How much would Grad School choice affect my future career?

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Joined: Wed Jan 25, 2017 11:51 pm

How much would Grad School choice affect my future career?

Post by zzzHermina » Thu Mar 09, 2017 1:01 am

Hi all,

First congratulations to all that got offers, and good luck to those that are still waiting!

Just like a lot of people here, I am making decision between schools currently. I would appreciate it if anyone could give me any suggestion!
As in my post title, my main confusion is how much the reputation of the program would affect my future career in academia or industry respectively.

Scenario: School A has a very TOP program and a big name (ivy, great at liberal art and science according to US News); school B has a good program (top 10ish, bigger department) and the college itself is a big state school (out of 30 for undergrad, good at engineering/STEM, but so-so in other fields). I have not visited the schools since my classes conflicted with their Open House, but I will visit them eventually before making a decision.
Other factors:
1. I am not familiar with people in school A, though it seems that several outstanding researchers there match my research interest; but in school B, there is a specific professor that I know well and want to work with. I originally planned to attend a school like B; getting accepted to A is unexpected.
2. I am not sure whether I want to stay in academia or go to industry in the future. Getting a faculty position seems extremely hard for theoretical physicists these days, especially for an international student like me. I understand the most important factors should be my research work and my advisor, but I am still wondering if a degree from A or B would make a big difference? Or simply will attending A help me get into the "club"?
3. If I am switching to industry, how much will tech companies care about the school you come from? Or how much difference is there between the alumni networks?
4. In 2 and 3, I assume hunting a job in academia or industry in US. But under the current political situation, I am kinda worried about the chance to immigrate. If I go back to my home country, attending A will make my life much easier since it is much more internationally famous than B.

Any thought? Thank you a lot!

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Re: How much would Grad School choice affect my future career?

Post by TakeruK » Fri Mar 10, 2017 12:11 pm

I think the school choice does matter. However, between School A and School B here, the difference is really small. I would group all top 10 schools in the same category but maybe my subfield is a little different.

Just to respond to some of your comments:

1. You don't need to know people before attending a school. I think A sounds like a better fit for you here because there are several great people that match your interest. It's not ideal to have only 1 ideal match (as in school B).

2. There are many articles already written about how school prestige/ranking affects your chances to get hired in academia. For example: ... fessoriate. In your case, A and B are similar enough that I don't think the school name will make a huge difference. Instead, which school will provide the most resources to allow you to succeed. For example, if there is a school that doesn't require you to TA every semester every year (as most of my theoretical physics friends must do), then that might be really helpful.

3. My experience is that many tech companies want to hire people based on recommendations. So the alumni network is really important. Having an internal recommendation can go a really long way. So if you meet a grad student a few years older than you who joined a tech company, having them recommend you when you graduate can really help. Also, many tech companies hire on the basis on the school's overall name, not the reputation of your specific field (because very few tech companies care about how famous a school is for theoretical physics). They want smart students and one way they measure that is being accepted to a school that is hard to get into.

4. Yes this is a good point and I also factored this into my decision when I made my own choices because I'm also an international student. In addition to this point though, if you do want to stay in the US and apply for a green card through the O-1 or EB-1 program (i.e. self-sponsored instead of employer sponsored), you need to prove that you are the best of the best in your field and that it is in the US national interest to keep you. Therefore, having top ranked schools on your resume and getting letters from famous profs are important in making this application work.

Overall, again, I think in your case, A and B are very similar. Based on the info presented here, I would go with A. However, if you had any concerns about A from your visit or interactions with professors/students, then B might be the better choice!

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Re: How much would Grad School choice affect my future career?

Post by zzzHermina » Mon Mar 27, 2017 2:09 am

Thank you, Takeruk! These are all great analysis and suggestions.
April.15 is approaching, but I am still not able to make a decision...The two schools are really similar just like you said, and I actually like both of them after visiting... The only difference is that in B, I have secured a spot in the research group I am interested in, but in A, spots are not guaranteed there might be potential competition or waiting. For a theorist, waiting for one year is totally acceptable, but what if after waiting, the prof gives the spot to someone else in the competition? I am not sure if I am worrying too much, but I really want to stay in academia and stay in physics.

Anyway, I have to figure it out before April.15...

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