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 Post subject: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2012 9:59 pm 
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Hi everyone,


Scored an 850 PGRE last fall in the start of Junior Year at University of Illinois at Chicago with a major of Engineering/Physics. GPA 3.9. Scored on general GRE Quantatative 790, but not that great on verbal, so I am planning to take General GRE again.

I have worked past two summers at internship at Argonne Labs (paid) and co-authored a published paper. Also received Chancellor's Award this year for undergraduate research working with electron microscope. This summer I am working for an Engineering firm as a paid intern trouble shooting projects.

I will apply for PhD Physics programs this fall and hope I have a chance to get into a top program like Princeton, MIT, Stanford, etc. I am a caucasian American guy and not sure if that will be considered good or bad...

What I am wondering is should I also take the PGRE again or is my score- I think 80th percentile -good enough?

Thanks,
K.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Sun May 13, 2012 11:14 pm 
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Sometimes people who post good scores and then ask whether or not they should retake the test are trolls, but there's no harm in giving you the benefit of the doubt!

790 or 800 on quant for General GRE is certainly good enough. I don't know what you got on the rest of it, but it really doesn't matter. I think admissions committee are just looking for a cutoff score here, a higher score won't help. At one place, they explicitly state the cut off score was 500 / 800. I don't imagine other places, even top tier ones would have much higher cutoffs for general GRE.

850 on PGRE is a great score. I don't know if it's "good enough" since that is dependent on programs. You can get a general idea of what kind of scores were successful / not successful from the past 5 years of profile threads in these forums. You can also check "thegradcafe" to find this kind of info too -- check their "results search" option.

Finally, you probably do know that (P)GRE scores are just one factor in your application package. Sure, you can still do better, but will it be worth your time and money? Only you can really decide that for yourself, but check out the resources I mentioned above first :)


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 12:58 am 
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Hi,

Thanks so much for writing. This will probably freak everyone out, but I wrote the post about my son. I Know I am being a total Tiger Mom and he would kill me if he knew about it, but I honestly just wanted to hear other people's opinion about the PGRE.

As you most likely can tell by my name, I was a psychology major and was accepted into a doctoral program for clinical psych a few years back, but did not go- long story... I do know what a big undertaking it is to apply for graduate school. I think my son did really well, but when I look at the admissions for some of the schools the people accepted seem to have almost perfect scores.

My son would LOVE to get into the Plasma program at Princeton, and I guess I was just hoping to find that he is at least in the ballpark. I have done my best to "coach" him during his undergrad years to become a good candidate for graduate school. He does not want to take the PGRE again and I have been sort of nagging him to do it again. I guess I just love him and want to be supportive- so thanks for putting up with it and being so
nice about your reply.

I deeply appreciate your gift of kindness to a mom on Mother's Day :D


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 1:03 am 
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BTW- Maybe there are a lot of Physics Tiger Moms. My son told me that Niels Bohr's mother typed his papers for him! LOL


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 10:06 am 
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cydpsyche wrote:
I think my son did really well, but when I look at the admissions for some of the schools the people accepted seem to have almost perfect scores.
...
My son would LOVE to get into the Plasma program at Princeton, and I guess I was just hoping to find that he is at least in the ballpark.


I forgot to say that there is some kind of bias to the posts in this forums -- generally the people here are the ones who score higher than the median, even out of those admitted. For example, if you count up the number of people that got into a particular school in these profile threads and compare it to other places, such as thegradcafe.com, or even to actual new student numbers, you will see that the majority of admitted students don't post here! (e.g. I know 12 people got into one of the schools I visited but I'm the only one who posted a profile on this forum).

The scores you mentioned are very good and retaking a test does not always guarantee a better score -- the score might already reflect the actual ability of the student so spending hours and hours more to study and take the test might not improve the score, or just improve by a small amount.

And, Princeton is a very difficult school to get into, even for the very best students, I think. I believe that if you want to apply to the best grad schools, you really can't put all your hopes in one basket, you just gotta apply to a whole bunch of them and hope that the combination of skill and luck works out. This is probably true of all the best schools. There may be a handful of students with near-perfect scores that get into all 10 of the top 10 schools, but remember they can only pick one, and every time they do, 9 more spots could open up in the other 9 schools.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 2:19 pm 
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Hi,

Thanks so much for your input. My son is planning to apply to about 15 programs, so I think it is probable he will be accepted somewhere. 5 Ivy Leagues- 4 Highly regarded programs in the Midwest- all public, except University of Chicago - and 6 schools in California- private- Stanford and Cal Tech, and public University of California- Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.

