NYU or gap year?

mcg93
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:32 pm

NYU or gap year?

Postby mcg93 » Sat Feb 27, 2016 12:39 pm

Hi all,

My application results were all but a disaster. I applied to eight Universities, and got rejected by seven of them. All seven were in the top ten for Hep-th, so I won't say I am surprised that I didn't get into any particular program, but to be rejected from all of them was an unpleasant shock.

The single program I got into was NYU, which I applied to because professors close to me suggested that I apply there. They are still very positive about NYU and highly suggest that I go there for my PhD, but I am skeptical about its potential impact on my career. NYU has a very good math program, which is a great boon to my mathematically inclined interests, but its physics program is not amazingly ranked. NYU's location is also very appealing to me, and I honestly feel that I would be happy there, disregarding the potential discomfort caused by regret over not trying again to get into a top program. There will be many opportunities to network and learn about potential nonacademic trajectories for my career, and they're funding me pretty well too. However, I am still leaning strongly towards pursuing an academic career, so should I forego this offer and try for a better program next year? I don't know what I would be able to do to bolster my application significantly enough to improve my chances of success for next year, but do you think a gap year is the more intelligent choice for me?

For some perspective, here are my stats:

mcg93 wrote:Undergrad Institution: Tufts University (School of Arts and Sciences, not very good reputation in physics)
Major(s): Math & Physics
Minor(s): N/A
GPA in Major: 4.00 (8 A+s and 10 As, but A+s aren't counted higher)
Overall GPA: 3.89
Length of Degree: 4
Position in Class: No idea. Probably very high up for my major. Not top throughout majors though.
Type of Student: International male from Nepal

GRE Scores : revised
Q: 170 (98%)
V: 166 (96%)
W: 6.0 (99%)
P: 950 (91%)


Research Experience:

Independent research advised by a professor over the summer of 2015. Tested the effectiveness of two data classifiers (SVMs and BDTs) in classifying data of different numbers of features and different types of spreads. Also tested on Higgs data. Will be published as an ATLAS note, but not before applications are due.

Working on a thesis that studies the quantization of interaction fields in the formalism of principle fibre bundles. Involves differential geometry and gauge theory. This is what I really want to do in grad school, and it will span throughout this year. My thesis will be put in Tufts archives and might be published if we can find anything significant. Advised by one physics professor and two mathematics professors.

Working with a professor to look for experimental methods that will allow us to make data analysis as sensitive to new physics data as possible. Involves simulating data for new physics and finding ways to make cuts and take ratios in a way that new physics is significantly distinguishable from standard model results.


Awards/Honors/Recognitions:

Howard Sample Prize Scholarship for performing well in intro level physics courses.

Summer Scholars Grant for conducting the aforementioned project that compared two different event classifiers.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs:

Have been a RA for three years, which hopefully shows some good traits. I will definitely put it in my resume. Also got an "academic role model"
award from my employer, so that was nice.

Special Bonus Points:

Have taken one grad level course, taking one right now, and will have taken two before graduating. Also minority status?

Applying to Where:

Harvard - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th
MIT - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th
Princeton - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th
Stanford - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th
CalTech - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th
NYU - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th
U Chicago - Physics - Mathematical Physics/HEP-Th


I will have the first two projects completed by the time I reapply next year, if I choose to do so. However, they won't be major publications in journals, so I am skeptical of their ability to make me more attractive as an applicant. I could also seek work in a research institute for the gap year, but I don't know how much better this will make me look on paper.

Anyway, please let me know what you think. Is a gap year worth the risk, or is NYU a good enough option?

Thanks!

mcg93

vincent
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:16 pm

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby vincent » Sun Feb 28, 2016 2:31 am

Maybe you should ask the same question to the professors at NYU.
Personally, I cannot really find anything you can improve on your profile. If you could publish a lot within a year, you might have a chance.
What's more, I believe that the match of research interests is way more important than a reputation of the school.

Conga11
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Nov 17, 2015 7:15 am

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby Conga11 » Sun Feb 28, 2016 1:53 pm

I also had three years gap after my undergrad to work as a research assistant and managed to publish 3 papers, one was in a prestigious journal.
At first I thought these papers (plus a good profile) would definitely secure me a place at some top schools.
Turn out I was wrong and in the end I have been rejected from all top schools I applied to this year.
So I guess publication will somehow increase your chance but it's not a major boost.
Realistically if I were you I would just go for NYU.
You'd better spend that year later as a postdoc (perhaps then you could still look for a position at top schools).

Of course there is a possibility that you may regret not taking a year gap and wonder for the rest of your life what would happen if you did. Plus there's also the usual motto "you only live once". If that is the case for you, take the gap.

aluminumfalcon3
Posts: 3
Joined: Sun Feb 21, 2016 6:58 pm

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby aluminumfalcon3 » Sun Feb 28, 2016 3:47 pm

I applied last year, was rejected, took a gap year where I did some research internships at national labs and continued working on publishing previous projects. I also retook the physics GRE and got some more of my senior classes on my transcript. It worked out for me this year, I got into a few programs focused on quantum information and mesoscopic physics that rejected me last year. So it really is a crapshoot but the gap year has been great for me with experience in a bunch of different fields, I recommend it if you find physics work.

