Some may say I'm a dreamer

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markl
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Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby markl » Wed Feb 25, 2009 9:49 pm

So, I don't know if people have read my previous post, but allow me to lay down the framework before asking my big question.

Here are all the factors in the past that come into play.

1. Didn't do very well in High School, Bish student overall.(5 years ago)
2. Dropped out of first college with very low grades ~ 1.8 gpa
3. Going to school now at "fourth tier" public university for physics.

Here's what I want:

To go to a top grad school in astrophysics, I'm talking Harvard, Colombia, MIT, Berkley or similar.

I have 2 and half years of mostly physics and math until I graduate so plenty of time to earn the grades, I plan on getting involved in research as soon as possible, probably by this time next year if not sooner. I already have a budding relationship with my physics professor, who happens to be the department chair. I will also apply for a bunch of REU's the next couple summers, how hard is it usually to get in? What else can I do to differentiate myself above the crowd, especially coming from such humble beginnings. Is there a chance I can pull this off? Or will I end up having to do my Ph.d. at University of North Dakota- Blutesburg if I even get accepted to a Ph.d. at all?

This might look similar to my last post but I am asking a more specific question and specifically want advise on how to handle my next 2.5 years most effectively to accomplish my goal.

Thanks forum!!

kaosgrace
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby kaosgrace » Wed Feb 25, 2009 11:55 pm

Your high school/first college story is pretty similar to mine. I'm currently starting over at a community college, transferring to a tier 1 public next year, and think I may have a chance. (There seem to be several of us on this board who are "second chance" students.)

From what I understand, for you I think it's going to depend pretty heavily on the quality of the physics program available at your current undergrad. Have you considered applying to transfer to a stronger school? Your high school almost certainly won't matter and there's a fair chance your first attempt at college will be overlooked, but you can't really make up for a weak junior/senior curriculum, and from what I've seen of most of the lower tier state schools, most don't have much in the way of electives in the physics major.

But for the record, there's a fairly large space of grad schools between the top 10 and e.g. North Dakota (which could be a good school, so no offense intended to anyone who's going there!) If you don't get into Harvard, it's not the end of the world or of your physics career.

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grae313
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby grae313 » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:06 am

You might be interested in the last post in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1093

Let me sum it up: I dropped out of a shitty 4th tier college my second semester with a 2.0 gpa and got into the PhD programs at Cornell, Stanford, and Berkeley. Dream on, my friend.

markl
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby markl » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:09 am

great now I just have to get a sex change :( j/k

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grae313
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby grae313 » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:24 pm

markl wrote:great now I just have to get a sex change :( j/k


Pure conjecture, of course, but the only thing I think that would need to be different on my application if I were male would be 100 - 150 more points on the physics GRE, which should be completely doable for you considering I only started studying a month before the exam by taking the old exams over the weekend.

So, my advice for the next 2.5 years: do everything you possible can to show that you absolutely do not belong where you are now. Dominate in every class you take, and take a lot of them. Motivate yourself to shoot for the best grade in the class on every exam. An A- should be a disaster of a class. Do research throughout the year, as much as you can possibly fit in while keeping your grades up. Publish, give talks, present posters, and impress the HELL out of your recommenders.

Good luck.

PS, when you get closer to application time, send me a PM if you like and I'll send you a copy of my personal statement so you can see how I dealt with my two-year absence from a shitty school and two semesters of shitty grades. The tricky part is addressing your past failures in the right tone, without dwelling on them, and making them come out as positives.

nonick
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby nonick » Thu Feb 26, 2009 6:17 pm

I can tell you the story of my current advisor in college:
He went to a virtually unknown college. Throughout high school and freshman year of college, his main focus was football and he was the quarterback of the football team. However, he got badly injured, so he decided that instead he should focus more on studying. Apparently, since then he excelled in every physics class he took, and when I met his advisor from grad school (one of the top 10) last fall, he told us that the reason they admitted him to their program after coming from an unknown school and having an unorthodox path to physics was that all of his recommenders have indicated that he has been the best student they have had in years. Morale of the story -- if you convince at least three of your professors that you are one of the best students this school has had in years, your background won't matter a bit, you'll be certainly getting into good schools.