I wonder if we should have more on the " hit list", but it requires a great deal of thoughtful examination of programs and professors at each school, crafting a personal statement, etc. Graduate school application is somewhat of a marathon :)

I'm not sure what your academic/career objectives might be, but I wish you the very best of luck. Thanks again.

The Physics student Tiger mom :D


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 4:00 pm 
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cydpsyche wrote:
Hi,

Thanks so much for writing. This will probably freak everyone out, but I wrote the post about my son. I Know I am being a total Tiger Mom and he would kill me if he knew about it, but I honestly just wanted to hear other people's opinion about the PGRE.

As you most likely can tell by my name, I was a psychology major and was accepted into a doctoral program for clinical psych a few years back, but did not go- long story... I do know what a big undertaking it is to apply for graduate school. I think my son did really well, but when I look at the admissions for some of the schools the people accepted seem to have almost perfect scores.

My son would LOVE to get into the Plasma program at Princeton, and I guess I was just hoping to find that he is at least in the ballpark. I have done my best to "coach" him during his undergrad years to become a good candidate for graduate school. He does not want to take the PGRE again and I have been sort of nagging him to do it again. I guess I just love him and want to be supportive- so thanks for putting up with it and being so
nice about your reply.

I deeply appreciate your gift of kindness to a mom on Mother's Day :D


Your son must be about 22 years old at this point. I think he is capable of voicing his own concerns. Realistically, what were you going to tell him if we'd said he should retake the test? "Son, I pretended to be you so that some strangers on the internet would give me advice.......and they think you should retake the test...."

You "coached" him as an undergraduate? What does that even mean? Actually, never mind because I don't think I want to know.

P.S. Stop living vicariously through your son.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 5:42 pm 
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It never ceases to amaze me how people can choose to look at pardigms in a negative way. Does someone have mommy issues? What ever happened to the idea of truly caring and being supportive of one another? I was just asking questions. Even if I am not a physics student, even I know the universe often seems rather Karmic. Just some food for thought...

Namaste


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 9:14 pm 
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Yes, someone does have mommy issues and from the sound of it he got an 850 on the PGRE and has quite good prospects despite the fact that his overprotective mother went behind his back to consult with strangers about his future.

You say you have a psychology degree so consider this: if someone came to you and told you they did exactly what you did here (impersonated your son on the internet to solicit advice about his career, etc.) would you conclude this person was acting in the best interests of your son?

You came here seeking advice so I'm providing meta-advice, which in this case is going to prove far more useful than the advice you originally sought. Your son will be better off if back off and stop over-parenting. Seriously.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 11:13 pm 
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Actually my son knows and it doesn't bother him in the least. You make a lot of assumptions with very little information other than your own biased interpretations. I am surprised that someone who should understand scientific inquiry would make such ahuge leap. Any social scientist understands that human beings are complex and to try to apply some immaginary parameter around a dynamic you don't really know about is a BIG rookie mistake for many a therapist. BTW - my son is a really well-adjusted person- a great guy- bright and a kind human being. He's a busy person who wants and appreciates my support on his jounrney.

I should have just written as MOM and taken the chance that some compassionate person would answer me. It was kind of like when a friend asks for advice about a "friend" who is in reality themself. What a lot of ridiculous backlash for such a benign intention. Lighten up.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 11:03 am 
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It's just my opinion but I really do think your son should be doing his own research into finding out grad schools. Even though it might save him some time for you to be asking a few questions on his behalf to this forum, I think there is a much bigger wealth of information to be found in other threads here that he is missing because he is not reading through the threads himself. As I said before, and you probably know from your own experience, there is a lot more about grad school applications than just test scores and GPAs.

I think it's useful for your son to understand for himself what physics graduate admissions boards want, how the current physics graduate students think, and generally the physics grad school environment in general. It will help him frame his SOP, pick his list of schools, know what to expect when visiting schools, know what professors are expecting of him as an applicant and prospective student etc.

Although you could relay all this through him from your own experiences and from reading these forums yourself, your son is not learning this independently. As a graduate student, independent learning is critical, and I don't just mean coursework or research work.

It doesn't matter what the other circumstances are -- but for the majority of people your son will interact with in his graduate career (students, faculty, etc.), a parent who is heavily involved in their child's graduate career will be viewed negatively. It doesn't matter if it's fair, or even true that you are considered an overbearing/overprotective mother, that is how the majority of people will view this relationship. I think that's the reality and you and your son could choose to fight it if you believe that everything is okay, but scientists are obviously still human and while we may be objective in research, that does not mean we are necessarily objective when it comes to interpersonal interactions. It's also my opinion that at the grad school stage, most students are now living on their own if they lived at home during undergrad (I did, mostly to save money) and it's time to be independent of their parents, for better or for worse. I think undergrad shields us from the "real world" a bit, and grad school is a good time to start transitioning into a "real adult".

