Research v Work Experience

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Research v Work Experience

Postby HappyQuark » Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:37 pm

I've been looking through a lot of member profiles and have found it difficult to find a close match to my own situation in terms of research experience. Specifically, a number of people here have done an REU, participated in NCUR or just managed to complete research with a professor/advisor (and in many instances have managed to get published). I was unable to do this at my school because of time constraints (I typically had to work 30-40 hours per week to support myself) and because I went to a smaller liberal arts college with only 3-4 physics professors (each of whom had a very specific area of research that perfectly matched with the skills of 3-4 specific students). On the flip side, I have managed to work at a few very significant scientific/research/engineering companies, including:

- Currently working as the primary systems engineer (mechanical) for one of the largest Aerospace DoD contractors in the US. The job requires quite a bit of my Classical Mechanics/Mathematical Methods repertoire.
- Temporary position (2-3 months) as a lab analyst/data analyst at a bio-medical testing facility
- 3 years as a tutor in Physics/Math at my University
- 6 Months as a private tutor (mostly calculus) at Sylvan Learning Center

I would like to get a feel for how well I could compete, all things being equal, with someone who has research experience of a more "academic" nature. Will I benefit from having a slightly more unique profile or would that be overshadowed by the fact that all of my experience is less relevant to graduate school than publications and research experience?

On a mildly related side note, I do have some research experience in the sense that I have completed a couple of senior projects. However, most if not all of these were in theoretical physics (e.g. Gauge invariance in E&M and Simulated Hydrophobic Solvations of Methane) and it makes me wonder if I stand a better shot applying for theory (due to senior projects) or experimental (due to work experience).

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Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2009 12:01 am

Re: Research v Work Experience

Postby geshi » Sat Mar 27, 2010 1:00 am

This article should be of some help (yes, I'm that jerk that links this in almost every response I make because I think it's an awesome article): ... te-school/

I would personally imagine you'd be fine. In your SOP (statement of purpose) you might want to address said issue about having to pay your way through college. Honestly, that might be reflected just by the fact that you had a full time job while doing your college work. Assuming your grades are good, I'd imagine it reflects very well on you (if they're not good, that doesn't reflect poorly; it just reflects not as strongly). If you're able to work an almost full time job AND keep decent grades, you're obviously either much smarter or much harder working (or both) than a lot of people. I don't think having a "unique" profile helps that much (maybe it does, I'm not on an admissions committee). However, I think a well crafted application can reflect your abilities well. A SOP that really emphasizes the fact that you worked full time while going to school will help. Also, a well made CV will help. I got a ton of help on my CV from some faculty members. When I tried doing it on my own, it looks like crap and sounded awful. After having a brief chat with one of my professors, my CV looked really professional and made me look good.

In terms of experiment vs theory: apply for whichever you think you'd rather do. If you don't know, then maybe your application should reflect that (although as I understand it, requirements on experimentalists aren't as bad as for theorists).

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