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Discussion: alternate perspective

in: bhall; bhall > 2022-11-10

Nov 13, 2022 3:02 AM # 
Not to discount that student's experience, but maybe I can offer a more hopeful outlook from the perspective of someone who has been interviewing prospective PhD students for an earth and atmospheric sciences program all fall. I'm suppose there are grad programs out there that have weird hard line course requirements where if you didn't take sed/strat they won't look at you, but for a lot of geoscience programs, admissions is mostly about convincing a specific professor that they want to work with you for five years. So when we're looking at your undergrad coursework, it's a little bit to judge whether you can keep up in grad classes and mostly to figure out if you have the background to be successful at the type of research we do (and that you apparently want to do since you're applying to our group).

Like in my case, if students tell me they want to do glacier dynamics research but they haven't taken calculus, that's a big disconnect. We describe glacier dynamics mathematically with partial differential equations, so calculus is pretty fundamental. But I could care less if students have taken a lot of "traditional" geology classes or chemistry, for example, because they aren't foundational for the types of scientific questions my group works on or the types of methods we apply to answer those questions.

We also know that research gets pretty specialized and you're going to have take more courses in grad school - you don't have to have everything from undergrad. For my group, you need a mix of glaciology, subsurface hydrology, and radar signal processing and nobody gets all (or even most) of that in undergrad. If student has a decent math and programming background and has dabbled enough one or two of those to know what they are getting into, then that's a pretty good start.

Anyway, all of that is a long winded way to say that I would stress less about theoretical arbitrary program requirements and focus on taking courses that help you get better at answering the scientific questions you are excited about with the types of methods you find interesting.

(I will add that the geosciences are getting increasingly computational, so if you don't know what you want to do yet, calculus and some basic programming experience are great for keeping your options open!)
Nov 14, 2022 11:46 AM # 
This is all really really helpful information. Thank you!!
Nov 14, 2022 3:48 PM # 
To reinforce what Riley said, I've worked with a lot of earth science/hydro/atmo grad students and post-docs that came from physics, math, or computer science. They catch up on the earth science, and their quantitative skills make them highly competitive applicants. I wouldn't stress having specific earth science courses, but make sure to have good math and programming chops if you want a future in the earth sciences.
Nov 15, 2022 10:53 PM # 
this is very helpful, thank you so much for the suggestions

This discussion thread is closed.