I know this is annoying, but...

saucylad
Posts: 4
Joined: Sat May 14, 2011 10:39 pm

I know this is annoying, but...

Postby saucylad » Mon Jul 04, 2011 2:29 am

So, I know the reasonable answer to "Hey, look at my stats and tell me what you think!" is "Go read some profiles," but I've been doing that and really all it's done so far is terrify me. If someone wouldn't mind looking me over and giving me some advice on where I have a realistic shot of going, I'd appreciate it immensely.

I go to a generic state school. I transferred here in Fall 2009 from a community college, where I took some Gen. Ed. classes before figuring out what I wanted to do. Before that I did one semester at another university, but I mostly just smoked a lot of weed there; I'm pretty sure my GPA was 0.0. I didn't start my physics major until after I transferred here. My GPA at my current school is 3.95. Apart from an A- in Physics 1 ( :oops: ), I've gotten As in all the physics courses I've taken. I haven't taken E&M or QM yet, but I've taken Mechanics, Thermo, Stat Mech, Nuclear & Particle, and a graduate Math Methods course. Last summer I got paid to learn about how my school's particle accelerator runs, but I never actually participated in any research. For part of last year and continuing this summer, I've been working on research in plasmon resonances in nanoparticles and nanoshells. This is my only research experience. I haven't taken any GREs yet. My school has "Distinguished Professors" who can choose a person every year to receive a full tuition waiver and the professor I had for Mechanics and Math Methods awarded it to me for next year. Other than that, I haven't received any notable awards. I can probably get two solid letters and one "eh" letter. I'd like to go into condensed matter theory.

Basically, I am wondering: where should I be shooting for? From obsessively combing through profiles it seems reasonably likely I could get into schools in the 20-50 range, with some fluke or act of god possibly propelling my into a top 20 school. The problem is that I don't really have any reasonable way of deciding among the schools at that level, given that all I really have to go on is departmental websites and USNWR. I talked to my advisor, but he but he is works in nuclear astrophysics so he didn't really know what to tell me. He suggested I talk to condensed matter theorists in our department, and that I take a list of schools I'm interested in so I can go over it with them, but I don't even know how I'd start such a list! The best I can come up with is "Welp, I'd rather live in New York than Iowa, so I wanna go to NYU."

I am really, really anxious about this whole process. I am terrified of what is going to happen. I am supposed to start applying to schools next month and I don't even know where I am going to be applying. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an old tree stump and hibernating until admission deadlines pass so I can just say "Well, I didn't get in anywhere. Time to go work at Starbucks."

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grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: I know this is annoying, but...

Postby grae313 » Mon Jul 04, 2011 12:29 pm

saucylad wrote:So, I know the reasonable answer to "Hey, look at my stats and tell me what you think!" is "Go read some profiles," but I've been doing that and really all it's done so far is terrify me. If someone wouldn't mind looking me over and giving me some advice on where I have a realistic shot of going, I'd appreciate it immensely.

I go to a generic state school. I transferred here in Fall 2009 from a community college, where I took some Gen. Ed. classes before figuring out what I wanted to do. Before that I did one semester at another university, but I mostly just smoked a lot of weed there; I'm pretty sure my GPA was 0.0. I didn't start my physics major until after I transferred here. My GPA at my current school is 3.95. Apart from an A- in Physics 1 ( :oops: ), I've gotten As in all the physics courses I've taken. I haven't taken E&M or QM yet, but I've taken Mechanics, Thermo, Stat Mech, Nuclear & Particle, and a graduate Math Methods course. Last summer I got paid to learn about how my school's particle accelerator runs, but I never actually participated in any research. For part of last year and continuing this summer, I've been working on research in plasmon resonances in nanoparticles and nanoshells. This is my only research experience. I haven't taken any GREs yet. My school has "Distinguished Professors" who can choose a person every year to receive a full tuition waiver and the professor I had for Mechanics and Math Methods awarded it to me for next year. Other than that, I haven't received any notable awards. I can probably get two solid letters and one "eh" letter. I'd like to go into condensed matter theory.

