My story. Horrific undergrad, go for MS?

GPMF
Posts: 5
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2014 7:13 pm

My story. Horrific undergrad, go for MS?

Postby GPMF » Sat Dec 13, 2014 10:50 pm

Part I:

This is my first post. I didn't know really where to put this. And it's going to be a long, personal, typo laden, occasionally not physics related and rather emotional one.

I'm 21 years old and have graduated with a BS in Physics recently. I'm a complete and utter failure in every sense of the word. EVERY sense.

I started off in a different major. Never had to study before, no social skills and didn't know how to get help, rather unprepared from high school, in a weed-out major. Got my ass thoroughly kicked due to toughness and lack of maturity on my part. Switched to physics for a variety of reasons at the end of that year. Looking back on it, I should have taken a break after my first year and worked a little. Gained some focus and some maturity. But I didn't.

I started to work somewhat-it was on and off, depending on if I had someone to guide me. I improved somewhat with grades, but nowhere near good enough, and I still got a lot of Bs/Cs and flunked one or two. Did some “research”, but never got anything truly done(I even got kicked out of one lab for arguing). But that isn't my true lament.

I haven't learned physics. Not really, anyway. Oh, I've read, and I'd “study”. I'd try problems, and I'd try to understand them. I did better with some courses than others, and did learn a lot in things like QM or Statistical Mechanics or Solid State. But all too often, I'd look for help on the Internet. I “improved” over time in grades, but I never truly got consistently good ones all of the time. I'd goof off on classes that didn't interest me-and not many did until recently. I thought it was enough, but I wasn't truly “loving it”. Add to the fact that I never took an “easy” semester, and I had plenty of outsider distractions and we got trouble...

I joined a theoretical/computational CMT group (mostly theoretical, but my job is mostly computational) in my junior year after really enjoying my QM I course, and ended up taking my advisor's courses. The only bright thing in my life is the two graduate level Solid State courses I took this semester and last, and completed them relatively well. It was at 8 AM in the morning, and I was easily the dumbest person in the room, but it was so totally worth it. Quantum Hall effect, Heisenberg model, BCS and Ginzburg Landau theory... I just loved it, and tried to understand what I could. And that, in turn, got me more interested in math, in programming, in more. It was tough, but I stuck it out and did decently, if not spectacularly. They changed my life. I want to do that, at any cost. Even if I'm the worst CMT grad student in the world. That's when I started to truly get some motivation. But I still goofed off more than I should have.

It was around that time I tried to overhaul a lot in my life, but I think I bit off a little more than I could chew. I think I tried to do too much at once. And I still failed and fucked up a lot, including this final I just took. That is what I'm most discouraged about-I've tried to change, but I've failed. Now, I'm graduating, and I don't have a lot of hope except a dream. To do research full time doing condensed matter theory-if only for the Phd years.

I have had, to be fair, some really bad luck at times. My choice of school, was in retrospect, a disaster waiting to happen. Fell in with the wrong crowd for a bit early on, got taken advantage of, did some dumb things. When I finally tried to turn things in my life around, I had a very steep slope uphill, for a lot of reasons. I've taken some and stuck with some courses that I shouldn't have. I've made a lot of stupid mistakes on exams. I've also dealt with issues like depression and certain mental issues. But... it's my fault. It all is. The worst part is, I don't even have the comfort of friends or good memories to look back on. College has been miserable, and I'm just glad to be done with it. I'm utterly alone. I can only say that I'm at least not frequently suicidal like I was a couple years ago, and I've stopped blaming others for my problems. Needless to say... it's not looking good for me. I can't even get a proper job.

The tough part is getting started. I just feel so dumb and behind. Over the past year, I've tried my best, and succeeded to a limited degree, but I still have problems. And it doesn't matter if I understand the material, they see the grades. (And I'm not complaining-I deserve it. I used to blame everyone but myself, and I'm going out of my way to do that). I bombed an unbelievably easy final recently, and this is part of what has me in a funk-I studied the wrong things, and focused on Solid State II more, and I learned a LOT in the class. But still! I did badly on the midterm for a very stupid reason(very personal reason), so...