However, going back to the main topic -- if your son is finishing his junior year and since it does sound like he is really serious about attending a good grad school, this summer would be a good time for him to start doing research into all the details of grad school applications, such as the competitiveness of his scores for the programs on the "hit list". Your son may be very busy, but if he is as serious about it as you seem to be, then he needs to make it a priority and find some time this summer to look into these details himself.

And finally -- 15 schools is a REALLY big list, it's going to cost him a lot of time (and money) to put in 15 strong applications. WIth GREs out of the way (some people write them the month or two before applications are due!) perhaps this summer would be a good time for him to spend some time looking at the research at each of these schools in detail and determining which profs he would like to work with and which programs would suit his interest the best. Usually one would only apply to that many schools if one was worried about getting into any program at all, or if there are other factors (i.e. international student, trying to get into a program in the same school or city as a family member or significant other etc.). It sounds like your son will be a strong applicant so unless there are other factors, the list could be much smaller. Choosing a program that "fits" is the most important, and I don't think there really can be 15 programs that really "fit" any student well. I would advise your son to maybe halve his list (or at least narrow it down to 10) and only include one or two "safety" school.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 12:37 pm 
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Hi again,

First, thank you for your honest and nonattacking reply. The organization of applying for graduate school is really the only thing I have been involved with as far as my son's academic and professional life. I understand and agree that it would be inappropriate for me to insert my prescence into my son's world.

My only objective has been to be useful in doing some of the search to really understand the application process, since it is so crucial to one's future. Normally I am very much in the background. My son is such a modest person that I did not even know he had won the Chancellor's Award at his school until he asked me to update his resume (something I am good at doing). When I think back on myself in my early twenties, I sure would have benefitted greatly from some guidance and dialogue with my parents.

I was talking with my son last night and he commented that he would be glad to get
into anywhere good, but is leaning more towards the East coast or midwest, so I guess that eliminates California. I agree that he should be exploring these schools himself- and he is- program by program. There are so many schools out there it is difficult to decide what criteria to use to narrow it down. I also asked him if he wanted to go for theoretical or experimental programs. He is so modest that he said he would prefer theoretical because it would be more challenging, but was not sure he would make the cut so he would be happy to get into any good program of either discipline.
One thing that sort of baffles me is how do you determine a safe school? It is so confounding to even find realistic admittance information. Even looking on
gradschoolcafe, the info does not give a very full picture of the applicant.

I will certainly encourage my son to fully explore his options. Thanks again for your input. Have a great day and best wishes for your future sucess. You are obviously a nice guy and deserve it.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 12:40 pm 
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cydpsyche wrote:
Thanks so much for writing. This will probably freak everyone out, but I wrote the post about my son. I Know I am being a total Tiger Mom and he would kill me if he knew about it, but I honestly just wanted to hear other people's opinion about the PGRE.


cydpsyche wrote:
Actually my son knows and it doesn't bother him in the least. You make a lot of assumptions with very little information other than your own biased interpretations.


You seem to be having some difficulty keeping your lies straight.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 5:46 pm 
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Not a lie. FYI told him after I posted. You seem like a fairly angry person...


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 5:54 pm 
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Your grasp on psychology is questionable if you thought he was going to kill you if he knew about this, and then it turned out it doesn't bother him in the least.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 9:15 pm 
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Don't be so LITERAL. My grasp of psych is quite good, thank you.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2012 9:18 pm 
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First of all, to weigh in on the obviously weird psychological aspect of this thread, I really do hope that your relationship with your son's academic life is open in that he's aware of everything you're doing and is still independently making his own decisions in life. Please do not nag him into taking the PGRE again, simply state what you know and let him weigh his options (and if he doesn't want you even doing that, don't do it!!). I thought my mom was overbearing, and the most she ever did was to be unimpressed at my accomplishments.

I think his GRE looks really good. I have noticed that for the top 10, the average GRE for accepted applicants ranges from 870-940 or so, but there are two things to keep in mind with those numbers - first, internationals accepted pretty much need a 990, so the average accepted for domestics is almost certainly a bit lower. Second, if you state that you're mostly interested in theory, you're probably expected to have scored higher than average, so if he wants to apply for theory maybe he should be more worried about his GRE being competitive at the top 5.

You mentioned your son is interested in plasma. Is he aware of the funding crisis going on right now? MIT just completely slashed their physics plasma program, and in general the government is using ITER as an excuse to stop funding research here in the USA (which is stupid because research here can significantly help ITER, but blah).

