do over?

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dlenmn
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do over?

Postby dlenmn » Wed Mar 05, 2008 9:46 pm

I've got this nagging thought in my head, and -- although I think it's kind of irrational -- I'm going to put it out here to get some feedback. Perhaps other people have been entertaining the same kind of notion.

This may come across as whiny -- I don't mean it to be. I realize that many people have more pressing grad school issues (lack of funding, acceptances, etc.) It's simply that this is a fairly important decision, and I want to make a good choice and consider all my options. Anyhow, here goes.

The idea is that, instead of going to grad school next year, I take a year off (and work in a lab) and then apply again next year (this possibility was brought up by one of my recommenders as something to consider -- I hadn't previously thought of it). I feel that I screwed up the process -- especially the GRE, but also other things (some even before I knew that the process started). I know that if I try again next year, I'll have some more good grades on my transcript, a higher GRE score, a senior thesis in the bag, another year of research, possibly even a publication, and probably stronger recs. In short, I feel that I could do significantly better.

The strange thing is that I feel this way despite the fact that I'm happy to have gotten in to Wisconsin -- which has a good program and does research that I'm interested in. I guess that I'm more disappointed with the process than I am with the result.

But I'd be lying if I claimed to be entirely pleased with the result. The article grae posted has been on my mind. It wasn't exactly news to me, but seeing it as numbers, rather than anecdotal evidence, has made me think about it more. I'm going down this road because I want to make it in academia.* Many people who try their hand at it fail. Suppose the name on the diploma doesn't matter and the effect shown in that article is simply because better scientists-to-be get in to higher ranked schools. That still means that getting in to such a school is a signal that you have potential. I believe that I do have that potential. Should that belief be enough for me, or might it be a good idea to re-seek validation by applying again next year?

Edits:
* See my post further down for some more explanation of what I mean.
Last edited by dlenmn on Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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zxcv
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Re: do over?

Postby zxcv » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:01 pm

I guess the important thing to keep in mind again is those are only looking at professors who work at top physics programs. Sure, I'm aiming after academia (or government, perhaps) right now, but my aspirations for jobs are far lower than for grad school. For a job, I would be happy with nearly any physics program in a decent location where I can do research and be part of the scientific community. There are probably 20-50 times more such places than grad schools I applied to: I'm not set on a top 50 program.

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dlenmn
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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:14 pm

zxcv wrote:For a job, I would be happy with nearly any physics program in a decent location where I can do research and be part of the scientific community. There are probably 20-50 times more such places than grad schools I applied to: I'm not set on a top 50 program.


I agree completely. Top 50 places were the subject of that article, but they're by no means the only places I'd want to work at (in fact, there are probably many top 50 places I would rather not be at). However, it seems that the same type of statistics hold outside the top 50 as well (and that's not even a location which you, nor many other people, would find desirable), and that concerns me.
Last edited by dlenmn on Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.

VT
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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:18 pm

I share the same feeling after reading that article and would like to hear any feedback from other members.
EDIT:
dlenmn, that is too small sample size. I give you another example, Charles Kittel got his Phd from Wisc and now he is at Berkeley.

I do not consider Wisconsin that low in terms of its job placement after PhD. ( this has nothing to do with my acceptance there)

EDIT2:
If there are two applicants, one from Harvard and the other from Wisc, for a faculty position in a top 10 research University, then I do not think Wisc Phd holder will be looked down upon. Obtaining a faculty position will have more to do with your own research than the name of the insitution(plz note that I am comparing Harvard and Wisc. I wonder how people would compare Wisc and Harvard PhDs outside academia, ANY THOUGHTS!). This is what I think and I may be wrong. (I want that UIUC acceptance right here right now :x ).

EDIT 3:
I am interested on hearing from people who have been accepted from UIUC and Berkeley in CM( th or exp) but are leaning towards Berkeley. Is this inclination due to the location factor only, or due to any other reasons which I am not sure what it could be considering the fact that both have HUGE physics dept?
Last edited by VT on Wed Mar 05, 2008 11:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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fermiboy
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Re: do over?

Postby fermiboy » Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:54 pm

If I could do things over again in the application process I would:

1. Apply to more schools
2. Take the GRE twice, canceling the oct test. The oct. test would be a warm up.
3. Emphasize HEP experiment in my statement, because departments need people in this area. When I got to grad school I would work on whatever I was interested in. You don't have to do research in the area you emphasized in your statement.

3 might seem dishonest, but after going 2/7 so far I'm pretty cynical.

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grae313
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Re: do over?

Postby grae313 » Wed Mar 05, 2008 11:28 pm

I think it's a good idea and I know it has worked for a lot of people.

