2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

  • 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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quizivex
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2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby quizivex » Sat Feb 07, 2015 5:48 pm

Welcome back, folks! I'm starting this thread as a reunion for users who graduated in 2008 and/or were active on the forum during that time. The 2007-2008 admissions season was the golden age of PhysicsGRE.com history! It was the most active year ever. There were many cool characters on here that kept the forum both informative and very entertaining every day. The camaraderie was awesome.

I'm reaching out to some of the users from that era by PM. Hopefully if they still monitor the registered email address, they'll get the PM and stop back. More than six years have passed since we started graduate school, so I figure most of us will have moved on. It'd be great to see how everyone is doing. How was the grad school experience? What are you up to now? Looking back, to what extent did PhysicsGRE.com help you reach your goals?

Newer users should feel free to post here too. I wonder, are the threads from 7 years ago still being viewed nowadays? There were some epic threads back then. Some things that happened in 07-08 changed the forum forever...

- The profile thread tradition was started. It's been a huge success every year since.
- The post rate that year exploded, far eclipsing previous years. See this posts-per-month plot. Also, if you sort members by number of posts, most of the top posters were from 07-08.
- Professors started contributing invaluably to the site (admissionprof, astroprof, condmatprof).
- Some threads reached unprecedented lengths, up to 952 posts.
- Controversial posts such as the notorious Male Locker Room thread led to new censorship policies and lots of ****'s.
- People started using the poll feature... a little too much (see these for example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
- There were more silly posts than on-topic posts. So the moderators started banishing many posts and threads to the abyss of the Lounge.
- A divine user garden blessed the forum with some cryptic posts that inspired the forum and led to much discussion. Garden reappeared a few more times, leaving us with more mysterious messages.
- Rampant trolling led to some of the funniest posts in the history of the internet.
- A user canceled an account for the first time. RG was the most loved and most hated guy on the forum. He was hilarious. His disappearance was never explained, but his legacy was still recognized years later.

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zxcv
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Re: PhysicsGRE.com Class of 2008 Reunion!!!

Postby zxcv » Sat Feb 07, 2015 7:58 pm

I graduated summer 2013 from Berkeley and moved on to tech industry and "data science".

Grad school was a lot of fun, but I'm happy to be working on problems that actually effect people now, as opposed to trying to hype results to get a high impact publication.

I had postdoc options but I wasn't excited about spending a career in the subfield where I did my PhD. The few computer science and statistics courses I took in grad school turned out to be really good investments (along with all the Python programming I did). I'm basically half statistician / half software engineer now.

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dlenmn
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby dlenmn » Sun Feb 08, 2015 10:17 pm

Yikes, this makes me feel old. I'm still in school at UW-Madison; a mid-grad-school group change totally threw off my graduation schedule. In hindsight, I think I should have thrown in the towel, but yolo (or whatever kids say these days). Hopefully I'll be out of here in the next year (hopefully with a degree) -- probably not to a postdoc, but maybe I still haven't wised up.

It's interesting to be back to this site because I've been doing a fair amount (probably too much) of navel gazing about grad school recently. It's hard to say how this site helped or hurt. The most concrete effect is that I met VT through this site, and we were roommates for several years. Several prospective students in later years PMed me through this site, and I tried to give them good advice.

Generally speaking, this site encouraged me, which is what I wanted at the time. Given where i was on this graph, not much would have discouraged me. Has it been/will it have been worth it? Maybe I'll post with more information in a few years time. I really enjoy teaching, and based on student evaluations, I'm good at it. However, getting a good teaching job seems to be very difficult. My current work is very applied, so I'm certain that I can get a nice paying job in industry if I want to. (I'm not sure that I do.)

Anyhow, that's probably more than you wanted to know.

What about you, quizivex? You asked the questions but haven't answered them. Maybe that indicates that you're a professor now ;)

hpharty
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby hpharty » Mon Feb 09, 2015 1:04 pm

I'm also still in school. I take a certain joy in being a crotchety old grad student these days.

I enjoy my research project on spin transport devices, but it is plagued with fabrication and funding problems. I would love not having to TA every semester, so I might find the time to finish my work and get out of here. But, I do get along with everyone here very well, I work hard, and they keep paying me, so it's not a total disaster yet. I hope to get out this year (like dlenmn, I hope that means with a degree). I wish I had more time, but my money/advisor situation is such that I need to finish.

Despite how down I get about research sometimes, I'd like to find a post doc position. Having spent all of my time here working on fabrication problems and TA business, I'd really like an opportunity to do some more physics as a post doc. If you know of some job openings for a really stubborn guy with a ton of experience making tiny things, you let me know.

Back when we all posted on this board regularly, I was spending my days in a cubicle with nothing to worry about but the status of my applications. This was a great outlet for that.

