UW-Seattle open house

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Mizar
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:54 pm

UW-Seattle open house

Post by Mizar » Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:45 pm

I got a late acceptance to UW such that they didn't have room for me at the open house this week. There is talk of scheduling a second open house for April 10, but that will be cutting it really close to the deadline for acceptance, and I'd rather make my decision sooner. I've already scheduled my own visit to UW to meet with my POI and possibly a few grad students for lunch, but I don't expect this visit to be quite as helpful as what you get talking to various grad students and faculty at these visit weekends. So I'm hoping those of you who do attend could share your impressions here.

UW is one of my top choices, so I want to get as much info as possible. In particular:

1) How happy are the grad students?
2) How rigorous is the curriculum in terms of the qualifying exam(s) and core coursework? Is there a culture of failing students, or do most ultimately pass?
3) How exactly does the funding work, and how comfortable are the students living on the stipend?
4) Anything else ...

Thanks in advance to anyone willing to fill me in.

cat_mama
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:07 pm

Re: UW-Seattle open house

Post by cat_mama » Mon Mar 02, 2020 1:11 pm

Hey congrats to your acceptance! I just returned from UW-Seattle Open House yesterday and I think it's a fantastic school!
Mizar wrote:
Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:45 pm
1) How happy are the grad students?
The graduate students seemed actually happy, and the general atmosphere seemed very relaxed despite the program being top-notch. A lot of them have active hobbies and were super close with their admission class cohort. I attended a house party hosted by a grad student while at the Open House and they were all super chill. Also, another thing is, the grad students seem happy/satisfied to be at UW as opposed to at any "higher ranked" schools, no weird inferiority complex or anything from anyone I talked to. I'm choosing between 5 schools, with a few being more "prestigious" in the public opinion sense. I had a such an informative discussion with several grad students about various advisors at these schools and at UW, and they gave me such valuable perspectives on how these advisors' research, collaborations, advising style, personality, etc. are in a really open manner. I also asked the graduate students outright if there were any professors I should avoid, and I was happy to find that the consensus is that all the CME people are fantastic! I don't think they were just saying that, because they gave me other answers for other fields.
Mizar wrote:
Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:45 pm
2) How rigorous is the curriculum in terms of the qualifying exam(s) and core coursework? Is there a culture of failing students, or do most ultimately pass?
The general consensus among the graduate students was that the first year is tough because of many course requirements, but you get done with all your courses in your first year (the finals in these classes serve as your quals), and no one gets kicked out for failing them. You can retake the exams later, and generally if you pass 3 out of 4, the administration will do a magic trick to help you along :) Even the professors said outright that the exams are a formality of grad school, so we don't need to be too worried about them. The post-grad placements like postdocs etc. seems to highly depend on your advisor, but the advisors I met for CME range from rising stars to leading researchers in their field and their grad students ended up in fantastic institutions including top5 schools.
Mizar wrote:
Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:45 pm
3) How exactly does the funding work, and how comfortable are the students living on the stipend?
The funding is unofficially guaranteed for 5 years (only unofficial because it's not on paper, but no grad student has been denied full funding apparently) including summers through a mix of TA-RA, with theory students usually getting TA while experimental switch to RA by 2nd year. The students said that living off the stipend is not too horrible (the average rent they seem to be paying are ~$800/month), especially if you form groups of 4/5 and rent a house together (the on-campus housing is apparently more expensive/restrictive than off-campus).
Mizar wrote:
Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:45 pm
4) Anything else ...
Seattle is such a great place to live! I hadn't realized just how much location mattered to me until I visited UW. I spent my last 5 years in isolated small cities, and exploring the Seattle downtown made me realize I would be much happier living close to so many good restaurants and food stalls :) Also, I noticed that you are interested in dark matter stuff. Their dark matter labs are so crazy awesome! We toured CENPA where the dark matter labs are, and they have some seriously cool equipments! Also, the professors (especially the ADMX professor) were hilarious.

I wish you the best of luck in your visit!
Last edited by cat_mama on Mon Mar 02, 2020 2:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

jabennett2194
Posts: 111
Joined: Tue Jun 12, 2018 6:54 pm

Re: UW-Seattle open house

Post by jabennett2194 » Mon Mar 02, 2020 1:58 pm

awesome post catmama! :)

Mizar
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:54 pm

Re: UW-Seattle open house

Post by Mizar » Mon Mar 02, 2020 2:24 pm

Thanks, cat_mama, for the detailed response!

Glad to hear there are no inferiority complexes as UW, which to my mind is pretty top-notch despite being outside the top 10. :D

I found this hugely helpful 2018 self-study on the UW physics website yesterday. Lots of good information on completion rates and professional outcomes.

The culture regarding passing courses/quals sounds similarly chill to what I sensed from UW-Madison's program. Or perhaps I'm being lulled into a false sense of comfort. I'm not looking for an "easy" PhD, per se, but I don't need the threat of failure casting a big shadow over my first few years.

Really looking forward to visiting the CENPA labs on my visit. Weee!!!

cat_mama
Posts: 21
Joined: Fri Nov 22, 2019 12:07 pm

Re: UW-Seattle open house

Post by cat_mama » Mon Mar 02, 2020 3:34 pm

Mizar wrote:
Mon Mar 02, 2020 2:24 pm
The culture regarding passing courses/quals sounds similarly chill to what I sensed from UW-Madison's program. Or perhaps I'm being lulled into a false sense of comfort. I'm not looking for an "easy" PhD, per se, but I don't need the threat of failure casting a big shadow over my first few years.
Absolutely! I'm not one to thrive in a high-pressure environment because I end up wasting too much of my brain space at worrying and being anxious instead of a much better use in focusing on research.

I realized I forgot to mention couple other things. This may be less applicable to you in dark matter (but very applicable in quantum information, another thing that you listed I think), but UW seems to really encourage interdisciplinary research, which means that grad students can very easily choose their advisors from different departments, as the department easily grants adjunct professorship if that professor doesn't already hold one in the physics dept. Also, the students freely switch their research groups, even across different fields (e.g. CME -> high energy), which I think is great for students who haven't committed to a single field yet.

Personally, the main drawbacks for me in UW is that
1) the coursework is large enough in the 1st year that I may not be able to conduct much high-quality research from the get-go,
2) my top-choice UW lab is a bit too big, and
3) UW currently doesn't have many CMT faculty (I'm CME, but I would like to be near theorists to learn by osmosis or something)
However, UW allows students to start in the summer before, which I intend to do if I decide on UW so I can get the ball rolling on my research. As for the second point, the professor is very hands-on despite the size and the students in the lab seem to still get enough individual attention. Regarding the third point, UW is now actively looking to hire several theorists (no field specified) in the next year, with some departmental politics divided on CMT vs particle theorists. I'm not sure how successful they would be in hiring before our decision on Apr 15, but more CMT profs would definitely make me like UW more :)



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