Confessions of an ego-boost student, continued

Now that I have sent all the supporting documents (transcripts, GRE/TOEFL score reports), my list is frozen. As I said earlier, prestige was one of my motivations, but I should say that it is far from the only one. Even my relative success in advanced coursework would account for only part of why I would seemingly seek to go to brand-name schools (more school-wide prestige than field-specific), and knowing that, even if one should even desire to teach at a department without a graduate program, academia is still a cutthroat world. Getting a PhD from a school that is prestigious in general is an advantage when looking for jobs outside your field (provided your field provides some skills that makes you employable outside of R&D or academia) over getting a PhD from a school whose name brand is limited to a field, because of transferability issues.

I also mentioned that I wouldn’t rule out teaching at a department without a graduate program, citing the reduced pressure to get research grants and to publish. There actually seems to be a few problems with using undergraduates to assist in research in theoretical particle physics or cosmology: even if you could award work-study under the form of a summer research internship, or allow well-motivated undergraduates to declare they want to do their capstone thesis on a subject that falls under either subfield, many, if not most projects undergraduates actually do in these subfields, in fact, would touch the background required to do experimental research at best.

And even in experimental physics, doing research as an undergraduate is very different [from doing it as a graduate student] when you don’t have the background to be much more than a “hand in the lab”. This was the justification of the old administration of the physics department at the University of Chicago for not emphasizing research experience much, if at all. I have to admit, UChicago has often been the odd man out in more than a few aspects: the amount of effort required to earn an A there, the essay prompts for undergrad, which are often characterized as “outlandish”. Maybe the new administration in place will emphasize research experience in PhD admissions processes more than the old one.

I invoked, at the very beginning, my uncompetitive profile for government-funded research grants; it turns out that there is another reason for this. More than simply a move driven by lack of access to outside funding, there is another reason why I started the whole ordeal: to protest against funding cuts by the federal government to NSERC and the structure change that ensued, which favors applied research and industrial research over fundamental research. You could say that I have never been a Conservative supporter, but Canada is risking a brain drain (of locally-trained talent) over the actions of the Conservative government with respect to science. But only time will tell whether there really has been a surge in applications to foreign graduate schools from Canadians.


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