Where to undergrad in physics if grad school (PhD) is the goal?

So if you are going to a T50, at least (among other things) it is hard for you to signal which track you are on on a resume, as there is a lot of gray in between the two extremes.

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That wasn’t your argument (and the comp differences are geographically driven- i.e. Menlo Park vs. Atlanta). You stated your son’s argument without any asterisks or qualifications at all- and it’s false.

Each response on CC is not a fully qualified statement that stands on its own with footnotes etc. It is understood within the context of the conversation. So Rutgers and Princeton are in the same Geography. Their CS averages are closer (still far) than their Math averages.

It’s not hard. A math major at UT who is planning on becoming a HS math teacher is not going to have the same resume as a math major who hopes to become an actuary or a math major who has excelled at topology.

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The quality of the student at UIUC and Princeton in CS is quite similar. The range of the distributions sit on top of each other. This is unlikely to be the case for the quality of the student in their math departments. Their post bacc outcomes are different as a consequence.

Since this is a Physics thread, let me also say that I suspect Physics grads from liberal artsy colleges (essentially T30 private) likely place well into non Physics jobs better than Physics grads from state schools, both due to perceptions of higher input quality, and a broader education.

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I will assume that the 2 users above will now return to focusing on the OP, and will take their sidebar conversation to DM if they want to continue.

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That is certainly true, and a plan should also consider the possibility that the son’s desires may change. How does he know he’s not more interested in, say, materials science and engineering if he’s never been exposed to it? Maybe it turns out that he wants to be a metallurgist.

LACs have produced some excellent scientists, to be sure. And for many people, they are a better choice as an undrgrad than a R1. But they have their downsides as well, including flexibility of major.

Seems like those employers are looking for those who have been pre-screened by college or major admissions as “elite”, rather than looking at actual achievement in college. This is not really the same as what PhD program admissions look for.

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Consider NM Tech (New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology). They have a solid physics program. And pretty much all of the undergrads end up doing research for professors. The NM Tech professors have really good connections to some excellent summer internship programs (NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, stuff like that).

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Engineering is one of the few truly binary choices that impinge upon a young person’s flexibility to choose between a T30 LAC and a T30 RI. The extensive prereq courses really preclude a “breathing period” for comparing majors and putting off a commitment until sophomore year as would be possible with Physics, for example. I think this is the biggest reason LACs don’t have Engineering.

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If your son ends up being interested in LACs consider Vassar, which seems to be a match for a male applicant with your son’s stats. I have heard good things about their Physics and Astronomy department.

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If this actually represented the case, then I think Princeton would have discovered it generations ago, and adjusted its admission criteria accordingly.

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If it were me, I would be armed with something more than “I suspect” or the very narrow anecdote of one of your kids advising the other before telling someone who has more than once indicated she is in corporate recruiting that she “can’t know” something.

But as long as we’re going with our suspicions, mine is that your T5 or bust mentality is a bit hyperbolic and inaccurate.

And yet students from LACs tend to punch above their weight statistically in obtaining PhDs in all or most disciplines, hard science (and thus physics) included.

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She can’t know how all other companies that recruit think. She said “No employer looks at a math major from …”. It is a pretty absolute statement.

Separately I did look at the comp differences at Rutgers and at Princeton for Math and CS before I wrote that. This is of interest to me independent of this question because I have a kid headed to Rutgers this fall. I am not T5 or bust.

But I tend to be significantly conservative in dealing with grad school of any kind. A friend who is a faculty at a state flagship recently told me that Physics faculty positions are becoming available only if a faculty member retires. Not just at his university, but in the field at large. So if my kids are headed for Physics academia (and by the way I love Physics – thought I’d go into Physics academia myself some 30+ years ago), I would be worried sick, and ask them to do so only if they went a top place for their PhD.

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Yes, academia can be highly school-elitist in hiring – but the prestige ranking for that purpose is based on the departmental ranking of one’s PhD school (as viewed by other faculty in the same subject), rather than the overall prestige ranking of one’s undergraduate school that may be more relevant in hiring for Wall Street and management consulting.

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I don’t disagree. I also know that the quality of the program can be materially different between high ranked undergrad schools and a regular state flagship (not UCB or UIUC or similar). So I’d be very vary about where I go for undergrad if am headed to grad school to get into academia.

A top place for their PhD yes but that doesn’t follow that you need to go to a top place for undergrad to get into a top place for a PhD. The key is to find an undergraduate program that provides a wide variety of courses and plenty of opportunities for becoming involved in undergraduate r esearch. Also anyone going into a Physics PhD has to prepared for the reality that even coming from a top PhD program, they most likely aren’t going to land a position in academia and should be prepared with an alternative plan for utilizing the degree (says the parent of another hopeful future Physics academic).

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A few comments:

  • A good physics student has opportunities in areas outside of physics. If the student develops good physical intuition (not just math), it can be applied in many places outside the world of physics. However, to be productive in physics itself, a PhD is necessary but far from sufficient.

  • Some physics programs are better than others, even at the undergraduate level, but I don’t like the label “Tx” or “Txx” in general, and in particular in relationship to the topic of this thread. What does “Tx” or “Txx” really mean? It all depends.

  • Some of the best graduate programs very highly discourage (or even automatically reject) students from their own undergraduate programs, for the benefit of these students themselves. One of the most famous examples is that the head of MIT’s physics department told Richard Feynman to go elsewhere for his PhD. Discovery and innovation often require looking at problems from fresh perspectives. No two colleges are the same and they aren’t interchangeable.

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