Choosing a Grad School
Once you’ve decided that grad school is the choice for you, how do you choose one? The first filter may be surprising.
Somehow, find a list or database of all school’s with your desired grad program and a list of all faculty in that program. Then, without paying attention to the schools themselves, make a list of every faculty member who’s research is at all interesting to you. Depending on the size of your field, this may take several weeks and 10-20 sheets of paper.
Then look at your list and any school that only has 1-2 faculty of interest listed, cross it off immediately, regardless of which school it is. This is because folks rarely end up working for any of the advisors they think they will when they apply. If you are only interested in a couple of advisors and don’t work for them, then you may be up a creek.
It turns out that departments tend to have themes in research areas. Thus, if you have a decent number of faculty of interest at a school and work for none of them, then the chances of still finding an acceptable advisor tends to be higher.
After filtering by number of interesting faculty, go back through and examine things like institution reputation, location, program details, etc. Apply and visit every school to which you are accepted. Look at the offers each program makes and during the visits, carefully ask the grad students at each school how the school treats them.
Of course, the most important thing to do throughout the process is pray. I’ve also found that an important factor is your gut feeling about a given program. If you have a negative sense about a place, listen to it, and see if you can determine its origin. It may not be a deciding factor, but it can be an important one.
Tomorrow, we’ll choose our Ph.D. advisor.