Applying to HEP/string theory universities

scytale
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:39 am

Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby scytale » Mon Oct 27, 2014 9:17 am

Hello everybody! Just got my PGRE scores, now I want to finalize my list of universities to apply for. I'll have a master's degree from a German university by summer next year, and would like to stay in my current field, string theory (maybe with some overlap with quantum information theory or cosmology).

Undergrad/Master's Institution: German university
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): None
GPA: Hard to calculate to US points, probably top 20%
Length of Degree: 3 years bachelor's + 2 years master's
Type of Student: International, male

GRE Scores:
General: 163 (verbal), 170 (quantitative)
Physics: 900

TOEFL iBT: 116

Research Experience: Undergrad research in HEP at UCSB (~1 year, no paper), bachelor's thesis about QM lattice calculations, summer study program at Seoul National University about advanced QFT/lattice QCD, now working at Kyoto University (Japan) on 1-year Master's thesis research on AdS/CFT.

Papers: None in physics yet, but I published one on algorithms in a European youth science journal in 2012.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Got a price for a youth science project at a national German competition, which led to the paper mentioned earlier. Various exchange program grants, including a Fulbright stipend in 2011/12. And I got a silver medal in the "2011 University Physics Competition".

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: I did some student council work in Germany.

My list so far:
US: Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Caltech
UK: Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College
Japan: University of Tokyo

I feel like I should add some less-ambitious "safety" schools to my list, but I'm not sure which ones are good in HEP/string theory. Any advice?

Another problem: I'd prefer to skip some of the basic lectures, since I already have a master's. That seems to be no problem at Harvard, but impossible at MIT and difficult at Princeton. Stanford and Caltech didn't even bother to reply to my mails. Does anyone know more?
Last edited by scytale on Mon Nov 10, 2014 7:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Mon Oct 27, 2014 11:02 am

Congrats on the pgre score! I think you have a good chance at top schools, hope you have great LORs too.

I live in U.S so I only know about the schools here, but I am sure others can suggest too.


USC and Rutgers have a strong hep theory group, especially in string theory. Those schools might be good to consider as safeties. I've heard good things about Ohio state too!

In U.S, some institutions have different courses for masters and phd students. I don't know what you consider "basic", but I hope it's not something like QFT. It never hurts to take that course more than once. Some Schools might require you to pass an exam to be exempt, some won't . I think you should worry about this after you have been accepted somewhere, though.

Best of luck!

scytale
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:39 am

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby scytale » Wed Oct 29, 2014 7:21 am

Thanks for the helpful answer! My LORs should be alright, since I did research for all three of my reviewers and they seemed satisfied with my work.

I'll look into USC and Rutgers, how about Columbia and U Chicago? They both seem to have a significant amount of faculty in HEP theory, as well.

I wouldn't consider QFT as "basic", wouldn't mind hearing it again (every lecturer does it differently, anyways). But I'm not particularly looking forward to taking classical mechanics or basic quantum mechanics again, which seems to be at the start of most 5-year PhD programs.

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Wed Oct 29, 2014 9:16 am

Columbia and UChicago are definitely not safeties!

Last year I applied with similar interest to yours ( string theory), but I was also more interested in QFT and Particle Theory. I do not know much about UChicago, so hopefully you will get a helpful answer from someone else.

Columbia has Brian Greene for string theory, that's one faculty! Unless, if they have more and they didn't update their website. If you are open to other options such as Lattice QCD, Particle Theory, and would be willing to do Cosmology instead then apply.

I did not end up applying to Columbia, though. By the way, I am applying again. So currently, I am not a graduate student. The difference is now I am no longer interested in string theory...

Some schools have somewhere on their "current graduate students site" about course requirements and placements. You should dig through to find out, but I wouldn't worry about this now. Here is what it says for Berkeley Grad Physics:

"If a student has taken courses equivalent to Physics 209, 211 or 221A-221B, then subject credit may be granted for 209, 211 and/or 221A-221B via a course waiver form available at Student Services (372 LeConte). Students must meet with the UC Berkeley instructor at the beginning of the semester for course approval. If the instructor agrees that the student has satisfied the course requirement elsewhere, he/she will sign the course waiver form and turn the signed form into Student Services (372 LeConte) for the student's file. The student must also take and pass the associated section of the preliminary exam. Please note that official course waiver approvals will not be granted until after the preliminary exam results have been announced. "

By the way, I noticed your US list consists of private schools only! Is this on purpose? UC schools are ultra competitive for international students, especially UCSB ( Santa Barbara).

