Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

earthforge
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Jul 07, 2013 11:24 pm

Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

Postby earthforge » Mon Jul 08, 2013 1:49 pm

Hi all,

I've been frequenting this forum for a while, but now find myself in a bit of a bind. I took the PGRE this past semester and did mediocre (620, 35%). My GPA is also not great (3.3-3.4), but I am attending UCB.

I would like to retake the PGRE since I think I can do better. However, I will be studying abroad during both upcoming test dates (September, October). I will also be in French Polynesia, which does not have any testing center.

How can I take the PGRE in a different location? The paperwork says it's possible, but it's not clear about the required documentation. Does it require letterhead from the professor of the institute?

And if this all fails, what are my chances of getting into Caltech? I have an extensive research background (three projects in college, one published as the first author through NASA, the others presented at conferences, several more projects in highschool, research abroad next semester) and great recs from both faculty and researchers.

I feel pretty frustrated, because I *love* doing research, but my academic skills have never been top notch. I want to do hands-on research in biophysics and/or planetary science, maybe even plasma. I don't have delusions about how hard it will be, but I still want to do it. I know I could escape into industry for a year with my programming skills, but that's not what I want. I want to be a researcher.

I appreciate any assistance. Thank you.

stengah
Posts: 20
Joined: Thu Apr 05, 2012 4:07 am

Re: Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

Postby stengah » Mon Jul 15, 2013 2:00 am

This link should clear things up: http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/ ... mmodations

To answer your other question, with a 3.3 from UCB and a PGRE of 35%, it would be extremely difficult to get into Caltech Physics. Even with a very strong PGRE it will be difficult to overcome that GPA. However, it seems like Caltech Planetary Science is more lenient on the PGRE, based on some forum results as well as people I know who have been accepted. But again, that GPA will be a hurdle for you. Also, I've concluded that because you'll never know unless you apply, it's rather pointless to spend a lot of time pondering these things. Just apply and have a backup plan. It's worth the application fee, if for nothing else but closure, IMHO.

TakeruK
Posts: 815
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

Postby TakeruK » Mon Jul 15, 2013 1:26 pm

Caltech Physics publishes that their *average* PGRE score is 880 (http://www.pma.caltech.edu/GSR/gre&toefl.html). There are no cutoffs though, because "Top grades and excellent recommendations often take precedence over less than stellar GRE scores" (from the same webpage). You sound like you might have great recommendations, but I'm not sure a 3.3 GPA would be competitive for Caltech Physics.

I am in Caltech Planetary Science now and my PGRE scores were 640 (April 2010) and 690 (Nov 2012) [you can see the rest of my profile in the 2012 thread]. As the above poster said, it is "more lenient" because the PGRE is actually not even required -- I know some of my colleagues did not take it at all. This is because Physics is just one of many possible entry points into Planetary Science (since it's a very multidisciplinary topic) -- many people enter with undergrad degrees in Geology, or Astronomy, or Chemistry, etc. However, your GPA would probably be the biggest hurdle to overcome.

Also, I was providing examples from Caltech because that is what you mentioned. However, Caltech is not the only place you can do good/interesting research! It would be a good idea to talk to your former advisors that might be able to act as a mentor and help you find programs that would be a good fit for you!

earthforge
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Jul 07, 2013 11:24 pm

Re: Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

Postby earthforge » Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:25 pm

Thanks for your consideration. ETS appears to be amenable to opening a supplementary testing center, so I'm pursuing that.

My GPA is low, as I've been doing research the whole time. Individually, each research project is a low-level grad student project. (Once I was interrogated for my lack of progress "in grad school" during a conference. When I explained that I was an fulltime undergrad, the scientist was taken aback and congratulated me for doing substantial work as an undergrad.)

TakeruK: Could you clarify that? From the website, "Students who are not sure whether they want to work in astrophysics or in other areas of physics should apply to the Physics Department." That's why I thought I needed to apply to the physics department. Is this true from your experience?