Part II.

So, my current plan, you ask? When I don't feel like it is too late and that I should bail, and that I'm a complete joke...

1) There is an unranked MS program, not too far from where I am currently attending school. For anyone who has read Crime and Punishment(I'm a LOT like Rodion Raskolnikov), you can think of this as “Siberia” before my “redemption”. Well, not nearly as literally negative as that, but figuratively. I think that's a good mindset. I have committed a crime, I will do the punishment. I will head there this fall.

Let me make this plain. I do NOT NOT NOT care about getting into a high or even "decently" ranked school. I do not care what school I really get into afterwards so long as it's a decent place to live (and I'm flexible) and they've got interesting CMT research. I have a few schools that I think I *might* have a chance of getting into if I do this. Has ANYONE here ever done this before?

2) This spring, in the meantime, I will be taking a few courses. Graduate QM and E&M II. I'll also take a graduate parallel algorithms course. But maybe that is too much? PGRE and research and work... Like I mentioned, one consistent problem of mine is that I bite off too much for my current focus capabilities. Always have. But I need to be realistic-this might not work out, and this course might give me experience with larger programs that I have not dealt with on my own, in terms of employment. And I love supercomputers!

Anyway, it's imperative that I do well in them. Thankfully, my QM I teacher used Sakurai and taught it like a graduate course. I did relatively well in that, especially considering my awful math grades. So, I should be able to handle it. E&M II is a good choice since I don't feel quite ready for Jackson yet, though I'm going to first tackle Griffiths.

3) It would be great if I could get the PGRE done this April, and do well on it. One less thing to worry about in grad school, and that could be an important first step. Success, more than anything, will help me in other areas of life. I'm not seeking to get a 990 or anything like the more impressive people here-it wouldn't really help me anyway at that point I'm at, and I've got to look at priorities. I've identified some possible Phd programs, and they are all relatively low ranked with a couple of exceptions, but good in CMT, and in places I could spend my 20s. And I feel that I can-this is more about practice than anything.

Since I mentioned I was going to work with my brand new copy of Griffiths soon, I guess logically I'll start with Electromagtism. I have five months starting this Thursday. I'll see if I can get a study group at the university.

4) Continue my current research through the spring, and hopefully this summer. We are presenting a poster at APS this year, with a little luck. But I'm honestly not sure that I'm going to get a paper out of this. We'll see.

Once I get a final project done for class, I'll use the next few weeks, when I'm off, to start plodding through Griffiths Electro and Sakurais QM again.

And my questions:

The obvious thing to do, of course, is to kick ass. I have some specific plans to do this. I'm getting tired of typing, so I'll just list a couple of them and get into more detail later if I feel like it. For one thing, it's a much more smaller school, which may suit my personality, and my mental issues better. Much more supportive, less cutthroat, more motivation and people paying attention. For classes, I will try to find some consistent study groups so that I'm less tempted to go online and more motivated. I will introduce myself to the material before class, study afterwards, and find specific times to do homework. I need a support structure. Get a schedule, stick with it. Go to academic and psychological counseling if I need to-they offer it free to students. Exercise, don't get depressed.

But the thing is, I've tried all of these things in the past, and I never did it right. I don't have a lot of confidence in myself. The one thing I've got that makes this different is I'm moving to a new place, which is a pretty big deal for me. Above all I can think of this as a FRESH NEW START. That's very crucial.

I would REALLY welcome suggestions from anybody who has been in a similar situation. It seems as though everybody here is successful.

As I wish to do certain things in CMT that they don't do there, I might even be able to stick with my old research group, though I'm not sure if I should. My advisor is the best guy in the world. Literally. It's thanks to him that I discovered condensed matter theory(I like coding and I've always like solid state stuff). I'd give anything to impress him, and given the theoretical nature of the work, I might be able to stay or collaborate with him. But maybe it's better to get a completely new start, and who knows? Maybe it's just not practical for me to do theory at this point, given how much I need to catch up. My role in the current project is mostly computational. What do you think? My math background is awful. Last semester, I've finally begun to enjoy stuff like group theory or differential geometry or topology or PDEs, for the hell of it. I've finally begun to truly understand the stuff behind the courses. But, I'm now up against graduate level courses, mostly. I haven't done BAD in ALL of them-Stat Mech, QM I, Electro-but I haven't done as good as deep down, I know I can do.

I'll be relatively close to my old school. If I can somehow get a car-and I don't know if I can-I can take graduate courses there. This might help me, insofar as it can show I can handle a top 20 school's grad courses. I will, again, be doing grad QM next semester. Doing well in the Solid State courses I mentioned might be a lifesaver for me, and I hope that I can prove myself in grad QM next semester. I got a C in Classical Mechanics-it would be a boon for my chances if I could do well in the grad version, especially with a teacher that I did badly under, albeit in a different course. All this is theoretical of course.

Above all, how will I know it'll be different this time? There is this one grad student whom I have known ever since I transferred into physics my sophomore year and who really helped me in Waves, with whom I would often work, late into the night. We ate an early morning breakfast after pulling my first all nighter, ever, while doing a take home final for Solid State II. He says that the difference between me when he TA'ed Waves and me now is like night and day in terms of organization and motivation and “being realistic”. But... I just don't know.

This was very tough for me to write, but I needed to do it and just get off my chest. While I am looking for realistic advice and not blind comfort, all I ask is for you to please understand that confessing this was really tough. I don't confide emotionally to anyone, never have, and now I'm doing it online, randomly, to strangers. You really don't know how hard that is for me.

And I'm not exactly in the most... clear headed of moods right now. So I may have left some stuff out or been ambiguous or been too personal. The worst part about the failure recently was how... blunt I felt after it. As if I wasn't upset. I just felt, oh well, I'll do better next time... have I hit rock bottom?


I'm also starting a blog on the site. The goal is that every Sunday, I'm going to state what I did in physics that week. How long, what, how I focused... think of it as a motivator, if I go through with it. It's winter break, which is ideal-I need to just focus on just enjoying physics for a bit, with no pressure or grades. According to the advice of a grad student who was in a similar situation-he managed to get into our university with a 2.9-I need to focus on starting small and gradually building up my focus. He gave me this advice earlier this semester, but like most things I've resolved to do, I ended up abandoning it when the pressure came in from all directions and my routines were broken up...

What do you think, PGRE.com? Am I too far gone?

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: My story. Horrific undergrad, go for MS?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Sat Dec 13, 2014 11:53 pm

GPMF wrote:What do you think, PGRE.com? Am I too far gone?


No, I don't think you are too far gone. I think if you set more short term goals, you can achieve your long term goals. I think you mentioned that yourself. You already set one, taking the PGRE in April. Do it! Study hard! Study like anything and try your best to do well on it. However, just know that a high score does guarantee admission and a low score does not mean an instant rejection. Just aim to do the best you can.

From what you have listed, your grades are not very good. MS program seems like a good choice, however if you have a professor to talk to he or she might give you some PhD programs that will take you. MS programs cost money, so think about that too. If time scale does not bother you, maybe you can do MS part time +job par time.

Once you are in your MS, focus+study hard and get good grades. Your undergrad gpa can be overlooked if your grad gpa is very good! Yet, this does not mean that you can slide with a low pgre score. Try to aim for 700+ on you pgre. Theory is more competitive.


It's great that you know you enjoy CMT and computational stuff. Try to get some research experience and pick a project that you can get done! Try not to get kicked out. Graduate school admissions will love to see that you can start as well as finish something. Not just start something and forget about it.

Good luck!

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RonaldoMcDonaldo
Posts: 35
Joined: Sat Nov 29, 2014 12:20 am

Re: My story. Horrific undergrad, go for MS?

