Hello all, this is my first time on the forum.
I went to an unnamed Ivy League school for undergrad and I regret it. While it had many resources and has forced me to become a better self-advocate, the intellectual environment has been boring, intellectually conservative, closed off, defensive, and selfish. It has not been a place that fosters creativity, collaboration, or kindness, nor has it offered good mentorship. It has been, in the words of one of my friends, emotionally vacuous. The physics department makes gestures towards intellectual rigor, but no one seems to have the time or energy to do pedagogy well.
I want to be able to be a good mentor some day and I need to learn those skills from someone. Additionally, I do really think that better science can be done when people aren't miserable.
As a result, I am looking for alternatives to the major research universities for PhD programs as I want to avoid a repeat of the above. Are there places that have a reputation similar to that of small liberal arts colleges, but for their physics PhD programs? I know that a lot of good mentorship is on a professor by professor( or lab by lab) basis, but a lot of it is also connected to the overall culture of a department. For example, I have heard some good things about the University of Washington. Alternatively, which of the major research institutions have physics departments with particularly good reputations for mentorship?
I'm specifically interested in particle physics, gravitation, or optics.
Thank you for any advice.