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PhD admissions - parent experience :)

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Replies to: PhD admissions - parent experience :)

  • surfcitysurfcity Registered User Posts: 1,701 Senior Member
    Wow, thank you all for this wealth of information. I do know that S has researched the profs to help shape the list of schools - based on the specific field/topic he is interested in. He has applied to a range of schools, from "reach" to "safety" if that is such a thing in PhD admissions.

    Lots of things that I had not considered, from health insurance to continued funding. Thank you to all who shared their knowledge.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 7,110 Senior Member
    While I had conversations with my daughter during the application process for a PhD, I no longer had any role other than a very very minor one as a sounding board. Her faculty connections and peers were much better than I at giving advice and information. I learned about most of what has been posted here after the offers came in: differences in stipends, health insurance, teaching requirements, mentor choices, even selectivity. I didn't really need to know beforehand or afterward, but it was interesting. She only applied to two programs after a careful process of choosing.

    There is a lot of focus on this thread on employability, but I think that even at this level, interest, even "passion", should be the guide and the reason for participation. A PhD program is truly a chance to do what you love. So being in a place where you can do that is the number one priority.
  • sylvan8798sylvan8798 Registered User Posts: 5,558 Senior Member
    intparent wrote:
    I have concerns about (for example) whether Dept of Energy funding will hold steady for the next 5 years.
    The Department of Energy may very well not even exist in 5 years. Funding for scientific research is likely to take a drastic plunge as well.
  • MLMMLM Registered User Posts: 678 Member
    My son (chemistry) is going through this right now, too. He submitted his applications on the first day they were open and once the letters of recommendation began being submitted he started to receive acceptances, e-mailed letters which listed his stipend, health insurance info, etc. With his first acceptance came an invite (completely on their dime) which included open house visits, interviews, pairing with other PhD students in the program, etc. So far he has received 3 acceptances (no rejections yet, and applied to I believe 7 PhD programs) and has been invited to visit another college soon that he was accepted to.

    He has been in contact with professors before he submitted his applications (to find out if they are accepting students into their program and what they are working on and if it is of interest to him). He has followed up contact with those professors (not in a pesty manner) after several months (resulting in one stating he would pull his application to take a look).

    What my son is considering is the research he would be doing (must be something he really likes), the location of the college and how it coincides with how he wants to live and activities he takes part in, and would like to be in a place where it is close to places to go/things to do/restaurants, etc.
  • surfcitysurfcity Registered User Posts: 1,701 Senior Member
    Wow @MLM so you're saying admissions in your experience acts like rolling admissions? That has not does not jibe exactly with what our sources have told us. That was my fear that early apps meant greater chance of admission but s advisor was not convinced of that.

    S has fully researched the programs and profs he wants to study with and has attended conferences to network as well. His passion truly is theoreticsl physics and while I saw the word "passion" bandied about on CC all the time, it's not until the last year or so that I saw it in person in my son. He loves learning and doesn't want his education to stop with his B. S. Plus he loves teaching.
  • prof2dadprof2dad Registered User Posts: 484 Member
    edited January 9
    I would suggest when the OP's S is interviewed, he should request a meeting with existing doctoral students. First, figure out the morale and how happy they are. If he is interested in employability, he can surely get a more realistic picture from the current students than from the faculty. He can surely also ask about how secure the funding tends to be. Probably the most important question is to figure out what is the typical length of time at that school for getting a PhD, 5 years, 6 years, 7 years? I have heard in some programs they tend to keep people for unnecessarily too long.

    A lot of stylized facts and patterns about admissions mentioned above have a lot to do with the funding model for doctoral education in basic science. It is largely a grant model. That is, a faculty member (the boss) secured a grant, this grant is used as the main source of funding for recruiting one or more doctoral students. These students are admitted to perform research projects associated with the grant. As a result, this particular faculty member has a lot to say about who he/she wants to admit. The decision process is centered around maybe just one person within the department. The graduate school is not actually doing whole a lot, and is more about dual diligence and processing necessarily paper works. Thus the quality of admission processes varies a lot. The university (particularly one of those not so well endowed ones) often see doctoral programs in basic science as cost centers, and would not want to spend operating budget on these programs. This is one of the reasons why the university has little say on the admission process.

    Because not all bosses are good people, there are occasionally adverse outcomes. For example, one particular doctoral student is particularly capable and useful for his/her boss's grant projects. The boss may have incentive to have this particular student staying in the lab as long as possible and thus postpone this student's graduation. I am not saying this is common, but it did happen and sometimes the Provost even needed to step in.

    So talking to the current doctoral students and figuring out the culture of the program and the reputation of the boss can be important.

    Pursuing a doctoral education does not have to be about employability. I will volunteer my 2 cents only if the OP's S is interested in employability.
  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 7,493 Senior Member
    What PhD candidate isn't worried about employability????
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 23,863 Senior Member
    Wow @MLM so you're saying admissions in your experience acts like rolling admissions?

    Definitely was for my D who went thru the process last year.
    . That was my fear that early apps meant greater chance of admission but s advisor was not convinced of that.

