What do I do from here?

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bluecoconut
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Joined: Tue Aug 12, 2008 12:17 pm

What do I do from here?

Postby bluecoconut » Tue Aug 12, 2008 12:54 pm

Okay, so I'm a rising sophomore (sophomore here in like 2 weeks) at a large state school with majors: Physics and Electrical Engineering.

Ive been doing a summer research thing here with one of my professors in experimental condensed matter physics and just yesterday took the general GRE. I got an Q800 V440. I'm a white domestic male... My GPA is 3.96 (4.0 in majors)(should be 3.98, one of my teachers gave me an A- even though I never got below a 95 on any assignment... still working on that, elusive prof.) and I have senior status (96 credits). I'll be taking 27 credits in the up coming fall semester, and i plan to graduate with both degrees in a total of 3 years, 2 more. I have not had the opportunity to do any work on a published paper or anything. I did a talk at our CMP Journal Club on quantum computing in solid state devices, more specifically coupled phase qubit Josephson junctions.

My goal is to get into Graduate school for physics at a nice school and do either experimental or theoretical condensed matter / quantum computing / quantum information research.

My problem as it stands, is... what do I do next, seeing as the semester is about to start? I figure it would be best to do some REUs, but I don't really know much about them, how to apply, when to apply, when they happen. Research opportunities during the winter break (do they exist?)? Should I re-take the general GRE in hopes to raise my verbal, or is that an acceptable score for the top schools (if i even have a change otherwise...)? Because im slightly interested in theory, should I look at doing some research with a prof here on theoretical CMP or should I instead focus on getting a REU elsewhere?

I don't exactly know where to go for my next step, and after reading all of the people's acceptance / rejections from schools, it got me a little worried and I would really like to push harder / get a jump start on getting ready for this.

Hope anyone can help me, and thanks for any advice~

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quizivex
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby quizivex » Wed Aug 13, 2008 3:48 am

Welcome to the forum, bluecoconut.

Wow I'm curious to know a little more about your background. Were you taking college courses before you started college? Plenty of people get a year ahead by AP credits, but you're two whole years ahead in standing. Nice!

How many credits is a typical course load at your school. At mine it was "15 credit hours", so 27 sounds insane, but each school defines a credit differently, so maybe it's not the same thing.

Why do you want to finish your degree in 3 years? Obviously it's ok since you'll finish the requirements in time and there are benefits to moving on quickly, but perhaps if you stayed the fourth year, you'd have more of a chance to get involved in serious research projects, probably with publications, and take some graduate courses, and make your record even stronger than it already is. Is there some type of pressure, from family or otherwise, that's trying to rush you through? I only ask cuz I don't understand why you took the general GRE so early... I would've waited a little to review some vocab and score higher on the verbal.

For info about REUs, just look at the NSF website to get an overview of the programs. Browse this forum and do google searches to find useful advice and info on the (physics) REU application process. I know of at least one winter break research program... a friend of mine did something at BNL.

Because im slightly interested in theory, should I look at doing some research with a prof here on theoretical CMP or should I instead focus on getting a REU elsewhere?

Opinions vary on whether it's better to have a longer, more focused project at one's own school or do an REU elsewhere. So I won't comment there... if you have an opportunity that seems very promising with a very prolific prof at your school, then maybe you should go for it, but otherwise I'd suggest you do an REU somewhere exotic and see something different.

And finally, make sure you find enough time outside of your numerous classes to review for the physics GRE. You seem quite capable of smashing it, but it'd suck if after working so hard kicking so much ass in class to get caught unprepared for it.

bluecoconut
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby bluecoconut » Thu Aug 14, 2008 12:02 pm

Hey~

Thanks for the reply.

