Posts filed under ‘science’

Yale vs. Harvard

Would a Yalie recommend Harvard over Yale?  Yes.

Surprised?  I was.

My seatmate on the airplane was a former university president who is an active Yale alumnus.  Becaus of his background, I asked for his take on my son’s short list of colleges, which includes Yale.  When he found out that my son is interested in science and math, he said he thought Harvard or MIT would be a better fit than Yale.  Why?  First, because Yale is traditionally stronger (or more focused on) the arts than the sciences.  Secondly, he thinks Boston has more to offer.

Interesting advice, especially since we were intrigued by the seminar that Yale offers (only) for freshmen who have done scientific lab research in the past, which gives them exposure to all the various science disciplines at Yale.   Harvard might have something like that, but we never heard about it.

September 15, 2009 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

Book Review: Early thinking about grad school

My son wants to major in some aspect of science.  There’s a good chance that he’ll end up wanting and/or needing to go to grad school.  I earned an MBA, but that’s sort of a different animal, so I feel inadequate advising him about grad school.

Getting What You Came ForThen a book caught my eye:  Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D.    It was written by a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford who was frustrated at how long it took him and his friends to earn their graduate degrees, due to missteps along the way.

I found the book very helpful in enabling me to understand the process, and I plan to try to get my son to read the first half of the book before he goes off to college.   It deals with topics like:

  • Do you need a Ph.D., a master’s degree, or neither?
  • Should you work first?
  • What is grad school like?  How does it differ from undergrad school?
  • How do you select a grad school and what can you do to improve your admission chances?
  • What constitutes a good advisor, how do you get one, and how do you dump a bad one without sabotaging yourself?
  • How do you work the grad school politics, even if politicking isn’t your thing?
  • How do you pick a good research topic, one that will be manageable, yet lead to results, and result in getting interim papers published so you build a track record?
  • Should you pursue opportunities as a teaching assistant or a research assistant?

Some of the advice – like how to select and use an advisor or what to pick for a research topic – is very apropos for undergrads, too.  But more importantly, an undergrad should be contemplating the grad school decision much earlier than senior year.  To borrow advice from Stephen Covey, “Start with the end in mind”.

The book also helped me rethink my bias towards sending my son to an liberal arts college rather than a research university.  I now think it would be good for him to get to know grad students informally and see what is expected of them, before he makes up his mind about grad school.  But I think this book will help him get a bigger picture than what he might get in casual conversation with grad students, who might be tired, discouraged or lonely at any given point in their long slog towards their Ph.Ds. and who therefore might discourage him in an off-hand conversation.

The book is thick, which can be daunting.  It’s helpful to know that (a) you can skim or peruse much of the first half and (b) you really don’t need the second half until you are actually starting thesis research.

August 6, 2009 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

College Visit: Yale

In our tour group at Harvard were two families who raved about the Yale information session they attended the previous day, saying that Harvard’s just didn’t measure up.  I wish I new what they liked at Yale, because our information session at Yale was decidedly slow-moving and low key.  Still, we saw enough good things that my son is very interested in Yale.

Prime studying spot at Yale Library

A prime studying spot at Yale Library

Residentially, Yale is similar to Harvard, except that (a) legacies can choose to live in their parents’ houses and (b) freshmen are randomly assigned to a house before they arrive on campus, even though they won’t live in that house until sophomore year.  During freshmen year, they are in dorms but with other members of their house.  Advantage: quickly bond with one’s house.  Disadvantage: no bonding with people who are NOT in your house.   Hence, if you want to network with an alum, it needs to be someone who graduated from your house, not just someone from Yale.

Why random housing assignments?  Yale believes that economic diversity is more important than race or ethnicity.

Academically, Yale & Harvard are similar.  Low faculty: student ratio (7:1) .  Science major have an option to earn a B.S. and M.S. in 4 years.   But they also have some differences:

  • A global education is a hot button for Yale.  About 65% study abroad and there is talk of requiring overseas study for everyone.   They even facilitate scientific research abroad (e.g., China).   You can’t test out of the foreign language requirement based upon what you did in high school but you can fulfill it by studying overseas.
  • Double majors are frowned upon as sacrificing exploration of interests but 30% pursue them.
  • Students get two weeks to “shop” classes before they have to lock in their schedule.

Students who have participated in scientific research projects in high school (particularly the juried science competitions like Intel and Siemens) can apply for a special seminar class that surveys all the science topics of Yale’s top professors.  It’s a great way for an undecided science major to get exposure to many areas and professors.  Students in the seminar are expected to spend the spring working on summer research grant proposals.  But beware:  only 70-75 of 220 applicants are accepted into this program and you must have real research experience to get accepted, so connect with a local teaching  hospital or research university by junior year in high school.

Yale now has a calculator on their website so you can estimate what financial aid you will get.  (In 3 years, all schools will have to offer estimates or calculators.)  For middle class parents (incomes between $60,000 and $200,000), Yale is very generous.

July 15, 2009 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

College Visit: Northwestern University

My husband describes Northwestern University as the biggest medium-sized college he’s ever seen.  It seemed like we walked for miles and still didn’t see half the campus.  The sciences are primarily in a complex called the Technology Institute, which has an incredible 17 miles of corridors.  (Guys, you’d better learn to ask directions if you want to arrive at class on time.)

My son is intrigued by some of the accelerated programs (HPME for medicine, Integrated Science Program, MENU for accelerated math).  Be careful about choosing NU for these special programs.  Not only are they very limited in numbers but some are incompatible with each other or other programs.  For example, engineers can’t be in MENU, yet those who want the Kellogg certificate (the only business-oriented option for undergrads) MUST be in MENU.

Engineers: take note of Northwestern’s innovative approach.  Freshmen tackle a real-world problem as teams.  At places like Harvey Mudd, these hands-on projects are done as seniors.  Northwestern wants to give freshmen a good feel for whether engineering is really for them. NU also offers engineers a one-year (handsomely) paid internship program called Co-op, that often results in an employment offer.

My daughter originally was interested in Northwestern because of its journalism program, but ended up deciding that she didn’t want to attend there unless she was going to major in journalism.  After interning with a newspaper, she decided journalism wasn’t for her.  Now here we are again…my son thinks he’s only interested in NU if he decides he wants to be in one of their special programs.

July 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm Leave a comment

College Visit: Carleton College

Even the air smelled better at Carleton College.

Located in the small town of Northfield, MN, Carleton sprawls out over a green, forested hilltop and includes 2 lakes, an arboretum, and plenty of space for biking, cross country skiing, and the championship Ultimate Frisbee teams to practice.   The air is clear, pollution-free and smells of the forest floor.  Still, it surprised me when my son listed the Arboretum and the beautiful campus as key benefits to Carleton.  But contrast Carleton to just about every college we have looked at, with their manicured lawns and campuses surrounded by buildings, and you begin to appreciate the open, relaxed feel of Carleton’s campus.

As a Minnesota native, I was always vaguely aware of Carleton as the brainiac school of Minnesota,  It turns out Carleton did not make the cut for Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives because is it too selective.  So it’s probably one of the best kept secrets of the Midwest.

Two new dorms open next fall and the college is in the middle of a $300M capital campaign, which I take as indicators of financial health.

Thirty percent of students major in the sciences.  Women constitute over 50% of students in some science fields, and Carleton is known for developing women scientists and hiring female faculty.  (Guys, note that this also means there are more girls to date than at places like CalTech.)

Unlike most Minesota schools, Carleton has a huge out-of-state population, so it is definitely not a “suitcase” school, where students leave for the weekend.  My son’s eyes lit up when we read that, during winter,  the quad is transformed into an ice rink where they host intramural broomball tournaments.  (For the uninitiated, broomball is for those of us who are lousy skaters.  Wrap duct tape around broom straws to stiffen them, drop a big rubber ball on the ice, and chase it around in your slippery rubber boots.  It makes for hysterically awkward moments.)

Even with the high percentage of out-of-staters, the Minnesota influences pervades in at least two ways.   First, winter is a fun time filled with outdoor sports – broomball, hockey, sledding, skiing.  Secondly, because Minnesota is the  closest thing the USA has to a socialist state, the attitude is that no one is better than anyone else, so check your pride at the airport and absorb the sense of humility and self-deprecation.  Even the admissions office is laid back; no big sell job here.

End of semester dinner invitations and study sessions with professors are common.  Students, faculty and administration all told us that the relationships between students and faculty are as important as the academics here.

This is the only small liberal arts college that is still on my son’s list.

July 6, 2009 at 10:43 am Leave a comment

Book Review: 3 meritocracies

* CalTech, the elite science and technology school
* Cooper Union, the NYC school of art, architecture and engineering, where tuition is free
* Berea, a school strictly for poor students from Appalachia, with free tuition

Continue Reading April 10, 2009 at 12:14 am Leave a comment

Info Session: George Washington

George Washington University in Washington, DC, has lots to offer, both because of the town it is in and because of the college’s resources. Do all the colleges in Washington DC boast these opportunities and results, simply because they can leverage all the resources that the DC area has to offer, or is there something special about George Washington University?

Continue Reading April 3, 2009 at 8:38 am Leave a comment

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