It’s November which means we’re getting into GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATION SEASON so I thought I’d take a break from my usually #AvGeek/rocket threads & talk some #AcademicChatter with my personal advice for those considering grad school. A thread...

#AcademicTwitter @AcademicChatter
All the usual caveats apply: I’m in engineering and while there are many different paths & perspectives I’ll be giving advice based on my personal experience. With that said hopefully it’s helpful to many of you w/ broad applicability outside of engineering
First: don’t pay to go to grad school. Many faculty have paid research assistantships (GRAs) and will provide tuition + stipend. You’ll still be underpaid but it’s really difficult to economically justify the benefit of grad school vs lost income if you pay your own way
Consider that if you’re expecting to graduate w a BS in engineering, the 💵 break even points for grad degrees are:
MS self-funded ~11 yrs post-graduation
MS GRA ~4.5 yrs
PhD self-funded ~15 yrs
PhD GRA ~5 yrs
Faculty are also more likely to fund a PhD student than an MS student in many cases. Why?

After breaking through the grad school learning curve, you maybe get 6mo-1yr of productivity from an MS student but maybe 3-4yrs from a PhD. Plus they count for more in our evals!
BUT many don’t know you can skip the MS and start as a PhD student from year 1 (I did and don’t have an MS). If you’ve got a PhD there’s generally no need and no requirement to get an MS first
Another BUT—the PhD track is at best arduous and certainly not for everyone. Proceed with caution. That is a long & challenging process and the economics of spending that long in school making a low wage (when you could be earning much more w your BS/MS) can be hard to justify
Why get a PhD? It can open the door to a career in research, in academia, and/or in a setting where you get to do a lot of self-directed study in an exciting field where you are passionate, with a good deal of autonomy and flexibility. So that’s appealing to many
Which brings us to the academic faculty track. You thought the PhD was tough? It doesn’t get much easier on this route, and the job search can be brutal. You’re probably looking at a stint as a post doc & maybe a research faculty slot before applying to tenure track positions...
The tenure track job market is wildly competitive and generally there’s only one cycle per year. So you put out as many apps as you can and hope for the best. After (hopefully) callbacks and interviews maybe you get lucky, but if not you know you’re waiting another year—not fun
Even if you’re fortunate enough to get a coveted tenure-track position, you get to spend the next five years stressing about getting tenure...noticing a pattern? 😆
That’s not to say academia is all bad (I’m here right? And I really enjoy it). The aforementioned appeal of freedom of research, autonomy, flexibility, pursuing new knowledge, mentoring/teaching/working w students, & impacting a community can be hugely rewarding!
And did I mention that getting a PhD is really hard? This entire path takes a physical and emotional toll—on you and potentially the important people in your life. Go in with a plan, be ready to manage the stressors, & get a therapist (it helps!!)
Seriously if you take one thing from this thread make sure you do everything you can to take care of your physical and emotional/mental health. Especially with all that’s going on in the world right now. It can be done in a healthy way but the grad school/academic path is no joke
If after all that you still want to apply to grad school & you’re still here, great! Let’s talk about where to apply and the things that might impact your decision
The first thing to know is that your faculty advisor is THE MOST important part of your grad school experience. They are your boss, your mentor, your biggest critic, & your most ardent supporter. Picking someone that you can work with on a topic you find interesting means so much
Search websites of universities you’re interested in, and look for people doing research in your target area. I would honestly recommend applying (and getting accepted) to the school FIRST and connecting w faculty second, unless you are directly responding to an ad for a student
Faculty get MANY cold emails from students looking for funding and in my experience it’s rare that those pan out. Where many of us like to recruit is from the pool of accepted applicants. Generally a list of admitted students + credentials is sent to all faculty
So you know these students are serious about the university, they may have indicated in their materials they were interested in your research, and you have their info already. If we need students and like what we see then it’s a no-brainer to send you an email
And even well-funded faculty aren’t looking for students every cycle, so don’t get your heart set on any one situation and try to keep an open mind

But if you do hear from someone remember it is a two-way interview! Ask questions and talk to their students!
Again, you want to go to the right school (right is different for everyone) but I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the right advisor—it means EVERYTHING

I realize not everyone has a variety of choices, but try to chose wisely and carefully (more on this later...)
A quick note for non-US students interested in aerospace & hypersonics: in academia options may be limited a bit but there are plenty of opportunities. Most academic research is “basic” meaning it is not restricted to US citizens
There are exceptions of course and some faculty almost exclusively hire US citizens, but the best way to find out is to just check out their lab website and look at the students in the group

Working in industry is more difficult, but you can work towards citizenship as a student
Another quick word of advice when emailing faculty as an international student is to try to be aware of geopolitical issues—if a big news story breaks about your country and the professor’s country not getting along, maybe put that email in the draft folder for a few weeks
Last, to those of you that requested this *months* ago I apologize it took so long! Hopefully this wasn’t too late to be useful

