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Graduate school in science, math, and engineering discussion

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
I figured that as this sub-forum grows and we start getting a lot of insight about different fields, it might be useful to have a thread for the M.S./Ph.D. folks. I'm hardly an expert on business, but I do have a lot of experience with graduate school so I'll put in my random thoughts as I collect them here and hopefully others can do the same. The first thing that comes to mind is that graduate school should be used as a time to find yourself. Not in the backpack through India sort of way, but to find out the most pragmatic use of your existing skills and where you can grow. You'll have a lot of free time in graduate school. Of course you'll work hard in a lab or library, but there's certainly a lot of free time to try new things. For me, one of the best parts was being able to easily access a network of so many different people. I'm an engineer, but I was able to reach out to people working on everything from public policy and finance to football and genomics which was just incredible. It often just started by chatting up someone in the hallways or at a coffee shop or bar near campus or asking my advisor to put me in touch with someone. Those sorts of interactions helped me personally in being able to talk to just about anyone. When you have a broad knowledge base, you can relate with a lot of people and you'll be better for it. In short, don't be married to your research. You'll learn a lot in any graduate program, but you can learn far more outside of your lab than you can in it. The time you spend in graduate school often contains the most formative years of one's life, so I'd suggest taking advantage of that in all manners possible. I'll elaborate with more specific examples in further posts.
post #2 of 30
Base your school choice on your future faculty advisor, NOT the school's standing. Very few will care if you were a Harvard student for some no-name professor, whereas if you go to a recognizable name (and a person with whom you will easily get along and have the freedom to do ^^the above) you can stand out to "the right people".
post #3 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by deadly7 View Post
Base your school choice on your future faculty advisor, NOT the school's standing. Very few will care if you were a Harvard student for some no-name professor, whereas if you go to a recognizable name (and a person with whom you will easily get along and have the freedom to do ^^the above) you can stand out to "the right people".

Definitely agree with this. How you interact with your advisor will make or break or your grad school experience. This includes everything from what research they perform to how they manage you. If you pick a good advisor, it also helps with the reaching out I mentioned above.
post #4 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by ramuman View Post
Definitely agree with this. How you interact with your advisor will make or break or your grad school experience. This includes everything from what research they perform to how they manage you. If you pick a good advisor, it also helps with the reaching out I mentioned above.

I have to agree with this too. I did a year of research on drosophila oogenesis. I loved the experience because of the my advisor and the lab environment.
post #5 of 30
Nerd alert! Just kidding, good thread.
post #6 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Artisan Fan View Post
Nerd alert!


Just kidding, good thread.

Nerds rule the world.
post #7 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prada_Ferragamo View Post
Nerds rule the world.

Yes we do.
post #8 of 30
At one point, I was a student in a top 3 pure math PhD program. I hated it. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.
post #9 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Artisan Fan View Post
Nerd alert! Just kidding, good thread.
I think that this business subforum might be the most harmonious out of any forum on the internet. I need to send Matt a gift basket.
post #10 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joenobody0 View Post
At one point, I was a student in a top 3 pure math PhD program. I hated it. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.

Care to expand a little bit?
post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prada_Ferragamo View Post
Care to expand a little bit?

Sure, but it's hard for me to adequately capture the experience. I'll start with my cohort group: the vast majority could hold no job besides "mathematician." Think about what that means. They had 0 social skills (chewing with your mouth open, picking your nose and eating it, pulling your hair out pathologically, I've seen them all), I suspect most bathed about once a month (no shit), and they had major superiority complex (# of papers published + Erdos number = math dick size). Moving on from them are... the professors. Imagine what those people will be like in 20 years. That's 99% of the professors I had to interact with. The worst part of the experience was the pursuit of skills that nobody in the world cares about. Topology of 4 dimensional manifolds is not exactly a growth industry.

Compound this experience with the fact that only the best (and I mean amazingly great) people are able to find an academic job. These guys are "teaching" at no-name schools right now, making $55,000/year. The ones who aren't super duper great, are busting their asses on post-doc #3 (at $35,000/year) hoping to land a teaching gig at a shitty school.