I'm not entirely sure why i want to graduate in 3 years. I just figure it should be what I should do, seeing as I came in with 48 credits, 45 from AP and IB exams, and 3 from a CLEP. Also, I feel that I should push myself through this intro undergrad stuff. I know its good to build a strong foundation before moving on, but its much more interesting reading published papers, and seeing whats really out there in physics. Another part is, i figure the sooner i get through undergrad, sooner i get through grad, sooner i can get into work force / real research / post doc stuff. And then it would mean I could take a break while im still young for instance if i wanted to travel or have any unexpected problems, ive still got a buffer. I just figure it couldn't hurt to speed things up. Otherwise, the only other motivation i have towards finishing faster is because the longer time i spend in school, the more it costs, and it doesn't cost anything to do overload or extra classes in a single semester. And as ive seen pretty often, its common to get fellowships / TA pay in grad school so, im not all that worried about money then. Credit wise: I'm attending Virginia Tech, and the full-time requirement is to have 12 credit hours per semester, and anything over 18 requires an overload form... so i hear that 27 is insane pretty often. I took 21 last semester, and I figured I could bump it up a little, keep me focused / always pushing myself, trying to find my limit etc.

As for why I took the GRE so early, i assumed it couldn't really be that hard, I'll need it eventually and I had just finished the 2nd summer semester so it fit in well. I didn't know if I would have time later, ease the hastle of doing it then. Also, i figured if i did poorly I could focus on what I need to study and re-take it later.

But, another question: Is it common to get something published after an REU? or is that something rare? or is it just... chance 50-50 kinda thing?

also, what would a "very promising with a very prolific prof" be like? I've got a few teachers who I could ask to work with, but I'm not sure what you mean I should be looking for.

I was hoping to do an REU next summer in Japan, but... Now i'm kinda worried that doing something like that sounds more... extravagant fun, rather than down to earth work that a grad school would want. (eg. getting an REU at a big name school here in the US, one that i might look to attend) Or, should i be looking towards doing something like japan instead?

About the physics GRE: I plan on waiting about a year before taking it, I'll have finished intermed Mechanics and E&M and senior quantum by then. And then probably spending a long time reviewing and stuff for it. So hopefully that works out well. Good to know I should specifically focus on it much more.

Another question: Because I'm also an engineering major, would it be bad if i tried out an internship at an engineering firm or something? (When my goal is specifically physics grad school?) Or would the diversity actually help me when it comes to the application?

Thanks again for any help~

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quizivex
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby quizivex » Fri Aug 15, 2008 1:27 am

Ah great, it's good to see you're very focued and confident with your plans. That's awesome that VTech allows unlimited credits. Mine charged full tuition price , $450 for each credit over 17, which I think is outrageously unfair. Students should be encouraged to be ambitious and take rigorous rosters... it should be free provided they keep a decent GPA!

bluecoconut wrote:But, another question: Is it common to get something published after an REU? or is that something rare? or is it just... chance 50-50 kinda thing?

I get the impression that it's sortof a toss-up 50/50 thing. It mostly depends on what group you join. Fortunately, something got published from my REU's group that I worked with and I was listed third author. I did not by any means contribute anything significant, but I was there during the experiments and tried to help any way I could. So the point is, you're more likely to get something published if u work in a group that's actively running experiments ( though if you do the REU the summer after junior year it might not get published early enough to put on apps). An undergrad student who works on a more individual project is much less likely to produce anything publishiable himself unless he has extremely advanced background in the particular topic (for theory) or he's just running predesigned experiments collecting new data (experiment). Also some students end up on a project that amounts to building an apparatus or writing a program and there won't be anything to publish. So in short, as for REUs, some get their name on something and some don't, depending mostly on where they worked. Many students present posters whether or not they published, though I think that's a waste of time... more of a publicity stunt. Don't be too discouraged if nothing gets published.

bluecoconut wrote:also, what would a "very promising with a very prolific prof" be like? I've got a few teachers who I could ask to work with, but I'm not sure what you mean I should be looking for.

