Tips for a freshman undergraduate

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Btwestyo
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Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby Btwestyo » Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:53 am

Hello, I am currently a freshman undergraduate at UCSC majoring in Astrophysics. I was wondering if you guys had any tips for me in terms of getting into a top/great grad school in 3 years. What would you guys reccomend I focus on right now and are internships important? Is there anything you guys wish you would have done earlier or done differently etc. Thank you

-Brian

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quizivex
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby quizivex » Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:14 am

I think the absolute best advice I could give is to spend an evening browsing this forum. There's an abundance of good advice on here on practically every topic relevant to physics/astro undergrads planning to go to grad school. None of us could write a post here that covers all of it.

If you'd just scan through the thread titles on the main part of the forum "Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics" and read the threads that seem relevant to you, I think you'll get a very good idea what you need to focus on during the next three years!!


(BTW: During your junior year, do the same thing with the "Physics GRE Forum". The most common thing people here wish they had done differently was to do well on the PGRE.)

sterculus
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby sterculus » Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:34 am

quizivex offers some great advice, and I'll go ahead and throw in some late-night ramblings:

If you want an idea of the "credentials" of candidates being accepted to the top schools, cruise through the two sticky profile threads at the top of this forum, which should give you an idea.

As a freshman, in my opinion, you should be focusing on getting research experience and then courses. I obtained a summer internship with a professor at my school after my freshman year, and really I think that was the biggest kick-start that my undergrad physics career could have gotten (without it I would have had a much harder time being accepted to the competitive programs I did the next two years, and external REUs really help applications). If you can, do research during the year as well. If you can develop good working research relationships with several people over two years or more they can write fantastic letters of recommendation when the time comes.

The saying that we tend to throw around here is that "GREs and grades can keep you out, but letters and research will get you in" and I think there's quite a bit of truth to that. You certainly want a strong course record as well, but the difference between a strong course record and a stellar one is not as large as the difference between little research experience and substantial experience.

And when the time comes I *certainly* recommend taking the GREs seriously. A great score won't get you in but a mediocre or poor score sure can keep you out. Aim to start reviewing material a few months beforehand and spend a good part of each week for ~2 months before the exam reviewing heavily. This forum is a great resource for this stuff.

Anyways, I think you're already way ahead of the game by thinking so far ahead. Post questions on this forum and we'll try to help out, or send me a PM.

gnatman
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby gnatman » Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:41 pm

I'm probably just going to end up echoing what sterculus said, but maybe it'll be good to hear it twice.

I would say find a professor as soon as possible and start doing research with him or her, and develop a good relationship with them. Having letters of rec from people who are willing to go to bat for you and stake their reputation on your future work is very important. Even if you don't think you know enough physics right now to do any research, go be a lacky for a while, or just dive in head first, you'll figure it out sooner or later.

Also try to find some professors who you're taking classes with junior and senior year and go to their office hours often and develop a report with them. You want someone who can say you were a wonderful student. Also, it's not just what you know, but who you know. I know of one student who got into a very good school, a bit above his level, because he was on great terms with a professor who knew a lot of people at that school. It matters.

Of course keep your grades up, avoid getting any Cs on your record at all costs, they just kill your GPA.

Put some serious study time into the GREs. You don't have to devote your whole life to them, there's only so much studying you can do for those stupid tests, but don't wait until the day before to start studying like I did.

Also, if you can at all help it, don't be a graduating senior during a major economic crisis when about a billion people are all applying for the same 30 spots at each university

Btwestyo
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby Btwestyo » Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:15 pm

sterculus wrote:quizivex offers some great advice, and I'll go ahead and throw in some late-night ramblings:

If you want an idea of the "credentials" of candidates being accepted to the top schools, cruise through the two sticky profile threads at the top of this forum, which should give you an idea.

As a freshman, in my opinion, you should be focusing on getting research experience and then courses. I obtained a summer internship with a professor at my school after my freshman year, and really I think that was the biggest kick-start that my undergrad physics career could have gotten (without it I would have had a much harder time being accepted to the competitive programs I did the next two years, and external REUs really help applications). If you can, do research during the year as well. If you can develop good working research relationships with several people over two years or more they can write fantastic letters of recommendation when the time comes.

The saying that we tend to throw around here is that "GREs and grades can keep you out, but letters and research will get you in" and I think there's quite a bit of truth to that. You certainly want a strong course record as well, but the difference between a strong course record and a stellar one is not as large as the difference between little research experience and substantial experience.

