University of Washington

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Joined: Mon Mar 16, 2015 2:34 am

University of Washington

Post by jmutch » Mon Mar 16, 2015 2:45 am

Hi all, this is my first post on this site. Thanks for the great resource. I really have questions that are quite specific to UW, so I'm hoping to hear from someone who either goes there or went to the visit weekend.

I've been accepted to UW, but fell sick and was unable to attend the visit weekend a week ago. I'm going to visit on the "backup" date of April 10th, but think I'll go crazy not knowing the answers to a few of these questions.

I'm mainly curious what the atmosphere is like at UW. I've heard it's pretty good, but wanted to make sure. Specifically, the "happiness" level of grad students there. Is collaboration encouraged? Professors approachable? Research groups super difficult to get into? Your interests allowed to change? Specifically, I'm interested in experimental condensed matter and am curious to the environment within these groups.

I'm also a bit worried about the financials. I got what seems to be the typical award package with the typical recruitment amount. This package is a bit on the smaller side of other awards I've been offered, despite UW being in a relatively big city. Is it possible to scrape by with this stipend?

Thanks for any information. I realize I have a lot of questions.

Edit: Another concern I also have is the failure rate. An information packet led me to believe that the average incoming class is ~20, with an average PhD graduation rate of ~10. The 50% failure rate scares me, but this might be a skewed statistic (it could be that graduating class happened to be a small year, not 100% sure if those stats are averages or anecdotal).

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Re: University of Washington

Post by TakeruK » Mon Mar 16, 2015 11:23 am

It's not a "failure rate". In PhD programs nationwide, the average completion rate is about 50% so UW does not seem abnormal in this regard. People leave graduate programs for many reasons other than failure. I also do not think it's a bad thing that the completion rate is not 100%. I think that if a person decides that leaving with a Masters (or with no degree at all) is better for them, then they should do that, instead of staying through and wasting more of their time.

I think it's important to determine the reason why people are leaving. If the department is flunking people at the quals stage, after they put in their 1-2 years of TAing, then it could be a problem. But if people are leaving in years 3 or 4 because they found jobs in other places they like, or if they decide that academia/research is not for them, then that's not a reason to be concerned about. (Unless they cite the department environment as the reason they don't want to do research!).

Finally, I also had an offer from UW and noticed its stipend ($18k/year for 20 hours TA) was way too low (considering cost of living and that for the first while, I'd need to support two people). I asked about that and they said something about looking into a bigger package but nothing came of it. Eventually, I turned down their offer--it was a good research fit but not the best; however, the stipend was a big part of that decision. Normally, I say that you shouldn't pick based on stipend, with the only exception being if the stipend is too low to survive on. Out of all the schools, UW is the only school that I felt this way about.

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Joined: Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:30 pm

Re: University of Washington

Post by kcsmith1223 » Mon Mar 23, 2015 1:00 pm

I was at the UW visiting day and absolutely loved it, and will most likely attend. The atmosphere, in my opinion, seemed fantastic. UW seems to avoid the cutthroat environment that (I hear) are present at other prestigious schools. The students and faculty seemed to form a very tight knit community, and work-life balance was stressed very heavily during the visit by many students and faculty I spoke with. Many of the other prospective students I spoke with felt the same way - some weren't even considering UW going into the visiting day and were strongly considering it afterwards. The current grad students seemed quite happy although they did say that the first year is exceptionally difficult. Quals are broken into various pieces that you can take after the first, second or third quarter.

The faculty was all very approachable. We had a nice dinner at the end of the first day, and I had a great time speaking with all of them (even those whose research is opposite my own interests). Many students change research groups quite easily - during the Winter and Spring quarters, if you do not have a research group picked out you are required to take a course which essentially allows you to "test out" a research group/topic by going to their lab meetings, reading papers, etc. The nature of this class depends heavily on whether you are interested in theory or experiment. It seems common for students to try out research groups over the Summer as well.

As for the financial package, I had the same concerns. Most of the current graduate students, though, said they have never been stressed about money and get by just fine. Many of them apply for external fellowships and have good success, so that may be part of it. One even lived semi-comfortably in Capitol Hill off of her stipend (the more expensive part of Seattle).

Oh and the campus was incredible.

If you have any other questions I would be happy to answer them! If you would like to message or email me I could give you more detailed info about the Condensed Matter professors I spoke with.

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