What are my chances: Graduating senior w/ 3.0 physics GPA, no research experience, but a small explanatory factor?

genericity
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Oct 01, 2015 1:29 am

What are my chances: Graduating senior w/ 3.0 physics GPA, no research experience, but a small explanatory factor?

Postby genericity » Thu Oct 01, 2015 1:42 am

Hi everyone,
I looked around and saw quite a few "what are my chances" threads so I apologize for creating yet another one.

I'm a graduating senior (graduating after this semester) with a 3.08 major GPA in physics and a 3.00 cumulative GPA (from a Top 10-15 school). I have no research experience of any sort and am limited in my options for experience now. I was a passive student in my classes and so I don't have any connections to professors or grad students. The labs in our department do not update their websites, so I don't know which professors are doing the general areas of research I'm interested in (quantum field theory and particle astrophysics). Additionally, I didn't do any summer internships because most of them a) require a minimum GPA and b) require applicants to be 18. About that:

I'm seventeen. I started college at a really young age (was pushed by my parents) and didn't know what the hell I was doing or wanted to do. When I found out what I wanted to do I lacked the time management skills and self-motivation to push myself to work hard and get good grades. I literally only started to push myself really hard after getting a reality check from my grades in spring semester. I used to cut a lot of my classes to do dumb stuff and so I have mainly B's (including B+'s and B-'s), one or two A-'s, and one or two C's in physics courses. I expect to do well this semester (shooting for at least A-'s in both the physics classes I'm doing) but it won't say much honestly.

I guess I'd like to know what I can do at this point to find a research topic that I am passionate about and become a competitive graduate school applicant? Any suggestions for getting research experience in a professor's lab after graduation? If I get some research experience and do well on the pGRE, would that along with my age make up for my poor GPA? I know Top 10 schools are out of the question, but I hope to do everything I can to make up for that GPA and get into at least a Top 20 or maybe Top 30 school.

edit: I'm also a double major. My first major was psychology - by the time I switched to physics I only had 2-3 classes left so I opted to finish both. Not really relevant, but my psychology major GPA is about the same, 3.0.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: What are my chances: Graduating senior w/ 3.0 physics GPA, no research experience, but a small explanatory factor?

Postby TakeruK » Thu Oct 01, 2015 12:11 pm

It's almost always very difficult to answer "what are my chances" because it depends on so many more things than you can write in a post.

To be clear, I'm a graduate student myself, and I'm not on an admissions committee. But I've been a student for awhile and at several schools and I've seen students do well and students that don't do so well. Given these caveats, here are some of my thoughts:

1. The majority of graduate students will be much older than you. There are certainly graduate students that are as young as you but you will be an outlier. In one of your paragraphs, you wrote something like "will my age make up for my poor GPA", and the answer, in my opinion, is No. I think your age is actually an extra obstacle to overcome, not an advantage. But see the next point.

2. Age is not going to be a direct criteria in judging applications because schools will want to avoid age discrimination. But committees are made of humans that are not 100% objective. In addition, while starting college at a young age may be impressive, I think this is only an advantage if you are very successful despite your age. Instead, to be honest, your GPA isn't very good and you don't have any research experience.

3. Doing well in this last semester will make a difference. Trends in GPAs are important too, not just overall value. However, I am wondering why you are finishing this semester instead of at the end of the academic year? If you want more time to improve your GPA, then why are you finishing "early"? (Or have you already finished 4 years of school and this is an extra semester because of your double major?)

4. Finally, from reading your profile, one huge thing that is missing is that I do not get a sense of why you want to go to grad school. What are your motivations? What interests you? Maybe you just didn't write it, but why grad school? I think having a good reason and a passion is very important for admissions and this is going to be a key factor that faculty will evaluate for when considering you! How will your own life/career/academic goals be achieved by going to grad school? You said that when you started college, you didn't know what you were doing or what you wanted to do. Don't go into grad school with the same mindset!

I'm sorry if the above was harsh but I think these are important things to consider. I've met many students that start college and/or grad school really young and while some of them do end up succeeding through college and beyond, there are others that needed more time. These students did succeed later on and they say that they did feel like they started college too early.

Anyways, you asked for what you could do to become a competitive graduate school applicant.

I think the very first thing you must do is determine why you want to go to graduate school. Please don't go to graduate school if the answer is "I don't know what else to do" or that it just seems like the logical extension of school. Ask yourself what your goals are and how graduate school can help you get there and why other things you could be doing will not get you there.

