Possible Advice from someone on the road back...

  • 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.
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icarus137
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Apr 25, 2006 4:43 pm

Possible Advice from someone on the road back...

Postby icarus137 » Sat May 06, 2006 12:55 am

You know setting your eyes on a very high ranked school might seem like the best way to go and it might seem bad that you did not get in; But, there is nothing wrong with "lower ranked" schools. The ranking system means very little. It isnt going to be an indication of your personal experience at the university. It isnt going to be an indication of the difficulty you will face with getting postdoc positions afterwards. Where ever you goto graduate school, the most important things are you find a subfield you enjoy which you can devout yourself to and have an advisor that is supportive and provides the appropriate guidance.

I graduated in 2000 from a decent university with a Bach. of Sci. in Physics and credits for minors in Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry and Math. I had done alright on the GRE Physics exam but I could have done much better. It didnt really reflect my ability and all the course work I had done. I applied to various universities(probably too many) and I got accepted to a few of them. I decided I would goto SUNY Stony Brook as it was the best offer I had. I wasnt really all that pleased because my first choice had been Columbia. Stony Brook was number 26 or so on the list and it had a very large class of grad students which would mean a lot of competition for the area I was interested in (high energy theory). Well, I figured instead of playing the hand I was dealt I would go back to the table and see if I could improve the situation with applying again at the end of my first year. I had taken most of the first year graduate physics classes during my last year of undergraduate; so, I did not have to worry about those.

I took the subject test again and my score did improve. I reapplied and was accepted at different universities from my initial application during my senior year of undergrad. I still did not get into Columbia. But I did get into UCLA. UCLA was ranked 14 on the list. They had a smaller department but they did not have as many people competiting for research advisors. I opted to transfer to UCLA. I retook many of the second year classes I had taken at Stony Brook and passed the written exam during that first year. I did not feel I had lost a year because in terms of course work I was at the same level now that others I graduated with were at.

It was at the end of my second year that I got a research advisor. Also, it was during that second year that the incoming class of graduate student was much higher than the department had anticipated. So, I thought I was fortunate to have gotten an advisor when I did.

I continued to take courses, work on research, and teach various classes. I never received any research funding from my advisor. My research wasnt materalizing either as I was devoting a significant amount of time to teaching and classes. In retrospect I think one of the problems was my research advisor was also the professor I was a teaching assistant for. In fact, it was at the end of my third year when I saw things were not going anywhere that I decided I would take the financial plunge and not teach that quarter. I assumed that it would give me time to devote to the research and that my advisor might be willing to provide support. Well, that didnt exactly work either. In fact, my advisor signed me up to teach for his course. I continued to struggle to get some sort of working thesis. Something that I could present and defend so that I would advance past the oral qualifying exam. At the end of my 4th year, after spending 2 years teaching with the same advisor and after not making anywhere near the progress that I should have been able to make. It all started to become pretty clear what was going on. And that I had made a terrible mistake staying with my advisor as long as I did. That I should have switched at the end of that 3rd year. One of the reasons I didnt was because opportunities just were not there at least not in the subfield I was interested in. Anyway the beginning of my 5th year, funding was completely gone. I had used my teaching assistant funding up as that is limited to 12 quarters (4 years). It was at that point my advisor said that the project that I had been working on for the past 2 years wasnt something that would be able to be developed into a thesis. In fact, he even suggested switching to a different subfield or university as I had no funding and he was unwilling to provide it.

Well, I was fortunate to have saved personal funds to rely on for a bit. I figured I would stay there and see what I could do with getting a new advisor during my 5th year. An absolute nightmare come true. An unfunded quarter later, I am left with either leaving or going into a subfield that I had no interest in (beam physics).

So, I am opting to leave. If it wasnt for the course work and the teaching experience, I would consider the past 4 years a complete waste of my time as I am only leaving with a masters of science in physics and not the Ph.D. that I set out to get. If I count my undergraduate years that is nearly a decade of pursuing a single goal only not to finish it..

I looked back to see how the grad students that I left at Stony Brook did. Well, almost all of them have multiple publications and are at the stage of getting ready to complete the doctorate. I look at my fellow students here at UCLA and some of them have 1 or 2 publications to their names. Not nearly as many as the counterparts at Stony Brook. Of course, the ones that have survived here have all had research funding.

So, why did I bother writing this. Well, I just wanted to let people know not to put too much into the ranking system. That you can have a good experience at a low ranking school. The impression and what I saw in the graduate program at my much lower ranked undergraduate school was people enjoying their experience and getting publications out there. So, do not let ambition drive you to do something foolish like transfering because a school is ranked 10 more places up than the one you are at. Or not considering a school because it is lower ranked. Just make the best out of what you have. Start looking for an advisor as soon as you get to the department. Do not wait until your second year and definitely not the end of your second year (even if you are wanting to do theory). And if your advisor is unwilling to provide funding consider a new advisor. Teaching and courses are going to take a lot of time. So, having research funds lets you not have to teach. If your advisor isnt providing guidance and helping you form a thesis, find a new advisor and quickly do not let the situation sit around hoping that some insight will come to you and your advisor will jump onboard. Oh, it might be nice to have a wide background but do not keep taking courses unless they are seminar type things.

