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Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sat Mar 08, 2008 10:09 pm
by disoriented
I'm quite confused and I was hoping someone more knowledgeable than myself could give me some advice. I've been accepted to Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, and Ohio state, and I have no idea where to go. Unfortunately, for various reasons (mostly a lack of liquid cash) I will not be able to visit California to check out UCB or UCSB, so I need to base my decision on something besides a visit. I think I would like to do particle theory (field theory, strings, GUTs, and the such), but I'm not really sure if I will be able to get my foot in the door. I go to a small liberal arts college with a tiny physics dept., and I suspect that in terms of physics knowledge, I am less prepared for grad school than most other prospective students. I think I only got accepted to the schools I did because of phenomenal GRE scores (I studied my a** off for months) and a perfect GPA (not hard to get at my school), but I feel that I will need to spend more time than other students to get up to speed before I am knowledgeable enough to do research. As such, I'm worried that maybe I will not be able to get into a research group at UCB or Chicago, and maybe I should go to a school with a lesser reputation, such as Ohio state, where I will be more likely to get a position (also ohio state offers more money for TA's after the first year). Does Anyone agree with this reasoning? And if not, does anyone have an opinion on which is better, UCB or Chicago?

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:00 am
by grae313
A couple things.

First, congratulations.

Second, don't worry about not being good enough. I come from an unknown school also, and today at another school's open house I'm attending, I met some kids from MIT, and they asked some silly questions. Sure, there are some extremely gifted people at big name schools, but if you got in, you can hang. We might have to work to catch up in classwork a bit, but you will not be out of your league.

Third, I learned today that talking to professors and students at a University you are visiting about professors at other schools is incredibly informative. I learned more about some of my other prospective schools today than I did in an entire summer of research. Also, you will meet other visiting graduate students who may be from UCB or UCSB and can answer your questions. Some of the current grad students where you are visiting might have gone to UCB or UCSB for undergrad. When you visit the schools close to you, you should have an opportunity to meet with profs one on one. If not, you can make one, easily. Ask them their impressions of these schools. If you have profs at UCB and UCSB that you might be interested in working with, ask the profs you meet to tell you about the professors. You will learn a lot.

Today while the rest of the prospective students were touring the high energy laboratories (I'm a condensed matter person), I just hung out in the lab of one of the profs I was interested in and talked about his research with him. He offered me an RA for my first year if I wanted to come work in his lab. There is a wealth of information at the schools you may visit close to you, but it is up to you to take advantage of it.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:19 am
by zxcv
Congrats, disoriented!

I hope you wrote to the physics departments at Berkeley and Santa Barbara about the issues with a lack of liquid cash. They might be able to buy plane tickets for you or make an arrangement.

If you applied with an interest in doing particle theory, then you got past tight odds to get into these programs, since particle theory is of course one of the hardest areas to get in on. That means you have a shot at doing that research, even though it may take you a bit longer to get started then it does for people who take QFT first semester. I'm not sure how hard it is to get into particle theory groups at those schools, but I wouldn't discount it out of hand.

IMHO, it's better to figure out how to work with the best people in a field rather than to be the star of some less prestigious program. Those connections you make are what will be what help you later in your career, and a recommendation from someone who's advised other strong students and has a strong reputation will be so much more helpful than being the "absolutely best person to come through this program" from someone without that reputation.

Also, my vote is for UCB over Chicago, but that's purely on weather (and my unique location preferences).

P.S. You didn't like the MIT kids, grae313? They were pretty friendly to me.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:31 am
by grae313
zxcv wrote:P.S. You didn't like the MIT kids, grae313? They were pretty friendly to me.

wwooooooaaah don't go starting rumors. They are totally nice. I like them a lot.

my point is, for people like us who come from nowhere schools, we tend to think of people who go to MIT as untouchable, but when I met some (very cool people), I realized that there was not necessarily going to be a fundamental difference between us. Maybe, yes, between some or even many, but I realized that I would have been fine if I had went to MIT. That's all. Please, understand, no ***-talking here, just honest reflection and much respect.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 3:10 am
by doom

Were you at the OSU open house this week? If so, our paths may have crossed. I am also interested in high energy theory, and I met with all of the professors in that area that were available.

Here are my impressions (briefly) of OSU's high energy theory group. (I'll talk more about it in my blog later.) It's a pretty small group, but there's some good professors there. Raby seems like he might be hard to work with, since he's only had five students in 19 years. However, the size of the group means that you don't have a huge diversity of research, and once you pick a particular field, you've pretty much got one professor to work with.

Chicago is almost all string theory, so you'd be limited there, too, unless you're sure strings are for you. Dr. Raby confirmed this when I met with him on Friday.

Don't know anything about UCB or UCSB.

But they accepted you for a reason: they think you have what it takes.

