Another what are my chances thread! Quell the fears of an anxious undergrad!

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Joined: Mon Jul 17, 2017 11:59 am

Another what are my chances thread! Quell the fears of an anxious undergrad!

Postby lizphys » Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:15 pm

What's up fellow physicists :-) I'm applying to Astrophysics PhD programs in the fall and I'm experiencing a lot of anxiety about it due to my grades. I attend a Top 10 physics institution notorious for grade deflation(our average Physics GPA is a 2.9 fml) I am a double major in physics and astrophysics and while I have a 4.0 for my astro classes, my physics GPA is more like a 3.0 due to a B- in Statistical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics II. Additionally I made a straight up C(yikes!) in a freshman math class because I had no idea how to study when I was a dumb 18 year old.

I have worked on one research project where we are publishing a paper. I will be first author but it probably won't be fully published until after I apply to grad school. Is this bad? How do I explain my research experience with no actual paper?

Additionally I am working as a researcher for an engineering company. Not super related, but I'm technically doing physics :P
My regular GRE scores are fine, 90th percentile math and 97 percentile verbal. I'm taking PGRE this fall so no info on that yet.

I'd really like to go to UT Austin or UWashington to study cosmology. Any and all thoughts are appreciated!!!! peace n blessins

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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Another what are my chances thread! Quell the fears of an anxious undergrad!

Postby TakeruK » Wed Jul 19, 2017 2:49 pm

Your early undergrad grades won't really matter. As a physics & astrophysics major you will have to know much more advanced math than freshman-level and you likely have taken many other more advanced math classes and probably did much better in those!

If you are at a top school known for grade deflation, then I wouldn't worry about the numerical value of your GPA either, since the admissions committee will surely know about the grade distribution at your school. They will know what your GPA means compared to other students they have admitted from your school in the past!

The research project is great and you'll have achieved more than most applicants by having an almost-ready first-author publication. You should talk to your research advisor about the best way to discuss this paper in your application. The answer will likely depend on exactly how far along the work is by the time applications are due.

At the very least, you should write about your contributions to the work and what you have achieved. If you are worried about revealing your work before it's published, this is a good question to talk to your advisor about. However, remember that your admissions committee will not all be experts in your area of work, so you don't have to go into very much details, certainly not enough to get scooped or anything. I would say you should emphasize the skills and expertise you developed (code? math? software? data analysis?).

In addition, you would want your research advisor to discuss your contributions and its significance to the field in their letter of reference for you. You are supposed to be able to count on your advisor to discuss how much work you've put into the project! They can also say things like how close it is to completion. It will mean a lot more if your advisor says your paper is weeks away from submission rather than you claiming that in your essays.

There are also additional things you could consider. For example, have you presented this work at a conference? Putting that on your CV would help show that you are making good progress and that people are interested in your work. Also, if you can at least submit the paper before the applications are due, then you can definitely list that in your CV. And, depending on the norms of your sub-field, many astronomers put submitted versions of papers up on the arxiv, so you can talk to your advisor about doing that after submission too. That way, the committee could take a look at your draft.

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