Troubles with getting any LoR's

jannyhuggy
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:11 pm

Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby jannyhuggy » Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:31 pm

I've read the whole threads about LoRs and school-choices and GPA/transcripts, but this is my first post here.

I have the problem with getting ANY LoRs at all. And my situation is the following.
I am russian-speaking girl concerning doing mathematical physics.
I got my BSc. in theoretical physics just a week ago from a recognized university from the country of former USSR.
Cumulative GPA 4.0/4.0 (I got A/A+ on the variety of advanced graduate courses, taken all of the most advanced courses available).
BSc. thesis was connected with string theory. Advisor says I did a very good job, but he doesn't want to write a LoR and wants me to get MSc/Phd in this country.
My GRE Physics score is 990.
IELTS score is 8,5. And GRE general I didn't pass yet.
Due to some hardships in life I was kicked from the university three times during my BSc.
(After such circumstances almost everyone was very suspicious about the performance I got and I had to pass almost any exam with the committee. But despite this I got honors. And now NOBODY I took major-classes with agrees to write me a LoR. And usually the reasoning is the following: why are you willing to go out of here? just do science and get phd here. But I don't see anybody doing smth interesting to me here and still I'll be experiencing financial difficulties if I choose this option.)
During the times I was kicked I worked at some research universities, but they weren't physics and I twice got summer REU's (both high energy experimental though). After both of this REU's I got 1(2) conference proceedings. But due to the fact I didn't want to be in the high energy physics experiment and to work on further MSc/PhD with those two people they refused to give LoR's for USA also.

I don't know what to do: I dreamed to get a phd in top-30, but except entering any MSc. in Europe and getting lors from there I don't see any chance. And I cannot apply for a scholarship in Europe also due to the lor's absence. And without it I cannot study anywhere: I have to take care of my young goddaughter and grandparents (during the BSc. I worked full-time)
I'll appreciate any kind of ideas! Thank you a lot for reading and answering! :oops:

CarlBrannen
Posts: 381
Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby CarlBrannen » Mon Jul 02, 2012 3:30 pm

So the basic problem is that they are willing to write you LoR in Russian but not in English?

The problem with arguing them into writing you an LoR when they don't want to, is that you can guess that they're not going to write a nice letter.

I wonder if there are any schools that do not require LoRs...

I suspect that if you apply to a 2nd rate school, they will bend the rules and let you in without an LoR. For example, I'm where I am despite LoRs from (a) my buddy who was my boss for several years doing engineering, and (b) a woman with an MS in English who was my boss at a corporate (private enterprise) school for technicians.

So what I'm saying is that maybe you can get LoRs from someone who knows you. That will get you into a US school. From there, get your MS, and go to a top school using LoRs from your MS school. The MS school would be a good opportunity to learn colloquial English and will have easier classes than a top school. And most of the top schools are designed to take grad students who've done this. Ask around.

jannyhuggy
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:11 pm

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby jannyhuggy » Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:58 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:So the basic problem is that they are willing to write you LoR in Russian but not in English?

Partially yes. Usually it is common to pass the exams varying from school to school to get into MSc/PhD program here. For instance, if I get BSc/MS in place A and I want to further proceed to place B I need to pass summer exams including philosophy and subject. And nobody needs LoRs, and when needed they are usually some kind of informal letters from your previous advisor to a future one. So, they agree to write LoRs and mail them only to some people, but not to specific schools.
Ok, thank you for an idea.
So, I thought for awhile and the pool of people to get a reco from (besides the university and those I worked with) includes:
    close friends just about getting a PhD in nearly a year in different universities(one in Switzerland, 3 in Germany, 2 even at Ivy schools),
    also it could be a boss from a translating agency I worked for,
    and perhaps a high school director (I studied there and for 2 years held an advanced school-physics class for different competitions and 2 of them got National awards on those competitions).
For what can I hope with this? What is the example of 2nd rate school to look for MSc with such? Perhaps for a MSc in the US I won't have any chance to get funding or TA/RA in my situation....or not?

bfollinprm
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Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Jul 02, 2012 7:42 pm

I would contact some schools ranked 20-30 and explain your situation by email, with a follow-up over the phone. You can either contact the admissions coordinator (normally someone in the front office) or members of the faculty whose research interests you/speak the same language for ease of communication. If you aim for the rank I mentioned, your stats are likely to get you an audience, and if you make a good enough impression, someone might go out of your way to directly contact your supervisors, etc. to get the references by phone.

