How to Choose Classes in Grad School

Choosing which classes to take in grad school involves very different considerations than in college.

In this tutorial, we discuss some commonly overlooked factors.

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  1. What kind of advice would you have for meeting potential committee members outside of coursework? I’m in a chemistry PhD program, and we are only required to take 6 total courses, which are all taken within the first year. My interests in chemistry are really different compared to most people, and my research is more on the physics end of the spectrum. Because of how courses are set up between different graduate programs, I can’t take courses with the physics department, but in my division of chemistry they are currently trying to hire 2 more people because there’s only one analytical chemist left in the department.

    1. One avenue I’d consider involves outreach and trying to find time at Office Hours to meet with those faculty you have in mind. Since your coursework is concentrated in such a short period of time, the strategy I outline in the video will be of less use to you (but when it comes to those 6 courses, still useful!)

  2. I like this approach. I definitely chose my advisor based on the rapport I developed after taking a course with him, and I opted not to have someone else on my committee after having had a course with that person. Unfortunately, I did not get to work with my other three committee members beforehand because two were on leave and one retired as I was starting the program (although he graciously agreed to lead the exam on that particular field as a professor emeritus). I will say that the dearth of full-time faculty at many institutions and the fact that they’re spread so thin can lead to unfortunate timing like this. The upside is that, especially in a (post?) pandemic world, many departments are even more open to having readers from other institutions. That’s what I have to do for my dissertation committee – just to have a committee.

    1. This is a very good point, and well taken. Timing is rarely something in a student’s favor, especially since sabbaticals and other leaves tend to be communicated to them latest of all. I’ve been approached by students who wanted me on their committee, later in their coursework phase, but who had never taken class with me–but it really wasn’t there fault, either because I was on leave, or perhaps had offered fewer grad classes in the previous years.

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