As for my plans at this point, I have absolutely no idea. I have considered everything from trying to finish this at another university to high school teaching. Though, I will probably end up doing something in science or math education. One thing I really got out of my graduate student experience was that I enjoyed preparing for and teaching others. With the way things are going in high energy theory and high energy physics in general, I doubt I attempt to go back to finish the Ph.D. I find myself depressed and disillusioned with the whole thing.

Well, I do not know if this will help anyone. Perhaps, it is more of what not to do.

bluefire
Posts: 37
Joined: Sat Apr 01, 2006 11:25 am

Postby bluefire » Sat May 06, 2006 2:44 am

I am sorry to hear that. Words cannot express how sorry I am to hear that. :(
But, many thanks for your advice. I will definitely use your advice when I apply to graduate school.

stubiggler
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Oct 04, 2006 1:48 pm

Postby stubiggler » Wed Oct 04, 2006 1:51 pm

icarus, what exactly did you mean by "With the way things are going in high energy theory and high energy physics in general..."?

icarus137
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Apr 25, 2006 4:43 pm

Postby icarus137 » Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:37 am

icarus, what exactly did you mean by "With the way things are going in high energy theory and high energy physics in general..."?


I was just meaning that theory isnt really going anywhere. And most of the high energy physics projects will be conducted overseas outside of the United States. And Europeans will get first dibs on access. Many of the projects being done in the US are being shutdown. [/quote]

Richter
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2006 3:45 am

Postby Richter » Sat Jan 06, 2007 2:33 am

I am sad to know your experience. Your advice is really invaluable for prospective graduate student in physics.
But for me, an international applicants, how can I know whether a certain school is good at a certain field, given the limited resource of information, as I cannot visit the department and talk with the professors easily? To me, the ranking system is essential for me to shortlist schools to apply for.

icarus137
Posts: 16
Joined: Tue Apr 25, 2006 4:43 pm

Postby icarus137 » Sat Jan 06, 2007 4:16 pm

I am sad to know your experience. Your advice is really invaluable for prospective graduate student in physics.
But for me, an international applicants, how can I know whether a certain school is good at a certain field, given the limited resource of information, as I cannot visit the department and talk with the professors easily? To me, the ranking system is essential for me to shortlist schools to apply for.


I would suggest looking at programs that offer a variety of research areas. This way if it turns out that you do not like what you initially were going to do, you have options. Many of the schools that are high ranked are ranked so because their departments have certain research areas that are excellent but others are mediocre. An example, UCLA is an outstanding school for plasma physics but isnt nearly as solid in other areas.

Just using the internet, you can find out some useful information. You can look at the number of publications that are being produced by the faculty and look to see if the graduate students are being allowed to contribute as well. When selecting an advisor, you can look to see how many students that they have had in the past. If a professor has been there for a long time and has only had a couple of students during that time, there is probably a reason.[/quote]

ualritemate
Posts: 23
Joined: Wed Jan 03, 2007 3:45 pm

Postby ualritemate » Sun Jan 07, 2007 1:04 am

sorry to hear your situation..but thanks for sharing this..good luck with whatever you decide to do next

braindrain
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

rankings: Stony Brook

Postby braindrain » Sun Jan 07, 2007 7:05 pm

Speaking of the Stony Brook ranking as the original poster icarus137 said, some of the Stony Brook profs. felt the ranking for
Stony Brook would certainly been higher if the CNYang Institute for
Theoretical Physics was counted in the ranking. I don't think it
gets to be considered in the ranking if its not teaching classes or
having student requirements, but a student may still be able to
do their thesis there. So, if that's the case then all these
little or subsidiary research centers aren't considered in the
rankings that would make rankings less meaningful.

soluyanov
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2006 1:06 pm

Postby soluyanov » Mon Jan 08, 2007 1:10 am

Dear Icarus, I hope you will find something that will give you the oportunity to shine bright. And I'm really sorry about your story. I can do nothing but agree.

Although, I'm applying now, and I know what kind of preassure all these stupid rating are, I try to realize, that getting into a good group with an active and not egoistical professor should be the only criteria for making a choice.

And don't look at what the particular professor has done already. He might have a great name in his field for some inventions made 10 or more years ago. But now he is inactive - often people give up to work hard or even lose interest after getting high. I'm really surprised that many of the Nobel prize winners become almost fruitless after shaking hands with the Swedish King. But it's a fact. Is that it? Have these people tried so hard only to hear the applause and get the world's respect? Try to find an advisor, who, probably, is not that famous, but who works with an open hart and a powerful mind.

And there is one more thing - this man should be honest. You have to be sure that he won't use you like a slave - just a brick of his career (idea). Your professor should become your father in a way - he should always think of his son.

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quizivex
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Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:13 am

icarus137

Postby quizivex » Wed Jan 10, 2007 6:32 am

Wow that's an unfortunate story and I'm sorry to hear it. I'm still an undergrad and the impression I'm getting is that in grad school, where you go is not nearly as important as the particular person you end up researching with.
I wish you the best of luck.

Wanna Be Physicist
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Dec 29, 2005 8:56 pm

Postby Wanna Be Physicist » Mon Feb 26, 2007 12:00 am

Damn, That's Rough.




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