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noojens
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby noojens » Thu Feb 26, 2009 7:34 pm

Yes, go for it!

Publish a paper and score above 800 on the PGRE and you can get into a top program. Good recommendations can offset the hiccup in your record, so start cultivating relationships with professors now. I also suggest including a recalculation of your GPA based on the credits you've taken/will take since getting back in school (and, of course, it's important that you get good grades in those classes).

Don't wait until this time next year to get involved in research - start knocking on professors' doors now. I know it can be scary, and you probably feel underqualified, but don't worry! Professors will look at you as an investment: in a semester or so you'll learn the ropes and will be a productive member of their team. Also, at this point in your career it doesn't matter what research you do. Start by looking for experimentalists, as they're more likely to have projects you can help with, even if it's just running experiments or data analysis. It might be boring at times, but just remember that even lab monkeys get listed as co-authors :)

It'll be hard work, but it is certainly possible. Best of luck to you! :)

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noojens
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby noojens » Thu Feb 26, 2009 7:36 pm

Oh, also if you can get a job as an introductory physics tutor, you'll basically be getting paid to study for the physics GRE.

Just food for thought. ;)

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coreycwgriffin
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby coreycwgriffin » Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:20 pm

noojens wrote:Oh, also if you can get a job as an introductory physics tutor, you'll basically be getting paid to study for the physics GRE.

Just food for thought. ;)


I've been an intro physics TA for 3 years, and still managed to do horribly on the PGRE, so I wouldn't count on this too much.

valloein
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby valloein » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:09 pm

One must also realize that the true nature of the Physics GRE. It is not a test of deep and profound understanding and physical insight nor a test of you capability to contribute to original research. It is nothing more than a test of how well you can do 100 really simple questions when severe time constraints are imposed.

Accordingly, it deserves not several months of doing conceptual problems from jackson and goldstein and Landau, but precisely 2 weeks of solving sample papers and as many multiple choice physics questions of a suitable level that one can find.

(Seriously, a couple of weeks of preparation can yield a score difference of several 100 and the considering this, the PGRE seems to too large a factor in deciding the outcome of applications than appropriate.)

Anywho, guaranteed acing of the PGRE amounts to spending about 10 days doing the equivalent of approx 30 mock PGREs. If you cant spare so little time to get a shiny 990 on your app, you're probably as lazy as i was :(

evilclaw2321
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby evilclaw2321 » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:15 pm

valloein wrote:(Seriously, a couple of weeks of preparation can yield a score difference of several 100


I happen to disagree out of the 10 or so of people in my department who took both the october and November PGRE and studied those several weeks in-between, no one got more than maybe 40 points difference with none over 700 either time. I definitely dont agree that if you studied for a couple of weeks your guaranteed a 990 and if you dont get that your lazy.

mhazelm
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby mhazelm » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:31 pm

I second this. It all depends on where you're coming from. If, like me, you're at a small unknown state school with few electives in physics, you will have a harder time on the PGRE than if you come from reputable school in physics, and have taken lots of physics classes.

I have taken all the undergrad. physics classes offered at my school, but for instance, we only have one intermediate (and no advanced!) classical mechanics class, which I took 2 years prior to the PGRE, so I am sure I could not do so well with a "few weeks" of studying compared to someone from a school with both an intermediate and advanced undergrad. mechanics class.