I just mean if you know a prof at your school who is actively publishing lots of stuff, who is highly admired at your school, who is personable and helpful to his students, who would seem like an ideal recommendation writer, who offers you work with him,... then your best bet is probably to work with him instead of taking the REU lottery... but unless such a slam dunk opportunity arises at your school, the benefits of doing research elsewhere (it looks good on apps and you get to experience something different) is the best deal.

bluecoconut wrote:I was hoping to do an REU next summer in Japan, but... Now i'm kinda worried that doing something like that sounds more... extravagant fun, rather than down to earth work that a grad school would want. (eg. getting an REU at a big name school here in the US, one that i might look to attend) Or, should i be looking towards doing something like japan instead?

If you're in an official research program I would not worry about people nitpicking over the location of your program. Research is research. I think it's kindof sad that students are expected to do research every summer nowadays when summer used to be called "summer break," and it'd be even worse if we were only given credit if we went to a boring location... Keep in mind though that getting into an REU even at a mediocre school is a longshot for white males in the US... I applied to places I never even heard of and got rejected by nearly all of them, (though I was a sophomore and sophs are given much less consideration than juniors)... I was rejected by Wright State, U. Nevada and Lehigh REUs (lol who?)... but a year and a half later I was accepted to Caltech's grad program. I definitely suggest going to the REU in Japan, but be sure to apply to others as backups, and don't count on getting into one at an elite US school.

bluecoconut wrote:Another question: Because I'm also an engineering major, would it be bad if i tried out an internship at an engineering firm or something? (When my goal is specifically physics grad school?) Or would the diversity actually help me when it comes to the application?

I have no idea. Some people would probably pick one point of view and some would pick the other... and some would just say it doesn't matter...any good experience is good experience.

kp44
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby kp44 » Fri Aug 15, 2008 3:07 pm

First of all, 27 hours sounds a little insane :shock: . Have you taken multiple hard classes at once before? It sounds like you have, but sometimes students wreck their GPA’s with course loads like that. If you'd like to continue to do research with the professors you've been working with, you'll need to be able to take some time off of classes during the semester as well. That is your best chance to publish a paper.

As far as summer REU's, it is probably a good idea to do one away from your own institution. This is a good list of summer opportunities: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_re ... ?unitid=69 It hasn't been updated yet for summer '09, but check back around december (if you have time with that course load :D) for applications. The applications should be due around February. In the meantime, browse over the websites. Some research opportunities put more of an emphasis on having their students present and publish.

Trying to graduate as quickly as possible seems like a better way to burn out than spreading it out over four years. If you want to go into theoretical physics, I would recommend staying around for all 4 years to get a better mathematics background. You could also take some computer science classes to improve your computational skills. At a large school like VT, you will probably have the opportunity to take some graduate level classes your senior year as well. I understand where you are coming from because I too have the opportunity to graduate early (I am a rising junior). I personally feel that if I graduate early I will miss out on physics, math, and computer science electives that will benefit me in the future.

bluecoconut
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby bluecoconut » Sat Aug 16, 2008 2:33 pm

Thanks again for the responses.

quizivex, I have a question, dunno if it was answered somewhere else on the forum, but I figured I could just ask. What would you say was the #1 most helpful thing that allowed you to get accepted to schools like caltech? What, for instance, was something that made you stand out as a white male and such?

Another question would be: Which would be better: 4 years as an undergrad with 1 years worth of graduate courses (20-25 credits worth), or 3 years of undergrad, with slightly less research/ only 2 or 3 graduate courses. To me, if they looked at my transcript it would seem like i was wasting time if i didn't finish in 3 years. (If i were just majoring in physics, i could finish in 2 years total). So, how much should i take into consideration doing the 4 years vs. 3 years? And which do you guys seriously think would look better on an application to grad schools.

Also, Ive been trying to find any REUs in the winter, or any websites that link to them, but haven't had much luck. I was wondering if anyone on the forum happened to know of any and they could link me over.

thanks kp44 for the link to the summer REU website thing.

also, would it be a good idea to like, pick a subject material and focus 100% on it? or is a more general interest still appropriate for me as an undergrad? eg. I like CMP stuff, but still a little wishy washy on what specifically i want to do within the field.