And when the time comes I *certainly* recommend taking the GREs seriously. A great score won't get you in but a mediocre or poor score sure can keep you out. Aim to start reviewing material a few months beforehand and spend a good part of each week for ~2 months before the exam reviewing heavily. This forum is a great resource for this stuff.

Anyways, I think you're already way ahead of the game by thinking so far ahead. Post questions on this forum and we'll try to help out, or send me a PM.


Thank you so much for all of the advice from everyone. I have a few questions though if anyone wants to chime in. How did you find an internship or research experience with a professor? That seems to be my biggest problem. I would like to be able to get research experience I just don't know how to get the opportunities. The only way I know is to find internships through major agencies/companies like NASA, national labs, etc mostly which I missed the summer deadlines for this summer.

I will take the GRE's seriously whenever the time comes (junior year?). I have gotten all B's in my physics and calculus classes for my first two college quarters but I'm committed to make the steps to get A's in them. In the two quarters I got slammed because I didn't realize how challenging physics was but I think I have a good feel for the difficulty now. Thanks again and I'm going to start browsing this forums to see the necessary credentials.

-Brian

nathan12343
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby nathan12343 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:43 pm

Btwestyo wrote:
sterculus wrote:quizivex offers some great advice, and I'll go ahead and throw in some late-night ramblings:

If you want an idea of the "credentials" of candidates being accepted to the top schools, cruise through the two sticky profile threads at the top of this forum, which should give you an idea.

As a freshman, in my opinion, you should be focusing on getting research experience and then courses. I obtained a summer internship with a professor at my school after my freshman year, and really I think that was the biggest kick-start that my undergrad physics career could have gotten (without it I would have had a much harder time being accepted to the competitive programs I did the next two years, and external REUs really help applications). If you can, do research during the year as well. If you can develop good working research relationships with several people over two years or more they can write fantastic letters of recommendation when the time comes.

The saying that we tend to throw around here is that "GREs and grades can keep you out, but letters and research will get you in" and I think there's quite a bit of truth to that. You certainly want a strong course record as well, but the difference between a strong course record and a stellar one is not as large as the difference between little research experience and substantial experience.

And when the time comes I *certainly* recommend taking the GREs seriously. A great score won't get you in but a mediocre or poor score sure can keep you out. Aim to start reviewing material a few months beforehand and spend a good part of each week for ~2 months before the exam reviewing heavily. This forum is a great resource for this stuff.

Anyways, I think you're already way ahead of the game by thinking so far ahead. Post questions on this forum and we'll try to help out, or send me a PM.


Thank you so much for all of the advice from everyone. I have a few questions though if anyone wants to chime in. How did you find an internship or research experience with a professor? That seems to be my biggest problem. I would like to be able to get research experience I just don't know how to get the opportunities. The only way I know is to find internships through major agencies/companies like NASA, national labs, etc mostly which I missed the summer deadlines for this summer.

I will take the GRE's seriously whenever the time comes (junior year?). I have gotten all B's in my physics and calculus classes for my first two college quarters but I'm committed to make the steps to get A's in them. In the two quarters I got slammed because I didn't realize how challenging physics was but I think I have a good feel for the difficulty now. Thanks again and I'm going to start browsing this forums to see the necessary credentials.

-Brian


It's OK if you don't do so well at first. My first few semesters weren't that great, mostly B's, even a few C's. However, make sure you pick up the grades as soon as possible. I've found that working with others on problem sets or going to organized problem sessions is one of the best ways to learn the physics. It forces you to explain your reasoning in your own words to someone else, which really reinforces what you're learning.

As for research experience, just try knocking on professor's doors. Look on their websites, see what they're doing, if you're interested, just try dropping by some time. An e-mail may not work so well (they're busy people), but most profs will be happy to talk if you manage to pin them down in their offices.

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grae313
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby grae313 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 5:31 pm

Btwestyo wrote:Thank you so much for all of the advice from everyone. I have a few questions though if anyone wants to chime in. How did you find an internship or research experience with a professor? That seems to be my biggest problem. I would like to be able to get research experience I just don't know how to get the opportunities. The only way I know is to find internships through major agencies/companies like NASA, national labs, etc mostly which I missed the summer deadlines for this summer.

