Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

  • 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.

Imperate
Posts: 105
Joined: Thu Jul 03, 2008 7:01 am

Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby Imperate » Thu Mar 26, 2009 5:28 pm

Hello to everyone,

I know there is a barrage of these sort of threads at this time of year, so please bear with me. I am from the UK, and planning to do a PhD in HEP-th. This is a long story, so might aswell start at the beginning....I got straight A's at A-level (highest in my college for Math/Phys) and think I would have had a good shot getting into Cambridge/Oxford, however I didn't apply because my gf at the time was going somewhere else and we applied to exactly the same unis (I know, what an idiotic thing to do). Anyway, we at least both applied to Durham, I got accepted, she however didn't, and I turned Durham down and went to Univ of Manchester to stay with her (rolls eyes).

I've never really regretted it (Manchester is a good uni, and in terms of what I learnt I don't think I would have learnt anymore if I had been in Cambridge) until now , when I've come to apply for a PhD. Despite getting First class degree and being in the top 3 of my year/having a HEP-phenom publication I'm struggling like hell to get a PhD place in stringy things or QG. I'm not sure if it's Manchester's reputation that is the issue, or if it's just that it's more of a phenom place, than string etc.

Anyway I've almost universally been rejected by various string theory/QG groups, Nottingham (Despite what I thought was a great interview :( ), Imperial (Rejection without even an interview invite), Oxford Maths Inst (Rejection without interview again), Oxford Physics (admittedly this was my fault, I wasnt prepared and interview went badly). I also applied to some places in the US: Stanford/UCLA/UCSD all rejected (My PGRE was around 840, so maybe this was just too low for an international I don't know).
All I was accepted to was my safety and I am waiting on Edinburgh Math Phys group (this could easily be another rejection given Nottingham was).

I'm really ****** with myself, because I can't help but feel if I had gone to Cambridge/Oxford or even Durham, I would have had no trouble. If Cambridge I could have naturally led onto part III->DAMTP/Imperial/Top 10 US. If Durham/Oxford then similarly this could have led to string PhD's at either of those or high ranked US perhaps. Not just because of their reputations but because they have strong String groups, so my recommenders would be well known string theorists, and I would have string research instead of phenom research to back me up etc.

I now wonder what my prospects are if I end up going to my safety for gradschool, I can't find any alumni stats to find out if they go postdocs and where at etc. But just looking at department webpages and faculty profiles, seems to imply that the ones who "made it", that finally got tenure after multiple post doc near enough all went to top 20 US schools, or Imperial/Oxbridge/Durham or some prestigious European university. Ulitmatley my connections are going to come from who my advisor knows, how much respect he has in the community, and I fear that I may have no chance beating people from Caltech or somewhere to a very competitive postdoc shot, and going hear I am going to be the underdog from the start of my career.

I want to study Physics, but can't help feel I've threw away my potential shot at a realistic chance to make it, and what if after 5-6years of PhD graft, I just end up spat back out looking for the same job I could get right now, but prob in debt and obviously 6 years older!
I'm considering doing the Imperial MSc in Quant fields, and reapplying after that to try at somewhere more prestigious, and retake the PGRE to try and hit high 900's....but of course there's no guarantee that I will get in anywhere better even then, and no guarantee I wont mess up the PGRE.
Last edited by Imperate on Fri Apr 03, 2009 1:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
naseermk
Posts: 93
Joined: Sun Dec 14, 2008 8:47 pm

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby naseermk » Thu Mar 26, 2009 5:39 pm

It's easy to look back on life and say - I wish things could've been better or I wish I'd chosen a different path.

Given such thoughts, I think, now you should be more concerned with what will come of the future? Try to find out why you were rejected [Perhaps a bad recommendation / egoistic SOP etc etc].

In terms of graduate school, I think, your output will matter much more than the connections that you will make (not to underrate the importance of having a 'famous' advisor). So, if you think that an opportunity exists at USC to pursue your area of interest go for it.

Imperate
Posts: 105
Joined: Thu Jul 03, 2008 7:01 am

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby Imperate » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:03 pm

It's easy to look back on life and say - I wish things could've been better or I wish I'd chosen a different path.


I know I know, I'm just wallowing in self-pity as I have been for the last month, haha.

Given such thoughts, I think, now you should be more concerned with what will come of the future? Try to find out why you were rejected [Perhaps a bad recommendation / egoistic SOP etc etc].