Postby RonaldoMcDonaldo » Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:40 am

You may still be able to salvage this but you will have to work your *** ass off and, even then, grad school is going to be rough for you. I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into. Graduate school is hard, demanding, unforgiving and harsh. In some programs, you will be horribly underpaid sometimes to the point of barely surviving. You might think you can manage the amount of work while dealing with money problems but nobody ever handles this as well as they think they will. People like to say, "I don't care if I'm well off as long as I'm doing what I love" but everyone changes their tune when the rubber meets the road. Once you graduate, you'll have to decide if you want to spend more time doing post doc work or go into industry or some alternate profession. The problem for you is that it is a ridiculously competitive field and, statistically speaking, you almost certainly won't get to do CMT for a living. This is especially true as you'll likely be coming from a lesser known school. Only the best of the best will make it into academia as a profession and there are just too many people who don't have the problems and stumbling blocks you are facing. The most likely scenario for you will be that you get into a program with no reputation or respect, you get your PhD and struggle even to get a Post Doc. If you try to get a Masters instead and then transfer/apply to a different PhD program you'll find it almost as difficult. Once you've got your PhD, you'll probably be so fed up with underpaid grunt work that you'll abandon everything, wonder why you ever thought physics was for you, criticize yourself for volunteering yourself down this path and conclude that you made a horrible mistake.

With that said, if you can't be talked out of it here is my advice. Graduate programs look at your grades because they want to know you have a solid foundation in undergraduate physics. Since your grades are so ***, you'll need to ace the *** out of the PGRE. Most schools use a combination of the PGRE and course grades to evaluate your knowledge of basic physics. If you do really well on the PGRE, you can tell the schools that you understood the material and that your courses don't reflect this due to emotional problems. That is to say, if your PGRE is poor they will conclude that all evidence indicates you're not prepared for graduate work. They might be willing to count your grades as a fluke if you can demonstrate your knowledge through the subject GRE. Additionally, try to get research. As much as you can. Between now and application time, find someone at a university that will let you do research with them. Do it for free if you have to. Even if you can convince them that your grades aren't representative of your abilities, they will want to know that you are ready to do research. Also, you will want really good letters of recommendation. If you can get a research advisor who will talk you up then, again, they will be more inclined to ignore your grades.

Good luck.

GPMF
Posts: 5
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2014 7:13 pm

Re: My story. Horrific undergrad, go for MS?

Postby GPMF » Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:23 pm

RonaldoMcDonaldo wrote:You may still be able to salvage this but you will have to work your *** ass off and, even then, grad school is going to be rough for you. I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into. Graduate school is hard, demanding, unforgiving and harsh. In some programs, you will be horribly underpaid sometimes to the point of barely surviving. You might think you can manage the amount of work while dealing with money problems but nobody ever handles this as well as they think they will. People like to say, "I don't care if I'm well off as long as I'm doing what I love" but everyone changes their tune when the rubber meets the road. Once you graduate, you'll have to decide if you want to spend more time doing post doc work or go into industry or some alternate profession. The problem for you is that it is a ridiculously competitive field and, statistically speaking, you almost certainly won't get to do CMT for a living. This is especially true as you'll likely be coming from a lesser known school. Only the best of the best will make it into academia as a profession and there are just too many people who don't have the problems and stumbling blocks you are facing. The most likely scenario for you will be that you get into a program with no reputation or respect, you get your PhD and struggle even to get a Post Doc. If you try to get a Masters instead and then transfer/apply to a different PhD program you'll find it almost as difficult. Once you've got your PhD, you'll probably be so fed up with underpaid grunt work that you'll abandon everything, wonder why you ever thought physics was for you, criticize yourself for volunteering yourself down this path and conclude that you made a horrible mistake.

With that said, if you can't be talked out of it here is my advice. Graduate programs look at your grades because they want to know you have a solid foundation in undergraduate physics. Since your grades are so ***, you'll need to ace the *** out of the PGRE. Most schools use a combination of the PGRE and course grades to evaluate your knowledge of basic physics. If you do really well on the PGRE, you can tell the schools that you understood the material and that your courses don't reflect this due to emotional problems. That is to say, if your PGRE is poor they will conclude that all evidence indicates you're not prepared for graduate work. They might be willing to count your grades as a fluke if you can demonstrate your knowledge through the subject GRE. Additionally, try to get research. As much as you can. Between now and application time, find someone at a university that will let you do research with them. Do it for free if you have to. Even if you can convince them that your grades aren't representative of your abilities, they will want to know that you are ready to do research. Also, you will want really good letters of recommendation. If you can get a research advisor who will talk you up then, again, they will be more inclined to ignore your grades.