Basically, I am wondering: where should I be shooting for? From obsessively combing through profiles it seems reasonably likely I could get into schools in the 20-50 range, with some fluke or act of god possibly propelling my into a top 20 school. The problem is that I don't really have any reasonable way of deciding among the schools at that level, given that all I really have to go on is departmental websites and USNWR. I talked to my advisor, but he but he is works in nuclear astrophysics so he didn't really know what to tell me. He suggested I talk to condensed matter theorists in our department, and that I take a list of schools I'm interested in so I can go over it with them, but I don't even know how I'd start such a list! The best I can come up with is "Welp, I'd rather live in New York than Iowa, so I wanna go to NYU."

I am really, really anxious about this whole process. I am terrified of what is going to happen. I am supposed to start applying to schools next month and I don't even know where I am going to be applying. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an old tree stump and hibernating until admission deadlines pass so I can just say "Well, I didn't get in anywhere. Time to go work at Starbucks."


First of all, take a deep breath :) Welcome to the forums. Your grades are excellent and it sounds like you're getting some varied and solid research experiences. You're being recognized in your department as a top student. At this point you've done everything you should have to get yourself into a good program for graduate school. I'd say your physics GREs will be the remaining determining factor as to where you end up, and I think if you get above an 850 or so you've got a decent shot at a top 20.

Choosing where to apply is very difficult and time consuming for most people. Here's what I did and would recommend:

Area/region, general: Start with US News top 60 and copy and paste them into a spreadsheet. Delete everywhere that you know you would not want to live.

Research, general: Then, starting from the top, go down the list and visit their department websites, going straight to their research pages and looking for your topic of interest. For you, you would go straight to the CMT professors and read their short research descriptions. Make a note next to the schools that have a lot of professors doing cool-sounding research and eliminate the schools that don't have any.

Department: You should still have a pretty large list, and to narrow it down to the 5 to 10 you'll be applying to, you should spend a lot of time on their department web page. What do they say for incoming students? What do they say about the program, the classes, and the quals? What sorts of facilities or collaborative organizations do they have?

Research, specific: For me this was the most important part of narrowing down my list. Look in detail at the web pages of the professors you might be interested in working with and read everything they have written on their work. Take a look at their "people" page -- do they have pictures for everyone, maybe they have short bios or fun facts about their students, do they list where their alumni are now? You can get a sense of the professor's personality and attitude about their mentees this way. What is this professor's status in the department (tenured, assistant, emeritus)? Are they recognized/respected in their field? What is their publication record in the last two years? Are they publishing at a decent rate? In high-impact journals? What sort of resources do they have access to? Who funds them (if you care)?

Area/region, specific: Look into the towns or cities where these schools are located. You can track down stipend information and compare that to the cost of living there.

Connections, sense of the field: Definitely talk to CMT professors at your school, especially if any are doing something you think is really cool. They'll know the notable names and schools in the field. Find out where your letter writers have connections and look into those schools to see if they also have interesting CMT research.

Final selection: Keep notes on pros and cons in your spreadsheet as you further narrow down your choices. Then just pick your favorites in a good range for your application. You should take a practice exam to get an idea of what kind of score you can get. I'd pick three or four schools that you consider "reach" schools, three or four that are about at your level, and a couple safeties. Make sure your safeties are actually places you'd be excited to attend, like a lower-ranked school with one or two high-profile names or an overall stronger CMT department. I basically spent an entire summer (when I wasn't doing research) doing this.

I hope that helps, and good luck!

(Edited for readability)

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HappyQuark
Posts: 762
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:08 am

Re: I know this is annoying, but...

Postby HappyQuark » Mon Jul 04, 2011 12:54 pm

saucylad wrote:So, I know the reasonable answer to "Hey, look at my stats and tell me what you think!" is "Go read some profiles," but I've been doing that and really all it's done so far is terrify me. If someone wouldn't mind looking me over and giving me some advice on where I have a realistic shot of going, I'd appreciate it immensely.

I go to a generic state school. I transferred here in Fall 2009 from a community college, where I took some Gen. Ed. classes before figuring out what I wanted to do. Before that I did one semester at another university, but I mostly just smoked a lot of weed there; I'm pretty sure my GPA was 0.0. I didn't start my physics major until after I transferred here. My GPA at my current school is 3.95. Apart from an A- in Physics 1 ( :oops: ), I've gotten As in all the physics courses I've taken. I haven't taken E&M or QM yet, but I've taken Mechanics, Thermo, Stat Mech, Nuclear & Particle, and a graduate Math Methods course. Last summer I got paid to learn about how my school's particle accelerator runs, but I never actually participated in any research. For part of last year and continuing this summer, I've been working on research in plasmon resonances in nanoparticles and nanoshells. This is my only research experience. I haven't taken any GREs yet. My school has "Distinguished Professors" who can choose a person every year to receive a full tuition waiver and the professor I had for Mechanics and Math Methods awarded it to me for next year. Other than that, I haven't received any notable awards. I can probably get two solid letters and one "eh" letter. I'd like to go into condensed matter theory.

Basically, I am wondering: where should I be shooting for? From obsessively combing through profiles it seems reasonably likely I could get into schools in the 20-50 range, with some fluke or act of god possibly propelling my into a top 20 school. The problem is that I don't really have any reasonable way of deciding among the schools at that level, given that all I really have to go on is departmental websites and USNWR. I talked to my advisor, but he but he is works in nuclear astrophysics so he didn't really know what to tell me. He suggested I talk to condensed matter theorists in our department, and that I take a list of schools I'm interested in so I can go over it with them, but I don't even know how I'd start such a list! The best I can come up with is "Welp, I'd rather live in New York than Iowa, so I wanna go to NYU."

I am really, really anxious about this whole process. I am terrified of what is going to happen. I am supposed to start applying to schools next month and I don't even know where I am going to be applying. Sometimes I feel like crawling into an old tree stump and hibernating until admission deadlines pass so I can just say "Well, I didn't get in anywhere. Time to go work at Starbucks."


For CMT, consider adding the University of Utah as a solid backup. They have a surprisingly good program in that area and their standards were low enough to let me in.

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WhoaNonstop
Posts: 851
Joined: Mon Sep 21, 2009 1:31 am

Re: I know this is annoying, but...

Postby WhoaNonstop » Mon Jul 04, 2011 3:55 pm

Is the state school you attended a fairly well known school? Does it have a graduate program in physics? As grae said, a lot hinges on the Physics GRE. I'd shoot for at least a 700. There is a good chance you can do much better than this, but this will at least give you a few options in the top 50-60.

I should write a detailed blog about my strategy for choosing schools, since I've voiced this before.

Find a list of graduate schools in physics. There are plenty of places this can be located. There should be around 180 schools. You could search for a ranked list, but those are sometimes unreliable. If you'd like you can cut off "lower ranked" schools but I personally crossed off every school as I went along.

First: Go through the schools and cross off all of the ones that are in places you would prefer not to live. Remember, you'll be living in this area for 5-6 years. Although most people wouldn't like my preference, I crossed off all the schools in the bigger cities as I am not comfortable with that style of living. You may be the complete opposite and cross out more "rural" schools. This should take at least 50% of the schools off of your list.

Second: If you decided to keep the lower ranked schools on board, look through them first. Most of these schools will be easy to eliminate because their research is more limited. I would suggest keeping 1 or 2 that are 75+ even if you decide not to apply to them later. There should only be a few that have enough research you're interested in while being in a nice place anyways.

Third: Once you start to hit the higher ranked schools, make sure you look through research you may be interested in. Make sure there are at least 2-3 professors doing active research in what you believe you'll be doing (CMT) but also browse some of the other research to identify some other cool projects outside of your "specialization". You just never know if your mind will change, as it is VERY possible. It is important to eliminate schools that are appealing to you but do not have enough research options. If living in Florida sounds great but there is only 1 professor you'd be willing to work with, that school needs to be taken off the list.

Fourth: If you've thought hard and considered each school equally, you should be down to a list of 15-20. After this it becomes little things that you start to look at. One of the things I looked at was crime rate of the cities with the schools. Cost of living is also an important factor (California is expensive as hell in comparison to other places). If you are unable to eliminate any more schools take your list of schools and put them in order from what you feel the hardest school to get into is to the easiest school to get into.

1. Hard
2.
3.
4.
5. Easy

From here you can do something that I feel is fairly important as far as saving money on applications. Let's say you apply to 5 schools as listed above. If you assume that if you get accepted to 3 you'll get accepted to 4 and 5 and so on, then you can make eliminations based on your preferences. Let's say you really love school #4 and you'd probably choose it over 3, but not 2. If you get accepted to 3, you'll probably get accepted to 4 as well, making the application to 3 a waste of money. I realize it may not be as black and white as this is, but it is a good tool in compacting your list of applications.

-Riley




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