How I decided where to go for grad school

How I decided where to go for grad school

In general, the best place for a Masters' is really dependent on what you want.  I know people who have had great experiences at 2nd tier schools, and bad experiences at the tip-top places.  Reputation matters, but to me it's more important to have the ability to do great work and be able to speak enthusiastically about it.  

Think hard about what you want and where you want to go after.  Even though biomech is a small community, there's a big difference between doing a Masters' in polymer wear and a Masters' in brace design, even though the degree would likely be the same.  Think about what really turns your crank, and whether you want to be in industry or academia afterwards.  Even if you change your mind during the process (or even your degree!), it's nice to have something to narrow your focus, and it prevents you from sounding like a flake when you talk to people about getting in.

The first cut would be look for schools that appeal to you as institutions - right away I knew I wasn't a UofT person, even though they do some amazing work. This can be from colleagues you know there, or your overall impression based on whatever you've read.  

The second cut would be, which schools do what you're interested in.  Some schools have strong tribology (wear) programs, some schools do more materials type stuff, others are into more clinical work. What you want to avoid as a young engineer is being at the margins of your boss's area of interest/ability (e.g. being the only person in your research group doing something).  In my group, I have several people that are doing somewhat different work, but it's similar enough we can bounce ideas off each other, which really helps. 

The third cut is personality and interests.  At the schools you'd like to go to, look for profs that you think might have a match with personality and research interests.  This can be tricky to assess from a distance, but when i'm looking for jobs (academic or not) I always:

- skim recent publications of people I might like to work with, to see if their current work is near my own interests

- read through their CV to see if their path is one i'd be interested 

- find their Twitter or FaceBook if they have it

- check to see what their former students are doing (labs often have lists of alumni and where they went after, or you can use LinkedIn)

- in academic jobs I check to see if they've gotten any recent funding decisions from NSERC or CFI or CIHR (this info is available online usually) and whether my interests are covered by their most recent grant

It sounds like a lot of work, but when you can go to an interview and ask them specific questions about a recent paper or congratulate them on a big funding decision it can really set you apart from the pack.  When I got my first industry job I managed to recall the university and major all the senior guys in the room and I think that may have been what sealed it for me!  

 

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