To boldly apply where no one has applied before

I seemingly had to let go of Ohio State because it appeared unlikely that they would be taking students any time soon. And Vanderbilt, too, because, while it was the first application I actually started (and even allowed it to expire due to some miscalculation) I only had one professor why I even wanted to go to Vanderbilt for in the first place, even if it was the one professor at Vanderbilt my primary research-based recommender could consider to be a connection.

It turns out that exchanging Vanderbilt for Washington University in St. Louis simply meant exchanging a connection for another one (although I would place WUSTL somewhere between Ohio State and Carnegie Mellon as far as difficulty is concerned) and, in Ohio State’s stead, I have Notre Dame, which I assume to be in the same range as Vanderbilt. So, to the untrained eye, my current list could give the impression that I am a prestige-obsessed, strong ego-boost applicant. But, in fact, I am applying to a range of programs, since some schools on my list enjoy a vast discrepancy between their undergraduate reputations and their graduate physics reputations, one that favors undergrad by a fairly large margin.

Plus, at home, where people that are actually in position to get into a PhD program, let alone earn a PhD, are not generally status-obsessed, WUSTL, Carnegie Mellon, Notre Dame, even Vanderbilt (some people I knew in that applied abstract algebra class even thought Vanderbilt was some Dutch university, perhaps even the PhD-level alma mater of a certain Sjoerd Roorda, which the majority of them had as a first-semester student in undergrad) or UPenn are, in fact, no more known than, say, University of Utah.


Before:

  • UPenn
  • Columbia
  • Princeton
  • UChicago
  • Michigan-Ann Arbor
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • Minnesota-Twin Cities
  • Ohio State
  • Tufts
  • Vanderbilt
  • Dartmouth

After:

 

  • UPenn
  • Columbia
  • Princeton
  • UChicago
  • Michigan-Ann Arbor
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • Minnesota-Twin Cities
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Tufts
  • Notre Dame
  • Dartmouth

On my new list, I know for sure that no one applied there in physics at the PhD level from my undergrad before: UPenn, Carnegie Mellon, WUSTL, Tufts, Notre Dame, Dartmouth (I am not sure about Minnesota or Columbia, no more than for Ohio State, now that there is a confirmed case of someone from my undergrad that applied to, and matriculated at UChicago) and, if I kept Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt. However, I know for sure there are two schools on my list that already had applicants from my undergrad in the past: Michigan and Princeton. I am still applying to 11 schools.

EDIT: After looking for how common were PhD holders among community college physics teachers in the US, I stumbled upon Jean Lecuyer, who graduated from the same undergrad as I, and graduated from UChicago astrophysics department for his PhD, hence him having applied for a PhD at UChicago.

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