Do I stand a chance?

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

liljoey
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Dec 01, 2008 2:16 am

Do I stand a chance?

Postby liljoey » Mon Dec 01, 2008 2:29 am

I'm really passionate about pursuing a Ph.D. in particle physics/cosmology phenomenology. I come from an Ivy league school, have some good research experience (including a particle physics pheno internship this summer), I think my recommendations will be pretty good, I've taken a very rigorous set of courses, and I've taken/am taking some classes in particle physics (texts: Griffiths Particle book, Georgi's Lie Algebras). I'm also a girl.

Here's the problem: I have pretty bad problems with text anxiety (and anxiety in general), which have really hurt my GPA and made me bomb my Phys GRE (GPA 3.1, PGRE only 620 - eek!). I've never talked to anyone about my anxiety issues, though, preferring to work through them myself, so I don't think I can discuss these as an extenuating circumstance on my application without seeming whiny and like I'm making excuses. (Am I wrong here? Is there a way to do it so that it won't hurt my application?)

Anyway, I'm applying to the following schools (all for particle physics theory). Do I stand a chance?
U Chicago
U Michigan
U Wisconsin - Madison
U Minnesota
UC Santa Cruz
Penn
Stony Brook
Florida State

Juston
Posts: 31
Joined: Mon Sep 01, 2008 6:15 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby Juston » Mon Dec 01, 2008 3:35 am

I've been asking myself the same question. I have a pretty low GPA compared to most other applicants (3.26 in physics) and a PGRE of 740 this year, which is much better than the 600 I got last year. Most of my research has been in cosmology, with no pubs yet. I'm applying in HEP theory also, with an emphasis on nonperturbative string theory (yep, really went off the deep end here).

I have a similar problem with tests, but my research adviser told me not to mention anything negative in my SOP. It's best, I suppose, to let your recommenders do all the explaining. By the way, how well known are your recommenders? If the people on the admissions boards have heard of them, it will help a lot.

I suggest that you try applying to a few other schools, just to be safe. If you're interested in string theory, Texas A&M is a good school to apply to. NYU is also good for string theory. I would suggest USC for string theory, but after reading Helio's comments about it, I'd recommend against it unless you have a good reason for them to take you and have extra cash lying around to spend on application fees.

If you're into hadronic physics and QCD, you should also look into schools that are good in nuclear physics, like Univ. of Washington, Michigan State, Indiana University, and Ohio State. I'm sure I've seen many more schools with strong faculty in hadronic physics.

I apologize if I can't be any more helpful. I suppose I'm posting here because I'd also like an answer to this question. Then again, I doubt if anyone really can unless they're on the admissions board, comparing your application with the multitudes of 4.0/990 applications they get.
Last edited by Juston on Thu Dec 04, 2008 8:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Helio
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Joined: Thu Mar 15, 2007 7:11 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby Helio » Mon Dec 01, 2008 3:39 am

I dunno about research experience (information a bit slim) or an other circumstances (gender, minority, etc.), but personally i would add at least 3 to 4 safety schools to your list. The PGRE and GPA really hurt you a lot. There are people who have gotten in Hawaii with lower PGRE scores, but I dunno about GPA (check the 2008 profiles). The problem I mainly see is applying for particle theory, which means that there is a lot of competition (so much that some schools split their applications pools between particle theory and everybody else) and that in theory a high PGRE scores is close to a must. I would personally talk to the recommenders, tell them about anxiety and make sure the mention.

I can ask around if they are taking string theory people again, but I must honestly say I have only seen one of their grad students leave in 4 years and most of the faculty is so busy that talking to them is like a game of craps (one of them is my 4th recommender for Boulder and he just set up his email to give me the msg. that he won't be available till tomorrow when the app is due).

To comment on the above post. UWash has a strong tendency towards PGRE heavy admissions. OSU has 600 minimum, but 700 average last year.

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secander2!
Posts: 264
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:25 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby secander2! » Mon Dec 01, 2008 10:11 am

I think you've got a chance especially with good research and recommendations. Also, I've heard that girls statistically do worse on the PGRE than boys, so most programs will that into account. The GPA will probably be more of a sticking point, but since it comes from an Ivy, I'd guess they might look a little more kindly on it. Another point would be whether your science GPA is higher than your general GPA or if there is a general upward trend in your grades, both of those are points you'd definitely want to mention in your SOP if they apply to you, and if so, it would probably do a good bit to offset the low GPA. Anyways, I agree with Helio, theory is pretty tough and you might want to get some backup schools because most of the ones you've listen are pretty competitive.

stardust
Posts: 109
Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 8:15 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby stardust » Mon Dec 01, 2008 11:27 am

Although females score lower, they also expect theory candidates to score higher than
experimentalists, so the two effects may cancel out.

The problem with the test anxiety argument is if you don't mention how is one to distinguish
between that and just not understanding things in physics.

pqortic
Posts: 398
Joined: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:24 am

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby pqortic » Mon Dec 01, 2008 12:47 pm

@liljoey & Juston
There is a solution to your problem. In many recommendation forms there is an option outlining:

“Some gifted individuals compile mediocre scholastic records. In your opinion, is the applicant’s scholastic record, as you know it, an accurate index of his or her scholastic ability? Yes... ; No... ; Don’t know.... If your answer is “No” please explain briefly.”

Tell to one of your references to answer No to this question and explain your situation. I believe this will work for you.

liljoey
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Dec 01, 2008 2:16 am

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby liljoey » Mon Dec 01, 2008 3:33 pm

Any other suggestions for safety schools for HEP theory? I'm more interested in hadronic physics and SUSY phenomenology than string theory.

Also, I took a whole bunch of math classes (6 or so) at my home state university (which is a good university) while still in high school, and my GPA for those classes is a 4.0. Should I send this transcript too? Will it help my cause, or is it too far in the past to matter?

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G01
Posts: 75
Joined: Thu Aug 21, 2008 7:54 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby G01 » Tue Dec 02, 2008 3:01 pm

liljoey wrote:Any other suggestions for safety schools for HEP theory? I'm more interested in hadronic physics and SUSY phenomenology than string theory.

Also, I took a whole bunch of math classes (6 or so) at my home state university (which is a good university) while still in high school, and my GPA for those classes is a 4.0. Should I send this transcript too? Will it help my cause, or is it too far in the past to matter?


Most schools want a transcript from every undergrad institution you attended. This would include this state school you took your math courses at.

Also, if you don't send it, how will the admissions committees know you took those math courses? This could be a problem especially if they are "required" courses, like the intro calc sequence. I would send a transcript from this school even if they don't ask for it.

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secander2!
Posts: 264
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:25 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby secander2! » Tue Dec 02, 2008 3:59 pm

Some programs will say that you only have to supply transcripts from the schools you obtained a degree at provided that this institution lists your transfer credits, so you don't always have to send a transcript from every school you attended. However, since the grades don't usually appear for transfer courses, it's probably in your best interest to send the transcript. I'm in much the same situation as you, I have a 4.0 in classes from a big state school which I took a while ago, and I decided to send a transcript from that school anyways. Perhaps for me it was more important since the 4.0 from the well known state school legitimated my GPA from the unknown liberal arts university where I graduated.

admissionprof
Posts: 364
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: Do I stand a chance?

Postby admissionprof » Wed Dec 03, 2008 11:26 am

Juston wrote:If you're into hadronic physics and QCD, you should also look into schools that are good in nuclear physics, like Univ. of Washington, Michigan State, Indiana University, and Ohio State. I'm sure I've seen many more schools with strong faculty in hadronic physics.


For hadron physics, these four schools are among the best (and most also do SUSY phenomenology). I would add UVA, William and Mary, Duke and NC State to the list as well. Your PGRE and GPA will not be too far out of range for all of those schools.




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