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tmpz000999

Should I choose professor over the reputation of the program when I am not hundred percent sure of my specific research interest

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Hello, 

Sorry for bothering you guys with questions but my question this time might be a little bit complicated. I was admitted to systems, networks and communication track at a top 10 EE program (graduate school ranking). Also, the program I am admitted to is MS/PhD bound program. My professor would like to be my research advisor if I choose to stay for Ph.D. The professor is one of the top professors in the wireless communication area. However, I am not sure what will be my specific interest for Ph.D. study yet. I am interested in system optimization, wireless communication and signal processing as an undergrad research assistant, but I prefer to learn more about the area and decide what I will devote to for my Ph.D. study later. Also, I am planning to apply for a better school(MIT, Standford, UC Berkeley, and Caltech) after learning more as a graduate student, because these schools have a better reputation in wireless communication, systems, signal processing as well as the whole EE area. However, I feel hesitate to do so since I don't want to miss out such a good professor. Moreover, MIT is my dream school and I feel really upset whenever I think about that I might never have a chance to be an MIT student if I choose to stay in my school. I feel like the thoughts I have now are immature and not like an adult. But I really don't know what I should choose and hope you might want to give me some advice.

Thank you so much for your time.

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It sounds like you have a really good offer on the table, if it's a top 10 school with a guaranteed adviser who is good in your field. If you stay in wireless, his reputation and training will get you much further than any 'name-brand' of a school will. Not knowing what you will study is another problem. If you hate wireless communication, then you'll need to look elsewhere.

I don't know much of anything about EE, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Your goal should be to become the best researcher in your field as you possibly can. Is there some magical reason that MIT does this over all other universities, or would you recognize that other universities can provide you with similar training? 

Graduate school is about preparing for a career in research and academia, not about the 'prestige' of your degree. If you want to carry a namesake around with you for the sake of having it, that is what undergrad is for. You need to be more practical and focused. The fact that you are obsessed with a school, rather than a research area, would be very disconcerting to me as an admissions officer. MIT doesn't need people who just want to come to MIT; they need focused, dedicated researchers who are passionate about their subjects. So yes, I would say that your outlook on this is a bit immature. Even without seeing a profile, I can tell you that passing up a great opportunity for the extremely slim chance of getting into MIT would be foolish. 

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Presumably, you can apply to different PhD programs if your interests change during the MS, no?  You'll have a year or two to make that decision.

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7 hours ago, Concordia said:

Presumably, you can apply to different PhD programs if your interests change during the MS, no?  You'll have a year or two to make that decision.

Thank you for your answer! Sadly the answer is no. I am not able to change if I agree to be my professor's research assistant. As an undergrad, I haven't decided my specific research interest. My professor would give me some time to decide. I do a lot of research but still am a little bit afraid of making decisions for 2-year future. 

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9 hours ago, throwaway234535 said:

It sounds like you have a really good offer on the table, if it's a top 10 school with a guaranteed adviser who is good in your field. If you stay in wireless, his reputation and training will get you much further than any 'name-brand' of a school will. Not knowing what you will study is another problem. If you hate wireless communication, then you'll need to look elsewhere.

I don't know much of anything about EE, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Your goal should be to become the best researcher in your field as you possibly can. Is there some magical reason that MIT does this over all other universities, or would you recognize that other universities can provide you with similar training? 

Graduate school is about preparing for a career in research and academia, not about the 'prestige' of your degree. If you want to carry a namesake around with you for the sake of having it, that is what undergrad is for. You need to be more practical and focused. The fact that you are obsessed with a school, rather than a research area, would be very disconcerting to me as an admissions officer. MIT doesn't need people who just want to come to MIT; they need focused, dedicated researchers who are passionate about their subjects. So yes, I would say that your outlook on this is a bit immature. Even without seeing a profile, I can tell you that passing up a great opportunity for the extremely slim chance of getting into MIT would be foolish. 

Thank you so much for your answer! I would like to clarify some of my situations if you don't mind. As I said before, I am interested in systems optimization, signal processing, and wireless communication. I had some research experience in these areas. I am pretty sure I would like to devote myself in these areas. However, I feel like my knowledge is not enough to decide which area I am particularly interested in as these areas are vague. I need to make a decision on if I would like to stick to a project for 5 years, which make me feel a lot of pressure. And that's one of the reasons why I don't know how to make decisions. Also, it's my mistake to use the word "reputation" here. But when I said reputation, what I mean is that I actually do research and these schools do have a lot of good researchers and professors in these fields. For example, MIT has some great professors researching information theory and signal processing. I read some of those papers during my undergrad study, and that's when I set MIT as my dream school. If I am hundred percent sure my professor's interest will match my future interest, I'll choose my professor for sure without any hesitation. Thank you again for your answer. It makes me think deeper. 

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I can't say anything about the MS/PhD bound aspect as that is a tough one. You might want to speak to people in the program about how this has worked out for them. If it were me, I would also speak to the program about what happens if you do decide to drop out before you complete the PhD. Do they make some kind of allowance for finishing with a masters?

I do second @throwaway234535 point about adviser, though. I thought I would leave you two parables about the importance of the adviser that resonated with me personally.

https://www.cs.hmc.edu/~fleck/parable.html

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3 hours ago, tmpz000999 said:

Thank you for your answer! Sadly the answer is no. I am not able to change if I agree to be my professor's research assistant. As an undergrad, I haven't decided my specific research interest. My professor would give me some time to decide. I do a lot of research but still am a little bit afraid of making decisions for 2-year future. 

I meant take the MS and transfer/reapply elsewhere.  Presumably you're not bound to lifetime servitude at Institution X.  Or is there something in your scholarship that amounts to golden handcuffs?

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3 hours ago, orange turtle said:

I can't say anything about the MS/PhD bound aspect as that is a tough one. You might want to speak to people in the program about how this has worked out for them. If it were me, I would also speak to the program about what happens if you do decide to drop out before you complete the PhD. Do they make some kind of allowance for finishing with a masters?

I do second @throwaway234535 point about adviser, though. I thought I would leave you two parables about the importance of the adviser that resonated with me personally.

https://www.cs.hmc.edu/~fleck/parable.html

Hello, thank you so much! I read the parables and now have a better understanding of the role of research advisors. I did talk to the students in the program as some of my research fellows are in there. According to the information from them, our school allows students to quit after finishing MS if they decide to, and it is not hard to do so at all. However, since my professor asks me to promise staying for Ph.D.study before I can be a research assistant in the lab, I think I have the responsibility to stay if I make this promise. That's why I was thinking about not to make the promise and therefore not to take the research position. Thank you very much for the parables, because I do need to consider the importance of a good advisor. 

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30 minutes ago, Concordia said:

I meant take the MS and transfer/reapply elsewhere.  Presumably you're not bound to lifetime servitude at Institution X.  Or is there something in your scholarship that amounts to golden handcuffs?

Hello, yes I can transfer because the department allows students doing so. But I feel like it is hard for me to tell my professor that I decide to leave the lab because I am not interested in the project/program anymore. My professor wants me to make sure I would like to stay for Ph.D. before accepting the research position. So I think once I accept the position, it means I have made the commitment and need to stay in my school during the entire MS/ Ph.D. duration.  

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In my honest opinion, you can't really go wrong with a top 10 school and an excellent adviser who is well known in the field. Having an exceptional adviser is far more important than attending a brand-name school in my opinion. I'm pretty sure that there is barely any difference in terms of the quality of research and education among the top 10 schools in the field. My advice is to not be obsessed with the school's prestige. The quality of your PhD research and your adviser carry far more weight than the name of the school you attend for PhD. 

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