I do intend to email them to find out the specifics, for the US schools who exactly should I email to query this, the grad admin secretary or one of the profs from the group I applied? I personally think it's mostly due to the fact my background is more Phenom and not String, and possibly my PGRE just wasnt high enough for international HEP-th. Also my recommenders are not known in this field.

In terms of graduate school, I think, your output will matter much more than the connections that you will make (not to underrate the importance of having a 'famous' advisor). So, if you think that an opportunity exists at USC to pursue your area of interest go for it.


Well I hope so, I just feel like I've given myself a massive uphill battle and I am starting as the underdog. Academia seems pretty much political and has a large element of networking. Just looking at publications of some faculty member from MIT, you can see they tend to work with other people from Princeton/UCSB/Harvard, it's almost like a closed loop to the outside world of these top 10-20 schools. I feel like to break the mold and make it from a less prestigious school would require something out of the ordinary perhaps? It's not that you can't do it if your output it amazing, it just makes it all that more difficult maybe.

Also even the faculty at lower ranked schools seemed to get their PhD at big ranked schools mostly, which just shows how competitive academia really is. If some of the guys who had the famous advisors landed only at a top 50 school, where did everyone who got their PhD at a lower ranked school land?

I mean maybe I'm over thinking this, and maybe I should just take the attitude at least I have the opportunity to study Physics, and can still learn the same things I would have learnt anywhere. If I going to do something in Physics, I will do it no matter where I study for my PhD. But then I'm going have this nagging voice in the back of my brain, thinking you should have go to such and such a place.

mhazelm
Posts: 193
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 3:33 pm

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby mhazelm » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:20 pm

Well, I've wondered the same thing. I went to an unknown school and have done very well, but have only one offer. But I'm going to take it. You know, I really believe - maybe just naively, but still - that if you're truly passionate about something and willing to work hard, then you can achieve what you want to. You might not end up as an academic at MIT or Cambridge, but you can be an academic somewhere. Work hard and see what path life brings you - it's really all you can do. The "what ifs" will never really help you, as you can always wonder what other path you might have taken. So, put everything into the path you're on and make the best of it.

babazula
Posts: 55
Joined: Fri Feb 06, 2009 6:59 pm

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby babazula » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:47 pm

last year i did the Part III, and managed to get a distinction with 5 alphas. but because stringy supervisors ( quevedo, green,... ) decided to take a sabbatical year, i just withdrew my PhD application, took a year off, and decided to apply to Harvard, Princeton,... for the following year. at that time, i was thinking that since i was self-funded, and completed the part iii with a very good distiction, it would not be too hard to get into Harvard, Princeton,... ( my PGRE score is 900, 2 publications in JHEP as second author, and 1 publication in Mod.Phys.Lett as first author ) but it turns out that i am completely out of academy now! i have just received a rejection from Penn, and I have no acceptance so far! i cannot believe i ruined my chance to do a PhD in Cambridge for nothing!!! i dont know wtf is wrong with the us universities... anyways, i just wanted to say there is nothing wrong with you, or your education. everytime i write a professor to ask the reason of my rejection, i got the same reply: "well, the British system is really different than the US system..." or "yours was an unusual situation..." fcuk those fcukers anyway... i dont want to go to the us anymore... i ll try weizmann instead, since they have great names like Berkooz, Aharony ...

valloein
Posts: 33
Joined: Tue Jan 27, 2009 5:41 pm

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby valloein » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:56 pm

mhazelm wrote:Well, I've wondered the same thing. I went to an unknown school and have done very well, but have only one offer. But I'm going to take it. You know, I really believe - maybe just naively, but still - that if you're truly passionate about something and willing to work hard, then you can achieve what you want to. You might not end up as an academic at MIT or Cambridge, but you can be an academic somewhere. Work hard and see what path life brings you - it's really all you can do. The "what ifs" will never really help you, as you can always wonder what other path you might have taken. So, put everything into the path you're on and make the best of it.


Call this a case of the sour grapes if you wish but it seems that if you are genuinely competent and passionate about the shite, you will end up at a good place irrespective of where you start (unless of course its the Community College of North-by-Northwestern Easter Island). It is all a matter of developing the sheer willpower to get your fat arse moving and get some work done. If you don't have an offer from the place of your dreams, you probably haven't developed this to an adequate extent. 5 years is like an infinite amount of time and if you go even 50% sadomasochistic on yourself, the PhD from University of the MiddleofNowhere won't drag you down.

