Elizabeth Cottrell – Geologist – Director Global Volcanism Program
Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
Martin Kunz – Experimental Systems Staff Scientist
Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Christopher T. Seagle – Staff Scientist
Sandia National Laboratory
Mark Rivers – Senior Scientist
Department of Geophysical Sciences and Center for Advanced Radiation Sources, University of Chicago
David Slaperud – President & Sales Manager
Technodiamant USA Inc.
Places Where Mineral Physicists Work
Most mineral physicists work in academia. Other employers are state and federal geological surveys, the private industry sector, museums or the government, such as the National Science foundation or the Department of Energy. The following institutions, which have an ongoing collaboration with COMPRES, are major employers of mineral physics graduates:
- Argonne National Laboratory
- Brookhaven National Laboratory
- Carnegie Institution of Washington
- Johnson Space Center, NASA
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals
- Sandia National Laboratory
- Smithsonian Institution
How to find the graduate school that is right for you
Decide what research field you’re interested in
Before you can find the graduate school that’s right for you, you should decide what your specific field of interest is. How do you do that? You can hit the library or make an extensive Internet search and browse through recently published research articles in scientific journals. This way you can also find out who’s working in what field. Talk to students and faculty in your department and ask them what they are working on. Try to attend your department’s seminar series. Ideally, seminars are set up so different guest speakers give talks covering a wide variety of research areas. Who knows what topic you might fall in love with? On top of that you get the chance to meet and talk to the visiting experts in person. Ask faculty in your department if they are looking for an undergraduate student to work on one of their projects. Applying for and attending a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program is another great way to get some research experience under your belt. Research experiences give you the chance to find out what you like and what you don’t. They are also an asset when you apply for graduate programs.
Talk to people / Attend meetings
Now that you have decided that you want to attend graduate school and what your field of interest is, talk to people; people in your department, faculty, fellow students, and friends. Try to find out about potential graduate schools in the nation and overseas. Ask which institutions and/or people are known for their strengths in your specific field of interest. Check out websites of faculty members and universities that offer your program of choice. Once you have identified a faculty member as potentially of interest to you, send them an e-mail to find out if they are accepting new students. For a first e-mail don’t bother with attaching documents about yourself. Make your e-mail specific for the faculty member. Mention your interest in specific projects of theirs. Faculty get a lot of spam, so you want to make your e-mail stand out as specifically directed at them. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply to your first e-mail, its OK to try again after a week goes by. In your correspondence with faculty members don’t try to corner them into committing to accept you before you have applied. Students have to be admitted to graduate school through a formal application process. Asking to circumvent that process reflects poorly on you.
Another way to interact with potential faculty advisors is to attend a scientific meeting. Talk to your advisor about how you can attend scientific meetings and/or workshops. Most scientific annual meetings, such as the Annual COMPRES meeting, the AGU fall meeting or the GSA annual meeting, offer support for student participation. If you already have done some exciting undergraduate research, try to present it at the meeting. This will give you exposure and start conversations with researchers and potential future advisors. At meetings you can check out presentations about recent research, get information about graduate schools, and most importantly, you will have the chance to meet your potential future advisor in person. Don’t forget, you will be working closely with this person, who will be your guide, advisor and critic. Don’t make the mistake and decide on a school based exclusively on rankings, prestige or friend’s recommendations.
Ask yourself some important questions
Once you know which university offers a program you are interested in, ask faculty in your department for their opinion about the schools on your list, try to visit the campus, ask students and alumni for a review of their school, and then ask yourself some questions:
- What type of positions do graduates of my program of interest typically secure?
- What do professionals in my research field of choice do on a day-to-day basis?
- Does this institution have all the facilities and resources I will need?
- How important is location for me? Will I feel at home there?
- Am I concerned about how competitive the program is?
- What is my personal status? Do I have certain requirements, such as the need for daycare, schools, or for my spouse to find a program at the same institution or work?
- What is the cost? Do I need a substantial financial support package in order to attend this particular graduate school? Does the institution offer graduate research assistant positions/fellowships/grants?
- What types of career services are made available for students in this particular school?
Now that you have done all this, it is time to apply. Once you have submitted your application it is a good time to reconnect with your potential advisors to let them know that you are still interested in working with them and that you have applied to their program.