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quizivex
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby quizivex » Sat Aug 16, 2008 11:02 pm

bluecoconut wrote:What would you say was the #1 most helpful thing that allowed you to get accepted to schools like caltech? What, for instance, was something that made you stand out as a white male and such?

Well, my full profile is in the profile thread and so are a lot of other profiles of students who were both accepted and denied by top places, and there's no sure way to tell what were the deciding factors in each case... but definitely I'd say the #1 highlight of my app was getting the maximum PGRE score of 990, which is fairly rare for domestic applicants. And while I went to a rather crummy undergrad school, it was clear that I made the most of the opportunities at my school by taking all the courses offered in my department plus a grad course, and got a major in math with a handful of electives very relevant to physics (such as differential geometry). I had a few additional bonuses such as SPS president and 770 verbal.

You'll be in great shape if you get some research in and kill the GRE... your course loads already blow mine away.

bluecoconut wrote:Another question would be: Which would be better: 4 years as an undergrad with 1 years worth of graduate courses (20-25 credits worth), or 3 years of undergrad, with slightly less research/ only 2 or 3 graduate courses. To me, if they looked at my transcript it would seem like i was wasting time if i didn't finish in 3 years. (If i were just majoring in physics, i could finish in 2 years total). So, how much should i take into consideration doing the 4 years vs. 3 years? And which do you guys seriously think would look better on an application to grad schools.

I really do'nt know there... that can only be answered subjectively by each person... I'd say that if you take no undergrad physics classes at all your senior year, then yes it will look like you should have graduated... but if you decide to pick up a third major in math (possibly even a chem minor) and spread the courses for the 3 majors out over the 4 year period... it won't look like u were wasting time... With majors in physics, math and EE, an REU and a project at your school, along with a high GRE score, you will be a ridiculously qualified and prepared candidate and should easily get accepted to most or all of the top schools...

It's up to you what u want to do. If you do finish in 3 years, the committees should realize that you could have accomplished even more if you stayed the 4th year like the other candidates... so your "potential" would look the same either way... but you'd still technically be more "prepared" if you have the 4th year of stuff. It's your choice... hopefully someone else on the forum will share their thoughts on this and your other questions. The forum will be a bit slow until the October GRE...

jdgates
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Re: What do I do from here?

Postby jdgates » Sun Aug 17, 2008 10:48 pm

I think you're worrying too much, though that tends to be true of most people posting here!

Speaking as someone who finished his bachelor's in three years and got into a top-10 physics program, if you're just going to pad out your time taking graduate courses, then you should be in grad school where they're paying you for it! If, as others have said, you're doing something more productive (e.g., another major, more courses that you're actually interested in and not just taking to try to look good for grad admissions, etc.), then you can decide whether the expense is worth it, but it's ridiculous to think (esp. with your background) that you're going to be at a disadvantage by finishing early.

So get yourself involved in research, including an REU (or comparable summer program), and don't sweat the rest. I wouldn't worry too much about committing to a research area at this point either; the main point is to find out whether you actually like research, and secondarily to find an area you like, and if you switch around a bit it won't hurt you as long as one of your supervisors can give you a good rec. Contrary to what you might be led to believe, it's hardly the norm for incoming students in even the best grad programs to be primary author on a publication.

Winter REUs don't exist (at least formally as REUs; realize that the REU refers to the specific program run through NSF, and there's more out there). If you're bound and determined to work through winter break (which isn't necessary for your grad school chances), then keep working with whomever you're with at your own institution. As others have said, REUs are very competitive, so apply to a ton of them, and don't count on getting a brand name. Speaking also as someone who did a summer's worth of research in Japan, go for it if you can get in; you're overthinking your (potential, not really) problems.




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