How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

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gaugeinvariance
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by gaugeinvariance » Fri Sep 18, 2020 7:09 am

Dear All

I am a new user and I am applying for PhD programs in the united states in the coming fall, 2021. My major interest is in computational astrophysics, possibly high energy phenomena (Supernovae, jets, accretion to black hole), compact objects (neutron stars, black hole, quark star if exist) and numerical relativity (binary neutron star merger, black hole mergers, test of alternative gravity if exist)

After looking through some reference materials (For example, article published by gradschoolshopper.com) and browsing the internet, I come up with the following list of possible choices for astrophysics PhD programs (Not necessary applying all of them)

Super Reached:
Cornell
Caltech
Stanford
MIT
Penn State
Georgia Tech
Northwestern
MICHIGAN
Havard
Princeton
Stony Brook

Reached:
UIUC
UT Austin
Washington State
Colorado Boulder
Carnegie Mellon
John Hopkins
UC Fullerton
UC Santa Barbara
Rice
Purdue
Notre Dame
Pittsburgh

Target:
North Carolina State
Arizona
Florida
Maryland
University of North Carolina

Safety:
UT Dallas
Texas Tech
West Virginia
Rochester Institute of Technology
WFU
Florida atlantic
U Minnesota Duluth
University Of Missouri
New Hampshire
Kent state
The University of Tulsa

First of all, do you guys think my definition on the category - Super Reached, Reached, Target and Safety are reasonable enough? Furthermore, which one would be a good choice and which would not be, according to my research interest? (Note: I do know that the SXS https://www.black-holes.org/ do have collaboration between Caltech, Cornell, Washington State and UT Texas, so I would definitely put them on my list)

To provide for information for suggestion, I would provide some of my profiles, using the admission results format:

Major(s): Physics
GPA in Major: 3.86/4.00
Overall GPA: 3.5x/4.00
Length of Degree: 4
Position in Class: Don't know, but earned 1st Class honor
Type of Student: International Asian Male

GRE Scores : GRE physics is cancelled. On the otherhand I would take the GRE General in November.

TOEFL: To be taken in due course

Research Experience:
A Summer research in dark matter astrophysics in my school
2 Year research in computational astrophysics in my school (And still going-on)
1 first author publication to be submitted

Awards/Honors/Recognitions:
1st year: Good entrance score + scholarship
2nd - 4th year: Dean list + scholarship

Pertinent Activities or Jobs:
TA for 1 year (still going on)
A summer teaching course for undergrad student that are struggling

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help:
Connection maybe? I don't really have the full information

Special Bonus Points: (Such as connections, grad classes, famous recommenders, female or minority status etc...)
Same as above. Having all A's in upper division courses? I don't know whether Asian is a special bonus point tbh.
Last edited by gaugeinvariance on Fri Sep 18, 2020 11:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Nishikata
Posts: 230
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:37 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by Nishikata » Fri Sep 18, 2020 11:16 am

are you international or domestic applicant?

Unfortunately, being an Asian male is usually a minus for graduate school application. There're too many students in this category so schools do prefer to look for different profiles.

gaugeinvariance
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by gaugeinvariance » Fri Sep 18, 2020 11:56 am

I am an international student (I think the situation will make things even worse :cry: ). Do nationality also affect the results? :?:

IaMkizzz
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Sep 07, 2020 11:22 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by IaMkizzz » Fri Sep 18, 2020 1:10 pm

gaugeinvariance wrote:
Fri Sep 18, 2020 11:56 am
I am an international student (I think the situation will make things even worse :cry: ). Do nationality also affect the results? :?:
That's a minus^2

geekusprimus
Posts: 76
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by geekusprimus » Fri Sep 18, 2020 4:45 pm

You need to trim down your list considerably. Also, some of your schools are out of place. For example, UT Austin is considerably more difficult to get into than Georgia Tech, and Maryland is also quite competitive (probably on the level of Michigan and UT Austin). I also wouldn't list any of the public schools in your super reach category as super reaches, at least not relative to schools like Stanford and Caltech.