I will take the GRE's seriously whenever the time comes (junior year?). I have gotten all B's in my physics and calculus classes for my first two college quarters but I'm committed to make the steps to get A's in them. In the two quarters I got slammed because I didn't realize how challenging physics was but I think I have a good feel for the difficulty now. Thanks again and I'm going to start browsing this forums to see the necessary credentials.

-Brian


It's simple--you should start knocking on every door you can think of. Start with your favorite professors that know you the best. Just tell them you are interested in doing research. It's OK if you don't know what kind, just tell them you want to get into a lab so you can get a feel for things and start figuring out what kind of research you like best. Don't worry, professors will be SO EXCITED that you are interested in doing this so early on, I bet they will bend over backwards to get you in somewhere. I went to a small, low ranked university that wasn't doing much research and there was no research going on in my area of interest, but I told all my professors that I really wanted to do research and told them what I was interested in. They made some calls to their colleagues at the local NASA branch and I had a research job there a month later that I stayed at for a year and a half and got a first-author publication and several conference appearances out of. The idea is, you want all your professors to know you are interest and actively looking to do research, so if and when an opportunity comes up, your name comes to mind and they come to you.

There are more opportunities that don't need applications than ones that do.

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meowful
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby meowful » Wed Mar 25, 2009 8:01 pm

I wasn't sure yet what I wanted to major in - let alone what I wanted to do after graduation - during my first year, but when I began to think about majoring in astrophysics, I found it very helpful to go the physics and astronomy talks/colloquia/seminars. This gave me an idea on what kind of unsolved problems in physics and astronomy are out there and was also a great way to meet professors and older students. It was also helpful to go to my professors' office hours and ask them the questions on my mind, like "What's it like to do research?" and "How do I know if I'd be any good at being an astronomer?" My college doesn't have graduate students, but I would think they would be great people to get advice from too.

Btwestyo
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby Btwestyo » Sat May 23, 2009 4:38 am

Thank you all for the great advice. I read it carefully.

Update: I am finishing up my first year of college and I am currently taking E&M. In the beginning of the spring quarter, after taking all of your advice, I landed a research job for the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP). I'm working with a professor and a group of seniors. Currently I'm learning C++ and working with a few different projects. I'm not getting paid right now but thats okay. I have a few new questions though.

1. I want to major in Astrophysics but this research lab is particle physics. Is this okay for the time being? It's required that my junior/senior year that I publish a thesis so I want to make sure I have some kind of astrophysics related internship before then.

2. I heard that the gold standard and the primary goal of doing research is to ultimately publish something. However, it seems like I would have to work here for a year or two before I could conceivably ever publish anything. Would it be a waste to switch to something else next year or should I stick with this?

3. Last question. For next summer or whenever, would you guys recommend I do research with a professor or some project on campus rather than like say my local NASA branch or other national lab? I'm not sure where it would be easier to publish something or where I just put my focus on.

Thank you all for your time.
-Brian

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twistor
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby twistor » Sat May 23, 2009 9:57 am

You want to do astrophysics and you're considering turning down NASA?

WTF

Btwestyo
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby Btwestyo » Thu May 28, 2009 4:58 am

twistor wrote:You want to do astrophysics and you're considering turning down NASA?

WTF


.... Where I did I say I was considering turning down NASA??

"3. Last question. For next summer or whenever, would you guys recommend I do research with a professor or some project on campus rather than like say my local NASA branch or other national lab? I'm not sure where it would be easier to publish something or where I just put my focus on."

I ask because I'm wondering whether its better to stick to one place for a few years or if its fine to switch around. I'm not sure what would benefit me more because if I do research with a local professor, then I have the ability to work during the school year and not just the summer. Seems like a legitimate question to me.

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twistor
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby twistor » Thu May 28, 2009 12:23 pm

Easy.

Work with the professor during the academic year, and NASA during the summer. Any professor will understand how rare an opportunity it is to work for NASA and will grant you time off accordingly. These are not mutually exclusive things.

So my advice is to do both. Breadth of research experience never hurt anyone. Also, if you're concerned about publications, remember that most undergraduate research will not lead to a publication before you graduate. If you're concerned about this talk with the professor you want to work with before you start any projects.

wronski
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby wronski » Sat May 30, 2009 4:45 am

Hi, this is my first post. I'm also a freshman at a UC, but what should I be doing in terms of research if I'm interested in theory? I don't think I know nearly enough math or physics to do anything useful for a theorist. I'm really thankful for all the helpful info on these threads.

tiyusufaly
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby tiyusufaly » Sat May 30, 2009 5:38 am

wronski wrote:Hi, this is my first post. I'm also a freshman at a UC, but what should I be doing in terms of research if I'm interested in theory? I don't think I know nearly enough math or physics to do anything useful for a theorist. I'm really thankful for all the helpful info on these threads.


You might not be able to do really deep physics-minded theoretical research, but you might still be able to get your feet wet with some of the methods and techniques. For example, a lot of experimentalists are looking for people to do modeling and computation in order to make predictions to compare directly to experimental data. This often does not necessarily require you to delve incredibly deeply into hardcore mathematical analysis or the like, but can still give you a flavor for modeling, not to mention teach you a lot of useful numerical mathematics skills that you could use later. Don't feel obligated to tie yourself down to the physics department either - a lot of researchers in other departments require applied mathematics techniques involving physical modeling that doesn't require you to have as fully deep a background in physics as actual theoretical physics research. Look in particular in engineering departments, applied mathematics, chemistry (theoretical physical chemistry is oftentimes very similar to computational / theoretical condensed matter physics).

Also, it wouldn't hurt to maybe try out experimental research a few times. A lot of people intending to be theorists find they really like / are better at experiment once they give it a shot. And even if you do still end up wanting to do theory, the experience will be valuable to you, as it helps ensure you really know what you are talking about when you say you want to do theory, and enables you to understand the intricacies of experiment when doing theoretical analysis - an important skill for a really good theorist.

wronski
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby wronski » Sat May 30, 2009 9:58 pm

Thanks!

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grae313
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Re: Tips for a freshman undergraduate

Postby grae313 » Fri Jun 12, 2009 9:43 am

Btwestyo wrote:"3. Last question. For next summer or whenever, would you guys recommend I do research with a professor or some project on campus rather than like say my local NASA branch or other national lab? I'm not sure where it would be easier to publish something or where I just put my focus on."

I ask because I'm wondering whether its better to stick to one place for a few years or if its fine to switch around. I'm not sure what would benefit me more because if I do research with a local professor, then I have the ability to work during the school year and not just the summer. Seems like a legitimate question to me.


I did nanotech research at NASA for almost 2 years, working 10-20 hours per week during the school year (completely up to me just as long as I worked at least 10) and full time during the summer. You definitely don't have to work there just during the summer. Anyway, I wouldn't answer that question now, I would see what opportunities are available at your school and elsewhere, and you will be able to get a sense for where you will be most productive and have the best chance of publishing. Ask about publications when you are investigating research positions. How often does the group publish? In what journals do they typically publish? About how long are students in the lab before they contribute to a publication? You can ask the other students these questions if you are hesitant to ask the PI.

jgould
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Advice for someone just starting BS in Physics

Postby jgould » Sat Sep 05, 2009 1:00 am

I'm interested in getting into the "Nanotechnology" field. I'm just now starting for my BS in Physics and was wondering if anyone had any advice? Anything that you wish you had known before getting your BS? It seems one of the most important things, after reading the forums for a while, is getting into research. Anything else I should be focusing on other than good grades?

Also, any good websites for finding summer programs? Next summer I will have completed 3 semesters of Calculus, a year of Organic Chemistry, a year of Physics, and a year of Biology. Will this be enough to find some kind of program?

Thanks!

nathan12343
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Re: Advice for someone just starting BS in Physics

Postby nathan12343 » Sat Sep 05, 2009 2:37 am

You should be able to get into REU programs with good recommendations and grades. Check out the index of REUs on the NSF's website.

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twistor
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Re: Advice for someone just starting BS in Physics

Postby twistor » Sat Sep 05, 2009 9:55 am

Isn't nanotech an engineering discipline? Why are you doing physics?

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grae313
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Re: Advice for someone just starting BS in Physics

Postby grae313 » Sat Sep 05, 2009 11:40 am

Physics is the best way to get into nanotech! Your physics BS, good grades, and relevant research should be enough to get you into most programs, but to have even better preparation you could supplement your degree with some chemistry and materials science classes, which it looks like you are already doing.

-U Washington (Seattle) has a physics and nanotechnology "double PhD" program.
-Cornell, IMO after visiting many schools and touring facilities, has the best nanofab facility in the country (although Berkeley and UCSB are excellent as well)

Perhaps you already did a search and found this thread.

If not, if you do a forum search for nanotechnology some useful threads come up.




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