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butsurigakusha
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Re: do over?

Postby butsurigakusha » Wed Mar 05, 2008 11:41 pm

@VT

I have been accepted to Berkeley and UIUC, and I am leaning toward Berkeley. In terms of research, I think the two are comparable. They both have lots of options for condensed matter experimental research. The location is the main thing drawing me towards Berkeley, but I have to admit, the prestige associated with the Berkeley brand is also pretty attractive. I feel like a Berkeley PhD would be more helpful for getting a faculty appointment at a first tier university, which is currently my goal.

I like to do things like go skiing, hiking, mountain biking, but I also am drawn to the culture of large cities like San Francisco. Also, I prefer California's weather to that of Illinois.

Those are the reasons my initial preference is for Berkeley. I am visiting Illinois this weekend. Maybe I will find that I really like the department and the environment, and that will affect my decision.

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Wed Mar 05, 2008 11:53 pm

@ butsu..
I feel like a Berkeley PhD would be more helpful for getting a faculty appointment at a first tier university, which is currently my goal.

I understand that California is better in terms of location and plz understand that I am not trying to force you to go to UIUC, but I do not understand why you think that UIUC degree wont help you to get a faculty position in top tier Universities.

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dlenmn
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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:02 am

VT wrote:dlenmn, that is too small sample size. I give you another example, Charles Kittel got his Phd from Wisc and now he is at Berkeley.


Well, there are 472 people in that sample. You're giving me a sample of size 1 :wink:

VT wrote:If there are two applicants [with equal credentials?], one from Harvard and the other from Wisc, for a faculty position in a top 10 research University, then I do not think Wisc Phd holder will be looked down upon.


I hope the above is true with the condition I added.

I get what you're saying though. Wisconsin has a good program, and a strong student who goes there should be as well off as a strong student who goes anywhere (perhaps it's not the case and perhaps the name on the degree really does matter -- I hope not). I guess my real question is the one which came at the end of my original post: am I a strong student? I think that I am, but I might be delusional. Professors have told me I am, but perhaps it's just too hard to say the truth when face to face. Despite the wording of my rejections, many other schools think that I'm not. That sent up a warning signal in my mind. This whole process has many flaws, but perhaps it does give us something of a reality check. Those are hard to come by, which is why I'm taking the possibility seriously. The numbers in that article do show something -- perhaps something important.

The idea behind the one year delay, and (hopefully) the subsequent acceptances would be to gather evidence that I am strong.

@ grae313

Thanks for the comment. Is there anything in particular that they did which might be useful for someone in my position to know?
Last edited by dlenmn on Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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butsurigakusha
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Re: do over?

Postby butsurigakusha » Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:09 am

@VT
I am not saying that a degree from UIUC won't help. Within the physics community, UIUC is very well respected. But so is Berkeley. And I my initial impression is that Berkeley is slightly more respected than UIUC. Perhaps I am preconditioned to think that, since Berkeley is sort of a household name along with Harvard and Stanford and such, whereas it has only been in the past few years that I have become aware of Illinois' strong reputation.

Anyway, there is still a chance that I will choose Illinois. There are other factors that I still have to consider, and I will have to give this decision a lot of thought. Illinois has a better financial offer, especially when cost of living is taken into account. In a purely location-based decision, I might actually choose UCSD. The feeling I get when visiting these schools will likely play a large roll in making my decision.

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:38 am

Good luck butsu...

dlenmn:
My bad. I was thinking in terms of number of universities( not the total no of physics Profs in a given University). Sorry.

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grae313
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Re: do over?

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:48 am

dlenmn wrote:@ grae313

Thanks for the comment. Is there anything in particular that they did which might be useful for someone in my position to know?


I'm not sure but if you get some good research experience, get your name on a publication or two, and study a lot for the GRE and do very well, I know that taking a year off to do research does not hurt at all. Everything I've seen says that you are at no disadvantage with taking a year off (as long as you spend it productively). Really, the grad schools care about your research experience, your GRE scores, your grades, and your letters of recommendations. If you improve all of those in one year, they won't care that you took a year off after undergrad. Lots of people do it.

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dlenmn
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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:52 am

@ grae313

Cool. Thanks again for the advice.

400nm
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Re: do over?

Postby 400nm » Thu Mar 06, 2008 10:01 am

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Last edited by 400nm on Sat Jul 12, 2008 10:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: do over?

Postby hintonburgdisaster » Thu Mar 06, 2008 5:35 pm

I did exactly what you're thinking of dlenmn, and it has worked out great for me. I hadn't done much significant research entering my 4th year, but I was starting a project that I knew would turn out well, so I put off applications for a year. This gave me time to build up my research experience and get better recs, as well as study more intensely for the GRE. It was also fun to spend that time focusing completely on research, and now that I've gotten accepted at some good schools, I'm taking some time to kick back and travel. All in all, I think its the way to go.

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Re: do over?

Postby astrofan » Sun Mar 09, 2008 12:03 pm


I'm not sure but if you get some good research experience, get your name on a publication or two, and study a lot for the GRE and do very well, I know that taking a year off to do research does not hurt at all. Everything I've seen says that you are at no disadvantage with taking a year off (as long as you spend it productively). Really, the grad schools care about your research experience, your GRE scores, your grades, and your letters of recommendations. If you improve all of those in one year, they won't care that you took a year off after undergrad. Lots of people do it.



So, from the way you phrased it, I take it you have to do much better than those applying out of undergrad on the GRE if you take a year off? Sounds like, even more than applying from undergrad, that you are putting your future on one day of testing. What a messed up system we have!

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Helio
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Re: do over?

Postby Helio » Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:27 pm

400nm wrote:I'm actually applying after being in another PhD program for a year. I had good test scores and grades my last year in undergrad, and even research experience. But the papers I got for my research had not been published yet (except one as 6th author), my senior thesis was not done, and I've gotten some awards since then. All this has helped, but I was also really busy when I was finishing my degree and I didn't have time (or money) to apply to many schools (only two) or do a good job on my applications. Also, I was trying to be honest in my SOP, but I had no idea what I wanted to do, so it didn't turn out very well.

I didn't end up in the best of places this year, but I'm still glad I had an extra year to think about where I want to go for my PhD. (Even now there are things I would do differently if I was applying again.) It gave me a chance to finish everything up, think about what I wanted to do, and do a better job on my applications. Just make sure you're doing something that will help you meet your goals in the year off.


I have seen that done before. There was a grad student in my group two years ago who simply "transferred" to a different program after two years. Might just be the option of taking the Madison acceptance and then apply when you have gotten all grad classes done

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Sun Mar 09, 2008 4:11 pm

Yes, Helio that is what I am thinking of doing!
dlenmn: Did you visit Brown? If so did you like their cond matter program?

I just came back from Wisc. It is pretty cold up there. The Lakes were frozen. Wisc is a nice city to live. It is a great place for high energy, plasma, quantum computing(th and exp), but so-so for pure condensed-matter. I think I will have a great time there, but somewhere in the back of my head, I have an uneasy feeling. I do not know what that is.

I have not visited Brown yet, but I tend to assume that Brown has bigger name than Wisc(although I know this is not the case) in Physics(so called pedgree effect). Wisc has amazing experiments on neutrino physics and high energy. They have this whole Ice cube project on the south pole! I wish I had some interest in high energy exp or theory. Anyways, if anybody on this forum know which would be a good Univ in cond matter, I would like to hear you perspectives on cond matter research of these two places( my interests are broad in cond-matter and I will do whatever is "popular" and I do not care the location. Even the middle-of-cornfield location of UIUC works for me, so anything is fine). I wish I could hear back from UIUC at this moment, and I would not have to think about Wisc-Madison and Brown.

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Re: do over?

Postby butsurigakusha » Sun Mar 09, 2008 6:10 pm

@VT

I would say that Wisconsin has a bigger name than Brown in physics, but that is just my perception.

I just got back from Illinois. I was very impressed with their program. The professors were all very friendly and helpful, and all the grad students seemed to enjoy their lives. Even for being in the corn fields, I really don't think it would be such a bad place to live. It was kind of cold, but bearable. There is a very good chance I will choose to go there. I feel like it really is deserving of its #1 condensed matter ranking.

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:17 pm

@butsurigakusha
So you think Wisc PhD will look better than Brown PhD even outside the physics community or academia(say industry). I am asking this simply because I am thinking of working in industries afterwards.
Good to hear that you enjoyed your visit to Illinois( although I have been waitlisted there :( ). Good luck with your future visits.

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butsurigakusha
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Re: do over?

Postby butsurigakusha » Sun Mar 09, 2008 10:41 pm

@VT

I don't really know. Basically what I meant is that when I think of strong physics programs, my perception, which is not really based on any facts, is that Wisconsin has a more well-known program. I haven't heard of anyone at my school going to Brown, or even discussing it. But have known some students to go to Wisconsin. The US News ranking put them in the top 20, on par with schools like Colorado, Washington, and UCLA, which I have always perceived as being great places to study physics.

If you are planning on getting a job outside of physics, then Brown probably has more attached to its name, it being an ivy league school. That could be important for getting a job in finance or something.

