Finding graduate programs

Researching info on graduate programs, I often came upon the suggestion that the school does not matter as much the research done by faculty at the school and the the decision of where to go should be based on which school has faculty doing research in the future grad student’s area of interest. But what is the best method to do? Going to many school’s websites and clicking on every single researcher listed on the department faculty page to learn more about their research is a ridiculous and extremely time consuming method. Some schools will provide a very brief description of the area of research focus, which can sometimes help. But others just list the name and then we need to click on each one to learn more. I am looking for a grad program that offers the opportunity to research autism via cognitive science or neuroscience. The process of finding the right program is extremely frustrating and exhausting. Any suggestions on how to best search for a suitable fit for a grad program?

Welcome to the wonderful world of grad school, which is all about researching- starting with finding the right one!

There are a lot of resources, starting with:

  1. research you have already done: for school assignments and/or through internships you should have already done some research into your field. Who are the ‘big names’ in the field? where are they based? where are their co-authors based?

  2. your advisor and relevant course profs: for both general (what level grad schools do strong/average students from our school typically get into?) and specific (what unis/profs do you know / know of that would align with my interests) info they are a key resource. Bear in mind that you will be going back to one or two of them for references.

The school does matter, but most often undergrad students don’t choose a grad school for a specific prof- and certainly not w/out knowing that the prof is interested in (and has funding for!) taking them on as a new student. That is not unusual going from Masters to PhD, but not so common in combined Masters/PhD programs. Perhaps think department as much as individual.

Yes, researching grad schools is VERY time consuming. Some of it is actually going to a department’s website and clicking through all of the researchers to learn more about their research. You’re choosing a department that will affect the trajectory of your career for the next at least 7-10 years - yes, you should invest some hours to make sure you’re choosing the right one.

But @collegemom3717 gave excellent advice on the best way to pick a program in her #1. Hopefully you have already done some research for papers and as an RA in this field; if you have not, use your school’s library resources to start looking up scholarly papers written in the field you’re interested in. This will take some time (several weeks or months), but who are the big names in that field who keep popping up over and over again? Over time as you look up more papers and read more research, you will start to connect the dots about the ‘conversation’ in your field, who are the game-changers and major players, and what departments have strength in that area.

I used a combination of this approach and literally going to the websites of the top departments in my field (say top 15-20) and looking at the researchers’ specialties in those departments.

I will say that you will likely have to get more specific than ‘autism.’ There are hundreds of researchers who do research on autism via cogsci or neuroscience.

Asking professors can help if there are professors in your department who do research in that field.