I'd plan to study for at least a summer. At least then you'll be gambling on the side of over-preparation, rather than under-preparation.

cato88
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby cato88 » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:41 pm

There's no way a couple weeks guarantees a 990 or any amount of week for that matter because the test is graded on a curve set by people and supposedly in India people are spending years preparing for similar tests so they are setting a curve relative to people who have been studying for a long time. I do agree it is possible to get a 100 point increase with a few weeks of Full-Time work that is geared towards the test not the physics behind the test.


mhazelm wrote:I second this. It all depends on where you're coming from. If, like me, you're at a small unknown state school with few electives in physics, you will have a harder time on the PGRE than if you come from reputable school in physics, and have taken lots of physics classes.

I have taken all the undergrad. physics classes offered at my school, but for instance, we only have one intermediate (and no advanced!) classical mechanics class, which I took 2 years prior to the PGRE, so I am sure I could not do so well with a "few weeks" of studying compared to someone from a school with both an intermediate and advanced undergrad. mechanics class.

I have to say that the whole unknown state school harder time in PGRE thing is BS. Half of the test is classical mech/themo and E&M at the Halliday and Resnick level ie. the same level as the AP Physics C test. Another quarter is based on really simple stat/quantum questions ie do you know the definition of a expectation value/definition of partition function. The last quarter is random topics that regardless of your college you probably dont know unless you are an engineering double major (the questions typically EE friendly) or your field of research luckily overlaps with the question.
There are only two or three intermediate or advanced mech questions and those are simply based on remembering the definition of a Lagrangian or Hamiltonian not Eulers equations or working with inertia tensors.
I do agree a whole lot of the test is focusing studying for the test not studying physics. If people are not doing as well in the PGRE because they are busy studying eulers equations and tensors than that is because they never bothered taking the practice exams and looking at the PGRE syllabus which stresses the number one rule of standardized exams "read the directions".

valloein
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby valloein » Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:40 pm

I might have exaggerated a bit :|

Yes, 2 weeks of preparation does not guarantee a 990.

Yes, there exist people in India and China and Timbuktu who are somehow specially equipped to solve such papers. But this special skill is not something that comes with years of toil and preparation.

From discussions on several forums, what I can gather is that people go about this the wrong way. There is a time for intellectual integrity and endless sleepless nights spent over gaining physical intuition all that gobbledygook but the PGRE is not one of those. It all boils down to answering lots of really simple questions, really fast. What it also boils down to is that exam strategies come into play here (as in skipping time consuming stuff for ones that you can dispense with quickly), besides your ability to recollect formulae that you last saw aeons ago.

Algorithm :
1. Cram formulae
2. Apply formulae
3. Crank out numbers
4. Repeat 1-3 repeatedly as time and patience permit

Of course, if you have never encountered the PGRE level of classical/statistical mechanics and electrodynamics before, you would do well to seriously consider your decision to app to grad school.

cato88
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby cato88 » Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:46 pm

I agree with your general premise. I like to think of the example of how long I think I would need to tutor an AP Physics C student to score above 700 on the PGRE. This would take a few months and if I wanted to get him to above 900 it would take a few moths longer but I still dont believe I could train anyone to get a 990 because at some point just like the general GRE your bound to make simple mistakes with addition or whatever. The type of mistake only made by pressure and time requirements.

valloein wrote:Of course, if you have never encountered the PGRE level of classical/statistical mechanics and electrodynamics before, you would do well to seriously consider your decision to app to grad school.

The quantum and stat mechanics would be the easiest thing to teach an AP Physics C student because what is tested in the PGRE tends to be simple definitions for quantum/stat. How long does does it take to teach someone to calculate an expectation value given all the necessary probabilities.

valloein
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby valloein » Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:48 pm

There is also a teeny addition that makes a world of difference. It is an attitude that emphasizes not thinking much about the problem but blindly picking up the values of variables and plugging them into some standard formula to get a number.

Of course, it is a deplorable attitude for someone who aspires to study physics but it does produce results, given problems that are simple enough. And if switching to Mr. Hyde for one week can boost my PGRE, I'm all for it.

cato88
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby cato88 » Mon Mar 02, 2009 7:03 pm

That is the whole point of test prep getting to the point were you know enough about the test to know what you need to learn, how it is being tested, any tricks that might give you an edge(boundary values,units). Then memorizing all relevant information => practice applying it quickly.