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Helio
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Re: do over?

Postby Helio » Sun Mar 09, 2008 11:26 pm

I do not know if the name so important as the sheer fact that you have a Ph.D. if you go into finance. I have seen grad students starting to work for goldman sachs and i go to a top 50 school. Also i have seen people with Ph.D. from outside the country, Germany, get jobs in the industry in the US even though i doubt anybody in the US cares about the University of Hamburg as the place to be for physics... well they do have DESY...

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Re: do over?

Postby 400nm » Mon Mar 10, 2008 10:43 am

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Last edited by 400nm on Sat Jul 12, 2008 10:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

fermiguy
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Re: do over?

Postby fermiguy » Mon Mar 10, 2008 11:03 am

dlenmn wrote:
The idea is that, instead of going to grad school next year, I take a year off (and work in a lab) and then apply again next year (this possibility was brought up by one of my recommenders as something to consider -- I hadn't previously thought of it). I feel that I screwed up the process -- especially the GRE, but also other things (some even before I knew that the process started). I know that if I try again next year, I'll have some more good grades on my transcript, a higher GRE score, a senior thesis in the bag, another year of research, possibly even a publication, and probably stronger recs. In short, I feel that I could do significantly better.


Funny that you mention all of this... Around Christmas time last year I was going through a pretty big dilemma on what to do for the fall of 07... I goosed up the GRE physics that year and I knew it was going to harm my application quite a bit. So I took this year off and worked. It was a great great idea. As you mentioned above, I got all my grades in (some were really really good) finished my senior thesis and got a strong recommendation from my boss. More importantly I managed to improve my GRE physics score significantly. And I guess things are working out...

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Re: do over?

Postby fermiboy » Mon Mar 10, 2008 11:19 am

VT, I don't think you will have any significant advantage going to Brown over Wisconsin if you choose to do to industry. Wisconsin is a very well known and respected school, one the top overall institutions in the U.S. Hedge fund managers know this.

Fermiguy, this town ain't big enough for the both of us. I think it's high time for a Fermi versus Fermi battle to the death.

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grae313
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Re: do over?

Postby grae313 » Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:00 pm

400nm wrote:I don't think you have to do much better on the GRE then everyone else, but you still have to get a good score. If you didn't do well the first time, it gives you a chance to bring up your score so you are competitive with all the other applicants.
Exactly.

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dlenmn
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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:45 pm

Thanks for the comments everyone -- they've given me a lot to think about. Finals at my school just started, so I haven't had time to peruse the forum.

And now, a long reply to VT.

VT wrote:dlenmn: Did you visit Brown? If so did you like their cond matter program?


Negative. I'm going to visit the last week of March or the first week of April.

VT wrote:I just came back from Wisc. It is pretty cold up there. The Lakes were frozen.


Heh. When (non-physics) people asked me why I'd prefer UCSB over Wisc I noted that the former has beach front on the pacific ocean, while the latter has beach front on a frozen lake...

VT wrote:Wisc is a nice city to live.


That is, without fail, the first thing out of anyone's mouth when I mention Wisc. I really can't wait to see it for myself. You didn't happen to hit up the student union? I hear there's some quality inexpensive beer to be had there...

VT wrote:It is a great place for high energy, plasma, quantum computing(th and exp), but so-so for pure condensed-matter.


Interesting. That falls in line with my thoughts. I like QC stuff (well, I like to think I do anyway), and there's a chance I might do plasma (which is why Wisc is high on my list).

As an aside, is QC a branch of condensed matter? Some schools list it as such. Some don't. It's driving me nuts.

VT wrote:I think I will have a great time there, but somewhere in the back of my head, I have an uneasy feeling. I do not know what that is.


Yeah, I've got the same feeling (hence this thread). I'm curious to see if this feeling we grow weaker or stronger after I visit.

VT wrote:I have not visited Brown yet, but I tend to assume that Brown has bigger name than Wisc(although I know this is not the case) in Physics(so called pedgree effect).


Funny, I've tended to think the opposite (although I think the result may be swapped in a non-physics contexts). Maybe I just find it hard to take Brown seriously since it doesn't really have grades or majors :wink:

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Mon Mar 10, 2008 6:01 pm

Hey dlenmn: did you receive the offer letter from Brown? I received it and they are giving me like $18,500 for an academic year( I hope this is 9 months)! WTF. The rate was same back in 2006 and they never changed it. What type of Ivy school is this!

oh don worry about findin cheap beer at Madison. Everything is cheap in Wisc, including beer. :D
If only it were not a midwestern city, I would have officially accepted their offer by now. I think I have started considering location as an important facotr now.

