Last year I did a year long Quantum Chemistry internship at a very prestigious university. Towards the end of my internship I met another principle investigator from the same institution and got interested in their work (Material Sci). I didn't get time to develop a relationship since I had to move for college in less than a weeks time(transferred from a Junior College into my junior year), but I wanted to try to intern in their lab this summer, and if they liked me enough, go there as a grad student upon graduation.

I was wondering if there is anything wrong with this plan. For example, I've heard often that universities want you to go somewhere else for your grad school than undergrad in order to "meet more people in your field". I wanted to know if this custom also tends to apply with internships done in undergraduate years.

Edit: I am a physics major in case you are wondering.

  • Could you clarify your question, please? It isn't quite clear what you are asking. If you are asking what is wrong with the plan to do an internship and then apply for grad school at the same institution, the answer is: nothing. However, I'm a bit confused by the background story. Is this material scientist you met from the same institution you are currently in, i.e. your undergrad school? Are you in your freshmen year (based on 'I had to move for college in less than a weeks time')? If so, it might be too early to focus on where to apply for grad school, you'll probably change your mind. – user3209815 Nov 10 '14 at 8:16
  • i added that i transferred schools and that the PI was at the university I interned at – Skyler Nov 10 '14 at 8:21

I don't think it's so much that universities want their grad students to have attended other schools for undergrad, it's more about achieving a broader experience for yourself which will be especially helpful after grad school.

In my experience, professors (and departments and universities) generally want to attract the best students they can for grad school. The top students in an undergraduate program may be heavily recruited for graduate programs at the same university, especially if they have been participating in research with a professor and he/she is impressed with their work. It can be difficult to judge applicants' grad school potential based solely on application materials and a professor having personal (positive) experience with a student can lead to very strong recommendations and near-certain acceptance.

On the other hand, if you should choose to go to graduate school, it is in your best interest to choose the best (for some definition of best) situation for you. I think this is where it's often beneficial to change institutions. Attending multiple universities broadens your contact base, exposes you to new resources and ways of doing things, gives you perspective on multiple departments, and better prepares you for future moves to new locations/institutions/etc. I think that the importance of developing a broad network of contacts for your postgraduate career is incredibly important and changing institutions for different degrees is almost guaranteed to help you there.

In your case, where you've done an internship at the school you're considering, I would not worry much about potential negatives if you decide to apply there for graduate school. I think an internship is a great way to get a feel for the institution and the professor. It's also a potential way to get yourself a very strong recommendation and an "in" to the department.

  • Many departments actively forbid their own undergraduates from enrolling as graduate students. – aeismail Dec 10 '14 at 23:11
  • @aeismail Interesting. That has not been my experience at multiple U.S. R1 universities (math or applied math departments). I'd be interested hear examples. I wonder if it's also field dependent. – Doug Lipinski Dec 10 '14 at 23:39
  • Pretty much every top-25 department in my field (chemical engineering) won't let their own undergraduates continue on. – aeismail Dec 11 '14 at 6:56
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    I think that's generally better for the students. I was lucky enough to have an undergraduate advisor that pointed out the advantages to me, but I've seen others stay in the same research group from undergrad through PhD. I think that is typically a mistake. – Doug Lipinski Dec 11 '14 at 15:37

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