To help you narrow down schools, what are you specifically interested in? Before you apply to any of these schools, you should be able to point to at least one faculty member at each school you could work with in that field. For example, if your primary interest is specifically in numerical relativity, you can eliminate most of the schools on that list; it's a niche field with only a handful of active faculty across the United States. Also, UT Austin, as far as I know, is not in the SXS collaboration. Pablo Laguna and Diedre Shoemaker are their numerical relativity faculty, and it's my understanding that they've got their own code based on the Einstein Toolkit.

gaugeinvariance
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by gaugeinvariance » Sat Sep 19, 2020 3:02 am

geekusprimus wrote:
Fri Sep 18, 2020 4:45 pm
You need to trim down your list considerably. Also, some of your schools are out of place. For example, UT Austin is considerably more difficult to get into than Georgia Tech, and Maryland is also quite competitive (probably on the level of Michigan and UT Austin). I also wouldn't list any of the public schools in your super reach category as super reaches, at least not relative to schools like Stanford and Caltech.

To help you narrow down schools, what are you specifically interested in? Before you apply to any of these schools, you should be able to point to at least one faculty member at each school you could work with in that field. For example, if your primary interest is specifically in numerical relativity, you can eliminate most of the schools on that list; it's a niche field with only a handful of active faculty across the United States. Also, UT Austin, as far as I know, is not in the SXS collaboration. Pablo Laguna and Diedre Shoemaker are their numerical relativity faculty, and it's my understanding that they've got their own code based on the Einstein Toolkit.
Thank you for your reply. Now that's a problem, I search through and create the list when I look through those schools which are popular and I look for the staffs which are having research area interest in numerical simulation and computation. Of course they should match what I am interested in (High energy, compact object, relativistic, numerical GR...) That problem that I faced is that I do not know whether that particular department is a "good" department in terms of my research interests. Numerical GR is only one of my interest and I am not limited to that (Basically because it is a niche field). :(

geekusprimus
Posts: 76
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by geekusprimus » Sat Sep 19, 2020 4:34 pm

gaugeinvariance wrote:
Sat Sep 19, 2020 3:02 am
Thank you for your reply. Now that's a problem, I search through and create the list when I look through those schools which are popular and I look for the staffs which are having research area interest in numerical simulation and computation. Of course they should match what I am interested in (High energy, compact object, relativistic, numerical GR...) That problem that I faced is that I do not know whether that particular department is a "good" department in terms of my research interests. Numerical GR is only one of my interest and I am not limited to that (Basically because it is a niche field). :(
Because you have multiple interests, I recommend looking for schools that have people in at least a few of your interests, not just one or two. This will help you thin out the list and guarantee that you have options if something falls through.

To find out if a department is particularly strong, there are a few things you can do. You can consult online rankings (US News, URAP, and THE are the easiest to parse, although QS and CWUR break it down into more fields), which aren't 100% helpful, but they're a good place to start. Ones that are more or less popularity contests (US News) really don't vary considerably from ones that are based on research output (URAP). To figure out if a school is particularly strong in a subject, your best bet is to talk to people in the field, both faculty and students. Sometimes you'll find out that a particular faculty member isn't actually a great person to work with, or perhaps they're nearing retirement and not taking on new students.

HubbleBubble
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by HubbleBubble » Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:22 am

geekusprimus wrote:
Sat Sep 19, 2020 4:34 pm
gaugeinvariance wrote:
Sat Sep 19, 2020 3:02 am
Thank you for your reply. Now that's a problem, I search through and create the list when I look through those schools which are popular and I look for the staffs which are having research area interest in numerical simulation and computation. Of course they should match what I am interested in (High energy, compact object, relativistic, numerical GR...) That problem that I faced is that I do not know whether that particular department is a "good" department in terms of my research interests. Numerical GR is only one of my interest and I am not limited to that (Basically because it is a niche field). :(
Because you have multiple interests, I recommend looking for schools that have people in at least a few of your interests, not just one or two. This will help you thin out the list and guarantee that you have options if something falls through.