Next, as you said, you do need to find research opportunities so that you can get a feel of what graduate school and research is about. It is much easier to get these opportunities while you are a student than when you have already graduated. So, one thing you could do is to delay graduation. Is there a reason you need to graduate this semester? Can you reduce your courseload and spread it over a couple of semesters? With a reduced courseload, you can then sign up for independent study (i.e. research) courses or maybe even find a research assistantship to work on part-time. I'm writing this from the point of view of a Canadian school where doing this does not increase your costs at all, but I have heard that this can be unaffordable in the United States. So maybe this won't work.

In order to find more research opportunities, you need to "plug in" to your school and department community more and be more involved. You said that you have been passive in the past and you don't know what your professors do. Here are a few things I think you should do in order to "get connected" with the community at your school:

a. Is there is student association for physics? Join them! Spend your time between classes in the social and study spaces that the association may have. Go to social events to meet other students and postdocs and faculty. My undergrad's student association regularly held events that are meant for students and faculty to get to know one another. In my final year, I only had classes on 2 days a week but I spent 5 days a week on campus, from 9 to 5 ish, just working on my homework etc. in the student spaces.

b. Talk to your professors. I would be surprised if ALL of the professors' websites are so outdated that you can't even tell if they are doing quantum or astrophysics. But if this is the case, just look up their papers in online article databases. Read the abstracts and you can get a sense of what they work on. Then, email them and say that you are considering graduate school and you would like to talk to them about their research. If you make an effort to talk to a lot of people, you will get noticed and stand out in a good way.

c. Go to seminars! Your department probably has a weekly colloquium or seminar series where they get guest speakers (or sometimes speakers from your own school) to give lectures. Attend these seminars and you'll be exposed to more research and physics beyond the classroom. Maybe you'll find something you're really interested in. Also, you will see your professors there and pay attention to who is interested in what. You can even learn what their own interests are from the questions they ask. And there is often a coffee & cookies or something served either before or right after the seminar. Attend those. Talk to the professors, postdocs and graduate students there about the talk you just saw or the one last week etc. It's scary at first to jump into the existing community but once you start regularly attending, you'll establish yourself as part of the community just by being there.

d. Look out for other seminars in addition to the big weekly departmental one. At most schools, there are more informal seminars where students present work as well. This is a good chance to meet the graduate students. These seminars may not be as well advertised, which is why I advocate for being "present" in the department more. You will increase your chances of learning about these things as you meet more people and spend more time in the department.

Finally, if you can only be at your school for one more semester and all of this is not enough (or there isn't enough time), you might want to consider taking some time off. You are still really young, only 17! A lot of graduate students start at 22 or older, so I don't think you need to rush into graduate school right away. As I said above, I did not get a sense of purpose of why you want to be a graduate student from your post. It might sound like a cliche, but maybe some time away will help you "find yourself" and determine what your goals are. Try some new things. You can find work with your bachelors' degree (maybe in physics/science, maybe not). Once you know what you really want to do, then it would be a lot easier to set out and achieve that. It's okay to leave physics/science for now and work on something else and then try to come back as a research assistant before applying to grad school. I know a lot of current graduate students that did something like this!

Good luck!!

genericity
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Oct 01, 2015 1:29 am

Re: What are my chances: Graduating senior w/ 3.0 physics GPA, no research experience, but a small explanatory factor?

Postby genericity » Thu Oct 01, 2015 4:01 pm

Hey, thanks so much for your detailed and helpful responses. To answer your questions:

1. I know I want to do physics research for the rest of my life. There is nothing else I want to do. I understand that a PhD is essential to doing productive, funded research in any long term capacity.

2. I've been here for six years actually. I started at 11/12 (11, but I withdrew from my first quarter for family reasons, so I technically started at 12). This is part of the reason why my bad GPA will look even worse - I've had six years' worth of bad grades rather than four, and so I'm worried good grades in my last semester won't mean as much. Since I've been here for so long, my university is making me graduate at the end of this semester in exchange for allowing me the two additional credits to complete my degrees. If I stay longer the registrar's office claim they may not give me my degrees.

I do plan on attending weekly colloquia and getting more involved, but I have two strong worries.

1. I am worried that my professors will remember me by face from my classes as that one student that never said anything and cut a lot of class. I am also worried that grad students (who TA'd those classes) will remember me as that one student that never said anything and didn't submit homework some weeks. I am working really hard this semester for the first time but I'm worried that my poor performance in past courses will catch up to me when looking for research opportunities.

2. Because I am graduating so soon, if I don't find a research opportunity over the next couple months, I'd need to continue looking after graduation. Would it seem strange if I attended colloquia and seminars and approached grad students and professors after graduation without having any business on campus?

Thanks for your time and your honesty.

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: What are my chances: Graduating senior w/ 3.0 physics GPA, no research experience, but a small explanatory factor?

