needing general advice on application strength

cuduhxu
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Joined: Sat Nov 19, 2011 10:45 pm

needing general advice on application strength

Postby cuduhxu » Sun Nov 20, 2011 12:55 am

Hello all,

I am new to this forum so forgive me if I am not adhering to certain established conventions - e.g. posting in the correct place, posting something new, etc... I suppose I will start with the background info - I am a domestic male graduating from a little known, if at all, college in Georgia. I have been doing research in AMO physics since my freshman year, mostly with a prof in the physics dept but also for an REU at NIST, have published two papers (co-author and first author), am on around five APS conference papers, and have presented at two APS conferences. I am expecting a letter of recommendation from my advisor at NIST who is, I suppose, a well connected individual, and also letters from a few profs in my department (including my research prof), all which I expect to be very strong. I have a 4.0 GPA at my current school, but have a couple old transfer credits (mundane required classes, which I, unfortunately, neglected) which bring my cumulative GPA down to 3.73. I also did fairly well on the PGRE - 900 (86%). Lastly and most relevantly, I took the general GRE twice; (1st time) ran out of time on the quant section and did pretty badly - 154~690 on the old scale (67%), did really well on the verbal section - 164~690 (94%), and did ok on AW - 4.5 (%). (2nd time) Did better on the quant section (still not as well as I should have) - 161~770 (86%), was apparently way too careless on the verbal 154~520 (64%), and I don't yet know my new AW scores.

Now, I am applying to mostly top ten schools, along with a few in the ~20-10 range, in AMO phys, condensed matter, or quantum info, and was hoping for some general advice from those who may, or may not, have ventured before me. I feel as though my application is fairly strong but I worry about the awkward arrangement of general GRE scores (good on verbal, bad on math -> pretty good on math, bad on verbal), the little known school, and the old, not so good, transfer credits. Do I have a good chance with these schools? Will the second verbal score will hurt me? Is the math score assortment ok when coupled with the other things in my application? Is my GPA ok considering my math and physics GPA is a 4.0? Should I send out emails to professors at the schools, which I now have time to do, even though deadlines are quickly approaching? Am I just driving myself insane, for no reason?

Any wisdom, or even just any outside perspective, on these concerns, will be much appreciated!

bfollinprm
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Nov 20, 2011 12:59 pm

Should I send out emails to professors at the schools?


Yes, assuming you can make informed statements about their research. The key is to mention that you're a prospective applicant, very interested in their research (and have previous experience that makes you valuable), and ask if they have any open positions at the school.

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grae313
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby grae313 » Sun Nov 20, 2011 2:27 pm

I think top 10/top 20 is realistic for you. Your grades and PGRE scores aren't going to be overridden by your general GRE scores, and the verbal score is not important. Your transfer credits shouldn't be an issue because you have years of good grades since then. Just make sure you apply to a couple safety schools that are good in AMO but are outside the top 20 just in case.

Also, don't double post.

pythy
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Joined: Tue Nov 01, 2011 9:51 pm

Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby pythy » Sun Nov 20, 2011 11:56 pm

Don't think e-mails could possibly hurt. Don't have any idea about selectivity of schools other than by comparing with the Results on this site, where your numbers look pretty good. Always interesting to see the reply of someone who got into a top ten school, but I'm curious whether B's and G's (or anyone's) advice to hariseldon on the "Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?" thread as to school selection would be the same as the advice here to cuduhxu. Cuduhxu is applying to similar schools with a higher PGA and PGRE, but he's from "a little known, if at all, college" as opposed to a top 10 school. Are cuduhxu and hariseldon roughly equal? Kind of brings up the top 10 vs. unknown debate and informed insight would probably be helpful for both, and for the rest of us. Thoughts from those in the know?

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midwestphysics
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby midwestphysics » Mon Nov 21, 2011 12:05 am

pythy wrote: Kind of brings up the top 10 vs. unknown debate and informed insight would probably be helpful for both, and for the rest of us. Thoughts from those in the know?


You can't generalize that, too many factors come into play. I'm not just talking about the overall profile of scores, gpa, research, etc. What I mean is that calling a school unknown is relative. While top 10's go without question on being known, one "unknown school" may be known by a certain department and not by another, and then the exact opposite in another instance. You can't really come up with a good answer to that question other than to say that top schools give you a better chance of being recognized. The quality may not be questioned coming from a top ten, but the same may very well happen not coming from the top ten. Depends on who knows who, who went where, etc. Too many dynamics to nail this down definitively.

bfollinprm
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Nov 21, 2011 2:08 am

dont forget the other human variables: the adcoms at the schools to which you send your applications.

cuduhxu
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby cuduhxu » Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:28 pm

Thank you for the comments so far, everybody! Grae313, I really appreciate the reassurance. Any others' opinions on my chances are surely welcome.

A few more questions... At this point, is there anything that might sway things a bit more in my favor? When I contact profs should I make a special effort to "wow" them with my research experience and, hopefully, the relevance of my work to theirs? I am applying to thirteen schools so this could end up being a pretty large number of emails, and I am not sure how much difference an email close to the application deadline could make. Is there anything specific that I should say or emphasize in my statement of purpose? Concerning the question of why I want to pursue a phd in physics, do they want to hear things like "when I found physics I finally felt like my life was complete", "I spent most of my life examining different areas and pursuing different interests but it wasnt until I was exposed to physics that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life", etc.. or do they find this kind of profuse wording off-putting? I feel like everybody applying to physics phd programs loves and is extremely passionate about physics so I am wondering if I should work especially hard on conveying my passion for physics or if I should spend more time just recounting the cold hard facts about my physics experience. Also, the reason I have transfer credits is because I took time off after high school to earn money for college and also to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. So, the reason my transfer credits are not as good is because I hadnt yet acquired the work ethic that came along with deciding on physics. Should I make a special mention of this? Lastly, I was thinking that although having flip-flopping GGRE scores is not ideal my scores do show that I am capable of doing as well as anybody else on the math and am also capable of scoring high on the verbal section. I am not sure that the scores will be interpreted this way but do you guys think that the combined set is better than just having the first set, with the bad math part?

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grae313
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby grae313 » Mon Nov 21, 2011 1:44 pm

Don't talk about your passion for physics unless you have a really unique and compelling story. They've heard it all before. Professors are busy, don't write them an essay. Make sure your point is contained in the first sentence or two of your email. Keep it short and sweet -- just express your sincere interest, mention your relevant experience, ask if they anticipate taking on more students in the next couple of years, and attach your CV.

If you want to elaborate on your transfer credits in your statement of purpose, then it would be a good idea to only mention them briefly to show how you matured and developed a passion and work ethics for physics. Never talk about it in a negative light, just use it to show how prepared you are now. Don't spend more than one short paragraph on it. This is up to you and how you want to sell yourself, but I think you'll be just fine either way (mentioning it or not).

You can't select which GRE scores you send, but even if you could I'd want to send both. It shows you are capable of the high scores. Your math score is way more important than your verbal score, btw.

bfollinprm
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Re: needing general advice on application strength

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Nov 21, 2011 9:36 pm

When I contact profs should I make a special effort to "wow" them with my research experience and, hopefully, the relevance of my work to theirs? I am applying to thirteen schools so this could end up being a pretty large number of emails, and I am not sure how much difference an email close to the application deadline could make.


1. They won't be wowed, so I wouldn't try to wow them. You simply should indicate through your ability to articulate your interests and their research (and how those fit like a glove) that you understand research and have some experience with it. Include a CV, in my personal experience the profs read them. And frame it as interest in finding a position in their research group if/when you are admitted. Profs are used to responding to that sort of email, and it isn't as snobby as "look at me, I'm awesome, and you should go out of your way to get me accepted!"

2. In fact, from your perspective, it might make more sense to email AFTER the deadline, and closer to the decision-making time, traditionally in early February. But it's easier to frame your email as a fact-finding mission before you send the application; for instance, you can ask (as stated above) if there are open spots in their research group (implying that working in their group is the reason you're applying, and might make them more invested in your chances). How early the email is sent is pretty irrelevant, other than keeping your name fresh.

Is there anything specific that I should say or emphasize in my statement of purpose?


Yes. You should emphasize the growth and maturation of your interaction with physics, and how this leads you to pursue a life of research, specifically at the institution to which you are applying. Specifics (what do you find you enjoy about physics?) are more important than extolling the depths of your love of the subject.




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