I'm looking into a variety of grad schools, but really the only places I know to look are at top 15 or so schools. Now, I know often times certain research areas within a discipline have top-tier research groups at otherwise average-ranked schools in other areas. Unforunately, I have some areas of interest that I'd like to pursue, but none of the professors in my department are active in those areas, so it's tricky to get specific info about top researchers, top departments, top journals, etc. in those areas. Is there some way I can find this information?

I'm in electrical engineering, if it matters.


none of the professors in my department are active in those areas, so it's tricky to get specific info about top researchers, top departments, top journals, etc. in those areas.

I suggest trying to talk to faculty in your department anyway; at the very least, they should be able to point you in the right direction, or where to start looking.

Even in the (very unlikely) event that the faculty at your school aren't very helpful with your direct task of identifying researchers in your areas of interest, they should be able to help you start using Google (or whatever your favorite search engine is) to identify key papers to read, and, more importantly, to track down where the research that you are interested in doing is being done.

If you have several faculty in your department to choose from, talk to the ones that are "research active": they will know how to help you perfect your search skills.

To supplement any useful tidbits that come out of discussions with faculty at your school, let me also add:

As an undergraduate student, you may not have had a chance to start reading papers in your areas of interest; that's OK. If that is the case, then you can start looking for papers by searching some key words related to your interests on Google Scholar, for example.

From there, you can get an idea of who the lead researchers in your subfield are, and which researchers are citing certain papers you find interesting. Keep track of the author names: read the affiliation information in the paper or use Google to figure out where these folks are.

You can also try searching the web for research groups that are doing the kinds of research you find interesting. For example, if you are in the states (where institutions are on the .edu domain), you could do a Google search for

"high-speed PLL design" research site:edu

and you would obviously change the "high-speed PLL design" search term to something that interests you.

Using variants of the above Google search strategy, I have found a lot of research groups (and their PIs, postdocs, etc.) that are doing the kinds of research that I've wanted to come up to speed on.

  • 4
    Another useful approach is to find out what the top conferences/journals are in the field, and see which names pop up over and over in those.
    – ff524
    Aug 11 '15 at 2:47
  • @ff524 I agree!
    – Mad Jack
    Aug 11 '15 at 2:48

If you have reasonably defined areas of interest, you are following the publications in the area (particularly important are conferences, and even personal blogs; it usually takes years for some work to appear in print). Look up the authors of the papers that are close to your interest, and you are done.

One advise: A friend of mine told me he was thrilled to start his PhD thesis with a first-line star in the field. Trouble was that he saw his advisor twice in a year or so, once when discussing the thesis idea and again casually meeting in an aisle. As a superstar, the professor was elsewhere (or just too busy) all the time. He ended up moving elsewhere, and dodn't regret doing hand-to-hand work with a second-tier researcher. Not all superstars are like that, but you do need some support and guidance from your advisor or the research group.

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