Of course the idealist would argue one should not bother about such trivialities as rank and image and perceived quality, but the fact remains that there exist objective standards for measuring the 'quality of research' and this has a conspicuous correlation with rank and its brethren.

If this seems to be a pile of ostentatious crap, do mention it and I'll realise that I have reached the limits of my sanity and know that it is at last time to reinstall Elder Scrolls and spend the rest of my life completing irrelevant sidequests in the shady back alleys of Vivec.

Who IS The Coon ???

valloein
Posts: 33
Joined: Tue Jan 27, 2009 5:41 pm

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby valloein » Thu Mar 26, 2009 7:01 pm

And yea, the enjoy life and balance stuff shite is bogus. Physics is meant to be done the sadomasochistic way where you are obsessed with some *** little problem and every second of your existence that passes by while this problem remains unsolved is like an eternity in Hell.

Yes, I am now officially cuckoo.

Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Waving Tubeman
Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Waving Tubeman
Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Waving Tubeman

Imperate
Posts: 105
Joined: Thu Jul 03, 2008 7:01 am

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby Imperate » Thu Mar 26, 2009 7:17 pm

babazula wrote:last year i did the Part III, and managed to get a distinction with 5 alphas. but because stringy supervisors ( quevedo, green,... ) decided to take a sabbatical year, i just withdrew my PhD application, took a year off, and decided to apply to Harvard, Princeton,... for the following year. at that time, i was thinking that since i was self-funded, and completed the part iii with a very good distiction, it would not be too hard to get into Harvard, Princeton,... ( my PGRE score is 900, 2 publications in JHEP as second author, and 1 publication in Mod.Phys.Lett as first author ) but it turns out that i am completely out of academy now! i have just received a rejection from Penn, and I have no acceptance so far! i cannot believe i ruined my chance to do a PhD in Cambridge for nothing!!! i dont know wtf is wrong with the us universities... anyways, i just wanted to say there is nothing wrong with you, or your education. everytime i write a professor to ask the reason of my rejection, i got the same reply: "well, the British system is really different than the US system..." or "yours was an unusual situation..." fcuk those fcukers anyway... i dont want to go to the us anymore... i ll try weizmann instead, since they have great names like Berkooz, Aharony ...


Ouch, I really am amazed you didn't get in anywhere with that profile. That profile is what I considering trying to turn mine into by this time next year, and trying again with the PhD apps, but if it didnt make a difference anyway, then what is the point. I wondered if some of it was funding since we're international, but since you were self funded then that eliminates that, literally the only thing you could have held against you is PGRE wasn't 990. You'd think that having had to do the test themselves they would realise just how meaningless that thing is. Alas. Perhaps alot of US professors dont know alot about the UK undergrad system, I notice the one place I did get in has an english prof, I dont know if this made a difference.

ck85
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Dec 29, 2008 8:43 am

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby ck85 » Sat Mar 28, 2009 1:14 pm

I know getting into better ranked schools is important but I don't know why people tend to think if their career is ruined!

You are still going to a top 50!

I know people with considerably better profiles than mine who didn't make it to any top 50!

At least, I know if I am any good, I won't need a top 20 label on my CV to make me a good physicist.

robertson
Posts: 65
Joined: Sun Oct 26, 2008 10:23 am

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby robertson » Sat Mar 28, 2009 11:37 pm

hey guys this probably won't help, but I've just come from Caltech's open house and I can confirm that is the worst year to apply for string theory. Don't take it as a personal thing, but it seems like the crisis affects directly to the usual way to fund theorists (TA). I know that this is pointless if you have your own funding, but still the system is really weird and from what I've seen during these days, there weren't so many intl students at Caltech. I don't know what happened in the rest of the schools (i have not been admitted to most of them) but I also have a friend who has a brilliant bachelor from Imperial College (all A's) that has been rejected in all the US schools that he applied to, and also rejected from Cambridge (still waiting for response from Imperial College).

My suggestion, don't give up so early. If you wanna do string theory, go for it. However, everyone knows that you'll find it easier to get into a good school if you change to a different topic, and more as long as we have this fcking crysis. Good luck

kz205
Posts: 7
Joined: Sun Feb 08, 2009 11:35 am

Re: Have I screwed up my chances of an academic career?

Postby kz205 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:14 pm

robertson wrote:but I also have a friend who has a brilliant bachelor from Imperial College (all A's) that has been rejected in all the US schools that he applied to, and also rejected from Cambridge (still waiting for response from Imperial College).

Hey I think I know that guy too. It's Mischa right?




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest