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chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 2:52 am
by monstergroup
Hello from a newcomer :D

I would like to know some general opinion (I mean educated/fact-or-more-or-less-fact-supported opinions) pertaining to chances for certain special cases.

1. Is theoretical physics generally harder to get into than experimental? By how much (a rough ratio of percentage of acceptance would be nice to know)?
2. For someone going into theoretical physics, which is better for grad school admission: independent study of subjects that are basically prereq. for any serious/more advanced research in HEP, or research in lab fairly unrelated (to my interests anyway), say, condensed matter?
3. How much does NOT having much research experience hurt when applying for theoretical physics?
4. Does a master in math (in a combined bs/ms program) help, hurt, or do nothing when applying for theoretical physics? (At the expense that I might end up with more advanced math classes than advanced physics classes?)
5. Does being a girl help a lots for getting in the top physics grad schools? 8) 8)

Re: chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 3:27 am
by cato88
1) Yes.Depends on school / how many people they let in last year an the current goals of the school. Its possible it could be the other way around if a particular school is expanding their theory program.

2)Lab research I think.

3)Not nearly as much as with experimental.

4) Helps.

5) Yes, Some top schools are particularly aggressive in this policy.

Re: chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:20 pm
by zxcv
It may be too late for this, but get that research experience. It doesn't really matter if it's in "your field" or not, although of course that could only help. It may be hard to pull off, it is possible to find theoretical research as an undergrad, at least if you're willing to go beyond your institution.

If you don't have the independent research experience it's very difficult for admissions committees to evaluate your potential. Grades only say so much.

Re: chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 5:47 pm
by admissionprof
I agree with cato88, on all counts. Except that it isn't just top schools that aggressively recruit female students, but the medium schools as well. For a potential theorist, research experience does help, but isn't essential. If there is no research, then the letters of recommendation become more important.

Re: chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 5:50 pm
by monstergroup
zxcv wrote:It may be hard to pull off, it is possible to find theoretical research as an undergrad, at least if you're willing to go beyond your institution.


Is there any resources about how to find one? My impression is that one needs to know much more to do theoretical research than experimental (everyone can wash test tubes - for the chemists... - just kidding, really ;))

Re: chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 6:03 pm
by admissionprof
monstergroup wrote:
zxcv wrote:It may be hard to pull off, it is possible to find theoretical research as an undergrad, at least if you're willing to go beyond your institution.


Is there any resources about how to find one? My impression is that one needs to know much more to do theoretical research than experimental (everyone can wash test tubes - for the chemists... - just kidding, really ;))


There are many, many REU programs in the summer, and many (not a majority, but a sizable number) are theoretical. Go to their websites and look at the previous year's projects--you'll find some.

Re: chances and what not...

Posted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 7:36 pm
by zxcv
Here was my strategy:
1) Examine every REU in the country for potential theory positions, and apply to each one that you're even potentially interested in.
2) When possible, contact specific researchers from those institutions that you're interested in working with. Impress them with your willingness to work hard and get started on background materials ahead of time.

This successfully yielded me two offers to do theory in REU programs 2 years ago, as a rising senior. But you need to cast a very wide net, because these programs are all so competitive (especially in theory).

Another strategy that worked the summer before:
3) Apply to math REUs as well. Some topics may actually be theoretical physics and especially in applied math, you may in fact be more prepared as an aspiring physicist than most math majors. (This was the case for me in my math REU.)

And yet another strategy that worked, for instance, with one of my classmates:
4) Talk to professors at your institution who do theory or may have theoretical collaborators. They may know people with positions available.

Yet another winning strategy for myself and a friend:
5) Cold contact professors whose work you admire or that are working on projects you're interested or experienced in. They may well have independent funding, or instruct you to apply for an REU that they can get you into.