I realized I probably have TOO MUCH to say about this, everyone’s experience is unique, & it’s hard to condense into a thread, so please ask questions!
Okay just kidding, I hit the 25 tweet limit but some more thoughts on grad school applications/admissions...
I realize it’s a tricky situation given limited time and money for admission fees (which stinks) but let me try and clarify some of my thinking re:applying first
So you have some grad schools that are a bit picky about admissions but many schools that are just happy for people to apply that take a majority of the students submitting applications. Also a lot of schools have programs to incentivize current undergrads to apply in-house
Overall it’s very different from undergrad admissions and I might recommend emailing the graduate program coordinator (generally a staff member you can find online) for the department where you’re considering applying to ask about admission standards if they aren’t clear online
You CAN get accepted to grad school somewhere if it’s what you really want to do so if you apply to schools in a targeted&calculated way you won’t be wasting a bunch of time/money on rejected applications. You should only apply to 3-5 if you apply where you know you should get in
Think about this also: those mass cold emails to dozens or hundreds of faculty are not personalized or engaging, so to really connect w a prospective advisor you would want a thoughtful, well-crafted message specific to their research area. How many of those can you really write?
I think a dozen or so well-written cold emails to faculty at schools where you have applied and/or been accepted have a much higher chance of being successful than generic mass emails asking for funding
Also not a bad idea to write these emails while your application is being processed because faculty can help get you admitted. You’d be surprised how much faculty input is involved in the graduate admissions process, sometimes all it takes is one interested potential advisor

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More from @DrChrisCombs

30 Jun
I posted this thread on the @ReactionEngines SABRE combined-cycle engine 1 year ago and thought I would provide a quick update

As we predicted, the most immediate impact has been the spin-off of some of the subsystems

For example, the @ReactionEngines heat exchanger was recently integrated into the UK/@esa National Space Propulsion Facility
aerospacetestinginternational.com/news/engine-te…
There have also been recent successful tests of the HX3 micro tube heat exchanger and the hydrogen preburner subsystems

I’ll be honest this is really impressive progress in a COVID year IMO and exceeded my expectations
aerospacetestinginternational.com/news/engine-te…
Read 4 tweets
28 Jun
🌪From the weekend, this is one of the most violent tornado videos I think I’ve ever seen🌪

This was from a tornado outbreak in, of all places, the Czech Republic

The way those trees topple over is unbelievable. That is some incredible wind speed
From a bit further away, this gives you some perspective on the strength of this storm and the level of danger present in the first video

This is the scene afterwards, it looks like a bomb went off. Really bad situation

Read 9 tweets
27 May
There’s been a lot of confusion centered around this (very cool) video of yesterday’s Falcon 9 launch so I wanted to jump in and clear some things up

Short thread…
#AvGeek #Falcon9 #SpaceX @elonmusk
For starters, I recommend checking out this earlier thread I wrote on vapor cones and expansion fans as a lot of relevant points are covered there, so I won’t circle back to everything

This should explain the *transonic* vapor collar close to the rocket
Okay, so the audio in the original video is misleading. This event happened at about 9km altitude, so any wave generated at that instant would reach the ground roughly 30sec later. Not sure how the audio was synced but if it’s real time from the ground, it’s coincidental
Read 10 tweets
22 Apr
It's been a tough semester for everybody, so to lighten the mood and provide some extra credit points I posted a meme challenge to my fluid mechanics class

The submissions were BRILLIANT

Sit back and enjoy this nerdy fluids meme thread. Our @UTSA students rock
#AcademicChatter
There were so many hilarious submissions (over 100!!) so I unfortunately can't highlight them all, but there are some that literally made me LOL
This one is a bit niche perhaps, but it was the perfect mix of educational, weird, and original that it made me laugh harder than perhaps all the rest
Read 18 tweets
20 Apr
Came across a ram/scramjet review paper from the Stanford Center for Turbulence Research & it is an absolute treasure trove of wonderful illustrations related to hypersonics

A quick thread of my favorites, but first I got distracted w this simulation of scramjet combustion
Here’s a closer look at that animation, with links to the paper and YouTube source

What you’re seeing is an overlay of temperature, density gradient (analogous to schlieren), and velocity in a scramjet cavity at Mach 6.5

🎥
📄 web.stanford.edu/group/ctr/ResB…
So back to the review paper, a bunch of these figures caught my attention

First up since we’re already on scramjets, a great illustration of a combined-cycle turboramjet + dual-mode scramjet

Gets you from takeoff to Mach 10!

📄 annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.114…
Read 8 tweets
2 Apr
NASA just released some interesting preliminary data from their instrumentation onboard the #Mars2020 lander that delivered #Perseverance

Here’s a quick thread w some thoughts

[TLDR: Mars entry is HOT, but we made the heat shield too big (again)]

So to start, let’s turn back the clock to 2012. While you were watching The Walking Dead and the London Olympics, the good folks at NASA were measuring the aerothermal environment of Mars entry for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL Curiosity) mission
They did this with an instrumentation suite called “MEDLI” which stands for Mars Entry, Descent, & Landing Instrumentation

This contained, among other things, a bunch of heat transfer, pressure, and temperature measurement devices in and around the MSL heat shield
Read 13 tweets

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