Job openings in Nigel Goldenfeld's group






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Apply to join Nigel's group


Thank you very much for your interest in my group's research. I am always interested in hearing from people who wish to join my group, either as a graduate student or as a postdoc. Here is what you need to know if you are interested in working with me.

The first thing is about style of research. Mostly what I do ends up being some kind of intellectual death march, because I am not smart enough to suggest easy problems to research, nor do I want to work on easy problems. As a result we work on really hard (but very interesting) problems which usually crash and burn; but occasionally we are able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by being lucky or in some cases clever. We learn from our mistakes, so our modus operandi is to make as many mistakes as quickly as possible. So far, my students, postdocs and I have learnt a lot by this method; and my students and postdocs have thus done really well. But this adventurous style may not suit everyone.

The second thing is that there are multiple ways to apply, and so I have tried to organize these below for your convenience. Please follow these guidelines carefully as they will save you a lot of time.


The instructions below will maximize the probability that your application will be successful and can be funded through grants or fellowships.

If you wish to work with me in an area of condensed matter physics, broadly interpreted to include non-equilibrium physics, pattern formation, hydrodynamics etc., please apply through the website of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory, following the instructions posted there.

If you wish to work with me in an area of biological physics, broadly interpreted to include not just cell biology but my own interests in evolution, ecology etc., please apply through the website of the Center for the Physics of Living Cells.

If you wish to work with me in an area of what can loosely be described as astrobiology, please apply through the Institute for Universal Biology website. Astrobiology is a strange name for a wonderful scientific area that encompasses many fields including evolution, ecology, non-equilibrium statistical physics. The best place to learn about it quickly is probably through the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap, slightly outdated but still a very useful and thoughtful document.

If you wish to work with me in an area of genomic biology, such as metagenomics, microbial ecology, biocomplexity etc., you might wish to be considered for a Biocomplexity Group Fellowship, at the Institute for Genomic Biology. Open positions are usually publicised here.

For some people, it may be appropriate to apply to two or more of these possibilities.

Once you have sent in your application through the appropriate web site(s), feel free to send me a brief email alerting me to your application, and adding anything that might not be evident from the electronic submission, such as why you feel that your expertise would be of special interest to my group. Generic applications that do not explain why you want to join my group specifically are unlikely to be competitive.

If you have an existing Fellowship, e.g. from your home country or another institution, and thus wish to join my group irrespective of my ability to provide funding, please contact me directly. I have had many such long term visitors in the past and the outcomes have broadly been very successful.

Incoming students to the UIUC Physics Graduate Program

If you are applying to graduate school and wish to work with me as your Ph.D advisor, you need to know that I can not accept students into my group until they have first been accepted into the UIUC Physics Graduate Program, and are on campus. I am not involved in the admissions process. Thus, please do not write to me with long descriptions of your background hoping that I will accept you into my group on that basis, and thus get you into our graduate program. I am not able to do that. If you have already applied, or have been accepted, I would be very happy to hear from you if you are strongly interested in joining my group.

The UIUC graduate physics program is one of the best programs of its kind in the world. If you are accepted into the program, you will find that there is a wide choice of potential advisors with facinating research programs, some of whom collaborate with me. Thus, even if you do not end up working in my group, you may end up collaborating with me anyway. Here are details of how to apply.

Please don't hesitate to contact me, to alert me to your existing application or if you have any other questions. Some of your questions may be addressed in this FAQ.

Students already enrolled in the UIUC Physics Graduate Program

If you are already on campus and enrolled in the UIUC Physics Graduate Program, please contact me at any time to talk about research. I typically take one student per year, assuming that one student graduates per year. However, there can be fluctuations as Ph.D completion times can vary.

I encourage you to contact me, even if you think that many other "better qualified" students might have already expressed their interest. I make my decisions about who to work with based on a multitude of factors, including not just grades and other standard measures of scientific ability and aptitude, but also fit to the group, personality, goals etc.

I receive many applications from wonderful students but I can only take a very limited number. I'm sorry. Our accomplishments arise collectively from the close personal interaction between my students and postdocs and me, and this style of research is only possible in a small group. Other faculty members are able to work with much larger groups that are hierarchically organized, but the types of problem we tackle, and the fact that we are almost always inventing everything from scratch, means that my group is cottage-industry in nature, and does not scale well.

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