Also, if the problem is language, just comment about that to the admissions coordinator, and have the letters written in Russian. Everyone in the top 30 will have someone on faculty who can read russian, so this shouldn't be a huge deal. It's terrible if people are refusing to write you a letter, that's an awful reason for your physics career to be stunted. I think most people here in the states would agree, and if you wrote something clear on the matter to the admissions chair at the schools you intend on applying to it might help. The letters are supposed to be a statement on your character, intelligence, and work ethic; they don't have to be specific to what you've accomplished--are your potential writers clear on this? Even a luke-warm letter will probably be enough to get you in somewhere in the top 40 schools here in the US, and it's possible that even with poor letters you'd get into a larger school ranked 40-50 that can afford to take a chance with some of their admittances.

CarlBrannen
Posts: 381
Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby CarlBrannen » Mon Jul 02, 2012 11:42 pm

I guess I should admit that my 3rd LoR did come from a physics professor but it was a guy who I'd only met once and of course never took any classes from. I've been working on continuing his ideas and so he was a natural choice. So if there's someone you've been communicating with you might try using them as a letter writer.

My feeling on the LoR requirement in US schools is that it is not useful. The system in Russia sounds more effective. I just fail to see what information an LoR will provide that is not already in the rest of a student's documents. Anything that the letter writer writes that is not documented should not be believed. The only exception I can see to this is where there is a relationship between the LoR writer and the school being applied to, but then the LoR requirement becomes a matter of "who you know" not "what you know".

You should tell us more about what you want to study. There are 2nd tier schools in the US that are quite excellent at certain things. The 1st tier schools are best but they are really most useful for students who do not know what they'll be doing.

For example, I'm at Washington State University which has to be 3rd tier at best. I chose it because it is connected to the LIGO (gravitational wave observatory) experiment. Now, after being here 1 year, I've passed the PhD preliminary exams, am a member of the LIGO Science Consortium, and only have to take two more classes to complete my classwork. And Pullman, Washington is perfect for me -- it's a very small town out in the middle of a hundred miles of farm. I love it. And rent is very cheap here. So the school is perfect for me. I'm having a complete blast. If I'd gone to one of the top rank schools (that I'd originally applied to), I'd be in much worse shape.

jannyhuggy
Posts: 8
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:11 pm

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby jannyhuggy » Tue Jul 03, 2012 7:28 am

I guess I should admit that my 3rd LoR did come from a physics professor but it was a guy who I'd only met once and of course never took any classes from. I've been working on continuing his ideas and so he was a natural choice. So if there's someone you've been communicating with you might try using them as a letter writer.


Great idea! Thank you! I guess I can try this.

My feeling on the LoR requirement in US schools is that it is not useful. The system in Russia sounds more effective.


Generaly, in Russia in physics nowadays it is almost useless due to unpopularity of natural sciences here. In other areas (i.e. law, social sciences, humanities) here it may lead to bribing.

I just fail to see what information an LoR will provide that is not already in the rest of a student's documents. Anything that the letter writer writes that is not documented should not be believed. The only exception I can see to this is where there is a relationship between the LoR writer and the school being applied to, but then the LoR requirement becomes a matter of "who you know" not "what you know".


As I communicated with my peers the common thought was the following: When applying to top-10/top-20 LoRs do solve everything. But it was due to the case when one friend of mine got into Ivy without any BS at all, poor general GRE & TOEFL, just passing PGRE=990 and having 3 well-known recommenders and 2 second-authored articles.
And about 1st tier schools...
And as well among my peers the law of descending prestige is thought to be a law:)

You should tell us more about what you want to study. There are 2nd tier schools in the US that are quite excellent at certain things.
The 1st tier schools are best but they are really most useful for students who do not know what they'll be doing.


Well, I am so-how common with dualities in QFT and string theory, conformal field theories and integrable systems, some approaches to quantum gravity, noncommutative geometry. The most interesting probably would be AdS/QCD.

It is much easier to tell what I don't want to do: any straight-away phenomenology, data analysis in high energy physics, anything too specific about materials science (despite this applying QFT to condensed matter system is the great choice, also this applies to mesoscopics-effects).
Also applications of physical kinetics methods to quark-gluon plasma sounds good. As well as even not physics but applied math: application of topology and knot theory to biology of enzymes and DNA.

For example, I'm at Washington State University which has to be 3rd tier at best. I chose it because it is connected to the LIGO (gravitational wave observatory) experiment. Now, after being here 1 year, I've passed the PhD preliminary exams, am a member of the LIGO Science Consortium, and only have to take two more classes to complete my classwork. And Pullman, Washington is perfect for me -- it's a very small town out in the middle of a hundred miles of farm. I love it. And rent is very cheap here. So the school is perfect for me. I'm having a complete blast. If I'd gone to one of the top rank schools (that I'd originally applied to), I'd be in much worse shape.


