Low GPA, decent GRE?

i_like_mango
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Feb 06, 2012 8:27 am

Low GPA, decent GRE?

Postby i_like_mango » Tue Dec 02, 2014 1:37 am

Undergrad Institution: UC Berkeley
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): none
GPA in Major: 3.18
Overall GPA: ~3.2
Length of Degree: 4 years
Type of Student: Domestic male

GRE Scores : old version
Q: 800 (92%)
V: 550 (71%)
W: 4.5 (80%)
P: 890 (84%)


Research Experience: 2 years in an astrophysics lab during school. Presented a poster at a conference and got my name on one publication. Worked 2 more years in another astrophysics lab after graduating.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: Tutored physics at the school tutoring center.

Special Bonus Points: Two of my recommendation letters should be really strong. One of the writers is very well known.

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: GPA doesn't show an upward trend. Dealt with some personal stuff while in school.


What tier of schools should I be aiming for? How much should I factor in my GPA vs GRE? I'm guessing that the top schools like MIT and Harvard are out. I'm leaning towards condensed matter experiment, but would like to go somewhere with a good variety going on so I don't trap myself into a particular area. Where would you guys apply? Advice is appreciated!!

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Sats
Posts: 50
Joined: Wed May 21, 2014 8:51 pm

Re: Low GPA, decent GRE?

Postby Sats » Tue Dec 02, 2014 1:49 am

Your PGRE offsets your GPA a little bit, I'd hit up some ranked 50 or higher ranked schools (as of US World News), but make sure to throw in some safeties below that. I'm not too knowledgeable in CME, but maybe U Arizona, U Oregon?

uhurulol
Posts: 79
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2014 12:38 am

Re: Low GPA, decent GRE?

Postby uhurulol » Tue Dec 02, 2014 1:56 am

It seems you've got similar stats to mine in grades, letters and research experience. My GRE is a bit lower and I tanked the PGRE, so I'm going with a few schools that have no PGRE requirement and a few that my advisor(s) have colleagues at that do require the PGRE.

If your research experience is made out to be very noticeable by your letters and statement, you should be able to get into a top 20ish if you get a little lucky. Your PGRE is good, and being a domestic doesn't hurt. I highly recommend contacting schools you're interested in, particularly professors with research applicable to yours or research areas that interest you. Ask them if they think they will be in need of graduate assistants in the near future, and state your purpose in a short and friendly manner (nothing like your actual statement). A lot of them will really appreciate the gesture and it will make your name stand out come application time. I really believe it helps.

I'm seeking some planetary science programs as well, because they're a bit more lenient with GRE scores and rarely require a PGRE. The point of all this that's applicable to you, obviously, is that I'm highlighting my research and recommendors, and writing a really strong statement that points them toward those features. I'm making sure it's tailored to the schools, and specifically professors I've contacted and research I'm interested in.

Might I ask what your research experience is in, as well as what you're interested in? CME is more selective than astro for sure.

i_like_mango
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Feb 06, 2012 8:27 am

Re: Low GPA, decent GRE?

Postby i_like_mango » Tue Dec 02, 2014 4:53 am

uhurulol wrote:
If your research experience is made out to be very noticeable by your letters and statement, you should be able to get into a top 20ish if you get a little lucky. Your PGRE is good, and being a domestic doesn't hurt. I highly recommend contacting schools you're interested in, particularly professors with research applicable to yours or research areas that interest you. Ask them if they think they will be in need of graduate assistants in the near future, and state your purpose in a short and friendly manner (nothing like your actual statement). A lot of them will really appreciate the gesture and it will make your name stand out come application time. I really believe it helps.

I'm seeking some planetary science programs as well, because they're a bit more lenient with GRE scores and rarely require a PGRE. The point of all this that's applicable to you, obviously, is that I'm highlighting my research and recommendors, and writing a really strong statement that points them toward those features. I'm making sure it's tailored to the schools, and specifically professors I've contacted and research I'm interested in.



I'll give that a try. Is it too late considering that some applications are due Dec. 15?

uhurulol wrote:
Might I ask what your research experience is in, as well as what you're interested in? CME is more selective than astro for sure.


That surprises me a bit actually. Is it worth applying as astro in that case? I figured HEP is the most competitive and nuclear is the least, but I'm not too sure other than that. The first lab I worked in was a dark matter lab. It was honestly more detector characterization/development type of work though. The second lab I worked in was developing instrumentation for telescopes/astro stuff.

uhurulol
Posts: 79
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2014 12:38 am

Re: Low GPA, decent GRE?