Good luck.



Thank you for your honest feelings about it. I do appreciate it, and it shows that you are giving the advice that you think is best.

Last night, I was a little... out of it, and rather depressed. I've calmed down. I haven't read what I wrote yet, but I might have been exaggerating my levels of inability and toning down the levels of laziness a little.

My goals are rather uncoventional for a physics Phd seeker, actually. I am very well aware that I'm not going to get to do CMT for a living, and I don't really care. I'm not going for a Phd to get into academia, as I mentioned. Be super cool if that happened, but I'm not expecting it. All I want to do is get a Phd in it, have fun(I have a rather messed up notion of fun), and discover something new in the field. And if not, at least try to, and do some research, and do somehting else cool with math and computers afterwards.

I am rather indifferent to money so long as I can feed myself. That isn't my concern. What I'm concerned about is that I'm not going to really make a break like I want to. The one thing I have going for me is that I'll be making a fresh new start someplace, which is very significant for me personally. I also want to start thinking LIKE a physicist. I think like a physics STUDENT when I practice problems or read papers in the field. I'm trying to change that, and in a certain area(CM physics), I've gotten a good start. But...

I've been doing research in my current group since junior year (this is what made me decide I to think about graduate school)and did a summer in a different lab, and I know that this is the field I want to go into. My advisor last summer was rather impressed and said she would give me a good rec. I'll ask my current advisor about it next week. We have made some interesting progress lately-we'll see where it goes. I suppose that's a plus.

Part of the reason I'm going for an MS is to prove I can do well in graduate courses. If I can do that-and I've already gotten a start on that at home U-it might soften the sting of my undergrad record. I'm not naive enough to think that it will erase it, but it'll show that I can at least hack it.
Last edited by GPMF on Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:42 pm, edited 6 times in total.

GPMF
Posts: 5
Joined: Sat Dec 13, 2014 7:13 pm

M=

Postby GPMF » Sun Dec 14, 2014 12:32 pm

PathIntegrals92 wrote:
GPMF wrote:What do you think, PGRE.com? Am I too far gone?


No, I don't think you are too far gone. I think if you set more short term goals, you can achieve your long term goals. I think you mentioned that yourself. You already set one, taking the PGRE in April. Do it! Study hard! Study like anything and try your best to do well on it. However, just know that a high score does guarantee admission and a low score does not mean an instant rejection. Just aim to do the best you can.

From what you have listed, your grades are not very good. MS program seems like a good choice, however if you have a professor to talk to he or she might give you some PhD programs that will take you. MS programs cost money, so think about that too. If time scale does not bother you, maybe you can do MS part time +job par time.

Once you are in your MS, focus+study hard and get good grades. Your undergrad gpa can be overlooked if your grad gpa is very good! Yet, this does not mean that you can slide with a low pgre score. Try to aim for 700+ on you pgre. Theory is more competitive.


It's great that you know you enjoy CMT and computational stuff. Try to get some research experience and pick a project that you can get done! Try not to get kicked out. Graduate school admissions will love to see that you can start as well as finish something. Not just start something and forget about it.

Good luck!


I think that was the problem this year-I tried to overhaul myself in one go, all focused on the long term, and obviously got disappointed.

My physics GPA might-and that's a might, depending on how this final turns out-get accepted by a Phd program. My freshman year, however, is holding me below 3.0 overall, and there isn't a point in applying at this time. Besides, I feel as though I need more preperation anyway. A Phd might waste me right now.

The MS program I go to partially funds you as a TA/RA. Financially, it's OK.

We'll see. The good news is I've already done well in graduate SS and will take grad QM (a subject I'm rather interested in) next semester with a really cool professor. If I can do that, it's a good start.

Yeah. I've even got some specific topics I'm interested in.




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