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 Post subject: Physics GRE not required by grad program...
PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 1:07 pm 
Joined: Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:54 pm

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Joined: Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:54 pm
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I'm seeking to advise my son, a current straight-A undergraduate physics major, who is considering applying to a graduate program in medical physics that, surprisingly, only requires the generic GRE exam - Not the physics GRE. From his past experience with taking the SATs and knowing he's an absolute math nerd/genious, I know he can do quite well in the math and analytical sections but his verbal skills have always lagged. I can predict his GRE will not be great in the verbal section. Might it be advisable to take the physics GRE anyway just to bolster his qualifications?


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 Post subject: Re: Physics GRE not required by grad program...
PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 1:39 pm 
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

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Unlike the SATs, the General GRE is not really an important factor in admissions. I would suspect that the General GRE requirement is likely to be the Graduate School (i.e. University level) requirement, not something that the (Medical) Physics department actually cares about. Someone in Medical Physics might disagree. I'm in a Planetary Science program which also had the Physics GRE be only "strongly recommended" and I think this is common for multidisclipinary fields.

Most people will agree that General GRE scores are not used "competitively" in admission. That is, you must meet some minimum level to not be rejected but better scores won't help you. I had a hard time finding out what this minimum level was though since it's rarely published. For University of Washington Astronomy, they published a minimum score of 500 / 800 (on the old system), which according to ETS, is about 153/170 and ~57th percentile.

NRC ranks U Washington Astro as "3-13", so it's almost a Top 10, certainly a Top 20 program. Thus, I don't imagine even the most competitive schools will require top scores in the General GRE.

So, it would probably be a good idea to do some practice tests to make sure that the Verbal score isn't below 50th percentile. I think aiming for something like 90th percentile would be a waste of effort.

As for the Physics GRE, it might be a good idea to take anyways. You mention that your son is applying to "a" program that doesn't require the PGRE -- is he certain that this is true of all programs he is interested in? If not, or even if some programs just "recommend" a PGRE score, then it's worth taking the exam. If your son finds out about an amazing program just weeks before the application is due that requires a PGRE, it's better to have the score in hand to make sure you don't close any doors. In addition, for places where it's optional, it's good to have the score and if you don't do so well, then just don't report the score!

But if he is 100% certain that he will not need the test anywhere, then if he already have strong grades, programs that don't require the PGRE will weigh the score less anyways, so it might not be worthwhile to spend time and money for the PGRE. For example, I submitted my PGRE scores to my new PhD school which only "strongly recommended" the test and they still admitted me despite my scores (44th and 53rd percentiles).

The bottom line is: Graduate school admissions is nothing like undergraduate admissions. Applications are looked at holistically and research experience / letters of recommendation are very important. The General GRE is not used in the same way as the SATs -- a good score won't increase chances.

Finally, I know it's not really my place but I'll say it anyways with good intentions -- you should probably let your son do his own research / get his own advice for grad school. There is lots of good information in these forums and other websites online that he would benefit more from reading firsthand than getting a summary from someone else. In addition, he should be discussing these questions with faculty members at his current school if possible -- finding a mentor who has done it all before (something most of us here have not) is very helpful. Mentors might also be currently involved in admissions committees and will know more "behind the scenes" than most of us current students would. If he has a good relationship with his supervisors or other profs, they would also know his strengths the best and can provide good advice that fits him.


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 Post subject: Re: Physics GRE not required by grad program...
PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 4:09 pm 
Joined: Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:54 pm

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Joined: Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:54 pm
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"Finally, I know it's not really my place but I'll say it anyways with good intentions -- you should probably let your son do his own research / get his own advice for grad school."

I know... I'm not really researching for him because he can't do it at all. But sometimes my son needs a little push in to get going on these things. He's just recently expressed interest in grad school and he often procrastinates! I typically gather a little info here and there on my own and then bring things up in subtle ways like "... have you ever thought about?" or "...maybe you could look for __________ on the internet?" or "Have you talked with your departmental advisor about this?" etc. so he gets the info he needs in an efficient manner.


