tricky question re: girlfriend and graduate school

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GoodIdeaBadIdea
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Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 3:07 pm

tricky question re: girlfriend and graduate school

Postby GoodIdeaBadIdea » Tue Jul 21, 2009 3:57 pm

I will be a first-year graduate student at a top-notch school for physics beginning this fall (let's call the school UX). I am also dating a physics major who is a year behind me at the university where I did my undergraduate.

We are fortunate in that she's always wanted to go to UX, since long before we started dating. We are unfortunate in that UX is a very difficult school to get into. I would say she has a pretty good chance of admittance: she has higher grades than me and she started doing research earlier. However, she hasn't taken the GREs yet and I'm not sure what kind of a tester she is (and we all know how important that is). And anyway, a "pretty good" chance at UX still equals a roll of the dice to some extent.

I'm quite attached to this girl, and if she doesn't get into UX, there's a high chance I would try to transfer wherever she got in. So my question is this: would it be inappropriate to tell this to UX during this year's application cycle? To basically say, in other words, "if this person doesn't get in, I will probably be leaving next year". Obviously I'd broach it in a much more tactful way.

Ethically, this has me in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, I'm trying to influence the admissions process for my personal gain. On the other, I'm sure UX would be interested to know how my personal situation could affect them.

To be clear, this is not a situation where I have any sort of special leverage -- I'm a fine student but one of a good number of other first-years, and possibly towards the bottom in terms of accomplishments to this point.

I'd love everybody's thoughts, but in particular if admissionsprof is still hanging around, or if anybody has had experience with this sort of situation, please speak up! Thanks!

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

Re: tricky question re: girlfriend and graduate school

Postby robertson » Tue Jul 21, 2009 4:53 pm

Hi mate! I haven't post anything for a long time but this topic is specially touching for me, so I thought I could add my two cents. First, I don't know how your girlfriend is, but if she has got good marks and tons of research experience, she is probably the kind of girl who likes to get things by herself. I say this because anything that you do, you better let her know first, there is no need to make her believe that she got into her dream school just because they didn't want you to transfer.

Once you agree with your girlfriend, then it is time to put your plan into practice. To my surprise, physics departments are extremely understanding when you explain this kind of problems. I say this because this is not the case in my country (universities don't control the funding, they can't help you at all), and because I had a similar problem and they helped me a lot. However, I don't think you should be completely straight about your intentions for the following reasons:

1) If you are not tactful enough, it will sound like if your are blackmailing them.
2) As I said, your girlfriend will never know what was the reason to be accepted in this school.
3) Even if you finally get what you want, this will not improve your image in the department. It might not hurt it, but if I knew that you were completely sure to transfer for this reason, I wouldn't think that you were the most commited student. Maybe, someone would love to see how young physicist love each other, but I wouldn't bet for that.

What I would do is to ask for help. Express your concerns, say something like "My girlfriend is applying this year, and god knows how my life will improve if she could only study here. Would you mind to give her advice and introduce her to some faculty to help her make a stronger application?" She will still get help, but this is completely legal (we have seen people doing really weird things to improve their chances, using the help of someone inside the department is not the worse by far).

I will also propose to ask for help from other departments. You didn't say where UX was, but almost every university in your country has a decent second option nearby. It might be better to travel a bit every now and then (obviously east coast-west coast won't work, but princeton-columbia or Boston might) rather than transfering and screwing up your relationship with your current institution.

I'm not an expert at all, maybe your current institution will understand your situation and will allow you to transfer without problems, but there is no need to force them to accept your girlfriend and neither to force them to accept your transfer petition if they are not willing to do so.

My point, ask for help and wait for the lottery of the admissions process to end. She is accepted, no one gets hurt. She is not accepted, you ask for a transfer.

I hope it helps, and sorry for my English, I'll try to fix my mistakes as soon as I get to Boston. Good luck!

GoodIdeaBadIdea
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 3:07 pm

Re: tricky question re: girlfriend and graduate school

Postby GoodIdeaBadIdea » Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:24 pm

I say this because anything that you do, you better let her know first


Definitely.

What I would do is to ask for help. Express your concerns, say something like "My girlfriend is applying this year, and god knows how my life will improve if she could only study here. Would you mind to give her advice and introduce her to some faculty to help her make a stronger application?" She will still get help, but this is completely legal (we have seen people doing really weird things to improve their chances, using the help of someone inside the department is not the worse by far).


That's a very good idea.

I will also propose to ask for help from other departments. You didn't say where UX was, but almost every university in your country has a decent second option nearby. It might be better to travel a bit every now and then (obviously east coast-west coast won't work, but princeton-columbia or Boston might) rather than transfering and screwing up your relationship with your current institution.


This is one we've thought about, and will certainly attempt in addition to UX. However, there are simply not a lot of comparable options within a reasonable distance, so if it's not UX, it would be a significant academic compromise or a long way away. It's tough.

surjective
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:16 am

Re: tricky question re: girlfriend and graduate school

Postby surjective » Wed Jul 22, 2009 1:54 am

Grad school admissions are a fair bit easier for females.

Don't get me wrong: the ones that get in are top-notch, and do at least as well as their male counterparts.

I'm just saying that, if you look at the stats, girls can get by with lower GRE scores. But since the GRE scores are useless in predicting physicist success, this doesn't mean that they can get by with less skill.

So, if your GF has good grades, and has done some research, she may have a pretty solid chance at getting into top schools.

So maybe you don't need to worry so much about it. Just my $0.02.

shouravv
Posts: 84
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 1:20 pm

Re: tricky question re: girlfriend and graduate school

Postby shouravv » Tue Sep 01, 2009 12:30 pm

If both of you were graduating and applying in the same year, then the schools would positively consider the fact that both of you either would or would not come. In Astronomy graduate programs, this has the pet name "two-body problem". This year, our department admitted a female student and wait listed a male student from the same school. When she visited, the female student said that the other guy is her boyfriend, and they want to go to the same graduate school. Later, our department admitted the boyfriend as well, specially since both of them were very accomplished, and both of them are joining the department this fall. Thus, I'd expect that if a current first year grad student opined that s/he would like to have a significant other admitted, then the significant other will have much a better chance of getting in, unless s/he has some serious problem. Also, as you would read in bazillion other threads here, test score matter but is only a tiny part of a big picture.

Now, situations vary from school to school, from department to department, and year to year. For example, our department over-recruited for two consecutive years, and probably next year things will be very tight because of that. I think what you should do is wait until ~mid-December, and in the mean time have you girlfriend contact the professors on her own with the usual communication emails etc., and then you can speak with the graduate admissions committee chair or someone in the department mentioning that she is your girlfriend, and if admitted, she will definitely come. You can at most tell them how great it would be if she is here, for both you and for the department, but by no means try to indicate that you would leave otherwise etc. That will piss off people, and it will be bad for both you and your girlfriend.

Speaking of which: if your girlfriend goes to a different program starting in Fall 2010, and you apply to that program in Fall 2010, then you will be starting in Fall 2011. Many schools make the students coming from other school do the coursework anew, and then you'll be one year behind your girlfriend rather than ahead. On the other hand, you can't just apply to all the schools again this year, because they will recognize you from last year's applicant pool ... I am only trying to say that think before you move, and don't shoot yourself in the foot being careless.




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