My adviser recommended Caltech because of my fluorimeter work and because one of his good postdocs came from there. My other adviser recommended Berkeley physics (hoping I could get around the EPS bias against Berkeley undergrads so I could do work on MAVEN results) or University of Colorado -- Boulder physics (where I can also do MAVEN research).

I find Caltech interesting because it is close to JPL and has research connections to a broad swath of projects (from astrobiology to plasma to astrophysics, plus the 2020 Mars rover will be designed there).

TakeruK
Posts: 815
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

Postby TakeruK » Fri Jul 19, 2013 10:51 pm

TakeruK: Could you clarify that? From the website, "Students who are not sure whether they want to work in astrophysics or in other areas of physics should apply to the Physics Department." That's why I thought I needed to apply to the physics department. Is this true from your experience?


When I was applying to PhD programs, I already knew that I was 100% certain that I wanted to be in the Planetary Sciences department at Caltech, and not Astronomy nor Physics. So it made sense for me to apply directly to PS. In your case, since you are considering physics vs. other forms of planetary science then it might keep more options for you to apply to the Physics department. However, if you are certain you want to work on Mars data then your best bet really is the GPS division (Geological & Planetary Science). There is a ton of data available now from Curiosity/MSL. The 2020 rover would probably be out of the typical timescale of a PhD though, but maybe you can find something!

It's definitely true that you need a strong PGRE score to apply to the Physics department. It is not true for Planetary Sciences. I would imagine it's somewhere in between for the Astronomy department. By the way, if you didn't already know it, Planetary Science is in the GPS division while Physics and Astronomy are both in the PMA (Physics, Math, Astronomy) division, so the structure of our programs are fairly different!

Again, in your case, your listed research interests are really broad! This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the only thing in common with all your interests is Physics, so it does make the most sense for you to apply there. Unless, you know for certain you want to do Mars related things -- then you should go to GPS. The PS department works a lot with the Geology and Geophysics department (all within GPS) on Mars related things. The PS department also works a lot with Astronomy on exoplanets and PS works with Chemistry on astrochemistry. As far as I know, there isn't a lot of astrobiology going on -- the closest we have is studying atmospheres of planets in our Solar System and in extrasolar systems, and again, all of this is going on in Planetary Science or Environmental Sciences (also in the GPS division). However, I think we actually have fewer connections with the Physics department. I don't really know anyone who works with anybody in Physics but maybe I just don't know the right people!

If you want to talk further about the PS department / GPS division, send me a PM!

My adviser recommended Caltech because of my fluorimeter work and because one of his good postdocs came from there. My other adviser recommended Berkeley physics (hoping I could get around the EPS bias against Berkeley undergrads so I could do work on MAVEN results) or University of Colorado -- Boulder physics (where I can also do MAVEN research).

I find Caltech interesting because it is close to JPL and has research connections to a broad swath of projects (from astrobiology to plasma to astrophysics, plus the 2020 Mars rover will be designed there).


Those are all great reasons to go to Caltech. I didn't mean to question your choice of Caltech, I was just curious that you only mentioned one single school. :) I'll assume that you know most people choose a wide range of schools that meet their research and other interests too! Good luck!

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Need to Retake PGRE... but I'll be abroad then!

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 19, 2014 11:37 pm

To the OP: Sorry if this is forward, but having now seen your applicant profile, I will say that taking a bit of time off will in no way hurt your ability to go to grad school (well, at least from the perspective of the grad schools, if there are personal reason, I obviously can't comment).

I took 2 years off and did something totally unrelated to physics research; it took no time to get back into the swing of things, and having come out the other end, I can tell you no one frowns on grad students who don't come immediately from their undergrad program. From the sound of it, you've been working yourself hard and have a lot of responsibilities; if taking a year or so off makes sense for other reasons, it would have the added bonus of letting you re-take your PGRE.

Schools will also often allow the deferral of their admission for a year, and sometimes more, so don't feel like you have to give up admission offers you've already obtained.




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