Wednesday, December 12, 2007

So you're applying to graduate school...

Female Science Professor has posted a very useful discussion of e-mails to potential graduate advisors. If you are an undergrad applying to graduate school, you might want to check out her comments - it isn't often that you get insight into what grad school faculty want to hear from applicants! The comments also give a view of the range of opinions about pre-application e-mails.

(My experience... well, I had to walk uphill both ways in a snowstorm just to search a paper copy of the Directory of Geoscience Departments to find out which universities employed metamorphic petrologists. I suppose I could have sent pre-application letters via the Pony Express... *shakes cane* So, anyway, I'm glad to hear what faculty at research universities think of the now-traditional e-mails.)

Edit: Female Science Professor has added a new post discussing applications of MS vs PhD students. It's a useful read, as well. But keep in mind that she teaches at a major research university - there are a range of types of institutions out there, and for some of them, the terminal MS degree is the most advanced degree offered. If you are primarily interested in going into industry rather than academia, an MS degree might be the way to go - especially right now, when both the oil&gas and mining industries are hiring geologists. (They are also hiring people with PhDs, but PhDs take a lot longer to complete, and the job market can change a lot in five years.)


Anonymous said...

Best advice: Get into the best program you possibly can. Recognize the immense liability of accepting admission into a program that isn't ranked among the top in your field, or isn't at any Ivy-League school or equivalent.

Kim said...

I disagree. It depends entirely on your purpose for going to grad school. If your goal is to get a job at an Ivy League school, then perhaps the advice is good. But the best geoscience programs in the country include a lot of state universities, and non-Ivy private institutions, and some of the Ivy League schools have pretty big holes in their geology programs.

And there are a lot of jobs in the geoscience away from the big research universities. There's industry - oil and metals and uranium are all booming, and even things like photovoltaics require mining some very obscure elements. And the environmental industry isn't going away. And government agencies still exist. And there's teaching masters students, and undergrads, and community college students.

There's something really, really wrong with the model of science that says that the only success is to be like the Ivy League.

If you want to do it - yeah, apply to the best grad schools, and only publish in Science and Nature. But there's a heck of a lot of interesting geoscience happening outside those places.

My advice would be to think about your needs, and how you work, and what you enjoy, and start there. Look for a program where you can do what you love with an advisor whose style is compatible with yours.

(BTW, I've heard anonymous's comments from chemists and biologists a lot. But from geoscientists? Only if they themselves went to an Ivy League school.)