The biggest trap with grad school is to believe that getting into graduate school isnt anything like getting into undergrad but the standardized part is exactly like getting into undergrad, you have to take the same standardized test approach that is successful for SAT and SATII. It is because in the end if you did research or not or if you took the hardest courses isnt going to keep you out of graduate school but your GPA and PGRE sure as hell will.

abeboparebop
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby abeboparebop » Mon Mar 02, 2009 10:32 pm

cato88 wrote:any tricks that might give you an edge(boundary values,units)


I don't think the examples here qualify as tricks. From my admittedly limited perspective, it seems to me like limiting cases and units are the sort of thing one should almost always consider first when approaching a real physics problem with unknown solution, to train your intuition for the situation and give you an idea of the shape of the solution.

cato88
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby cato88 » Mon Mar 02, 2009 11:25 pm

It is a trick for the PGRE because it can be used to obtain the right answer using limiting cases from multiple choices without having a clue how the answer was obtained. There is no real life application similar to that in the PGRE, as far as I know unsolved problems do not come with 4 possible solutions and real life physics research values understanding the problem so although limiting cases are useful for determining if the solution you obtained is reasonable it is not really that valuable in and of itself. Limiting cases are not unique => 1/r^3 and 1/r^9 both approach same limit at 0 and infinity yet the exponent is infinitely more important for real physics than the limiting value.

bigdmiller
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby bigdmiller » Tue Mar 03, 2009 1:32 am

cato88 wrote:There is no real life application similar to that in the PGRE, as far as I know unsolved problems do not come with 4 possible solutions and real life physics research values understanding the problem so although limiting cases are useful for determining if the solution you obtained is reasonable it is not really that valuable in and of itself. Limiting cases are not unique => 1/r^3 and 1/r^9 both approach same limit at 0 and infinity yet the exponent is infinitely more important for real physics than the limiting value.


Real World Problem: Curvature of the Universe

Possible Choices: (a) positive, (b) negative, (c) zero

Limiting case: Fate of the Universe (probably important in and of itself)

YF17A
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby YF17A » Tue Mar 03, 2009 1:42 am

Niiiiiiiiiiiiiice.

cato88
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby cato88 » Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:08 am

bigdmiller wrote:
cato88 wrote:There is no real life application similar to that in the PGRE, as far as I know unsolved problems do not come with 4 possible solutions and real life physics research values understanding the problem so although limiting cases are useful for determining if the solution you obtained is reasonable it is not really that valuable in and of itself. Limiting cases are not unique => 1/r^3 and 1/r^9 both approach same limit at 0 and infinity yet the exponent is infinitely more important for real physics than the limiting value.


Real World Problem: Curvature of the Universe

Possible Choices: (a) positive, (b) negative, (c) zero

Limiting case: Fate of the Universe (probably important in and of itself)


If it was that simple then why did they conduct the boomerang experiment. The taxpayer should get his money back.

That is also not an analogous situation cases because the limiting case it is based that is a whole lot of work to determine in and of itself. It is not a purely mathematical limiting boundary value problem like that on the PGRE.

abeboparebop
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby abeboparebop » Tue Mar 03, 2009 10:19 am

Well, I don't mean to suggest that real-life problems are as easy as the GRE, obviously. I just mean that the physics GRE "tricks" can be useful approaches in real life, to feel a problem out.

bigdmiller
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby bigdmiller » Tue Mar 03, 2009 1:02 pm

cato88 wrote:That is also not an analogous situation cases because the limiting case it is based that is a whole lot of work to determine in and of itself.


Elegant, but what does this sentence mean exactly?

cato88
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Re: Some may say I'm a dreamer

Postby cato88 » Tue Mar 03, 2009 1:36 pm

showing the correspondence between the fate of the universe and the geometry of the universe isnt trivial.




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