Postby uhurulol » Wed Dec 10, 2014 5:11 pm

If you want to do astro, yes. Don't apply for things you don't want to do, though. If you can't see yourself doing astronomy/astrophysics work for the rest of your life, it's a bad idea to apply for that. CME won't be THAT much different in the selection process than astro. HEP, on the other hand, is incredibly competitive.

I'm not sure how it is in other fields, but I know in the world of astro there is no 9-5. Your work comes home with you, and it'll consume your life. Make sure it's what you want to do. You'll be travelling constantly (to some nice places, to boot) and you'll be sleeping very little. A prestigious researcher once told me that you can't be out of the loop in astro for any extended period of time, so taking time off is out of the question. Be prepared for this. It's a life-long dedication. All of these aspects of the astro career are what make it even more appealing to me, but I can easily see how someone else might not feel the same. For instance, I don't want kids, I love travelling, I'm a night-owl, and I'm ok with having a significant other whom I will have to spend time separated from. Ergo, the career suits my lifestyle.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Low GPA, decent GRE?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Dec 10, 2014 5:55 pm

uhurulol wrote:I'm not sure how it is in other fields, but I know in the world of astro there is no 9-5. Your work comes home with you, and it'll consume your life. Make sure it's what you want to do. You'll be travelling constantly (to some nice places, to boot) and you'll be sleeping very little. A prestigious researcher once told me that you can't be out of the loop in astro for any extended period of time, so taking time off is out of the question. Be prepared for this. It's a life-long dedication. All of these aspects of the astro career are what make it even more appealing to me, but I can easily see how someone else might not feel the same. For instance, I don't want kids, I love travelling, I'm a night-owl, and I'm ok with having a significant other whom I will have to spend time separated from. Ergo, the career suits my lifestyle.


I don't think this is true! At least, I don't think this is especially true for astronomy! There are some astronomers that think this way (perhaps some of you remember the infamous email from the profs at U of Arizona chastising their students for not working 80+ hour weeks) but I would not say this is the norm.

First, yes, almost all of academia seems to thrive on the culture of "the harder you work, the better you are" and everyone feels the pressure to push themselves to the max. Grad school and academia is one of those things that will consume as much of your life as you will allow it.

However, relative to a lot of other sciences, especially the lab sciences, astronomy is definitely a 9 to 5 job. Most of us have no real obligation to be at work outside of 9-5 except when we use telescopes. My friends in the lab sciences regularly have experiments that run where they need to collect a data point every 2 hours for long periods of time so they are required to stay in the lab all day. In astro, most people will work 8 to 10 hours per day and while many people choose different hours other than 9 to 5, the reality is that if we really wanted to, we can make a 9 to 5 workday.

This is my 5th year of grad school. I did 2 years in an astronomy program where my workday was pretty much exactly 9 to 5, to match my spouse's workday (In Canada, we do a 2 year masters first then a 3-4 year PhD). Now, I am in the 3rd year of my planetary science PhD program (but really, it's very closely related to astronomy) and my workday is more like 9 to 6 now, also to match my spouse's workday. I do take homework home with me but now that classes are over, I end my workday when I leave my office. I choose to not allow astronomy/research to consume my life. Some people want work to consume their life and that's fine if they're happy with it. But you don't need to feel this way in order to succeed in grad school.

I also took a lot of time off. During my astro program, I got married to my spouse so I took about 6 weeks of vacation that first year for my spouse and I to fly home and make wedding plans (and for the actual wedding itself) since we wanted the ceremony to be near our family. In my second year, I added an extra week of vacation onto a week-long conference so that my spouse and I can have a nice honeymoon (conference was in France). I took less vacation during the second year because I took extra time off in my first year. On average, in the last 4 years, I take about 1 month of vacation off per year. This is normal for most regular work policies. In fact, my current graduate school's policy is that graduate students get 12 days off for institute holidays plus 10 days off for personal vacation, for a total of ~22 work days, or one month. I usually work during most holidays (e.g. President's Day) so that I can bank those vacation days for a different time of year, especially since my spouse's non-academic job has a different holiday schedule. But, no one really keeps track and no one will care as long as you are productive.

I also take almost all weekends off now that I am only doing research full time. Exceptions happen when there is a deadline or something I really want to finish (e.g. this weekend, I will probably be working a little bit so that I can submit a paper before everyone leaves for the holidays). So, to me, I treat my grad school career as an approximation to a 9 to 5 job! In fact, I really do think that compared to the other sciences, astronomy is one of the few fields that can be treated as a 9 to 5 job!!




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