Undergraduate and graduate
People have different experience in school but some things are also common; we can learn many things from the people who went through. I went to universities in Canada and the States both in undergrad and graduate and found many good books and articles in the web that seem useful. These days you can also Google by yourself to find many stories in webs and blogs. When I was doing graduate study I found a book in a library and it is my favorite (1). This book is based on experience by many people so you can glimpse a wide range of graduate school life. Here are some books I checked.
- The Ph.D. Process: A Student’s Guide to Graduate School in the Sciences Authors: Dale F. Bloom, Jonathan D. Karp, Nicholas Cohen. Oxford University Press, USA
- A Ph.D. Is Not Enough: A Guide to Survival in Science
- Guide for PhD Candidates: at Cambridge Computer Lab
- Guide for PhD students (and post-docs) aiming for a successful career in science:science article
- So you’d like to… Pass your PhD qualifying exam in Physics
- Graduate School: Winning Strategies for Getting in With or Without Excellent Grades
It is for a science prof but the following book is really good; you can see the prof side of graduate life.
For an interview book, I think this book is useful,
This is the book I had with me when I came here for my interview; I should have read more papers though.
I do not think the quality of professors are significantly different in many decent schools for undergraduate but the quality of students are. People who went to Princeton wrote same thing in an article in Time. And of course some X factor. In physics particular small schools may not even offer the classes you like to take unless you go to bigger schools. But in small schools, they really teach you well in small classes. My advanced physics and mathematics classes rarely had more than 8 people; often just reading courses by myself.
Picking your supervisor is one of most important keys in graduate school — more than picking up the school; any schools are useless if you cannot find any good supervisor or research topic. But picking up committee member is also as important. It is best pick them by yourself. A supervisor do not know about other profs in many things. Profs have “Do not ask and do not tell” attitude among themselves. So other graduate students have better ideas on better committee members. In particular in multidisciplinary fields, this is crucial. In an APS meeting, a session on multidisciplinary fields, many people told ‘Do not get a PHD in multidisciplinary fields since no one respects you afterward.’ A lot profs do not understand multidisciplinary things so they will stick to what they know best — which is often nothing to do with your research. But they will tell you have to know basics.
Picking up difficult supervisor is often good when it comes to committee meeting and a defence because no one else tries to challenge him/her or she can gives you crucial help during the process. A stupid supervisor may do not know how to help and he may keeps quiet so that he does not have to expose his ignorance. Worse, if he is not respected, other people ask extremely stupid questions; so stupid that you can not answer because they do not any basics on your fields, so you have to explain every thing. It is often better to switch supervisors if you see mismatch early on. Often you realize too late that you are working with a wrong guy. All of these things are better discussed in The Ph.D. Process.
How to avoid GRE: Graduate a Canadian university and go to a Canadian graduate school. (In some place, you can not simply take subject GRE in Canada unless you make a 3 day trip during a term.) A good thing in Canada is there are few things distract you from study and many other good things as well. A bad thing is there are less meetings to go and less key people to meet. This is crucial; you may meet a lot people even in Canada like UT but I think a place like Boston, you can meet many people who are and will be key researchers in a field.
Other blogs about life in graduate schools:
Leaving a PhD program: Part 1 – Are you crazy??? http://igoroamandreport.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/leaving-a-phd-program-part-1-are-you-crazy/
- “School, however, was another story – two months into grad school I clearly knew I made the wrong decision. It was a disaster. Classes that required every inch of my mental strength, midterms that left me on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a social environment that I did not fit into, and research that I found minute and uninteresting. I found myself completely turned off by the world of scientific research – the endless research seminars and journal articles – and it was getting harder to pretend.”
It is great to read his entries to see how an intelligent man ended up with a place unfit to his interest. He describes a typical graduate life but he just did not like it. It is better to know graduate students are paid because they provide cheap labor for a research project and that is why they are there, from a PI’s point of view. A PI normally does not care about a social issue unless that gives him a funding. A researcher must be focused on their work.
Some other blogs:
http://gradstudies.wordpress.com/ This guy might have quit.
アメリカ工学系大学院留学記 －PhD に向かってゴゴゴゴゴ～ル！ I just wonder if his PI is happy about his student writing this type of book while she/he is paying for the research. This is unthinkable for physicists.
理系アカデミアへの道: アルバータでの研究生活 Toiling away in Edmonton. It is probably the one of the coldest universities.
Many of international graduate students are brilliant, but a large portion of people are more interested in their permanent residence than their research. Considering their original countries that was not surprising. But, it was not rare to see they were applying their PR within a few weeks of the arrival. For some that is the reason in the first place. That is good for Canada but not for a PI.
Are rich people seriously missing something that only financially distressed people can experienced? It is not easy to make simple generalization. Morally speaking, we like to say rich folks are missing something money cannot buy. It is possible for poor people to overcome financial disadvantage. But there is no reason to believe that rich people cannot experience the hardship which poor people are more likely to encounter. Rich people can easily recreate financial distress or hardship by volunteering etc. Or rich people may be able to challenge more advanced research using free time or extra cash available to them. If we like it or not adequate financial resource give any one wider options. Unwise rich folks make unwise decisions. Affluent parents with no discipline may produce serious party kids. But in general, successful students in graduate school tend to have parents who are affluent and educated, in my experience. In science and engineering people who took up side jobs other than TA and RA, are in general not academically successful unless the side jobs are closely related. In some universities, graduate students will be fired who take up a side job.