Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

nos13
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2011 4:14 pm

Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby nos13 » Sun Aug 21, 2011 4:30 pm

Hi all,

I graduated in May 2010. For various reasons, I did not choose go to graduate school immediately. I have been working for a year as a programmer. I have to decide now whether to apply for graduate school this year or next. I would love to go next year, but my company is in the middle of a massive conversion and I would kind of be screwing them over if I left next year as opposed to the next. All my scores are valid until August 2014.

They are: 800 Q, 590 V, 4.5 W and 720 Physics. My GPA is ~3.65 from a small LAC and I am a domestic applicant.

So I guess my question is, if I wait another year should I still be able to get into a pretty good school? (I'm hoping for something on the level of Madison, Minnesota, or UCLA/UCSD...) Or will three years off look very bad?

Is there something special that I should do to sort of explain my time off? I'm not really sure what a difference time off will make in the application process. Thanks!

Edit: Also, would applying now and deferring if it wouldn't feel right to leave work in the middle of a (truly massive) project be a viable option? I can't find any information on these schools' websites re: deferral...
Last edited by nos13 on Sun Aug 21, 2011 7:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

TheBeast
Posts: 114
Joined: Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:06 am

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby TheBeast » Sun Aug 21, 2011 5:59 pm

I recommend that you check the applicant profiles to see if the scores that you posted are competitive for entry into the schools that you've mentioned, but something tells me that they aren't for the likes of Madison or UCSD.

That being said, marks and test scores are only one aspect of the application. What kind of research experience do you have? Have you maintained contact with your undergrad profs so that they will be able to write you letters of reference?

What you may end up having to do (and this is a path that I followed after being out of school for 3 years) is to do a graduate qualifying year or enroll as a non-degree student taking graduate classes. This will allow you to get back into the physics swing of things, meet some profs and the school and do research, and thus build up your research experience and contacts for letters. Then, you can apply into a full-fledged grad program.

nos13
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2011 4:14 pm

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby nos13 » Sun Aug 21, 2011 6:58 pm

TheBeast wrote:I recommend that you check the applicant profiles to see if the scores that you posted are competitive for entry into the schools that you've mentioned, but something tells me that they aren't for the likes of Madison or UCSD.


I was worried about Madison but my professors were very confident that I would be able to get in there, based on who has been admitted in the past, etc.

At UCSD, my scores are all above average except for the Physics GRE. Should I re-take? I figured a 720 was probably fine-ish given that I'm American and went to a LAC....

Two of my letters of recommendation will be from professors who love me. I'm struggling with finding a third recommender--there are plenty of professors who like me, but I don't want it to just be a "did well in class" rec.

SSM
Posts: 87
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:57 pm

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby SSM » Sun Aug 21, 2011 8:59 pm

TheBeast wrote: What kind of research experience do you have?


A lot of your admission chances depends on this. Do you have any experience in a physics lab/place where theory is done, or have you only done work related to your job?

Also, what do you want to do specifically in physics? That will greatly effect your chances.

Assuming you want to do experimental work, I don't think a programming job will hurt your chances, but it doesn't exactly help that much either if you have no either research experience.

If you do have some other research experience, I think you probably have a decent shot at the places you listed, except for maybe UCLA. If you don't, I'd train to aim for a lower ranked school than Madison or UC, but Minnesota is still probably within your range.

nos13
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2011 4:14 pm

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby nos13 » Sun Aug 21, 2011 9:21 pm

SSM wrote:
TheBeast wrote: What kind of research experience do you have?


A lot of your admission chances depends on this. Do you have any experience in a physics lab/place where theory is done, or have you only done work related to your job?

Also, what do you want to do specifically in physics? That will greatly effect your chances.

Assuming you want to do experimental work, I don't think a programming job will hurt your chances, but it doesn't exactly help that much either if you have no either research experience.

If you do have some other research experience, I think you probably have a decent shot at the places you listed, except for maybe UCLA. If you don't, I'd train to aim for a lower ranked school than Madison or UC, but Minnesota is still probably within your range.


I have several years of research experience with the same professor (freshman year + summer + second half of junior year + summer + senior year). The only potentially bad thing is the large break in the middle (sophomore year + half of junior year) where my interests were divided because, quite honestly, I didn't know what I wanted at that point. The positive is that the professor is very well regarded in his field (health physics) and my research did contribute directly to his work. (IMHO, however, my part of the research wasn't overly difficult or impressive from a technical standpoint...)

My professors, in all honesty, are probably more optimistic about all of this than I am...

User avatar
midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby midwestphysics » Sun Aug 21, 2011 10:00 pm

nos13 wrote:I have several years of research experience with the same professor (freshman year + summer + second half of junior year + summer + senior year). The only potentially bad thing is the large break in the middle (sophomore year + half of junior year) where my interests were divided because, quite honestly, I didn't know what I wanted at that point. The positive is that the professor is very well regarded in his field (health physics) and my research did contribute directly to his work. (IMHO, however, my part of the research wasn't overly difficult or impressive from a technical standpoint...)

My professors, in all honesty, are probably more optimistic about all of this than I am...


That gap won't be an issue, some great students don't even start research until they're in their 3rd or 4th year, and they still get into great schools. It's about quality not quantity, did any of these produce a paper, preferably with your name on it?

Profs are always more optimistic than we are in general I think, especially if they know you well. They like to think they have crafted top quality students, who wants to believe their work has been all for nothing? Trust your instincts, and check the numbers, don't look at them as concrete but the statistics are good indicators.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Aug 21, 2011 10:22 pm

are you interested in health physics? I think there's a different expectation on the PGRE for medical physics students than the community as a whole, since you had to spend time doing biology.

nos13
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Aug 21, 2011 4:14 pm

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby nos13 » Sun Aug 21, 2011 10:43 pm

bfollinprm wrote:are you interested in health physics? I think there's a different expectation on the PGRE for medical physics students than the community as a whole, since you had to spend time doing biology.


Not planning on doing health physics... My research didn't even involve much medical knowledge at all. My research involved things contaminant flow modeling and calculating the efficiency of various detection methods... A lot of computer work. A lot of time taking measurements and carefully designing experiments. Very little medical knowledge.

I think that what I would really love to study would be CM physics... I don't have previous research there though....

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Non-physics work after college...then grad school?

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Aug 21, 2011 11:31 pm

Ok. Well, really play up your experimental experience, and make sure your rec letters back you up. PGRE isn't as important for a L.A. degree or for experimentalists, so your profs aren't wrong that you have a shot at the top 20 schools. I'd also apply to a few top 40's just in case, but I wouldn't worry about taking time off--though you don't owe your employer anything. Quit when YOU'RE ready, you'll be in your 30's when you get out of your PhD and there is no reason to put your life off any further.




Return to “Transitioning to Physics from a non-physics field”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest