Grades in grad school

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

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twistor
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Grades in grad school

Postby twistor » Tue Dec 09, 2008 11:43 pm

An interesting point came up in the Jackson thread.

How many of you, now that you're graduate students, still care significantly about your grades?

physicienne
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby physicienne » Fri Dec 12, 2008 7:45 am

i do, because i think i'd like to jump ship.

another grad keeps bugging one prof about how our grades are determined (he whines about lack of transparency), and the prof basically just waves his hand and says, 'in the end i'll look at the distribution and i'll make it so that i wind up with the grades i want' - meaning he doesn't really care either, as long as you're making progress and learning the material.

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twistor
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby twistor » Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:28 am

I have the aching feeling that's how many graduate programs assign grades.

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grae313
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby grae313 » Sat Dec 13, 2008 12:38 pm

I've spent so many years trying very hard to make myself care about grades, and after failing all throughout middle school, high school, and the first part of college, I finally did manage to care very much about grades for the last few years of college. It's hard to just turn that off, even though I know that as an experimentalist, the only thing my grades are good for is if I want to apply for a fellowship.

The idea of grades in gradschool that I've formulated is this: whereas before it was important to make distinctions among the students all the way from A to F, at this point the only distinctions that need to be made on paper for record are 'above the average' (A to A-), 'below the average' (B+ to B), really bad/failing (anything below a B).

My goal is still to get all A's, but probably more as an ingrained habit and a matter of pride than because it would make any significant difference in my gradschool career.

excel
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby excel » Tue Dec 16, 2008 10:19 pm

Interestingly, the last few days, I have been trying to decide how much to care about my grades in grad school. :D Like grae, I will likely maintain the habit of wanting to get good grades-though I am damned if I study for exams at the cost of research! :P

By the way, most 2nd year students in my program have visibly given up caring about grades, and a prof told a couple of us that grades dont really matter much any more. The general "expert" advice on the matter seems to be "stay above the average and dont worry about it", much like grae said. Of course, all the graduate students will not score above average. 8)

Edit:
Oh wow, twistor is nearing 1000 posts, and grae is getting near there too.

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twistor
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby twistor » Tue Dec 16, 2008 11:34 pm

I agree. It's been a hard fought battle getting to graduate school and part of what got me here was my commitment to excellent grades. On the other hand the workload is heavy and I'm finding it hard to commit the time I'm used to dedicating for studying (even though it seems like I do nothing but study and do research). I also know in the back of my mind that even if I get all A's but don't pass the qualifying exams then my grades were ultimately meaningless. I think it is better to get all B's and pass than to get A's and fail.

maxwell200
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby maxwell200 » Wed Dec 17, 2008 8:31 pm

Well quite frankly, I have yet to meet a grad student who says grades are even remotely important in grad school unless for some reason you're desperate for a fellowship. The general consensus is grades were naturally a big deal as undergrads but know all that matters is that you pass. Of course, this may be quite different for theorists, but even theory recruiters only seem really interested in your score on qual exams and how well you do in classes they teach. And of course, I am at UVa, a place known for being laid back. Maybe they'd say something different at the likes of UC Berkeley, UIUC, Caltech, Harvard or Princeton, though that may be because some of these schools-Berkeley and UIUC-are known for really trying to filter out students, and in some of these places, i.e. Caltech in particular, what's most important would probably be just making it through the program without turning criminally insane and becoming a serial killer.

Having said that, getting all A's definitely is a big deal in most grad schools these days, what with all the obscenely smart and well prepared international students, particularly Chinese, Indians and Thais. It means you either really know how grad professors think or you're just a f**king badass when it comes to physics.

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zxcv
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby zxcv » Thu Dec 18, 2008 12:26 am

Berkeley used to do a lot of weeding out with their preliminary exam, but apparently they figured out sometime recently that that sort of environment isn't very attractive to prospective students. So they it changed at some point with the past five years. And yes, everyone (at least fellow grad students) tell me that grades don't matter.

I also do theory, but I may be somewhat of a special case -- I've already found a research group to join. In fact, next semester I'll be paid for research instead of teaching. Yay!

It's been really hard to deprogram myself from caring about grades, but in the end I think I've been successful. I've done a lot of work in grad classes, to be sure, but I'm finally okay not always being on top of things. And it's a good thing too, after my 24 hour E&M take home final that I stayed up all night to work on. So much for the Jackson T-shirt prize!

maxwell200
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby maxwell200 » Thu Dec 18, 2008 1:40 pm

Well zxcv,

I can only imagine it would be a hell of a lot harder for some UC Berkeley students to get themselves to not stress over grades. I mean, these some of these people have not one single solitary time in their 20+ years of live gotten anything but an A in a math and science class, and now in grad school they finally are seeing round shaped letters instead of pointy shaped ones on their transcript. I'm actually half surprised they don't have counselling in these types fo schools so students can adjust to what, for some anyway, has got to be a fairly traumatizing experience.

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zxcv
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby zxcv » Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:09 pm

So actually, grad school classes may be hard, but unless you're really lazy, you're going to get a good grade in the end, since professors only give out As and Bs. That's half of what people mean when they tell you about how you shouldn't care about grades -- you're going to get that top grade whether you care that much or not.

For instance, I discovered today that my 87% on the ghastly problem sets in my quantum mechanics course was good enough, to my surprise, to earn a grade of A (we had no exams). Sure, some people got overwhelmed and didn't even seriously try to finished 87% of the problems, but now I think I actually believe it when I'm told that if you do all the work you're going to get an A.

Just for kicks (you can tell I've finished all my work for the semester already)...

Quantum mechanics problem set grade over time (aka proof that I have gotten lazy, but apparently not too lazy!):
Image

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butsurigakusha
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby butsurigakusha » Fri Dec 19, 2008 5:02 am

I don't have the same problem as everyone else. I had not problem being a slacker as an undergrad, and that has continued. Unfortunately, I am finding that my undergraduate study habits are not working so well any more.

My 61% grade in QM was good enough for a B. Woohoo.

You stayed up all night on the EM exam, zxcv? Did you get any sort of reasonable answer on either of the problems? That test sucked.

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zxcv
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby zxcv » Fri Dec 19, 2008 7:51 am

I got reasonable answers to my recast slightly less complicated version of the first question and to about 3/5 of the second question.

I heard some claims that the Larmor formula holds directly for accelerating extended charge distributions as well as point sources? I didn't quite believe that at first but now that I check it makes sense...

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noojens
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby noojens » Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:54 pm

Odd, I'm on the other side of the fence from most of you serial overachievers. I'm a slacker by nature - it's not that I'm lazy exactly or dislike doing physics, I just get a kick out of maximizing the grade:effort ratio. Anyway I'm trying to pay more attention to grad school grades, since I'm in 1-year applied physics master's limbo, and there's a decent chance that I'll apply for PhD programs in the next couple years.

It'd be pretty nice to get to the point where grades no longer matter. Enjoy it, f*ckers. :)

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WontonBurritoMeals
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Re: Grades in grad school

Postby WontonBurritoMeals » Sat Dec 20, 2008 10:17 pm

I've always sucked at getting good grades. I'm almost certain that it'll be the weakest part of my application (bad grades from a state school, good lord). Hopefully grades not mattering in grad. school will make me happier.

May the wind be always at your back,
-WontonBurritoMeals




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