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 Post subject: Re: Physics GRE not required by grad program...
PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2012 5:30 pm 
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Takeruk is dead on with this...
TakeruK wrote:
In addition, for places where it's optional, it's good to have the score and if you don't do so well, then just don't report the score!
.


If I were him I'd take it anyway and try to do very well on it. Because while you say...
PhysicsDad wrote:
my son, a current straight-A undergraduate physics major.... he's an absolute math nerd/genius, I know he can do quite well in the math and analytical sections but his verbal skills have always lagged.


I say that you just described the majority of all physics students. He needs points to stand out with, and a great PGRE score required or not can help. You haven't mentioned if he's done research, had any publications, etc. Those are very important points of the application and if he is lacking there and only has his 4.0 to fall back on he's already behind the crowd. The main point of the PGRE is to show schools you actually know physics, because a 4.0 at Princeton and a 4.0 at random commuter state school are not created equally. School's grade differently, teach at different levels, any number of quality differences that a transcript doesn't reveal. I'd push him to take the PGRE, and I would suggest to him to take it seriously, it takes serious study, even the best buckle down because it's an important part of your app regardless of whether it's required or not.


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 Post subject: Re: Physics GRE not required by grad program...
PostPosted: Sat Jul 28, 2012 12:32 am 
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

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From what I know, medical physics programs are often more professional in nature than your average "pure" physics program, which is very academically oriented. As such, it doesn't surprise me that they'd not find the Physics GRE particularly indicative of an applicant's ability to succeed in the program, the questions are geared more to an academic rather than applied understanding of the subject. There are many people on this forum who are more qualified to talk of this than I, though I know of at least a few that will refuse to reply until your son posts himself. I don't mean to be presumptuous, but grad school (especially a research PhD) requires several orders of magnitude more self-motivation and determination than a bachelors; make sure your son is up to it.


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 Post subject: Re: Physics GRE not required by grad program...
PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2012 1:51 am 
Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2009 11:10 pm

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Joined: Wed Aug 05, 2009 11:10 pm
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PhysicsDad wrote:
I'm seeking to advise my son, a current straight-A undergraduate physics major, who is considering applying to a graduate program in medical physics that, surprisingly, only requires the generic GRE exam - Not the physics GRE. From his past experience with taking the SATs and knowing he's an absolute math nerd/genious, I know he can do quite well in the math and analytical sections but his verbal skills have always lagged. I can predict his GRE will not be great in the verbal section. Might it be advisable to take the physics GRE anyway just to bolster his qualifications?


Hello PhysicsDad,

I am currently in a medical physics PhD program. My background is in "traditional" physics.

Medical Physics programs are completely different from that of traditional physics programs. Most medical physicists (even PhD-level faculty) probably wouldn't do well on the Physics GRE (which is challenging for a junior/senior/grad student). The ABR exams which medical physicists take involve freshman-level physics, at the most. No math beyond calculus is needed in medical physics.

In short, if you're son is set on entering medical physics, a high score on the PGRE won't help; the material is simply not relevant to medical physics for the most part; that is why they are not required on the applications. Some of the accepted students might not even be have a BS in physics. (They might have BS in bio, EE, etc.) If your son wants to practice in the clinic, he will almost certainly need to graduate from a CAMPEP-accredited program (although the accreditation itself is a joke, in my opinion).

The general GRE isn't taken too seriously by the admissions committee. If you have an undergrad degree in science/engineering, it shouldn't be too difficult to get a high score on the quantitative part (with prior preparation, of course:). If I were your son, I'd put some emphasis on the quantitative part, but a lot of emphasis on the verbal part, since it sounds like that's where he needs the most help. An unusually low score on the GRE might automatically weed him out of consideration.

As for medical physics in general, you should be aware that the entire field (academically and professionally) is in a unstable phase at the moment. There is a huge variance when it comes to what programs emphasize, funding, residency programs, etc. Like many other science/engineering disciplines, medical physics programs produce a lot more graduates than are actually needed to fill jobs. Unfortunately, finding hard data is tough. The program websites, brochures, AAPM website, etc. don't seem to have their facts straight.

I hope this helps. Best of luck to your son for whatever he decides to pursue.


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