Posts filed under ‘research’

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

Colleges for future Ph.D.s

If you think your child is destined to be a researcher or college professor, which colleges and universities should you investigate?

Try this list of the top 25 baccalaureate colleges and top 25 research universities, measured on the basis of the number of their students who go on to earn Ph.D.s in the sciences or engineering.  Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) put this list together.  HHMI is a non-profit that funds biomedical research and has also taken on the mission of improving science education.

The headline of HHMI’s complete report, “A Wellspring of Scientists”, is that “when it comes to producing science Ph.D.s, liberal arts colleges are at the head of the class”.

February 16, 2009 at 7:52 am Leave a comment

Good news for science majors

Obama’s recovery package aims to…triple the number of undergraduate and graduate fellowships in science.

Dallas Morning News, 1/25/09

Science and math are already lucrative fields for students to pursue, both in terms of eventual salaries and because of the summer research grants and fellowships they can get. Obama promises to make it even better.

What do I mean by summer research grants? If a student can find a researcher-mentor and join an existing project or propose a new one, he or she can apply for grants from their college. For example, Stanford pays up to $5200; CalTech pays $600/week; the University of North Texas’ TAMS (Texas Academy of Mathematics and Sciences) pays up to $3000. Most colleges that focus on science will have similar programs.

It’s a whole lot better than flipping burgers at MacDonalds for the summer.

January 25, 2009 at 8:32 am Leave a comment

College Visit Report: CalTech, Harvey Mudd & Stanford

My son and I just returned from our trip to visit science & math-focused colleges in California.

CalTech: I expected CalTech would have extensive science labs & equipment, but they never showed off anything but the outsides of their academic buildings. The core requirements include lots of math & physics, but minimal biology & chemistry – is that an indication of something? Lots of summer research money and the possibility of doing research with a Nobel Prize winner (if all the grad students don’t crowd you out).

Eight dorms, which function more like frat houses in that everyone eats dinner in the dorm and social life revolves around the dorm. For a picky eater, like my son, it doesn’t sound real great that everyone (except vegans, vegetarians, and those eating kosher) has the same meal, served family style. On the other hand, for an introvert (75% of gifted kids), you’re forced to make friends. Each dorm includes equal numbers of freshmen, sophomores, juniors & seniors, so there is always someone older to ask for advice.

Harvey Mudd: One of the 3 best information sessions we’ve attended, because the admissions person had a very clear sense that Harvey Mudd is a unique place and a great fit for some but a lousy fit for others. Small, compact campus. No long treks from one classroom to another. Teachers seem involved with the students, if the stuff posted in the hallways is any indication. Math department is supposed to be #1 in the nation, although I don’t know what the criteria is, and the Putnam Competition team does exceptionally well. The 5 Clarement Colleges coordinate faculty hiring decisions, so they maximize the number of specialties and minimize overlap among faculty.

Social bonds at Harvey Mudd seem to be formed in project teams rather than dorms. HMC also offers “clinics” in lieu of a senior research project & thesis. In a clinic, a company brings a real-life problem to a team of students, and the students have to solve the problem by the end of the semester, while updating their company liaison weekly via teleconference. Clinics, and HMC in general, seem more hands-on and less theoretical, reflected by the fact that the most common major is engineering. Perhaps a great fit for kinesthetic learners and maybe visual learners. Everyone is required to take an engineering class and a computer science class, unlike any other school we have investigated. Interestingly, my son now thinks that would be a good thing and would introduce him to some fields that he has not yet investigated and which he might like. No automatic AP credit and don’t expect to test out of many classes here.

Dorms weren’t impressive, but each has a personality. Brand new cafeteria, and students can take classes or eat at any of the other Claremont colleges. Although Harvey Mudd has more guys than girls, Scripps College next door is a women’s college.

Stanford: What a contrast to Harvey Mudd! Stanford feels huge, well-endowed (based upon the amount of construction), and an all-things-to-all-people kind of place. The campus is so big that there are more bicycles than students and I only saw one person walking to class but nearly got mowed down by bicycles multiple times. Beautiful place. Lots of money for summer research projects. Famous people as professors and guest speakers. Students will find every type of group or club here, but will an introvert easily make friends in such a big place? Will the grad students get all the attention and best research opportunities?

The best part? Financial aid. Full rides for those with incomes less than $60,000; free tuition for incomes less than $100,000. The caveat: “provided your assets are in line with others with that level of income”, so those of us who did the right thing and saved for retirement and college get dinged.

January 17, 2009 at 1:16 pm 1 comment

College Visit Report: Washington U & Mizzou

What a contrast!  If only colleges realized the impact of the speakers at their information sessions!

On our way to the University of Missouri to check out their journalism school (“J-school”), we stopped at Washington University in St. Louis on a lark.  My daughter fell in love with the “collegiate Gothic” architecture.  We decided to crash the information session.  Wow!  The elderly environmental engineering professor was such a great speaker, touting the flexibility of Wash U, the research opportunities, and the desire the faculty has to get to know the students personally.  By the end of the info session, my daughter said, “I don’t even know what environmental engineering is, but I want to take it to have him as a professor.”  My husband’s reaction was “he makes me want to go back to college.”

Contrast that with Mizzou, where we attended only a J-school info session.  The presenter talked ex-cru-ci-a-ting-ly slowly, depicted the journalism program as incredibly rigid & the opportunities to follow the concentration you want as slim (particulary if you want to get into “convergence journalism” which he pitched as the place to be), and left my husband saying “now I remember why I hated college”.

Notwithstanding the speakers…

WashU has an interesting approach to encouraging research, actually encouraging students to take a 1-credit course where professors explain what research they are conducting, so you can figure out who you want to do research with.  The overall mantra was “flexibility”, particularly in designing custom majors.   Lots of great speakers, especially political, and a well known architecture school.  For music majors and non-music majors, football games feature a drop-in pep band – no practices, just pass out the music in the stadium, sight read, and have fun!  The stadium, by the way, is a National Historic Landmark, so it will always have that close-to-the field feel, free of skyboxes and retractable roofs.  But don’t let the small football stadium fool you  – WashU is one of the best-endowed colleges in the country.

Mizzou, of course, is know for having the best J-school in the country, the one that all the others model themselves upon.  The college actually runs the main daily paper in Columbia, and we toured the newsroom, saw the Post-It note story board where the editors were meeting to decide which stories would make the paper that day.   Students clearly get real-world experience here and the facilities are top-notch.

But my daughter’s take is that Columbia is too small of a town for her.  She concluded that the only way she would attend Mizzou was if she absolutely positively knew she wanted to major in journalism.

July 17, 2007 at 5:33 pm Leave a comment

Insights and advice from a parent of two gifted teenagers



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