Oh, and is the $67/month raise at OSU really a big draw for you? That's not a huge difference, and while it's nice, I don't think it should affect your decision right now.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 3:19 am
by rooibos
I heard grae not only hates MIT grads, but she punched a Harvard admit right in the face :shock:


Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 4:09 am
by myass
Yeah, school name probably don't matter. I'm from one of "top schools mentioned above"(editted after advise). There are some grad students here whom I thought not smart at all. Some were even less knowledgeable than us when I had them as a grad student instructor in my junior/senior year. And, yes, some of them are theorists. Bunch of Ph.D candidates got in here in past a few years who haven't even finished undergrad requirements to get bachelor degree in here. Some of them even failed in undergrad course. At least in here, you find students from wide range of academic level. Maybe same for other schools. But, in any way, I don't think you should care about whether you match or not with school reputation (again, at least in here). Besides, grad school classes in here are much much less competitive compared to undergrad courses.

You can take time and keep your pase to finish your work.

As others say, contacting professors do help to know the institution better. Many profs here are honest and some of them don't hesitate to even criticize the level of incoming graduate students in recent years, which I believe is a good thing. I had an opportunity to stay at experimental on-site for a while, and met professors from many institutions as my research group involve a lot of collaborators. It was great opportunity to talk with them all nights about different experiments and prospect of high energy physics. I got something out of them other than what I read in papers.

Hope you can make the best decision for you, and that decision turns out to be the best for you.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 4:31 am
by zxcv
Grae313, okay yes, sorry, I was a bit too quick there. I guess the difference is that from my perspective I would always have been fine if I went to MIT undergrad :mrgreen:. Now that I know I don't give a *** about most of the liberal arts maybe I should have :).

I actually kind of wish I got into another top school or two other than Berkeley not because I really think I would prefer it over Berkeley, but because it would be nice if I could get more perspectives from professors at different comparable places to play off of each other.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 7:47 am
by nowhereguy
Long time lurker here. Just decided to open an account to give my two cents regarding disoriented's question. Keep in mind that, since I am interested in string/field theory, my comments will only focus on those fields. First of all, you have excellent options to choose from. From a purely academic point of view, I would put OSU at the bottom of the list. Now, with the other three, I think it depends on what subjects you are more interested in. From your opening post, I take it that you are not sure yet, so, it probably would be better for you to go to a place with a large group and broad research interests. Now, the "problem" for you is that UCB, UCSB and Chicago fulfill these requirements!

These universities have very strong groups in string/field theory. Let me give you a list of professors at each of these places that are very well-known and active experts in the field; maybe you can make up your mind by browsing their websites. In no particular order:

- UCSB: Polchinski, Horowitz, Giddings, Marolf, Berenstein, Morrison and Gukov.
- UCB: Aganagic, Horava, Bousso and Ganor.
- Chicago: Kutasov, Martinec, Harvey and Sethi.

Personally, I would choose UCSB for several reasons: the research interests within the group cover almost the whole spectrum of current research in string theory, the location, more supervisors to choose from, etc.

Again, remember that all I wrote was focused in string/field theory!

Hope this helps :wink:

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 9:42 am
by disoriented
Wow! Thanks for all the helpful replies.

zxcv: I actually applied as "undecided," rather than writing a specific field. Do you think that will make it much harder for me to get into a particle physics group? Also, thanks for the tip about talking to UCB and UCSB to pay for the trip. I still won't be able to make it to the open houses (can't miss three weekdays of work in a row) but maybe I can get them to pay for me to come over a weekend.

doom: I was hoping to be able to come to the OSU weekend, but I couldn't get off of work on friday. However I plan on visiting them by myself over spring break. Also, I don't know anything about a $67 raise, but my concern was that at UCB they offered me $27k for the first year, but only $16k for being a TA the second year.

Thanks everyone!

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 11:06 am
by doom
At OSU, you get a $67/month raise after you pass the candidacy exam.

Oh, and there's no quals at OSU, which I thought was weird and interesting.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Sun Mar 09, 2008 4:17 pm
by zxcv
My interpretation of the Berkeley offer (I'm pretty sure I got the same one you did) is that the 16k for being a TA in subsequent years is only over the academic year, so that would be ~21k after summer earnings, which is mostly reasonable. I'm not sure how many people, even theorists, at Berkeley are TAs after that first year though. That is something I will be sure to ask when I visit.

I'm not sure if it will make it harder to get into a particular field of research because you applied as "undecided" but I don't think so. What will likely make it a bit harder for you to get started in particle theory is that there is a lot of coursework to get under your belt first which can take a while to get done. But once you're enrolled, nobody keeps track of what interests you wrote down in your SOP -- if you can find support to join a research group, then you will be able to.

Also, even if you really can't figure out a way to visit, you can always make phone calls. Arrange to talk to professors and figure out the answers to a few of these questions.

Re: Berkeley, Chicago, UCSB, or OSU

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 8:56 am
by disoriented
Thanks for the info and suggestions!