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dlenmn
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby dlenmn » Mon Feb 09, 2015 11:50 pm

@hpharty

It sounds like we're in similar boats. I feel the same way about being an old grad student. The third years put on a yearly "Holiday Colloquium" (I've linked to a couple videos over the years), and I was amused this year when I was asked to do a cameo because they were looking for a "seasoned" grad student...

It sounds like we're both managing to not be bitter about things, but I fear that it's getting harder for me.

Anyhow, hang in there!

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quizivex
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby quizivex » Tue Feb 10, 2015 2:15 am

Glad to hear from you guys! Yeah it's interesting to look back at the old threads. Seven years ago, we were so worried about getting into grad school that it was hard to envision life after that. I think the forum made a difference for me. After finding it sophomore year I was able to better plan ahead. And even after applications were submitted, having fun on here helped offset the stress of waiting.

Grad school was mostly good. The atmosphere at Princeton U and PPPL were amazing. I got to live in a unique housing complex that enhanced the experience. Work-wise, my first few years were bleak. I didn't enjoy the plasma courses because it was all complicated mathematical derivations with no physical beauty. I hated the homework problems that required doing pages of tedious vector manipulations without physical intuition. Prelims didn't go smoothly either because I wasn't motivated to study thick books of sample problems just to have a better chance at the few hit-or-miss problems on the test.

So early on, it looked like I might fail or quit. I stayed because I loved the place and never had a plan B . After generals, I started to work on an experimental thesis but it was canceled due to an equipment failure. So I started doing theory/simulation stuff. I was free to work mostly on my own and that was enjoyable. I was devastated when my first paper was rejected due to a nonsensical referee report. So I appealed, and it was then accepted! Without that paper I might not get the postdoc I have now. Similarly if that experiment wasn't canceled I would never have gone into theory. Sadly, I think chance events play a large part on the outcome of grad school for many students, for better or for worse.

For me I can't say yet whether going for a physics PhD was the right decision. I initially majored in physics hoping to contribute something important someday. I need to wait longer to see whether my career, or fusion in general, ever helps anybody at all. The good news is that so far I can't say I regret it. I did enjoy my time at Princeton (esp the last 3 years). And I got a postdoc position in LLNL's fusion group. I think LLNL is also a great place so I'm happy for now.

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dlenmn
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby dlenmn » Sat Feb 14, 2015 12:20 pm

@quiz

I'm glad to hear things out for you. My switch was from experiment to theory/computational (more the latter than the former), and I'm still not sure what to think of it. The freedom is certainly nice, but I feel rudderless at times. I also don't get to use many of the skills I spent years developing and enjoying (machining, designing/building electronics, etc.). At least I'm a decent programmer (unlike many other physicists! a rant for another time) and I've been more successful. I've got a PRL is in the hands of a third reviewer at the moment -- evidently one of the first reviewers liked and and one didn't... It sounds like you had similar experiences.

I wish more 2008 people joined in this thread. Hopefully it's also of some use to the current forum users. If either of you have any exciting updates, I'd be interested to hear them; this is probably a good place to put them. I'll bookmark this page. For my future use too.

doom
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby doom » Thu Feb 19, 2015 1:06 am

Ah crap, I wrote a ton, and lost it because I had gotten logged out in the meantime. Guess I've forgotten how these forums work. We'll see how much I remember/care to repeat.

quizivex, your message was definitely a blast from the past! It's good to hear from those of you who have responded, and glad to see things are more or less going well. I was going to reply right away, but then I got sucked down the rabbit hole of reading old posts I had participated in. It was weird to be thrown back into the perspective I had then. I think the forum was helpful overall, especially in figuring out how my stats fit in with what schools. Hopefully the applicant profiles have helped users who came after us. I also think the forum made me put too much emphasis on stats/GRE score, and I maybe could've applied to a few more reach schools that I didn't apply to because I "only" got a 770.

I ended up going to Minnesota, and defended my PhD thesis this past August. I started out with the intention of studying high energy theory, but for a variety of reasons (mostly due to the high energy people here not taking students), I ended up switching to a related area within nuclear theory. It worked out pretty well -- my adviser was not too hands-on with the day-to-day research process, but it was far less sink-or-swim than the high energy group at Minnesota. He is also prominent within the field, so that probably helped with my DOE Fellowship application a bit. The DOE Fellowship really shaped my grad school experience, allowing me to travel a lot to national labs and conferences, including two trips to Europe. My adviser also helped me attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting in Germany, which was a great experience.

Looking back on my posts, I also see that I was lying to myself a bit when it came to my final decision on where to go. I had convinced myself that Minnesota was on par rankings-wise with Maryland and Washington, particularly because I was going for high energy theory. Especially when I ended up switching to nuclear theory and could've been in a great environment at the Institute for Nuclear Theory at Washington. Really, it was considerations of the two-body problem that made Minnesota win out over those two. I definitely made the right decision in prioritizing my relationship, as I am now married to the woman I came here with.

