The decision for me to come to the University of Michigan for graduate school wasn’t difficult. Michigan’s was the only offer that came with funding, and in the hard sciences, you don’t pay for your Ph.D. However, I was thrilled to get the offer because Michigan was my first choice.
My undergraduate research experience motivated me to apply to U-M. I worked at the LIGO Hanford Observatory for two summers and loved the experience. I wanted to continue working on gravitational waves, so I applied to schools with strong gravitational wave groups. Although my advisor is the only professor working on gravitational waves in the physics department, I had met several U-M affiliates at the observatory and felt that the strength of the people in the group more than made up for its small size.
My undergraduate advisor encouraged me to apply to U-M as well. I attended a small liberal arts college, where the number of physics majors was smaller than the number of students in my first quantum mechanics class here. My advisor had transferred from Princeton to the University of Illinois because he didn’t enjoy the research or the culture, and he thought that I would enjoy the research and culture at Michigan more. I also didn’t have the depth of preparation available to me as I would have at a larger university, and he thought that Michigan would be more flexible with my lack of undergraduate coursework.
The department culture has been, as suggested, very accommodating. I had academic issues my first two years, at least partially due to my ADHD, and the department worked with me rather than strongly suggest that I leave with my master’s. I just completed the set of qualifying exams that were supposed to be passed by the end of my second year, and I’m going back to take a class I had to drop after being overwhelmed by a backlog of work after a research trip. I’m grateful that I’m here. Elsewhere, I likely wouldn’t have been given enough of a chance to figure out why my brain wasn’t working with me anymore.
I had personal reasons for choosing Michigan as well. When I was looking at schools, one of my concerns was how often I could afford to see my family. I’ve spent Christmas alone except for a very expensive phone call from a phone booth in the basement of the Munich Hauftbahnhof, and I have no desire to revisit that feeling of loss and isolation. My parents live only 40 minutes away in a Detroit suburb, which has been more rewarding than I’d anticipated. Instead of having to weigh the cost of a plane ticket against the value of seeing my sister graduate high school, I’m able to drive over for such mundane events as seeing my brother’s baseball games, going shopping with my mom, or playing with our dog. It was also a happy coincidence that I ended up only 100 miles from Kalamazoo, since I started dating a remarkably clever man two weeks before I got my acceptance to Michigan. I doubt we’d be living together now if I was off at University of Washington or University of British Columbia!
Michigan has been a wonderful place for me, and I’m so happy to be here. For only having one choice of grad school, someplace that works for me as well as Michigan isn’t a bad choice at all.
About the Author
Jax Sanders, Ph.D. Student, Physics
Published in: Student Voices