Applied math would be very different I think. Even though the experience wasn't great, and I didn't learn a lot of applicable skills, I did learn how to learn. That is, of course, useful in itself.
post #12 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by deadly7 View Post
Base your school choice on your future faculty advisor, NOT the school's standing. Very few will care if you were a Harvard student for some no-name professor, whereas if you go to a recognizable name (and a person with whom you will easily get along and have the freedom to do ^^the above) you can stand out to "the right people".

Agree to some extent. Some "big names" are assholes. It's preferable to work with a no-name PI with whom you have a great rapport than with a jerk. In addition, some people thrive in a smaller environment that a "no-name" PI (who presumably has a smaller, more intimate lab) can offer. A PI who is always absent giving talks, or writing grants, or otherwise full of his self-importance, probably won't make a good mentor.

And, at the end of the day, people will care what you publish, not the professor you work with.
post #13 of 30
I have always found that most people who study theories with no obvious real life applications to be somewhat odd, though they are extremely logical. May be that was what you saw. Some of the folks I know who were math/statistics majors ended up taking jobs in the finance/insurance industries.
post #14 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prada_Ferragamo View Post
I have always found that most people who study theories with no obvious real life applications to be somewhat odd even though they are extremely logical. May be that was what you saw. Some of the folks I know who were math/statistics majors ended up taking jobs in the finance industry.
I'm going to assume you're talking about UG or Masters level people. There's a world of difference between those people and top top PhD students. Imagine the weirdest math dude you've ever met. That guy might have been average-weird here. The people that I'm talking about would be more likely to commit suicide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Floer) than work on Wallstreet (I went into industry FWIW).
post #15 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joenobody0 View Post
Sure, but it's hard for me to adequately capture the experience. I'll start with my cohort group: the vast majority could hold no job besides "mathematician." Think about what that means. They had 0 social skills (chewing with your mouth open, picking your nose and eating it, pulling your hair out pathologically, I've seen them all), I suspect most bathed about once a month (no shit), and they had major superiority complex (# of papers published + Erdos number = math dick size). Moving on from them are... the professors. Imagine what those people will be like in 20 years. That's 99% of the professors I had to interact with. The worst part of the experience was the pursuit of skills that nobody in the world cares about. Topology of 4 dimensional manifolds is not exactly a growth industry. Compound this experience with the fact that only the best (and I mean amazingly great) people are able to find an academic job. These guys are "teaching" at no-name schools right now, making $55,000/year. The ones who aren't super duper great, are busting their asses on post-doc #3 (at $35,000/year) hoping to land a teaching gig at a shitty school. Applied math would be very different I think. Even though the experience wasn't great, and I didn't learn a lot of applicable skills, I did learn how to learn. That is, of course, useful in itself.
I can completely understand this. I think that's why growing outside of the lab is so important in grad school. This year's Nobel Prize in Physics was given to two guys that have laid back and outgoing personalities. The problem is that there are three slots for the prizes and it was widely assumed that if graphene (a 2D form of carbon) ever got the prize, there were three people that should get it. I worked about 100 feet from Dr. de Heer's office, the man that should've had one third of the price. The reason he didn't was because of an abrasive and closed personality, even by pure fundamental science standards. He was left writing a letter to Nature (summarized here: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/1011....2010.620.html). He'll never have another chance to be a Nobel laureate, but he dug his grave with his personality, not his research. I had a beer with the students in his group the day after the announcement last October and it was just cold to know that they were working for a man who had defined his life doing something that gave him a chance to grab the highest honor in his field, but he let his personality get in the way.
Quote:
Originally Posted by zjpj83 View Post
Agree to some extent. Some "big names" are assholes. It's preferable to work with a no-name PI with whom you have a great rapport than with a jerk. In addition, some people thrive in a smaller environment that a "no-name" PI (who presumably has a smaller, more intimate lab) can offer. A PI who is always absent giving talks, or writing grants, or otherwise full of his self-importance, probably won't make a good mentor. And, at the end of the day, people will care what you publish, not the professor you work with.
A lot of big names are assholes because their lives revolve around the arrogance they build based on making the cover of Nature or Science. You just need a personality mesh with your advisor. If it's an advisor that's just starting out or one that's established...no worries. Just make sure they fulfill their fundamental duty for those 4 or 5 years...being your mentor.
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