm

Make a list of factors - and put them in personal preference order - closeness to your family for example means a lot to some and nothing to others

you will have a good idea once you have visted them all - the one for you is the one that 'feels right'
Kevin Rogers
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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Ken » Sat Feb 12, 2005 9:04 pm

Ask for average time to graduation, and for where all of their recent alumni are working. I think the actual answers are less important than whether they actually have the information; a good program will know what it's graduates are doing and care when it's current students will be able to join them.
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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Rob » Sun Feb 13, 2005 12:25 pm

Inquire about eh means by which you will be funded. For example, is it an institutional training grant or will it be directly tied to the PI and his/her own research monies. Also and very importantly ask how long they have had their particular funding. It can be important to recognize how established the PI or training program is as an assurance for continuation of funding.

Bost most of all, you will need to feel comfortable where you are. That means that you must be content with the scientific environment as well as the non-scientific (ie...distance from family/friends)

Good luck!

Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Ash » Sun Feb 13, 2005 1:37 pm

there is really not a single short list that you can check off when getting into graduate school. Its more like getting married. YOu get started off if you like certain things in your partner and then you begin figuring it out and adapting to suprising situations.
anyways, since Ph.D can be a 5-6 year affair, some of the things you will need to consider:

1) your bonding with your family

2) how is the department rated and what is the research focus? does it atleast vaguely match yours?

3) It does not matter what speciality your Ph.D reads, but you should know what you want to do after a Ph.D and how you can use your degree towards that.

4) your mentor- I rate this as the first criteria.
you should know who its going to be (likely atleast), be interested in this person's research,
and your personalities should match. obviously you cannot find out too much in a meeting or two, but talk to as many grad students and post-docs and enquire about this person, his attitude, relationship with them etc.

5) atleast identify three professors in the department who you would want to work with. these are like buffers.

6) Rob already taked about funding issues.

7) Ken gave brilliant pointers about the department and the time taken to complete your degree.

8) YOu cannot really or should not choose from a list of three departments, because these names dont have any face value atleast when you are trying to get in as a graduate student. I guess that becomes more of a consideration when you want be a faculty.

these were some of the things I looked into before getting in, and it has worked well until now.

last, but not the least, your choice will be the right one , if and only if, you are a person who will adapt to new surroundings and make some changes within yourself instead of only expecting everything to suit your needs.

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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby MPB » Sun Feb 13, 2005 2:05 pm

How important is, or should be, location? Over the long-term course of a scientific career (and you're focused on the long term, right?), you will likely have to move to persue the best opportunities. I moved from Iowa to San Diego to Philadelphia and back to San Diego and then to New York over the course of 6 or 7 years. My view is that this is something that you are going to have to face eventually, so you might as well get the best position you can now, regardless of its geographic convenience. I chose grad school largely for personal and geographic reasons and it was an enormous mistake. But that's just my view.

In terms of the departments; you really want someplace where you are going to produce the most publications, in the best journals, and have the best access to a network of high-quality researchers. Aim high, as they say. Look up the professors you would likely work with on Medline (and their grad students, if you can get their names; often available on department websites), see what they are publishing and where. You might find some surprising differences in productivity. In grad school, the #1 thing you need to worry about is first-authored publications. In which of these departments is that most likely?

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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby MPB » Sun Feb 13, 2005 2:09 pm

Also, what are _your_ long-term goals: academia? industry? Professors vary in how they feel about students who want to migrate to industry eventually. If this is part of your long-term plan, you need someone who will support you in that move, not someone (very common) who will say "I can't really help you with that."

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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Kim » Sun Feb 13, 2005 11:24 pm

I would also add that you should consider their "retention rate" and "teaching load".

Some schools, especially those big state universities, think their graduate students mostly as TAs. Graduate students are cheap source for TAs. And many departments, like Biology and Chemistry, need many TA in their "101" classes. And after two years in their PhD program, the same departments would kick out as many students as possible. Their research facilities cannot accmodate them all.
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Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Doug » Mon Feb 14, 2005 9:32 am

I would add one or two things to the excellent comments so far. First, it's good to have an idea whether you'll be comfortable in the setting you're going to (i.e., urban vs rural). I've known several very bright small-town folks who were so miserable in a big city that they left after less than a year and started over. Second, bear in mind that (for me at least, but others would concur) your grad-student coleagues are THE MOST IMPORTANT people around you, save for maybe significant others. They will be your family...they're the ones you'll bounce ideas off of every day, they're the ones you'll share your problems with (and vice versa), they're the ones with whom you'll be collaborating during and after grad school. My personal belief is that they are about as important, if not more so, than your advisor. A robust and interactive student group can make up for a lot of advisorial deficiencies. This student-group analysis should be both qualitative and quantitative: do you fit in with the current students, and is the student group comfortably large (or small) for you?

A very good resource that covers some of these issues is 'Getting What You Came For.' Don't have the author's name handy.

Time to choose a graduate school

Postby Lora » Mon Feb 14, 2005 9:55 am

Yes! What Doug said is fabulous advice. For me, it was extremely important to talk to current grad students, and if at all possible, see how the advisors I was contemplating working with interacted with their grad students. For example, one researcher at a top 10 school who was well-known in her field, had tons of money, and with whom I'd had a lovely interview over breakfast, had a bunch of burned-out, unhappy students in her lab. Later in the day, I got to see her organizing a recent equipment purchase with her students, and oh! what a difference! The thoughtful, wry, creative person who knew the best coffee shops in town was gone, and a micromanaging, shouting, obsessive-compulsive, disrespectful weirdo had taken over her body. It was very interesting. In contrast, students in another lab were pleased with their advisors and were able to explain their own work without their advisor's help.


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