Judging the Quality of Faculty

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

Post Reply
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Sep 01, 2014 6:43 pm

Judging the Quality of Faculty

Post by aquirdturtle » Mon Feb 09, 2015 2:38 pm

As we start looking more carefully at different schools that we've been accepted to, how should we judge the actual quality of faculty at a particular institution? I'm in a slightly odd situation where I don't have personal access to faculty at my home institution who are knowledgeable in my field of interest (AMO) and could give me advice as to who all of the all-star and rising-star researches are.

At this point, I feel like the only ways I have to guess this are rankings systems, which seem unreliable, and doing a search to see how highly cited a given researcher is, which also seems like a terrible metric.

On a more personal level, of course talking to graduate student in a given resesarcher's group would be useful, but I'm thinking of more of the objective 'quality of research' level.

Any advice on how to judge these qualities in a researcher/school?

Posts: 941
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Judging the Quality of Faculty

Post by TakeruK » Mon Feb 09, 2015 10:15 pm

There's different criteria in judging "quality", I think.

For "quality" as in "how good is this faculty member at supervising their students and guiding them", the best people to ask are the students in the current program.

For "does this faculty member help their students get good placements post-PhD", try to track down where their alumni have gone.

For "does this faculty member produce exciting research", I think citation count is actually a great metric. In academia, the most important measure of your production is whether or not your ideas are picked up by other people and cited.

And for "what kind of opportunities does the faculty member grant their students", look up papers by their students. See if it's usually student as first author, or if the PI takes first authorship. Read their papers and decide if you would be excited writing a similar paper. Also, judge whether their students are working on novel ideas that are cited and interesting to other scientists, or if their students are simply "paper machines" that take a model developed by the PI, then crank some data through it and produce results.

I would look at all of these factors when deciding on the quality of faculty. What you look for in each section depends on what kind of goals you have in grad school!

Finally, there are usually national awards granted by the national society for your subfield. They grant awards to "rising stars" as well as "career research". Check to see if your faculty have won these awards!

Post Reply