Looking for insight: how badly does mediocre scores hurt

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Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2017 1:56 pm

Looking for insight: how badly does mediocre scores hurt

Postby izzy_wlj » Mon Oct 23, 2017 4:15 pm

Hi gurus,

As I found my PGRE to be only 810 I get started to worry a lot. So I decide to ask for help on gauging my application and advice. I guess the main issue is the mediocre test scores which kept making me worry since I was a kid. I'l just follow the format of Applicants Profile posts.

Undergrad Institution: Big State U where giants in condensed matter physics once worked in
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): Jazz performance(might not have time to accomplish)
GPA in Major: 3.68 (explanation later)
Overall GPA: 3.64
Length of Degree: 4.5 years (transferred from a foreign university as a EE major)
Position in Class: ?
Type of Student: International male

GRE Scores : Revised
Q: 168
V: 156
W: 4.0
P: 810 (71%) :( there are so many 990s...

Research Experience: 2.5 years of serious research in computational condensed matter. No publication, sadly. Projects including quantum spin monte carlo on defected lattice, DMRG in MPS and searching for highly excited states of 2-d many body localized system via exact diagonalization, which is the ongoing one. All the works were done individually with no collaborator. The highly excited state project is regarded by the community a very tough problem that yet no solution has been found by any other. I spent more than a year on that, proposing different algorithms, implementing them and failing to see positive result (not quite a surprise). I’m still working on it and can’t say anything about its future. No other research outside this group.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: piles of Dean's list(useless though), Prize Winner of Computing Olympiad in high school at hometown

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: Previous president of an organization in East Asian Study. Final round interviews with a few high frequency trading firm(maybe should be unspoken in application at all...)

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Nope.

Special Bonus Points:

A supposedly very strong letter from my adviser who is well known in the field and well connected to several of my target school. A strong letter from a Mr. Big in the field. A supposedly strong letter from a theoretical computational scientist who was a student of Vazirani(does this help?).

8 grad courses (7 in physics and 1 in theoretical computer science, including QM I&II, mathematical methods I&II, solid state, quantum optics and QFT; computational complexity for CS) with mostly A.

Strong coding ability, in terms of proficiently developing programs running on supercomputer and GPU, and proficiency in data structure & algorithm which are not often found in physics applicant. I figured out a bug of Intel compiler this summer.

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter: I transferred from an engineering school which is unknown in US. I screwed up my GPA a little bit at the beginning of attending my current college but the trend is uprising.

Applying to Where:
Interested areas: computational (theoretical, in terms of application) condensed matter physics, computational material science, computational complexity in physics.

Princeton, physics (with advisor’s connection)
Harvard, physics & SEAS
MIT, physics
Caltech, applied physics or physics (with advisor’s connection)
UChicago, physics
Berkeley, physic (with advisor’s connection)
UMD, physics (with advisor’s connection)
Stanford, applied physics & material science
UMich Ann Arbor, physics (with advisor’s connection and with positive feedback from a target prof)
Boston U, physics (with advisor’s connection)
2 more safety schools.

I don’t see having no publication as a big disadvantage since it usually takes two years for even grad students in my group to post their first article on arXiv and I guess people in the field will know this. But my scores are not really satisfying that might hugely harm my chance to get into top-notch schools. How do you think of this? Or what’s your suggestion to improve my chance under average scores? Wish to hear your opinions.


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