April 2012 Archives
On Wednesday afternoon, Eunkyu and I presented our poster on the Exoplanet Orbit Database at the undergraduate exhibition, an event Penn State holds annually to showcase students' involvement with research. Poster categories include physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, arts and humanities, and health and life sciences. We present our posters to the judges, and prizes are awarded to the top posters.
This isn't exactly about research, but it's probably of central importance to many undergrads who are doing research. I'm talking about graduate school. Specifically how you go about choosing a graduate school. There are plenty of resources out there about actually applying to grad school and how to do well on GRE's and that sort of thing, but I've found very little on how to choose where to apply and ultimately where to go. So having just finished going through all that, I thought I'd talk a little about what I learned in the process.
When I began looking at grad schools, I had no idea where to start. So I talked to my research adviser and asked him where there was interesting research going on. Try to find someone knowledgeable about the kind of research you want to pursue and ask them where it's being done. You can't just apply based on how "big name" a school is, because that doesn't necessarily mean they have any faculty who are doing the kind of work you want to do.
Once you have a good starting point, go on the department's websites and open up the research page and see who's doing what. Most professors will have a page where they talk about their research interests. They'll often list some of their recent publications, so maybe try to skim over at least the abstracts on some of those. Once you've found a bunch of places where you think there's research you like, go ahead and apply.
Then after you hear back you get to make the decision. Most schools it seems will invite you on a trip to visit them if you accept them. On those trips, you'll get to meet the grad students and faculty in the department, and probably get shown around the area a bit. These trips are important, because you're going to spend the next several years of your life in this department. Exactly what you make your decision based on is up to you, but remember that the most important thing is to find a place where you'll have an adviser doing research that you like. I personally tried to pick the place where there were the most options for advisers doing interesting research so I have back up plans in case my first choices don't have room for new members or something like that. But whatever you choose, I hope you enjoy graduate school and have a great experience for the next several years.
As undergraduates in science, we search for opportunities to do research outside the classroom. But often classes can offer unique scientific experiences. From March 30 to April 2, my geobiology class took a field trip to Denver, Colorado.
As part of maintaining the Exoplanet Orbit Database, I update the orbital parameters of a planet when new results are published. Often, certain parameters are the focus of new papers, and one example is the spin-orbit misalignment of a system, recorded as "lambda" on exoplanets.org.
Professor Josh Winn of MIT has published many papers on spin-orbit misalignment. Naturally, his name is what I often put as the reference of the "lambda" field. When I found out that I could meet him while visiting my sister in Boston over spring break, there were some questions I just had to ask him.