Declaring / Indicating Area of Interest Grad School

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Joined: Tue May 08, 2012 11:22 pm

Declaring / Indicating Area of Interest Grad School

Post by YAHA » Tue May 08, 2012 11:24 pm


Before I begin, I am still a year removed from applying to grad schools. However, it never hurts to read up on some information beforehand.

How binding and obligatory is the initial declaration of area of interest on the application? In other words, once you get into grad school, can you easily switch from, say, theoretical area to experimental and vice versa?

Also, is it true that experimental areas are generally easier to get into than theoretical? It appears from reading this website and that everyone wants to be the next Einstein or Feynman. Nothing wrong with that by any means, but being the next John Bell isn't bad either ;). I guess theory just has a "sexy" reputation.

Any thoughts, comments, and general ponderings are welcome.

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Re: Declaring / Indicating Area of Interest Grad School

Post by mrrsnhtl » Wed May 09, 2012 6:22 am

Of course, experimental research fields inhale the huge section of the grant pie, considering they are the gateway to the market via technological and military investments. Well, what can one say, "enjoy capitalism"..

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Re: Declaring / Indicating Area of Interest Grad School

Post by TakeruK » Wed May 09, 2012 10:27 am

It depends on the program whether or not it's easy to switch between subfields/research areas. Some places just accept the top X applicants and then let you try out profs/projects in first year and decide after that. Other places are more strict because they want to fill certain research positions.

That said, it would be helpful for you if you could narrow down what you want to do in graduate school exactly. It will help you write a stronger and more focused SOP. Also, I don't think grad school isn't something one should do just because you like Physics. It's important to have a goal in mind. I'm not saying you don't, and you're still a year away so you might soon discover what drives you!

On the other hand, when you apply for some grants and stuff, it's almost non-binding at all, as long as you are still doing physics (or astro or whatever), as far as I know. Usually the instructions clearly state this though.

If you're still undecided next year, you should still apply to everywhere that interests you and when you visit schools, that's a good time to find out how supervisors/projects are assigned and how the whole process works at that school. Personally, I am glad I did my MSc in Canada because being two separate programs, you have the choice of changing topics when it's PhD time (or extend MSc thesis to PhD thesis).

Maybe this forum might have a larger proportion of people wanting to be in theory, or the next Einstein, but it's not everyone here. I'm not interested in either. Although right now, I'm doing numerical simulations stuff in Astro, so it's kind of like theory....but I'm going to do something more observational for my PhD. But my main goal with a PhD is to get a career that can both support my family and my interests (aka something I won't dread each morning). Faculty jobs would be awesome but permanent research staff would be swell too!

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