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Guest forgradadvice

Decision Advice in Planetary Science

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Guest forgradadvice

Hello,

I am looking for peer advice on where to go for a planetary science Phd focused on planetary exploration. My choices are:

ASU (SESE)

Berkeley (Astronomy)

Caltech (GPS)

Cornell (Astronomy)

MIT (EAPS)

University of Michigan (Aeo Eng. & AOSS)

My fiance and I have logistical reaons to lean toward MIT. Does anyone have any strong feelings regarding MIT's strength versus the other choices (taking into account the recent loss of planetary professors at MIT and lack of NASA facilities near-by).

Thanks

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Guest PlanetsGuy

Wow, I don't really have advice, but congratulations on your acceptances! I got rejected from almost all of those programs (for planetary also), so I know how competitive it was. Did you apply to the University of Arizona as well?

What type of planetary science do you want to do? You say "planetary exploration" but I'm not sure what that means...

I know that ASU's new SESE thing is getting a ton of funding dumped into it (mostly by the university), and Phil Christensen has a really impressive Mars exploration program set up. MIT EAPS basically just has Maria Zuber (who already has a lot of students), unless you're into space physics or atmospheric stuff, in which case there are quite a few other planetary people. Mike Brown is at Caltech, along with a few people I was really interested in working with, like Dave Stevenson and Oded Aharonsen. If you got accepted there, I think you'd be nuts to turn that down. Cornell has a lot of planetary people across different subdisciplines, and they have a lot of mission involvement (MER, Cassini, etc.) if that's what you're looking for. Berkeley has an amazing department, but I'm not sure how many planetary people there are there (I didn't even apply). I don't know anything about Michigan.

Wow, you lucky son-of-a-gun! Need I say I'm jealous of your decision?!?

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Guest PlanetsGuy

Also, what about UCLA and Hawaii? Did you apply?

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Guest forgradadvice

I did not apply to Hawaii because I'm interested in spacecraft instrumentation as opposed to ground based observing.

In retrospect, I should have applied to UA, but at the time I didn't know the Phoenix mission was being run out of there.

When I say planetary exploration, I mean NASA robotic missions to Mars and the Moon. In the future I hope to include other terrestrial bodies on the list (Euorpe, Enceladus, etc.).

SESE is going to be a great program, it just needs a few years to develop. I have the utmost respect and admiration with Phil Christensen and his research group.

Best of luck to you, where did you end up accepting (UA)?

I was expecting to be declined from a few programs, making the decision easier. Instead, I'm extremely stressed about it. But I know I should not be complaining.

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Guest forgradadvice

I did not apply to Hawaii because I'm interested in spacecraft instrumentation as opposed to ground based observing.

In retrospect, I should have applied to UA, but at the time I didn't know the Phoenix mission was being run out of there.

When I say planetary exploration, I mean NASA robotic missions to Mars and the Moon. In the future I hope to include other terrestrial bodies on the list (Euorpe, Enceladus, etc.).

SESE is going to be a great program, it just needs a few years to develop. I have the utmost respect and admiration with Phil Christensen and his research group.

Best of luck to you, where did you end up accepting (UA)?

I was expecting to be declined from a few programs, making the decision easier. Instead, I'm extremely stressed about it. But I know I should not be complaining.

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Guest liquidmethane

(This is "PlanetsGuy")

I'm leaning toward UCLA (Dave Paige), though I haven't made my decision yet. I'm also considering ASU, but Phil Christensen already has ~8 students. Did you go to the prospective student weekend at ASU? I don't remember meeting anyone with your interests/credentials...

What did you do your undergrad in, and did you do any research? This is such a rare thing, to come across somebody else interested in planetary exploration... I'm so curious. If you're interested in instrumentation specifically, seems like JHU (engineering) would have been a good option as well.

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Guest forgradadvice

PlanetsGuy,

I went to Cornell to work on the Mars Exploration Rover mission. I was there for five years and then took a job at a National Lab for more experience before grad school. I did not make the ASU visitation weekend, but I did visit on an individual trip. Phil Christensen is an amazing man. The new school he is helping to put together will be phenomenal. However, I would be careful about availability given the high state of flux in the department right now. If you are a VERY independent researcher, there should be no problem. But if you are looking for a more one on one relationship you might ask a few more questions.

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Guest liquidmethane

forgradadvice,

You mean you went to Cornell to work on MER during undergrad? Wow, I'm impressed with your forethought.

My thoughts exactly regarding ASU/Phil Christensen. I'm a fairly independent worker (I've done an M.S. and been out of school working as a researcher for a year), but I don't like the idea of being "just another student" of Christensen's (or Ron Greeley's, for that matter). I would like an advisor who at least has a little interest in me individually, whether or not he/she actually participates in my research.

So are you still leaning toward MIT? Which planetary faculty members left there recently? The only person at MIT I'm familiar with (due to my specialty) is Maria Zuber, so I didn't know anybody had left. Since I didn't get in there, it doesn't really make a difference for me, but I'm curious.

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Guest forgradadvice

Planetsguy,

After visiting MIT and much deliberation, I'm leaning towards Caltech or Cornell. The people who are leaving MIT include John Grotzinger and Kip Hodges.

At Cornell I have the perfect advisor match.

At Caltech I have academic breadth and JPL.

Any thoughts on the comparison of the two programs?

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Guest PlanetsGuy

Re: Caltech vs. Cornell:

Jeez, apples and oranges... This is such a personal choice, it's really a matter of which department is a better fit for you. Who do you want to work with in each of these departments? Have you visited both (I think you said you work or went to undergrad at Cornell)? They're extremely different departments, in extremely different locations. The curriculum of each is also quite different from the other, since Cornell is astronomy and Caltech is essentially geophysics.

Caltech's connection with JPL would certainly be a draw for me, but it may not be important depending on which mission(s) you want to work on. For example, if you want to be involved with MER, you're clearly better off at Cornell. Also if Saturn (and/or its rings, Titan, small moons, etc.) is more your thing, then there are plenty of people at Cornell (Burns, Veverka, others) on the Cassini science team, as I'm sure you're aware. If you're interested in the science of planetary surfaces, atmospheres, and interiors in general (or Mars especially), then Caltech trumps any other department in the world. I'm sure if you go to Caltech, you can also do your thesis work with people at JPL, which opens up a whole 'nother can of worms...

I wish I could offer more concrete advice, but this is an extremely personal decision, which basically amounts to choosing what specific area of planetary science you want to devote the next 4-6 years of your life to.

It's really an amazing choice you have. Congratulations on your success once again.

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