Also, I disagree with TakeruK - 15 schools is fine. Probably with the quality of schools your son will apply to (his safeties will probably be at least top 50) he shouldn't have any trouble finding 15 schools that would be good fits. It's also nice to be safe; I know lots of people who got rejected by over 10 schools.


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 11:33 am 
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Hi,

Thanks so much for your insights. I do realize the parent/adult child boundaries are sometimes tricky, but a human being's prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain involved with higher reasoning and more mature perspectives) is still developing until around 25 years of age.

I think that Plasma sounds like it might not be the most practical choice to pursue. There must be a reason that 25% of people graduating with doctorates in physics are in the sub-field of condensed matter...

I suppose for everyone we reach a point when we have to reconcile our dreams with the practical reality of how to make a living. I will tell you this - if I had been lucky enough to have anyone mentor me when I was young, my life would be dramatically different. I was idealistic and rather clueless. As the old proverb goes- youth is wasted on the young- sigh... That is exactly why for this one decision and process I am simply discussing all the considerations with my son. We get along really well, and he is very tolerant about it all because I always say that it is all his own decision and I will be suppotive with what he decides is right for him. Believe me, he has a mind of his own :-)

The one thing that remains confusing is how does someone determine a " safe school". From what I can discern the admittance process is multi-faceted and there is a great many variables as to why an individual is accepted or rejected. Plus sites like grad school cafe only offer partial insight because a lot of people simply put accepted or rejected with no information about GPA, GRE and PGRE scores, research, or publications, or their undergraduate institution. There is Not a totally even playing field- that is reality.

There are hundreds of programs in physics. To thoroughly explore each school and professor would take hundreds of hours - even if you only devoted one hour of time for each one. I think this must be a difficult and somewhat confounding exercise even for all of you brilliant people in physics. If I really knew what I THOUGHT I knew in my early 20's my life would look a lot different.

All of us human beings learn and grow through experiences and there are countless mistakes that we all make. Isn't it kind of nice if someone who cares about you says, "Um, you might want to reconsider walking that way because there is a big pile of dog doo-doo I myself remember stepping in and I'd hate to see you step in it too 8)

I guess I just believe in win-win scenarios, respectful dialogues, and the pure joy of mentoring another person on their way to becoming their best self. What a thrill it is to watch a friend or your own grown up child spread their wings and fly! That is also a normal phase of psychlogically well-adjusted mature adults- to find a lot of happiness supporting the next generation.

Thanks again for your comments. Best of luck to you with your own dreams!


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 12:41 pm 
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To TakeruK and King Vitamin,

Just wanted to sincerely thank you both again. You have both given some helpful insights. NO- I didn't know about funding cuts in Plasma so that is a very valuable thing to know. And I thought my son is going along pretty well, but what do I know about the HYPER-competetive process of getting into a doctoral program in physics?

What I do know is how to get into a doctoral program in psych- and yes, there are some similarities, like research experience, GPA, GRE, except in psych you also need clincal experience. Physics options are much more complex than psych. Months ago I asked my son if he wanted to figure it all out on his own and he told me that any gathering and analysis of information I could do (along with what he is doing on his own) would be really a big help. Essentially, I am gathering and sorting data for him like a research assistant. But, he is in charge of what he does with the information. Yes, I did open a weird Pandora's box on this site. C'est la vie...

Of course, the funding cuts just illustrates once again how dysfunctional our government is in regard to science and education. It seems to me that physicists, engineers, and other scientists are the only people who are going to be able to figure out how to solve this energy/global warming crisis and move society into a better, more sustainable place.

I give anyone who is trying to better themself with graduate level education a HUGE pat on the back. Not only do you have learn about your field of interest- you have to put forth an enormous amount of time and energy into figuring out how to put all the piecesof the puzzle together. A Hurculean task when you add marriage and or kids into the mix. Been there-done that... Worked 30 hours a week, completed my undergrad with a 3.9 GPA, was on a research team, presented a poster, worked in mental health clinical settings, etc. And finally got accepted into gradschool. While I was a disenfranchised divorced mother of 2 boys- Whew, I was one exhausted lady.

Anyway, you both seem to be heading in a good direction. Thanks again for helping me to understand some of the complexities my son is facing. I'm sure he will find his way to wherehe wants to go- but my goodness doesn't any smart traveler get a map and a compass? And what about asking for directions if you are concerned that you might get lost? Oh yeah, I seem to recall there are a lot of jokes about guys NOT asking directions and women just not getting that about males :-) Yes- there are gender brain differences, it's supported by research and true.

