Unlike the first day, the second day was well-structured, with little wiggle room. And man, Pittsburgh can be a hilly city. I knew that very few could consider Carnegie Mellon to be a backup plan to anything, not even for a PhD. As is usually the case with such visits, the department head begins the “D-Day” with an overview of the department and the research graduate program, alongside some other people who couldn’t come to the reception the day before, either because they chose to come on Friday rather than Thursday or because they are from other schools in the Pittsburgh area.
Then there was a sequence of two mini-seminars about the overview of research being done at Carnegie Mellon, first in nanophysics (with respect to condensed matter, they’re very similar to Rice, in that they focus on nanoscience) and later with biophysics, where the head of the graduate program presented his own research, that is, membrane and interface physics. Then came the first individual meeting with faculty, where I showed Mr. Paulini that I was eager to learn and work, as well as understood the implications of doing a PhD, as well as the realities of work once in a PhD program. I was told to meet with Rothstein, but I didn’t like his research directions as much; he may use effective field theories but not to do the things I want.
Then came lunch time, where the prospective graduate students could meet with other faculty they were not originally scheduled to meet. That was a brief respite, where I ate the only meat on this trip as part of an Italian sandwich. And another set of mini-seminars on astronomy, particle physics and quark interactions (or, should I say, nuclear physics since their nuclear physics offerings are one-dimensional) at the end of which I had five faculty meetings. The only professor that actually knew about my undergrad and wasn’t a quantum computing professor at CMU prior to this visit was, in fact, the second (Brière) and that one had more of an interview feel. Plus neither the quantum computing guy nor Brière recalled receiving any application whatsoever from University of Montreal.
And I felt like I was ashamed to reveal the primary purpose of why I wanted to attend CMU (or Minnesota, for that matter) to one of the professors: as a protest move against Canadian civilian scientific policy. Needless to say, this was the worst of the one-on-one faculty meetings, in which case I know now who not to work under (and gravitational waves just isn’t my thing either, despite the use of field-theoretic methods).
Then came the campus tour, guided by a current graduate student at CMU, and where we could ask a variety of questions about life in Pittsburgh, as well as life as a graduate student. I even asked about the sports teams at CMU, and how much would it cost to attend football games at CMU. That said, the Tartans are in Div.3 and, while they may be good in an UAA context, would find a preseason road trip in Canada to be a risky proposition at best, and Canadian college football teams range from low-level Div.2 to Div.1 FCS for the topmost 5 teams or so (Calgary, Laval, McMaster, Montreal, Western).
At one point during supper at Trapuzzano my front neighbor even claimed that some US high schools put so much emphasis on athletics, and particularly football, that some physics teachers are first hired because they can coach athletic teams and that any one between my front neighbor, my neighbor on the left and me could do a better job at teaching high school-level physics than that football coach would. After all, if we’re good enough for a physics PhD (my front neighbor got offers from LSU and UMBC, while I got an offer from Minnesota and my neighbor on the left had an offer from CMU) then our mastery of the material is sufficient since, usually, little or no training is afforded for TAs, and that TAs can still be effective teachers without the need for that additional training.
On the final day, I ate breakfast at a restaurant whose walls were adorned with board games. It was unreal how I avoided meat as much as I could during the trip, only eating meat when absolutely necessary.
Next week: Minnesota!