WUSTL, the waitlist and political issues

Even though I have already committed to Minnesota, I feel like I still have to carry what outstanding waitlists I may have through to the end, one of which being Washington University in St. Louis. In the current political context, I thought it made sense for me to ask about the demographics of the applicant pool, if only to detect whether anyone else had the same idea as I to leave Canada entirely for their PhD because of political issues. WUSTL’s answer to my demographics inquiry is based on only one year of data, which is the following:

I do not know about our current graduate students but you are the only Canadian that applied this year.

For this reason, I feel that not only I have to make my country proud (or ashamed) in front of WUSTL, but my very application betrays to WUSTL the whole purpose of why I would undertake a physics PhD in the US in the first place, that is, political motives. Now I know that the destinations used for graduate study abroad as a political move are highly dependent on the student’s strength. Because I see the impact as a function of the destination’s prestige (correct me if I’m wrong but I think it best correlates to in-field prestige, given the grievances expressed vis-à-vis fundamental research policy) as primarily a Gaussian to which you add a parabola, one should definitely target different schools (assume here that the student has no criminal record and has a desire to go to US schools for a physics PhD) and, for this reasons, the students most likely to make such a move are either students who can barely qualify for a graduate program or students who are on the cusp of landing a PGS M/D, or equivalent (a.k.a near-PGS M/D students).

  • Examples of schools targetable by barely-qualified students: TCU, SMU, CUA (they are religious schools) Akron, Toledo (for something more secular); in short, the bottom of the barrel
  • Examples of schools targetable by near-PGS M/D students: schools in the 11-40 range (students that can get into top-10 schools are usually PGS M/D-caliber)

Sure, in the current context, if you are a near-PGS M/D physics student and plan on attending any of the following 15 (UCSB is a top-10 school but it is almost impossible to attend UCSB as an international) schools as a Canadian student, your move may hold more weight but it will also be easier for you to sweep the whole political aspect of your attendance under the carpet: Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, UCSB, UChicago, Cornell, UIUC (for condensed matter), Columbia, Yale (for HEP-EX), Michigan, UCLA and UPenn.

But attending even Minnesota, NWU, Washington or Carnegie Mellon, let alone WUSTL or Notre Dame, would scream that you’re really there for political reasons in the current context, since the latest estimates place the best 5 Canadian physics departments (Toronto, McGill, UBC, Waterloo, Montreal, in any order) in the ~15-20 range in the US, even though Minnesota and CMU would still be perfectly fine if it was only about the physics. Borderline students can’t hide behind the prestige of their destination, unlike near-PGS M/D students, if they attempt to pull it off so they have to be comfortable with the fact that they are really making a political move.

Addendum: I got my rejection from WUSTL, as well as another one from Carnegie Mellon on April 15…

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