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Why I Went to Graduate School
Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices
Why I Went to Graduate School
Andrew P. Proudian, PhD Candidate
Colorado School of Mines
Like many, I spent a lot of time thinking about going to graduate school. I worked in process development at a startup company while I was in college along with doing university research, so I was definitely aware of the realities of both academia and industry.
However, more information isn't always better. I had to ask myself what I wanted for my life and career.
I liked the research and development aspect of both science and industry, so R&D was a “must have.” After talking to people with careers that interested me, it was clear that to engage in R&D would require a graduate degree, regardless of whether I was in academia or industry.
So, one dilemma solved, but that opened up a huge array of questions: Master’s or PhD? What kind of research? What program? What advisor? From my conversations with researchers at my university and in industry, I was pretty sure I wanted to stay in physics, which meant a PhD over an MS (for engineering, a master’s is usually the better choice); plus, it’s usually possible to opt for a master’s while in a PhD program. The big question was what kind of research I wanted to do.
To discover research topics, I read a lot of books, magazines, and accessible journals; reading Physics Today cover-to-cover every month really helped. As I found interesting topics, I would explore them more thoroughly, looking at related articles and the authors’ research websites.
Looking back, I could have made things easier on myself by engaging more people around me in the process of identifying my passion. I was interested in too many topics and could have used an outside perspective. I talked with a mentor and we had a good conversation about research and graduate school, but I wish we had talked three months sooner; he helped me figure out the core of my research interests. A trusted advisor is a huge benefit.
The same goes for graduate school, by the way. If there was just one piece of advice I could give to prospective graduate students, it would be to carefully select their advisor; it makes or breaks the graduate school experience. At every school I visited, I made sure that I not only had a good relationship with the advisor I wanted, but that I could also envision myself working with at least two other faculty members. Life is unpredictable, and you never know when a “sure thing” will fall through. I sat down with potential advisors to talk with them about their research interests, along with my own, and tried to envision working with them for the next five years. When I met my advisor, Jeramy Zimmerman, at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), it was clearly a good fit.
I am now in my fourth year at CSM and am still very happy with my choices. I have a great advisor and am doing research that I love. This success is due in part to the careful deliberations I made when choosing a graduate school, but also to the amazing people who assisted me in my journey.
Andrew Proudian is a fourth-year PhD candidate in applied physics at the Colorado School of Mines and president of the CSM Graduate Student Government. He can be reached at aproudia [at] mines.edu.