However NYU may also be very good for you if you find professor(s) whose research you find compelling or interesting. If you visit and have a good relationship with these people, then NYU may be very good for you. Being happy somewhere and doing research on questions you find interesting are important for doing good research. Hopefully that will shine in your letters and cv if you choose to apply for postdoc positions.

mcg93
Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:32 pm

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby mcg93 » Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:44 am

vincent wrote:
What's more, I believe that the match of research interests is way more important than a reputation of the school.


What about in the long run, though? Will the match of research interests trump the reputation of the school when applying for postdoctoral positions?

Conga11 wrote:I also had three years gap after my undergrad to work as a research assistant and managed to publish 3 papers, one was in a prestigious journal.
At first I thought these papers (plus a good profile) would definitely secure me a place at some top schools.
Turn out I was wrong and in the end I have been rejected from all top schools I applied to this year.
So I guess publication will somehow increase your chance but it's not a major boost.
Realistically if I were you I would just go for NYU.
You'd better spend that year later as a postdoc (perhaps then you could still look for a position at top schools).

Of course there is a possibility that you may regret not taking a year gap and wonder for the rest of your life what would happen if you did. Plus there's also the usual motto "you only live once". If that is the case for you, take the gap.


Thanks for the advice. That's really reassuring. I don't think a gap year will realistically improve my chances at top schools very much. Competition grows fiercer each year, and by foregoing NYU's offer, I'm throwing away something I already have. I don't want to risk that. However, I will first go and visit, and if there doesn't seem to be too much of a match of interest, I will reconsider my options.

aluminumfalcon3 wrote:I applied last year, was rejected, took a gap year where I did some research internships at national labs and continued working on publishing previous projects. I also retook the physics GRE and got some more of my senior classes on my transcript. It worked out for me this year, I got into a few programs focused on quantum information and mesoscopic physics that rejected me last year. So it really is a crapshoot but the gap year has been great for me with experience in a bunch of different fields, I recommend it if you find physics work.

However NYU may also be very good for you if you find professor(s) whose research you find compelling or interesting. If you visit and have a good relationship with these people, then NYU may be very good for you. Being happy somewhere and doing research on questions you find interesting are important for doing good research. Hopefully that will shine in your letters and cv if you choose to apply for postdoc positions.


I'm not concerned at all about whether or not I will be happy there or if I will find their research interesting. I felt this way about all the schools I applied to. I am just concerned about career potential. Is it worth taking a gap year and all the risks associated with it for a more prestigious name on my doctorate? Also, HEP-th is generally more competitive than other fields, so I don't know if a couple of publications will help my chances by much.

vincent
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Jan 19, 2016 2:16 pm

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby vincent » Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:14 am

mcg93 wrote:What about in the long run, though? Will the match of research interests trump the reputation of the school when applying for postdoctoral positions?

To be clear, I am talking about graduate studies now, not postdoctoral studies. When you are a posdoc, matches of research interests do not matter because you've got to do your own original research and it is not given by someone else.
In fact, it seems like you think that prestigious school names on your CV will make you a good researcher, but is it true...?

Conga11
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Nov 17, 2015 7:15 am

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby Conga11 » Mon Feb 29, 2016 2:29 pm

vincent wrote:
mcg93 wrote:What about in the long run, though? Will the match of research interests trump the reputation of the school when applying for postdoctoral positions?

In fact, it seems like you think that prestigious school names on your CV will make you a good researcher, but is it true...?


I agree with vincent to some degree. Generally going to top schools just to write them on your CV is not best for you.
But in general top schools do provide you with a better environment to develop into a good researcher (top profs, top professional network, top everything). So statistically you'd have better chance of a better carreer with Caltech, for example, than NYU (not all areas though).
But I feel the difference does not justify taking a year gap, especially in the long run when which school you go to carry less and less weight.
Only publications, network, etc. will be important then.
To make you feel better, my undergrad university is one of the top and rising uni (not Caltech "top" but NYU "top") in the global ranking.
But we have very few profs who came from Caltech or MIT. My supervisor also came from an university that most people here have never heard of.
So really, grad study at top schools does not matter in the long run.

However, that is assuming you plan to stay in the US or similar areas where they actually look at your abilities rather than your CV.
If you plan to seek a position in your home country (Nepal? sorry if i'm wrong), it might be different.
I am also considering coming back to my home country (a developing one with little reputation in physics) where reputation carries a LOT of weight.
People there, even those supposedly well informed and will decide to hire me or not, will most likely unable to evaluate my research, and so coming from big universities like Harvard, Yale means everything (most people in my country never heard of Caltech!!!).

Disclaimer: these are my own opinions from the perspective of a soon-to-be grad student. Visit and talk to people at NYU first before making yours. Good luck!

P/S: Although it looks like I'm talking to you but I'm also talking to myself :-). I'm in a pretty much similar situation now so answering your questions help me clear things up a lot.

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

Re: NYU or gap year?

Postby Catria » Fri Mar 04, 2016 9:38 pm

NYU is probably best in physics for highly mathematical areas; I'd probably have gone to NYU in that situation.




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