Some advice on transfering grad schools please

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Some advice on transfering grad schools please

Post by txphysics » Wed Oct 11, 2006 9:24 pm

Hi everyone, I am currently a grad student at a university with a very small physics program (less than 10 profs, and I am one of 4 new grad students this year). It is the same school that I did my undergrad at...I decided to come here because it was the only place I got in. Doing an additional year of undergrad wasn't an option ($$$) and I got a stipend + tuition waived for grad school. I am thinking of taking the GRE physics again (I got a 570 last time...and know that I could do MUCH better) and reapplying elsewhere. I'm not wanting to do this due to my school's ranking, more because 1) I really don't like the city I'm living in, 2) the ONLY thing that this school does is high energy experimental. They have room for maybe one HEP theory student, but everyone else is HEP experiment. The more I listen to other people's presentations on this topic, the less compelling I find it. I'm interested in going to a school that has more options. and finally, 3) I've looked up the older grad students here, and post-docs, and they have very few publications. So, basically, I think I want to transfer for all the right reasons...I'm pretty much comitted to doing it, but I guess the question is, has anyone else here done this? If so, what was the reaction when you asked professors for rec. letters? How did you tell your advisor that you wanted to leave? When did you tell them? (I don't want to burn any bridges...but I guess I need to let them know that I don't plan to stick around) Also, would it be better to do this as soon as possible, or stay until I earn a master's degree? Please let me know what you think, or describe your experience in transferring.

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RE: Some advice on transfering grad schools

Post by Fido8 » Wed Apr 04, 2007 6:09 pm

Wow, except for the size of the school, your story sounds exactly like mine!

My story: I graduated from a big school (about 50 profs and 100+ grad students), and I applied around, but my own school was the best one I got in to.

People generally tell you to go to a different grad school than your undergrad - mostly so you don't end up working for the same profs doing the same old stuff. But at a big department, that's not such a problem because there's so much to do!

Anyway, my plan at that moment became: stay here for 2 years, get the Masters degree and go somewhere else to finish the PhD. One bonus was that in the last few months of undergrad I started dating an incredible girl who still had a year left of undergrad herself.

After my first year of grad school, I decided to jump into something totally different and got into a high-energy group. My advisors were cool, and the students in the group were great, but high energy experimental research itself was something I was wavering on. And at the same moment, my girlfriend moved to a big school for astro.

I retook the Physics GRE without telling anyone, and then in December of my 2nd year asked my advisor over email to see if he had time to talk about the future. I told him I wanted to go to the same grad school as my girlfriend - and I lucked out because his wife had done the same thing many years ago: she had transferred grad schools to be with him! So he was fine with it.

I applied to my girlfriend's big grad school, got accepted, and now I'm more stressed out than I ever have been trying to decide if I should go to this new school or not. My feelings on high energy research, and even on physics seem to change from day to day!

I've already got a big group of grad school friends, I've already passed the qual, I know the city like the back of my hand - should I start almost all over again?

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Post by braindrain » Thu Apr 05, 2007 10:27 am

Fido, only you can decide that for yourself. But, you might consider the following:
-) passing the qualifiers is a big deal, that may not transfer over and you have to do it again
-) sounds like you have 3 years the most left at your current place, but could potentially have more if you transfer
-) nothing wrong with transfering for personal reasons, but many people might say, well a girlfriend isn't the same as a wife, so only you will know if this girlfriend is a keeper or its just something that will run its time
-) what is the best thing to do scientifically, just think of the science by itself first, then you'll know if it is a personal decision or a scientific one
-) its always that age old question of be safe or take an adventure into the unknown; stress might be coming from the risk element - that once your at the new place within 5 minutes the stress of unknown will be gone
-) make a list of pros and cons
-) decide one way for a week and see how you react to that decision; decide the other way for a week and see how that feels
-) talk to some potential advisors at the new place and their students to see if you would be happy there
-) if you absolutely hate the new place can you go back

Bottom, line, I think its one of those things where there is no right answer. Either way, you will make the situation work for you. I don't think there is
any repercussion or career setback from changing, i.e. no one will look badly on you if you change.

Don't know if that helps, but sometimes brainstorming with other people can help.

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Post by icarus137 » Sat Apr 21, 2007 7:15 pm

I transferred from Stony Brook to UCLA. It was the worst decision of my life.

I transferred after my first year at Stony Brook because I was concerned with getting a research advisor in the area I was interested in.

There are a whole host of issues you will face. You will most likely have to take the qualifying exam again. You may have to repeat some classes. And if you do not have to do these things, you will feel a bit rushed to find an advisor.

If you can get a good advisor where you are at, I would recommend staying there. Graduate school is stressful. Transferring could potentially add a lot of problems and issues.

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Post by phygrad » Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:32 pm

I also transferred, but my experience has not been as bad as the previous poster's. I think it all depends on your situation -- that is, why you are transferring, and where you are transferring to.

I wanted to transfer for similar reasons: I had gone to the school as an undergrad and I didn't like the research prospects, and was unimpressed by the achievement of previous students. What's more, the other students who were accepted seemed mostly like slackers, and I became very self conscious about what I would accomplish, if anything, if the bar were not placed a few notches higher. So I did research into other schools, found that my suspicions were correct--that bad schools rarely graduate good physicists, and that a good adviser is crucial. So I applied to several schools, was accepted to one, and transferred. I am writing this one semester after the transfer and, while it is true that I need to retake quals, I believe I made the right decision.

IF you are unsure that this is the RIGHT decision for you, it probably doesn't matter much either way because there are no clear signs of danger. In my case it was very clear, and the decision was very easy. I simply wanted to do something I could not do at my previous school. One of my friends also applied to many schools, was accepted into a good program, but decided not to take it (despite my prodding). His theory was that your adviser matters more than the school, and he was comfortable with his adviser. I'm not so sure (see below).

You asked about the process. I found three professors that had good impressions of me and asked to write l.o.r.'s. I was first year so I didn't have an adviser, but one professor, who I had spoken with and gone on workshop trips with--a professor who knew if I didn't transfer I wanted to be in his research group--reluctantly agreed to write a letter after expressing some exacerbation that I would ask him. I don't know what the quality of his letters were. I didn't get into my first, or even second, choice schools. I did not have the time because of finals to study for the GRE so did not do as well as I would have liked. But I was accepted, and in making the decision to accept or decline the offer here is what I did: can you script, or program? I wrote a simple program that filtered google results by my own criteria. I did a google search for "school-name phd physics" and then my filter script picked out only those results in which each of those words were in close proximity--effectively returning only results for which a faculty member received a degree in physics from "school-name." My decision became a no-brainer. The school I was transferring to produced twice as many full time faculty as did my current school, and at much better schools to boot. I made sure the script produced the intuitive results one would expect by testing the filtering mechanism on Harvard, Princeton, U.Kentucky, and I can say with confidence that there is an unfortunate but undeniable amount of pedigree considered during the hiring of faculty. Harvard does produce far more tenured professors than Kentucky. This is a sad reality that I think you should factor into your decision making process (I assume that this transfers over to the private sector).

If this seems too calculating for you take a second look at last year's graduating class at your current school and ask yourself, would I like to do this? Unfortunately, I have reason to believe that those same students graduating from a different school could have much better job offers upon graduation.

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just to add

Post by phygrad » Fri Dec 21, 2007 9:40 pm

I would just like to add one thing. You should definitely have an idea of which area of physics you are interested in and apply only to schools where there are advisors accomplished in this area. You do not want to discover a passion for string theory at a school famous for condensed matter physics.

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