What I wish I knew before Grad School
This list originated from a lunch time dicussion of the CfA WIS (Women in Science) Group on Monday 7th August 2006. Female summer REUs were specifically invited to join the discussion. The discussion was lead by Cara Rakowski, Karen Masters and Sukanya Chakrabarti.
How to find which schools are good
- NRC (National Reseach Council) rankings are published approximately every 10 years. The last one was 1995, with the next release planned for 2007.
- Customize the NRC rankings based on what you find most important (including percentage of women) at phds.org.
- Don't forget Astronomy courses in Physics departments - so check out the Physics rankings too, but remember that Physics and Astronomy department may have different criteria for admission.
Think about the number of women faculty
- Don't forget to look at absolute and relative numbers
- Remember that high numbers of female grad students/postdocs can significantly improve the atmosphere even when there are few women faculty.
- If there are no women present worry about what else is wrong with the department.
ADS is your friend
- ADS (the Astrophysics Data System) is your friend. This is a NASA funded project which indexes over 4.3 million records of Astronomy/Astrophysics papers.
- Look up the numbers of (recent) papers of faculty at the places you're interested in.
- Don't forget second author papers. In Astronomy the first author may be a grauate student of the faculty member. You can learn about how much their graduate students publish.
Research several possible advisors
- You may change your mind after starting graduate school, so think about several possible advisors/fields in a given department
- Remember that faculty do move - always good to have a back-up plan.
- It can be good to work with more than one Professor anyway.
- Remember you're not neccessarilly "stuck" with faculty in your department - some places let you have your main advisor in related departments (eg. Physics, Geology if you're in Astronomy)
- A "personality match" can be just as important as research interests when it comes to choosing an advisor - think about the kind of person you will need to help you get the most out of graduate school.
Think about resources
- Computing resources (supercomputers?) for theory.
- Telescopes/telescope access for observers.
Talk to current graduate students
- Talk to grad students candidly when you get to the visiting stage.
- Consider emailing current grad students when deciding where to apply
- Look at the history of past graduate students from places - where are they all now (this information may be available on the department websites)
Find out about course requirements
- Ask clearly about the qualification/admission to candidacy process, what percentages of people pass and how long they take.
How to deal with the stress of the application process
- Take care of yourself. Eat well. Have outside interests (yoga?)
- Consider taking time out to do something else for a while, for example teaching, travel. There are also various jobs in Astronomy (eg. Chandra data aides) which don't require a PhD and can be a good stepping stone.
- Remember it's not the be-all and end-all of life!
- Consider Masters programs if your GRE scores are not great. You don't necessarilly need a PhD to work in Astronomy (eg. science writers, data aides, teachers, congressional aides). You may also be able to use the Masters degree as a step to a PhD program.
- Being well rounded is a good thing - don't be intimidated by the super science geeks!
- Remember you're not expected to know everything before going to graduate school
- Remember you're successfull already!
- You can always re-apply next year.
AAS Meeting is a good resource
- Many REUs (including all those in the CfA REU program) are sent to AAS (American Astronomical Society) meetings in January.
- Seek out graduate students from the places you're interested in - ask candid questions. They may be very honest, and will be delighted to have a visitor to their poster.
You can transfer
- If you make the wrong decision initially you can always transfer - especially to other places which accepted you.
Don't ignore advice
- Don't ignore advice or your "gut" feeling
- Don't just go to a place because it's prestigious
Taking time off is good in many ways
- Extra maturity
- Give you time to think about if this is really for you (avoid the crisis in graduate school)
- Put things in perspective
- One of the most comment regrets among current graduate students (anecdotally) is that they didn't take time off.
Astronomy is International
- It is possible to go abroad and work with collaborators in other countries.
- The atmosphere for women and outlook on balancing life and work can be very different, refreshing and provide some perspective on the American work-style.
- Attend Colloquia - both at your current institution if there are any and once you get to graduate school.
Take care of yourself in graduate school
- Eat well
- Sleep enough
- Have outside interests
- Don't spend 20 hours a day in the office/lab
- It's important to take breaks to avoid "brain overload".
Links to more advice on graduate school applications
Last modified: Mon Aug 21 16:33:25 EDT 2006