Cheers!


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 Post subject: Re: Should I retake PGRE?
PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2012 1:53 pm 
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cydpsyche wrote:
I suppose for everyone we reach a point when we have to reconcile our dreams with the practical reality of how to make a living.

This is very important -- I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to devote their life to research and advancing human knowledge but that's not a life for me! I don't think a PhD is something one should do just because it's the "logical next step" in one's education. It's ~5 years in a fairly important phase of your life/career development! It's important to set goals and know exactly what you want to accomplish from your PhD.

For me, my goal is a career where I can support my future family while having a job that I enjoy going to. But family is more important to me, and moving around constantly for post-docs is not really ideal. So my wife and I have decided that I'm only going to look for post-docs/permanent jobs in our hometown (maybe a post-doc can be in a really cool place to live) so that we can be close to our family when we raise our kids. I know it's hard enough to get a faculty job without being willing to move anywhere, so while I will still try for one, I am realistic about the low probability. But, my PhD will help me get other jobs in our hometown (it's a big city) at non-research colleges, science centres, etc. I am also perfectly happy with working as full time permanent research staff in a lab or group at a University! Knowing this, I plan to make sure I develop skills during my PhD that are also valuable outside of the research environment, such as teaching and communication.

Quote:
The one thing that remains confusing is how does someone determine a " safe school". From what I can discern the admittance process is multi-faceted and there is a great many variables as to why an individual is accepted or rejected.
...
There are hundreds of programs in physics. To thoroughly explore each school and professor would take hundreds of hours - even if you only devoted one hour of time for each one.


Your son's stats look like they are very competitive. He performs strongly in every metric I think -- research, GPA, test scores. But I think the people who will know your son's chances the best are his research advisors. It's extremely helpful, in my experience, to have a mentor that is able to guide you through grad school applications. This person can honestly tell your son where he stands a good chance to get in and where he will almost certainly get in (i.e. safeties). I'm probably the first person in my family to be in grad school so without my mentor (undergrad thesis advisor), I wouldn't have had anyone to ask for advice.

I talked to my mentor and my current supervisor before I even started looking at PhD programs, asking them who they think the good supervisors and schools are. Then, I checked in with them again when I made a shortlist of schools and potential supervisors. I had yet another conversation after getting results and visiting the schools and sharing my impression of each place.

I got 2 really helpful pieces of advice during this process, but this is more helpful in a year from now, when your son has to decide between offers.

1. You should pick a project that will be interesting to people who are going to hire you in ~5 years. Even if you are super passionate about some topic, if no one else is, it's not going to really help you get a job. Your PhD work will be your "calling card" into getting post-docs, and you want to do something interesting that gets your name associated with that topic and vice versa. Post-docs are hired pretty entirely on their ability to do interesting independent research.

2. A great researcher does not equal a good supervisor. A PhD is more than just doing good research -- it's learning how to develop skills to be a fully independent scientist. A good advisor will train their students to give good presentations, write good papers, interact with other scientists effectively as well. Profs in the field may be familiar with other profs' students through conferences etc. and they could get a good sense of how well the prof treats and trains their students. You can also get this information from talking to current students during school visits. The advice I got if I was interested in a great researcher but it turns out they are a very bad PhD advisor was to work with them later as a post-doc, or collaborate with them with another person who is actually a good advisor. Again, when you are looking for post-docs or tenure-track positions, you will be giving a lot of job talks and you're evaluated on how well you perform research as well as how well you present your work.

Like you said, you know about the general process of applying to PhDs but you couldn't know the recent trends in the subfields of Physics, or how well your son really compares to other students, or what kind of students are being accepted into certain programs etc. My mentor was great for helping me out in these questions. So, I know you are trying to help your son, but I really think the best person/people to do so are faculty members that know him well and are willing to mentor him. It could also help them understand your son's interests and goals more strongly and that could turn into a more effective reference letter.

I turned to my parents and family for advice for the non-research aspects of grad school life: how far away from my family am I comfortable living, should I rent an apartment or try to buy a house, when to start a family, determining my budget (grad school was the first time I was truly living on my own), what to do about other adult responsibilities such as car/renters/life insurance, whether or not it's worth it to spend X dollars on a big repair on my old car, investing money/saving for the future, doing taxes, and all that other stuff!!

My parents did not get the chance to go past high school for their education so I wouldn't have been able to turn to them for grad school advice anyways. But unless they were physicists, I probably would still sought this advice from one of my supervisors/mentors, since these people have worked with me and know my strengths and weaknesses while also knowing what's going on in the physics research world.


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