In need of some advice

Pastrami
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:56 pm

In need of some advice

Postby Pastrami » Sat Jan 22, 2011 6:55 pm

Hello everyone! I've lurked for a long time, and I've finally worked up the nerve to formerly register. I need a bit of advice in regards for grad school. I'm a physics/philosophy major finishing up my junior year at a fairly reputable state school. It was actually fairly recently this Spring semester that I began thinking seriously about graduate school.

I always wanted to be a scientist. From starting college I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do or which discipline I would choose, but I was always fond of the sciences. Physics was something I really enjoyed and was pretty good at (when I had the time to invest), but now I'm serious about taking my studies further. Here's where I stand, and forgive me for emulating the applicant profile format:

GPA cumulative: 3.0
GPA(physics): 3.1
Research Experience: 6 months soft condensed matter (liquid crystals), and ongoing research (about 9 months by the time I apply to grad schools) involving computer models of self-organized criticality. Also, 6 months of work in a neurobiology lab on a computer modelling experiment.
Field of interest: Not sure, but definitely experimental.
Special Awards: NJSGC-NASA research grant, undergraduate research grant in biology
Other: Took two graduate courses, Neurobiology I (A) and Neurobiology II (B).

*Also, I know for sure I can get three really good letters of recommendation.

I know my main obstacle is a less than ideal GPA, which is in all honesty due not to laziness or irresponsibility, but simply having too many things on my plate at one time. In addition to work and personal projects, I was always too scattered with my interests and other responsibilities, which unfortunately reflected on my grades. Now that I know I that grad school in physics is my goal, I'm focusing more and making sure I do well in my final semesters and land a solid score on the physics GRE.

I was mostly wondering about masters degrees - my advisor in the physics department was even in a worse situation when he was an undergraduate, and found that doing a masters degree first not only helped him as a student (got him to "zero in" on his interests), but made him more attractive to good Ph.D. programs. I love science, and I'm confident in my ability, so I think this is a great idea to focus exclusively on physics and actually get to know what I truly want to do.

So, I guess my question is twofold: do any of you know of good (or even "safety" options) for doing a masters degree in terms of possible schools to apply to (not sure what field I want to work in, but I definitely have an experimentalist slant)? And have any of you done this masters-first path, and have any advice to someone new to the grad-school application process? I would really appreciate any answers, I'm sorry if this seems like just another generic "what are my chances" posts, but it would be a big help.

admissionprof
Posts: 364
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: In need of some advice

Postby admissionprof » Sun Jan 23, 2011 8:05 am

I don't think it's appropriate for me to suggest schools, but a major question is the following--your GPA isn't that important. Your grades in upper level physics courses (Classical, Quantum, EM, Stat Mech) are. What were you grades in those?

Pastrami
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:56 pm

Re: In need of some advice

Postby Pastrami » Sun Jan 23, 2011 8:43 am

Thank you for taking the time with your reply, I really appreciate it.

They should be good by the time I apply. I only finished a semester of upper-level courses with a B+ in quantum I and a C in stat mech. The latter grade isn't ideal, but it was due largely to a poor instructor and overall rough semester (I've never gotten that low on a physics course), and my performance in current courses (solid state and mathematical phys) and I'm confident that my remaining senior courses will reflect that. Also, I suppose this is a question regarding interdisciplinary approaches, but while I'm still not sure what I would like to do, I'm really interested in biophysics and may apply to programs in the discipline. Will good performance in upper-level biology courses help in the admissions decision for a biophysics department (I have a strong bio minor)?

karstenchu
Posts: 5
Joined: Wed Jan 05, 2011 3:35 am

Re: In need of some advice

Postby karstenchu » Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:27 pm

I'm in a similar boat as you! I'm going for my Masters for the same reason. Sorry I can't give you any advice, but I wish you well. We've both got a little redemption to accomplish this fall.

badphysicist
Posts: 84
Joined: Sat Nov 13, 2010 11:20 pm

Re: In need of some advice

Postby badphysicist » Tue Jan 25, 2011 10:40 pm

I was in the same situation and I believe it worked out well for me. Keep in mind though that you won't get too much financial help from the school so you'll very likely have to pull out additional school loans.

You can check out California State Univ, Long Beach (and other csus) if you want to do your masters here in California.

Pastrami
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:56 pm

Re: In need of some advice

Postby Pastrami » Wed Jan 26, 2011 9:54 pm

Thanks for the replies!

I think this would be for the best; my main motivation is the fact that I'm still largely unsure of what I would like to do, and hopefully some graduate exposure to research and coursework with a masters degree will focus me for a Ph.D. at a reputable institution.

I'm really not a bad applicant - my 3.0 cum (and 3.1 physics) shows a strong upward trend, and I plan to pull it to a 3.2 by graduation, I have research experience, and am going to start studying early for the PGRE. I'm just terribly lost, I suppose; I love physics but I have no idea of where I would like to go with it. My department is small, so there's no opportunity to take electives off the beaten path, or do research outside of a very narrow range of condensed-matter projects. I figured that as a solid applicant I may be able to get some sort of reimbursement through TA-ship or something (still new to this), but I understand that I'll probably have to take out student loans. It's not a worry, though - it's worth it to find out what I truly am passionate about. I'm interested in biophysics and astronomy, and would like to spend the time before grad applications to learn all I can about the active fields of research in those disciplines, and try to narrow down my interests.

How are masters admissions, though, from your experiences? Do they forgive a lack of focus outside of an interest in a certain subdiscipline (like astronomy)?

badphysicist wrote:You can check out California State Univ, Long Beach (and other csus) if you want to do your masters here in California.


I'm looking into it now, this actually looks like a really interesting program. Did you like doing your masters there? What did you think of it, if you don't mind me asking?

badphysicist
Posts: 84
Joined: Sat Nov 13, 2010 11:20 pm

Re: In need of some advice

Postby badphysicist » Thu Jan 27, 2011 4:20 am

Pastrami wrote:
badphysicist wrote:You can check out California State Univ, Long Beach (and other csus) if you want to do your masters here in California.


I'm looking into it now, this actually looks like a really interesting program. Did you like doing your masters there? What did you think of it, if you don't mind me asking?


I have and currently am enjoying my time at csulb. The fellow students are cool as are the faculty. It was a good experience for me, I went into the program thinking I would end up teaching physics at a high school or junior college but my time spent shifted that view up a bit to want to go on to a PhD.

One thing to keep in mind if you do decide to do a masters, if the option if available to you do a MS thesis rather than testing out. Whether you go on to a PhD or go to industry your thesis will look really good on your CV/Resume.

Pastrami
Posts: 7
Joined: Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:56 pm

Re: In need of some advice

Postby Pastrami » Fri Jan 28, 2011 11:03 am

badphysicist wrote:One thing to keep in mind if you do decide to do a masters, if the option if available to you do a MS thesis rather than testing out. Whether you go on to a PhD or go to industry your thesis will look really good on your CV/Resume.


My goal is to attain a PhD. My main motivation for doing a masters is not so much my average grades, but the fact that my school's small size has only exposed me to a small slice of experimental condensed matter work (a subfield of which, I admit are not my cup of tea). I'm new to graduate admissions, but I think that if I can prove myself at graduate level research and coursework, I'll be competitive at whatever top program does the research that interests me.

Doing a masters would largely be a journey of self-discovery for me. It's funny, when I started college I thought that when I was an upperclassman I would have a better idea of what I want to do. If anything, exposure to physics has shown me all the awesome subfields that exist, and aside from ruling out soft condensed-matter, I'm unsure of the direction I would like to head.




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