To find out if a department is particularly strong, there are a few things you can do. You can consult online rankings (US News, URAP, and THE are the easiest to parse, although QS and CWUR break it down into more fields), which aren't 100% helpful, but they're a good place to start. Ones that are more or less popularity contests (US News) really don't vary considerably from ones that are based on research output (URAP). To figure out if a school is particularly strong in a subject, your best bet is to talk to people in the field, both faculty and students. Sometimes you'll find out that a particular faculty member isn't actually a great person to work with, or perhaps they're nearing retirement and not taking on new students.
I generally recommend looking at individual professors and ignoring department rankings. If you look at the PhD supervisors of Hubble/Einstein fellows, they tend to come from the same one or two professors at each department. There are plenty of such supervisors at schools with lower astronomy rankings that will lead you to equal or better careers than many Harvard/Caltech professors. Find professors you are interested in and look at their CV, they often list where their past students ended up. That is the metric that counts.

The strategy’s weakness is that you can’t know how you will get along with the supervisor or like the project, so during your visit make sure there are backup supervisors who you think you’d work well with. Department rankings aren’t a terrible place to start looking for professors though, and based on your categorizations you might not have a perfect insight (there is an older mega-thread on this at viewtopic.php?f=21&t=1536#p12956, though they focused on the higher end of rankings). But those are only a starting point. Career outcomes of your supervisor’s past students is the best measure of where you’ll end up.

Besides, competition for international spots is rough, so finding the best supervisor at a less competitive school will be critical. Get that paper submitted.

gaugeinvariance
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by gaugeinvariance » Fri Sep 25, 2020 7:22 am

Thank you geekusprimus and HubbleBubble's suggestion. In particular, both of you did mention one critical thing that lead me to another idea. geekusprimus mentioned searching through some existing database to search for schools and narrow down the list, and HubbleBubble advise me to look for good supervisior.

I am thinking whether I can do the following:

Well after a detail thought, I think I will narrow down my interest towards computational astrophysics involving general-relativistic fluid simulation of compact objects, for example: Black hole, neutron stars, GRMHD, numerical relativity, etc... In anyway, I am interested in simulating fluid dynamics with GR effects on astrophysical compact object involving high energy effect

I am thinking would it be OK to search in arxiv, the corresponding keywords (GRMHD, numerical relativity, simulation, etc...) to search for who and which schools do provide such research projects to narrow down the list?

Thank you

HubbleBubble
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: How do you guys think of my list for astrophysics PhD programs?

Post by HubbleBubble » Fri Sep 25, 2020 7:57 am

gaugeinvariance wrote:
Fri Sep 25, 2020 7:22 am
Thank you geekusprimus and HubbleBubble's suggestion. In particular, both of you did mention one critical thing that lead me to another idea. geekusprimus mentioned searching through some existing database to search for schools and narrow down the list, and HubbleBubble advise me to look for good supervisior.

I am thinking whether I can do the following:

Well after a detail thought, I think I will narrow down my interest towards computational astrophysics involving general-relativistic fluid simulation of compact objects, for example: Black hole, neutron stars, GRMHD, numerical relativity, etc... In anyway, I am interested in simulating fluid dynamics with GR effects on astrophysical compact object involving high energy effect

I am thinking would it be OK to search in arxiv, the corresponding keywords (GRMHD, numerical relativity, simulation, etc...) to search for who and which schools do provide such research projects to narrow down the list?

Thank you
That is a good idea, although if you are going that route I suggest you sort by citation count on ADS and look at the most important papers from the last 10 or so years. Since those categories have so many publications, sorting by citations will help you see who is doing the most impactful work.

Note that often grad students will be first authors, with supervising professors listed as coauthors. Once you find people you can reach out to introduce yourself and see if they will be taking on new students.



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