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076: Should I choose a research focus BEFORE I apply?

Applying to grad school means making a series of difficult decisions: university location, reputation, lifestyle, and program.

But do you need to pick out a specific research topic before filing an application? Is it better to nail down a project and lab before you apply, or is it okay to keep your options open?

Listener April writes:

Hi Josh and Dan –

I recently found your podcast and am really enjoying it! I am planning to apply to social psychology PhD programs later this year (to hopefully start fall of 2018), and I’m already taking notes as I listen to you guys.

Anyways, my question is — How specific do your research interests need to be when applying? Also, how closely do your research interests need to align with potential faculty advisers? I realize that social psychology programs are probably quite different from the “harder” science programs you’re familiar with, but I assume that this issue spans across all fields.

I’m worried that if I’m too specific, I’ll box myself out from potential advisers; but I also don’t want to be too general and appear unfocused. Do you have any tips?

Of course we have opinions!  We share them this week, including advice on how to avoid the very common mistake of being TOO focused when applying to school.

Toddle with a Bottle

Hello PhD turned 2 years old this week, and to celebrate we break into the Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort KY.  

As a single barrel bourbon, no two batches are alike, so if our sample sounds nice to you, be sure to check out Barrel 59 from Warehouse H.  We’ve got bottle number 107!

Science in the News covers the incredible shrinking kilogram.  It’s a serious problem for science, but one with a seriously scientific solution!

We also learn the etymology of Agkistrodon contortrix, or the copperhead snake.  If you can see its fishhook teeth, you’re definitely too close!

This is for you, Josh!


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