Last year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do long-term, although I definitely wanted to stay in academia. The dilemma was how research-focused vs. teaching focused I wanted to be. Either way, I thought a postdoc was the next step, so I applied to a million of them, all over the world. I struck out on them all, which was disheartening (though I made one short list, yippee). All the grad school application stress seems crazy now, because I got into 5/6 places I applied, while I got 0/100 postdocs I applied to (order-of-magnitude estimate).

I applied to a few visiting faculty positions, almost on a whim, and in May I got a one-year offer from Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota (nice that I didn't have to move). I accepted, and I recently accepted an offer to stay another year. I'll do some research with undergraduates this summer, and start applying again next fall, hopefully something potentially permanent. I have discovered that I enjoy the teaching-research balance at a liberal arts school (I also had a liberal arts undergrad education), and hopefully the job market will allow me to stay in academia long-term.

admissionprof
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby admissionprof » Sat Feb 21, 2015 12:29 pm

It's nice to hear from all of you. I kept contributing to the site for a while, but it's now faded quite a bit. I am no longer the admissions director - gave it up after 15 years or so -- but still keep looking at the site now and then, and making the occasional comment. I'm still bemused by the thread that discussed my gender....

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twistor
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby twistor » Mon Feb 23, 2015 1:35 pm

I still occasionally check this website out to see if there are any interesting topics. It seems people are much more reserved now than they were 6 years ago. That's understandable given how easily identifiable most of us are. Before ca. 2008 there wasn't a lot of information on what it took to get into graduate school. Now that there are years of profile threads I think people are just coming by and reading them, comparing, and moving on.

Like most of you I completed my Ph.D. My progress was slow the first few years, mostly because I didn't have well-defined research goals. Eventually everything came together and worked out well for me.

If I recall correctly quizivex was a top scorer on the subject test, receiving a 990. So it's interesting to read that he had some trouble with the quals and nearly left graduate school because of it. One of the things I learned in graduate school is that completing a Ph.D. involves more than just being a smart and studious person -- you have to have the will to persevere even when it seems like nothing is working out.

On an interesting but somewhat off-topic note, it seems Walter Lewin of MIT was recently stripped of his professor emeritus status after an online scandal in which he sexually harassed several online students using social media. I thought of this because I used his MIT OpenCourseWare lectures to prepare for the physics GRE.

residue
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby residue » Mon Feb 23, 2015 10:21 pm

I'm a first year graduate student. I found this website my sophomore year (2011/12) and remember reading all of the old posts as I procrastinated doing assignments. I found the old discussions extremely helpful and often entertaining, and certainly hope that new users are still able to find them. The forum isn't nearly as active as it was then, but like others have said I think all of the questions that students might ask have already been answered on here. I found this site through googling and assume that physicsgre is still at the top of the search page for most grad school questions. The admittance results page is one of the most useful tools I had in judging where I stood compared to other applicants.
It's funny, I actually got on this site for the first time in a year to see how this year's applicants where doing. It's weird being on now that I'm actually in grad school. So far it's more of a 5th year of undergrad, but I'm hoping it gets more interesting as the second year comes rolling in. Congrats to all of you for finishing!

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dlenmn
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby dlenmn » Tue Aug 02, 2016 12:48 pm

I finally defended yesterday. It has been an interesting year and a half since this thread started: two papers, two department awards, an upcoming postdoc at a national lab. I'm not sure what to make of it. When I was looking for jobs, I swore up and down that I was done with physics research, and yet, here I go again -- albeit partly for 2-body reasons.

Objectively, this has been a great year and a half, but I feel totally burned out. 2890 days of grad school are too many. Perhaps time will tell if the degree was worth it.

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quizivex
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Re: 2008 PhysicsGRE.com Group Reunion Thread!!!

Postby quizivex » Sun Aug 07, 2016 3:04 am

Congratulations, dlenmn!! The national labs are a sweet place to be a postdoc. Sounds like a few of us have experienced this common theme... grad school may be slow and confusing for the first few years but eventually things start falling into place. Papers get published. Graduation does come. Job offers are given. :D

I have 14 months left in my postdoc... not sure yet of the likelihood of staying at LLNL. I'd like to stay but might also be interested in faculty positions or other labs so I'll see...

What happened to your PRL manuscript that had split reviews and was sent to a third referee? Was that one of the papers you published? I hope it went well. In my experience the third referee always copies what the negative review says. Probably because that's the easy thing to do. Ugh. Thank goodness this year for the first time I finally had a PRL get all positive reviews on the first round.

It was awesome to hear from everyone who posted on this thread. I thought I was subscribed to it but didn't receive an email about dlenmn's new post. Luckily I saw it because I came back to check on the 2016 profile thread. Great turnout this year. Unfortunately the recurring issue we've had since 08 is that many users post profiles in the fall and don't add the admission results in the spring. I sent PM's to users with incomplete profiles hoping to draw some of them back. :mrgreen:




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