    Each Dept at a Uni works on a standard review calendar. (you can figure most scheduling out on Grad Cafe.) The best app even on the last day will likely receive an interview.
  • soxfan99soxfan99 Registered User Posts: 113 Junior Member
    My DD went through this last year. For the most part I was just a sounding board for her. The one area where I feel like I provided some valuable input was to provide advice in evaluating offers. We created a spreadsheet to help with this, as the differences were typically subtle and not always obvious. Things to keep in mind when evaluating the offers include...

    - Is the stipend for 12 months or 9 months. If 9 months are there opportunities for the remaining 3 months.
    - Is there a cost for health insurance. For my DD the costs ranged from $0 to $1,700 annually.
    - Are there any fees that must be paid. All of my DDs offers covered full tuition, but a couple of schools had additional fees that were around $2,000.
    - When will do you start receiving pay and what is the payment frequency. You may need to start paying for housing a month or two before getting paid. This varied, especially if the stipend is funded from multiple sources.
    - Cost of housing. We checked average rents in the area around each school as there were some significant differences.
    - Cost associated with setting up an apartment and moving to the location.
    - Will a car be needed?
    - What are the residential requirements. All of the public universities my DD was accepted to required that she become a resident of the state within the first year to maintain full tuition coverage. This process does not typically have much cost associated with it, but you want to understand the requirements.

    Factored in with all this are the academics, but this can be helpful when schools are close academically.


  • cobratcobrat Registered User Posts: 11,124 Senior Member
    What PhD candidate isn't worried about employability????

    There are a few wealthy PhD students even at the topflight PhD programs who are doing it "for fun" without concern for employabilitly.

    One case mentioned by an elite U prof I had for a summer class in his/her department is a member of a family well-known for their wealth and political connections. I also met a few who were scions of foreign wealthy/political/aristocratic families at another elite college where I took some graduate classes.

    They are full-pay, subjected to lowered admission standards as a result, and given far less support/mentoring by many topflight advisors who prioritize PhD students with fellowships who are viewed as the best prospects to continue the department's reputation for producing productive topflight scholars in academia and to a lesser extent related non-academic jobs.

    Another group who aren't concerned about employability are those who are going into PhD programs because they are doing it as part of their jobs and thus, continue to have salary/benefits through their employer such as private industry/government departments here in the US/abroad send their chosen employees and defray the costs of the PhD program themselves.

    Some examples I can think of in this category are a few grad classmates who were sent by their their respective military services to start PhD programs so they have the qualifications to start their 3-year tour as FSA instructors, a few selected international grad students sent by foreign governments to pursue PhDs to facilitate their moving into research positions required for their career tracks, or private industry sending their employees to pursue PhDs related to advancing in their industry career tracks(mainly in sciences such as chemistry or engineering/CS).
  • rosered55rosered55 Registered User Posts: 1,977 Senior Member
    I think there must be people, despite their high qualifications, who don't get in anywhere. I worry my daughter will be one of these because of the very few grad school spots in her field. I worry about providing her with emotional support during this time ("this time" meaning first time since third grade that she might not achieve what she sought). If you've got any suggestions for me, I'd welcome them.
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 28,565 Senior Member
    I can't add too much to Juillet's comprehensive post. I'd just say finding a PI you can work with is very important. One of my college boyfriends was accepted to Berkley, but after a year there couldn't find a PI who would take him. He ended up quitting and going to med school instead. (He was smart, but not necessarily Mr. Tact.) My sil went to U of Michigan planning on studying Victorian novels, when she decided she wanted to study literature from the former British colonies she couldn't find anyone to be her advisor. I know my husband went to Caltech intending to work for a professor who wasn't even there yet. (He arrived a semester later. He was accepted by the Caltech biology department and worked temporarily in someone else's lab.)

    At the place where dh teaches now grad students rotate through the labs during their first year and then the professors sort of bid on them. Students who have outside support (from MD/PhD money I think?) are at a premium. Dh doesn't currently have enough grant money to support the students he'd like to have.
  • californiaaacaliforniaaa Registered User Posts: 1,915 Senior Member
    I would treat it as a job application. IMHO, it is important to choose a lab, a supervisor, and a project. Project is most important. It has to have a potential to be a success!

    Financially - all Ph.D. students get ridiculously low pay. It really does not make sense to compare pennies. However, in some labs Ph.D. students have, in addition to Ph.D. salary, personal consulting agreements (with the blessing of the supervisor) that bring real money (higher than Ph.D. salary). Further, it is important to complete Ph.D. as fast as possible (with good publications) to go into the real world with real salaries.

    Identify Professors and apply directly. If Prof. wants to take a student - he/she will find a way to accept him/her. Regardless of the deadlines are GPA/GRE. Professors hand-pick grad students for their labs. The same university., same department may have very strong labs/Profs and very week ones. It is really important to find the right supervisor.

    Identify labs with lots of publications and strong reputations. Good luck!
  • californiaaacaliforniaaa Registered User Posts: 1,915 Senior Member
    theoretical physics is a narrow field. It should be easy to identify luminaris and contact them directly. Again, if a famous Prof. (with independent funding) would like to take a student, department will always find a way to accommodate the request and create an extra opening to accept one more grad student.

    Good luck!
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 26,867 Senior Member
    My kid applied to a pretty wide range in terms of selectivity. As long as they had work going on in her area of specialty, she gave them a good look. When I look online at a website devoted to PhD programs in her major, her list doesn't really look like everyone else's. But her specialty isn't exactly the same, either -- she really knows what she wants to do.
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