Can different fields of research affect grad school admission?

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Brain
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Joined: Thu Feb 06, 2020 12:10 am

Can different fields of research affect grad school admission?

Post by Brain » Thu Apr 30, 2020 12:41 am

I am currently a physics and astrophysics major sophomore.

I just started doing research this semester on stellar halo. But I found that I want to do research related to cosmology more after this semester. However, since I did not start doing research very early, I believe it would be better to keep working with one professor in order to get a strong rec of letter.

My question is that will I be competent for grad programs related to cosmology if I can do a good job on my current research? Or do I better work with another professor who is doing research on cosmology. Does grad school consider the admission of student based on each specific fields? If I haven't done anything related to theoretical astrophysics, do I get a chance to a be admitted to a theoretical astrophysics programs?

Also, is it possible to change from experimental astrophysics to theoretical one on grad school? Or doing both at the same time? Can grad student change their advisors?

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Nishikata
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Re: Can different fields of research affect grad school admission?

Post by Nishikata » Thu Apr 30, 2020 2:52 am

Brain wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 12:41 am
However, since I did not start doing research very early, I believe it would be better to keep working with one professor in order to get a strong rec of letter.
No, you should actually be doing projects with different professors.
You need three strong letters. If you keep working with just one professor, where are you going to get the other two letters?

I think you already know that if your field is different, there may be some doubt whether you can succeed in different field.
Not to say that you do not have a chance, but it's just that maybe some people will not be so confident in you.

Still, there are many people here who did different fields for their grad and undergrad. So, it is not impossible.

AstroObs
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Re: Can different fields of research affect grad school admission?

Post by AstroObs » Thu Apr 30, 2020 5:55 am

I completely agree with Nishikata. Not only is it helpful to get 3 research rec letters, but if you discover the new field is something you want to study in a PhD it will be very helpful to have already done research in the area. While it would be nice for you to generate results like posters or publications for at least one if your projects (ideally all of them), it is not worth sticking around a project you don’t like as much. So I’d definitely move on to cosmology.
Brain wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 12:41 am
Also, is it possible to change from experimental astrophysics to theoretical one on grad school? Or doing both at the same time?
The lines between Theory/Observation/Experiment/Instrumentation are very thin in astrophysics. I would say everyone does more than one of these to some extent. People in instrumentation will make observations with their own equipment. Observationalists might handle equipment and will most certainly apply theoretical models and analyze the data’s implications for theory. Theorists will usually use observational data if not for their analysis then for comparison/motivation/application. In my experience pure theorists building new instruments for telescopes is less common (instrumentalists more often do theory work in comparison) but I think it would be a great experience!

A good advisor will let projects shift their focus so that they are enjoyable for students, but there are certainly limitations ie if you are working for a theorist and they don’t have access to a lab or any equipment. That being said, theorists will make proposals to observe all the time so at least that pivot is easy.
Brain wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 12:41 am
Can grad student change their advisors?
At the MS or PhD stage? A lot of US grad schools have research in the masters portion (first 2 years) so there is time for you to try out your project before committing. Put a lot of effort into these so you get the full experience, and if you don’t like the subject or advisor then switch while it is easy to. Switching in PhD stage (last 3-5 years) is much more difficult.

geekusprimus
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Re: Can different fields of research affect grad school admission?

Post by geekusprimus » Thu Apr 30, 2020 11:58 am

Brain wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 12:41 am
My question is that will I be competent for grad programs related to cosmology if I can do a good job on my current research? Or do I better work with another professor who is doing research on cosmology. Does grad school consider the admission of student based on each specific fields? If I haven't done anything related to theoretical astrophysics, do I get a chance to a be admitted to a theoretical astrophysics programs?
There are several questions in here, some of which have been answered by AstroObs and Nishitaka already. What field you apply for can affect admissions, and some of the super competitive fields (think quantum gravity or particle theory) will definitely be more likely to accept you if you've already done some research in the field at the undergraduate level. That being said, my only rejection this cycle came from the one school whose research profile perfectly matched my own experience. I take that to mean that your focus should be on doing quality work for good scientists who can write you strong letters of recommendation.

Brain
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Re: Can different fields of research affect grad school admission?

Post by Brain » Tue Sep 15, 2020 7:50 pm

Appreciate all the responses. They are very helpful.



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