Postby astroprof » Fri Oct 02, 2015 5:33 am

As you have discovered, success in College is not just a matter of intellectual maturity, but also of motivation and emotional maturity. Success in graduate school also requires a combination of skills, motivation and both intellectual and emotional maturity. From what you have described here, you may have had the intellectual maturity to start College early, but your behavior (skipping classes, not handing in homework, etc) indicates a lack of motivation and emotional maturity (this is often the case even with "normal age" college students, so it is not just a result of your starting College early). In this case, I do not believe that you are ready to start graduate school. Even if you turn things around this fall, you will not have a sufficiently long time period of "good" behavior to be convincing to graduate programs. I would make this recommendation regardless of the student's age, but in your case, I believe it is even more appropriate.

However, you can do science without a PhD. You only need a PhD if you want to teach at the University/College level (i.e., obtain a job in academia), or if you want to be the leader of the science team in industry (i.e., be a manager). I recommend that you contact your university career center and also look at national job advertisements (look specifically for entry level positions at national labs, but there are many possible options for those who have a BA/BS in physics). As you are graduating off-season, you may have an advantage in terms of looking for a job in industry since there will be fewer new graduates to compete with you. The American Physical Society (APS) web site has some useful tips on crafting resumes and job applications in general.

After a few years holding down a "real" job, you can decide whether it is appropriate for you to consider graduate school. At that point, you should be able to get into a good Master's program (your un-even College transcript will be mitigated by strong letters of recommendation from your employer) and re-start your academic career. Strong perfomance in a Masters program will then open the doors to a doctoral program if you decide that you want to continue in graduate studies. You have a distinct advantage over your peers with similar academic records in that this time away from academia will still leave you at a comparable age as other students in graduate programs, and your early entry into the workforce will have long term benefits in terms of retirement savings, etc.

I understand that this advice may be counter to that of your parents or others who believe that a graduate degree is a necessity for "success." However, that perception is out-dated and not appropriate for all individuals. It is important that you consider what you want to do with *your* life. You are now an adult, soon to have a Bachelor's degree from a reputable institution (regardless of your GPA), and are on the precipice of starting your career. You can no longer be a passive on-looker to your life. You need to start making your own decisions and following your own path, not simply doing what others have decided "is best" for you.

Finally, in addition to finding a job that you can start immediately following graduation, you should ALSO do everything that TakeruK suggests. Getting involved in the department culture now will give you a taste for academic life and may provide the inspiration to lead you back to an academic career after spending time gaining the motivation and emotional maturity necessary to delve into the open-ended projects that comprise a research career.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: What are my chances: Graduating senior w/ 3.0 physics GPA, no research experience, but a small explanatory factor?

Postby TakeruK » Fri Oct 02, 2015 11:57 pm

genericity wrote:1. I am worried that my professors will remember me by face from my classes as that one student that never said anything and cut a lot of class. I am also worried that grad students (who TA'd those classes) will remember me as that one student that never said anything and didn't submit homework some weeks. I am working really hard this semester for the first time but I'm worried that my poor performance in past courses will catch up to me when looking for research opportunities.

2. Because I am graduating so soon, if I don't find a research opportunity over the next couple months, I'd need to continue looking after graduation. Would it seem strange if I attended colloquia and seminars and approached grad students and professors after graduation without having any business on campus?

Thanks for your time and your honesty.


astroprof gave some really good advice about what to do after you graduate. They are right---when you leave, you will have a BS degree and it doesn't really matter if it came with a 3.9 GPA or a 3.0 GPA.

As for the stuff in your last semester, I don't think your two concerns here will be a big deal. Yes, some people will remember you in a negative way but here is your chance to show them they were wrong about you. Not every student will be attending these seminars so the act of doing so is already a positive change. And even if they still think poorly of you, don't let them stop you from going to the seminars and getting the enrichment you can get!

If you do stay in the area after you graduate and you have time in between whatever work you are doing, you could ask the department if you would be able to attend the seminars as a visitor. They probably won't let you just hang around (and to be honest, you should have better things to do by now) but as an alumni, you may be able to visit and see the seminars.

Also, on that note, join the school's alumni association! My undergrad physics department also keeps in touch with all of the department alumni and they keep in touch via social networks and actual networking events they plan. One great way to keep in touch is to volunteer at events that the department hosts. My department often sought alumni with jobs to come back and talk to current and prospective students on topics like "what can you do with a physics degree" etc. This will help build and strengthen your academic connection while you work in the "real world" and if you find that you miss academia, you can consider applying for graduate programs in the future!




Return to “GPA and Transcripts”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest