Study/Work -> Admissions

  • 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.

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naseermk
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Joined: Sun Dec 14, 2008 8:47 pm

Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby naseermk » Sun Dec 14, 2008 8:53 pm

I worked full-time (47hrs/week) while completing my undergraduate degree in Physics (basically to support myself).

On the negative side, I've had to forgo any research experience while focusing all my effort to keep up with my full course load.

On the positive side, I have no student loans (tuition assistance from my company) and a strong work experience in the field of electrical engineering.

I was curious as to how many students are/were in the same boat. What are your experiences in the PGRE/Admission application process? Are situations such as this considered in terms of 'not-so-stellar' grades?

shouravv
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Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 1:20 pm

Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby shouravv » Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:54 pm

Yours would make for an excellent background for an experimental physicist, in a project that requires heavy duty instrumentation. That will include particle physics, High Energy Physics, Condensed Matter Physics (exp), Gravitational Wave (LIGO), Telescope Instrumentation and many more fields.

The important thing is, how convincing is your SOP in explaining that you can translate your skills into valuable resource for various groups, and that you can work with an open mind (aka. science mindset not engineering mindset). Also, for most schools you can send one recommendation letter from a non-academia person who knows you well. Try getting one from your supervisor/etc. at work who would vouch for your hard-working ethics and superb skills.

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naseermk
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby naseermk » Mon Dec 15, 2008 2:45 pm

Multiple professors told me that my background would be excellent for the experimental side. However, my interest is in particle theory. I made this point clear that I made the best use of whatever opportunities were available to me and that my interest is in HEP theory.

I did get a good letter from my Manager (who was excited about it and told that he wrote a 2 page LOR). Moreover, one
of my other recommender noted that my SOP was concise and expressed my personality well.

I am hoping to get into Cornell/UMich/MSU all on particle theory and specifically field theory.

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Kaiser_Sose
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby Kaiser_Sose » Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:36 am

I work 35+ hours a week and I find myself frustrated when I know I am able to do the work but physically run out of time to finish it all and get more than three hours of sleep at a stretch. It's rough. My solution is to never take 18 credit hours with that amount of work ever again. It's awful. I hope my recommenders will be helpful in addressing how this has affected my GPA, not that it's awful or anything. Just not top tier coming from a state school.

I hear trying to excuse yourself in your SOP in this regard is looked on with poor taste.

shouravv
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby shouravv » Tue Dec 16, 2008 1:30 pm

naseermk wrote:Multiple professors told me that my background would be excellent for the experimental side. However, my interest is in particle theory.

What I'd do is that in a SOP geared towards theory research add two sentences saying that I'll "also" be glad to help out with instrumentation as needed, and that my skills/experience will help. It can't hurt you to advertise both your interest and experience, even if they are not the exact same.

Kaiser_Sose wrote:I hear trying to excuse yourself in your SOP in this regard is looked on with poor taste.

You are more probably right than not. It's better if your recommenders say that your achievements came despite your having to work for 35+ hours, rather than you saying it. You might, however, mention your work (even if not research related) in the SOP in a manner so that it indicates "I am no stranger to long hours and hard work. and can perform under heavy work-load".

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naseermk
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby naseermk » Tue Dec 16, 2008 4:06 pm

I think it'll hurt if you whine about it and blame everything else on the fact that you were short on time.

However, in reality, it is also a limiting factor in terms of gaining research experience / extra work on your area of interest.

I am of the opinion that if you mention what you learned from such an experience it is going to be of help more than hurt.

tensorwhat
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Joined: Thu Feb 19, 2009 5:33 pm

Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby tensorwhat » Tue Mar 24, 2009 7:42 pm

Kaiser_Sose wrote:I hear trying to excuse yourself in your SOP in this regard is looked on with poor taste.


It really depends, if you write a sob story, than sure it is. If you're confident about your ability but allow them an understanding of what you've been through, its for the best.

Giving them the right amount of pertinent info is the key, the more they can tell about you (in a good sense of course) the better.

evilclaw2321
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby evilclaw2321 » Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:40 pm

I also worked a lot in my undergrad like 25-30 hrs. In my SOP all i did was put a positive spin on it "I worked much outside of school out of necessity, but it shows that I will be able to handle the intense workload of graduate school" something like that. It hurt my GPA and PGRE but I still have one acceptance offer at a great school so it can work out.

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Kaiser_Sose
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby Kaiser_Sose » Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:07 am

I'm in a similar position. It blows nuts. Balancing class load with sanity/sleep is hard especially with the number of course needed/"recommended" for the physics major. I count my blessings though. I am lucky enough to get paid to do research as an undergrad as one of my 3 jobs. It's a pittance, but it is better than cleaning up dog *** and dead fish which is what I used to do.

I wonder though, do grad schools really care/factor this in? Or do they just look at GPA and sort you from there, regardless of circumstances? I'm not making a moral judgment, I'm just curious. I'd be particularly interested to hear what admissionprof has to say.

Sincerely,
KS

mhazelm
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby mhazelm » Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:42 am

I'm not sure how it factors into admissions, but as someone who also worked ~30-35 hours per week on top of school, I kind of wish I hadn't. It feels fabulous to graduate loan free and debt free - I can basically start saving right away - but, it does come at a cost (i.e. less focus on school). You can pay off a small loan (< $5k) pretty fast. And it's worth it, I think, to be able to focus on physics and physics alone, because if you're a weak student because you worked a lot, grad. admissions will probably not work in your favor, whereas if you're strong, you will probably get more money as a graduate student, and be able to pay off debt more quickly. I'm not suggesting people don't work or that they take out massive loans, just that you might consider doing 1-2 semesters work-free so that you can really, really focus when it's most important. (if that's possible. My school has cheap tuition, less than $3k a semester, so maybe most of you can't do that... I don't know).

I should've taken a loan for my last two semesters, studied really hard for the PGRE and my classes. I'd only be a few thousand dollars in debt, but probably would be in a slightly better position for grad school now, and with more strength in my undergraduate physics and math - I could've gone so much further in research and deeper understanding if I hadn't been working so many darned shifts... thank goodness graduate school will be my only job for the next few years :D

you can pay off (small) loans later, but you only get one shot at being an undergraduate.

just my 2 cents.

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Kaiser_Sose
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby Kaiser_Sose » Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:56 am

Well at least in my situation, I work and take out loans. For me it's not a matter of choice, but of survival. Not to be overly dramatic, but that's the case. I pay all my own bills: rent, electricity, water, internet, the whole bit.

I'll leave the stinging rebuke of the the government financial aid system to someone else, though. I truly feel privileged to be able to do what I do, considering the how few opportunities some people have around the world.

KS

tensorwhat
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Re: Study/Work -> Admissions

Postby tensorwhat » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:17 am

Kaiser, I'm in the same exact boat, I've worked between 20-60 hours per week since I began school to support myself. I've taken out some loans as well, and I'm fine with that......paying off less than a single years salary in govt. loans isn't so bad. My gpa has suffered, but I've also gotten some good out of it, for instance, one of my jobs decided to pay my tuition for me for 3 semesters now. Plus the experience I've gotten working these jobs was pretty valuable.

Anyways, I've spoken with many professors at my school who sit on the selection committee for our graduate program, the thing I hear over and over again, is to make sure wherever you want to go has a better idea of who you are. I guess its pretty obvious, but if you get in contact with a faculty member where you want to go, show your interest, keep speaking with them, they will have an idea of what kind of person you are, and in our position, its better to have that, than be seen as an applicant who is just another bunch of papers in a stack which can only be related to via numbers, statements, and letters.




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