Ok...then there is one more question. Here we do have some sort of qualifying exam for phds, usually called Landau theoretical minimum(LTM). Does it make sense to pass it and then get a reference from smb. who will know me only via checking one of LTM-parts having 2-3 lines i.e. "This person I know for passing the LTM. "? I mean this may take up to half a year of intense study for 2-3 parts, is there any reason to do it(how such a reference will increase chances getting somewhere)?

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

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby TakeruK » Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:53 pm

I definitely agree that you should explain your situation to the admissions staff at North American schools. You have a very strong record and they will likely be sympathetic to your LOR issue. Hopefully they will understand that LORs work different in your country and find a compromise!

I agree that the North American LOR system is somewhat flawed, as there is a huge disadvantage for people who are going to graduate school many years removed from undergrad. Connections with undergrad profs would be lost and current connections won't be in academia and may not even be in the same field! But I would think (being optimistic!) that admissions committees will take this into account and won't expect these applicants to have the same type of LORs as people fresh out of undergrad.

But otherwise, I think the LORs are an important part of the application process because it provides the only subjective component of the application package. Everything else is just "on paper" and it's clear that it's possible to score highly on exams and courses and maybe even participate in some research groups but still not be a very good researcher. For research experience, the only real documentation is the length of time a student worked in a lab, where they worked, and whether any publications resulted. Everything else in the application that is important (i.e. what did the student do, what parts did they contribute, how much of an impact they have) is supplied by the applicant, which is also subjective. So, a LOR from the research supervisor allows the adcomm to see the "other side's" opinion of the same student.

I guess it's a little bit like the peer-review process for articles. A glowing letter from a well reputed prof (either globally or because of a connection with the school) would be well received, much like a publication in a well reputed journal would be well received. Whether it's good or not, "who you know"/reputation is something that is a big part of academia! It would be nice if there was a solution though -- any ideas? :)

CarlBrannen
Posts: 381
Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: Troubles with getting any LoR's

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Jul 04, 2012 4:17 am

jannyhuggy wrote:Ok...then there is one more question. Here we do have some sort of qualifying exam for phds, usually called Landau theoretical minimum(LTM). Does it make sense to pass it and then get a reference from smb. who will know me only via checking one of LTM-parts having 2-3 lines i.e. "This person I know for passing the LTM. "? I mean this may take up to half a year of intense study for 2-3 parts, is there any reason to do it(how such a reference will increase chances getting somewhere)?


I don't think that's a bad idea. But the letter needs to write more about what the test is. While pretty much any big school with have at least one person who came up through the Russian system, that person may not be the person on the committee who looks at your application.

In the US, it is some advantage to be female. Especially with a 990 as most schools add an extra 100 to women's PGRE applications.

By the way, WSU would be a really bad place for you to pursue theoretical interests.

You have a lot of time before applications are due. During that time, it might be useful to review the part of this website which shows what previous applicants did. You can compare scores and maybe there are some Russian students in there.

If you analyze those applications statistically, you will find that applicants who list your interests have a lot harder time getting into a given grad school. The competition is fierce. It is at least possible that all those slots are filled with people who have great recommenders who personally know the people at the school being applied to. So my advice is to tell them that you're interested in experimental physics. You will get in anywhere. And no one will complain when you change your interests after you start to take classes; beginning grad students are not supposed to really know what they want to study. (I realize that there is a disconnect between these two statements. I do not argue that US physics departments are rational. I claim that this is what they do, and if you look around this site you'll see plenty of evidence for it. They don't want to get grad students who are going to be unhappy with their opportunities.)

I should probably add that even though you are interested in theory it is still possible to work at an experimental position while doing theory. This is what I do, more or less, though right now I'm pretty deeply involved in designing circuitry. (On the other hand, this is pretty much my favorite thing to do.) Consider the career of John Stewart Bell (of Bell's theorem). He would likely have got a Nobel Prize if he'd lived longer. Contrary to a lot of rewritten histories of him (which concentrate on his theoretical work), he stayed in physics by becoming an expert on accelerator design:
http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Bio ... _John.html

To find the perfect school for theory (that is easy to get into), look for a big state (we call it public) school which has someone working there who you would really like to work with. These schools get lousy applicants. That means you'll get a lot of attention when you show up. By the way, I also have a 990 on the physics GRE, a consequence of this is that I find course-work very easy.




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