TakeruK
Posts: 813
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby TakeruK » Wed Oct 29, 2014 12:24 pm

I think it's a good idea for international graduate students to apply to mostly private schools in the US. As the above poster said, UC schools are very competitive for international students, which means it's a lot easier to get into a private school in California (like Stanford or Caltech) than it is to get into UC schools. I got rejected from every UC school I applied to, but accepted at the private school I applied to! (I'm international too)

Also, to answer your question about skipping courses at Caltech: yes, you can do this in Physics. During orientation week, new physics grad students write a placement exam and your performance determines what courses you need to complete in your degree. Here is some information: http://www.pma.caltech.edu/GSR/placementexams.html for general info and http://www.pma.caltech.edu/GSR/placeexams.html for more details about the 2014 placement exams.

scytale
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:39 am

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby scytale » Thu Oct 30, 2014 3:58 am

Indeed, I plan to skip public schools completely because of their stringent acceptance criteria for international students. Otherwise, UCSB and Berkeley would definitely be on my list.

It's good to know that Caltech allows students to skip certain classes. Other universities are not so flexible: Princeton and MIT told me that they don't accept any transfer credit. Cornell doesn't accept people with advanced degrees unless they have already found a research advisor *before* applying.

I'm not so worried about having enough safeties - if I fail to get into any good US universities, I can still apply for a program in Germany. And Japanese universities also have >50% acceptance rates for international students, despite their good rankings (U Tokyo is usually in the Top 10 worldwide). These programs require a Master's degree, though.

TakeruK
Posts: 813
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby TakeruK » Thu Oct 30, 2014 11:28 am

Very few places actually accept "transfer credit". Instead, what happens is that either 1) your degree requirements are reduced so that you only have to take the minimum amount of credits instead of whatever the program prescribes for you, or 2) if you qualify to "skip", let's say QFT I, then you replace it with an advanced course like QFT II instead, or some other elective that interests you.

So, it might mean a reduced courseload (but only slightly), or more likely, it would mean you won't have to retake courses you have already taken; but you would still take the same amount of courses, just on different materials.

tsymmetry
Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Apr 01, 2013 5:59 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby tsymmetry » Thu Oct 30, 2014 11:45 pm

At Harvard you have four general requirements (and a lab for theorists) and four electives (8 or 9 total). You can petition out of courses by sending the information to a committee that decides. I think the standards for the course to pass are relatively high though. You can also take a placement exam if your course won't go through the committee. Petitioning out of courses effectively eliminates the requirement so for example if you petitioned out of four classes and were an experimentalist you would only need four more.

It seems that most of the grad students at Harvard have already taken at least a few grad classes. I would assume that's true at places like MIT and Stanford, etc.

MIT barely has any requirements, they have the two five hour written quals so I think my friend said they only have to take four courses in a few areas. However you don't have general requirements like stat mech, quantum, etc.

Definitely apply to Chicago, they are a fantastic department overall. Other places to look into are Michigan, I don't know about Cornell in your subfield but they are also very strong as a department. I can think of state schools like Rutgers and Wisconsin that are easier to get into for domestics but I don't know what the situation is like for international students. I don't know how Illinois is in high energy (they are absolutely phenomenal in CME and CMT though) but they seem to admit a good deal of international students.

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby Catria » Fri Oct 31, 2014 8:57 am

I remember somewhere on this website that there were ~200-300 internationals (likely to be a somewhat lower number) who tried their hands at top-10 schools for HEP-TH (string theory included); do they all have 900+ PGREs, 1+ year of research experience, top-10-20% rank in their classes?

Or only a fraction of HEP-TH international applicants have a file like I described?

scytale
Posts: 4
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2014 8:39 am

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby scytale » Wed Nov 05, 2014 8:13 am

Thanks for all the helpful replies! It seems much easier to skip courses than I expected.

And yeah, HEP theory seems to be overflowing with international candidates. Which I don't quite understand, because a) it's almost impossible to get a good idea of HEP theory (especially string) as an undergrad, and b) given how complicated the whole subject is to understand, funding is not very generous. It seems much easier to get into condensed matter, which gets much more money from industry, and has much fewer prerequisite courses (I've met some really good cond. matter theorists who had almost no clue about relativistic QM).

tsymmetry
Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Apr 01, 2013 5:59 pm

Re: Applying to HEP/string theory universities

Postby tsymmetry » Wed Nov 05, 2014 10:27 am

A lot of the HET students in my class did their undergrad in the UK so they have taken a lot of upper level courses compared to many students in the U.S., especially those who are not from well known undergrads.

CMT actually does require a lot of prior knowledge to do research in many current areas. Pretty much everyone in CMT takes two semesters of QFT and also take condensed matter field theory courses, which is exactly quantum field theory just from a different perspective. For more exotic areas it is also very helpful to have GR and perhaps differential geometry and topology.




Return to “School Selection”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron