Thursday, September 13, 2012

Advice from a Fellow Spotlight Scholar on Choosing Grad School and a PhD Advisor

It certainly is nice to see so many new faces on campuses from freshmen to new graduate students!

This is now the time of year that those who are college seniors are starting to think about their options after graduation.

Some who have decided that they truly want to pursue a PhD are wondering where they should apply to grad school and what the process is like.

This blog post was inspired by a query from one of my husband's colleagues, who has a PhD, and his son is a college senior who is seriously considering pursuing a PhD. The dad's  questions ended up with me because of the great resources that I have in terms of colleagues at UMass Amherst.

My husband actually  suggested that Dr. Thayumanavan, who is a chemist, and renowned for his work in clean energy science and the development of affordable fuel cells, would have some great insights.

Dr. Thai, for short, is also a neighbor, and he did not disappoint. He is the first UMass Amherst Spotlight Scholar, honored for his work on clean energy. I had the great honor of being selected as the most recent (tenth) Spotlight Scholar and it felt great to represent the Isenberg School of Management.

Dr. Thai's advice is so good and, since I really care about students and having them succeed in doctoral programs, here it is:

Typically, my advice for my own undergrads looking for grad school is the following:

1) Look for schools that are appropriate based on your GPA, GRE scores, etc. - then apply for a couple of schools above that level and a few schools right at that level and a couple of schools that you will definitely get in.

2) In choosing schools, go through the faculty research websites, look at their 'recent' publications, look at where their students ended up and where you want to be in the future, and then figure out the groups that you want to research with.  Then, make sure that you choose a department that gives you at least two or more options.   Do not go to a department based on just one faculty member, because you might find after you go there that your personality is not a good match for that person, etc...

3) I think these are good starting points.  Then, he can choose the school once he gets admitted in a few of them, because they all give opportunities to visit on their dime.  The visit will give some very good impressions about his desires/needs vs. what the schools offer.

I hope this helps.

S. Thayumanavan
Professor, Department of Chemistry
University of Massachusetts
710 N. Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA   01003-9336

And for some more great advice -- on choosing a good academic family -- with advice that is terrific, be sure to read Professor Laura McLay's post.

For reflections on my academic Mom, click here.