EDIT : QC is not a seperate department. They are within cond matter and almost every one in cond matter does QC. so it is more QC than cond matter and they are pretty strong at QC!

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Re: do over?

Postby zxcv » Mon Mar 10, 2008 6:06 pm

Whether quantum computing is a branch of condensed matter, AMO or neither would depend on what sort of implementations of quantum computing you were considering (e.g. on a chip or in an optical trap). In some abstract sense quantum computing is no more concerned with those sort of specifics than classical computing, so sometimes it's really more computer science. It's all pretty wishy-washy and ill-defined.

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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Mon Mar 10, 2008 7:04 pm

@VT

No, I haven't gotten my letter yet -- it slipped my mind actually. I should look in to that. That's a bummer about the money -- they should at least adjust for inflation.

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dlenmn
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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Tue Mar 11, 2008 9:27 pm

@ VT

Got the brown letter in the mail today -- same lame deal you were offered.

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Re: do over?

Postby fermiguy » Tue Mar 11, 2008 10:18 pm

fermiboy wrote:Fermiguy, this town ain't big enough for the both of us. I think it's high time for a Fermi versus Fermi battle to the death.


You got it... Meet me in the middle of the Tevitron!!!

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Tue Mar 11, 2008 10:32 pm

@ dlenmn:
I hope that is for 9 months. Do you think that is for 9 months period? Well, at this point, I am leaning towards Brown. I think I want to live in the east coast. Brown has nice CM experiments than Wisc. Wisc is pretty strong in QC and plasma physics which I do not want to do. We will see!

excel
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Brown stipend Re: do over?

Postby excel » Tue Mar 11, 2008 11:15 pm

Here's the 1st year Brown fellowship that I got:

"Your stipend for the academic year will be $18,500 which is paid semi-monthly. The Graduate School will provide a stipend in the summer between your first and secod years of study. Your program has chosen to supplement this summer stipend upto a total of $5000."

So, they seem to be offering me 23500 for the first 12 months. Did yours say anything about a summer stipend and the program supplementing it?

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Re: do over?

Postby VT » Tue Mar 11, 2008 11:26 pm

Nope, mine said nothing aboutthe summer! WTF Brown

Well, excell, you are not applying to their physics dept, so ur stipend will be different from ours in the physics dept. :)

excel
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Re: do over?

Postby excel » Tue Mar 11, 2008 11:42 pm

Nope, mine said nothing aboutthe summer! WTF Brown

Well, excell, you are not applying to their physics dept, so ur stipend will be different from ours in the physics dept.


True. However, I remember a Brown CS grad student telling me once that Brown offers a standard fellowship to its first-year fellowship recipients. Now, from my letter, it seems that "academic year"= 9months, and the 18.5K fellowship is for 9 months only... probably the same for you. So, you should be able to earn some more doing summer research. :) Only difference may be that my department has already committed to giving me this summer position.

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dlenmn
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Re: do over?

Postby dlenmn » Wed Mar 12, 2008 9:28 am

@excel, VT

I'm, with VT -- my letter has the first sentence ("Your stipend for the academic year will be $18,500 which is paid semi-monthly.") but not the next two. Might not be the best offer, but the letter was printed on this tastefull cream color paper, and the accept/decline card is very nicely done...

myass
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Re: do over?

Postby myass » Wed Mar 12, 2008 11:24 am

astrofan wrote:

So, from the way you phrased it, I take it you have to do much better than those applying out of undergrad on the GRE if you take a year off? Sounds like, even more than applying from undergrad, that you are putting your future on one day of testing. What a messed up system we have!


It really depends. I asked my recommenders (senior professors who have participated in admission committee for many times), and they all said they expect a bit lower score on physics GRE for those who take 1-year off because current undergrad students should have more fresh memory on subjects and may not need to study much. What they said doesn't have to be true, and in fact I partially do disagree with it. However, you can keep in your mind that there are faculties who have this sort of idea.

Anyway, I think GRE scores above 800 or something should be safe enough (this is only based on talking with professors at my institution, berkeley). I heard there was a cut on a list based on GRE score at one institution among top schools. The score was 700s.

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fermiboy
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Re: do over?

Postby fermiboy » Wed Mar 12, 2008 6:05 pm

fermiguy,

Challenge accepted sir. I'll swing by the Tevatron on my way back from New Orleans.

excel
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Re: do over?

Postby excel » Wed Mar 12, 2008 8:28 pm

fermiboy wrote:fermiguy,

Challenge accepted sir. I'll swing by the Tevatron on my way back from New Orleans.

How much for a front seat ticket to watch the fight? 8)




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