Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

  • 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.

michael
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Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby michael » Tue Mar 16, 2010 1:51 pm

Just a thought about the effect this website is having on us all.

Do you think that by comparing our own profiles with other people we end up working harder to get into the grad schools we want to? My rough logic is that after seeing this website, the level of everyones application rises, and pretty much the same people get into the same places as they would have if nobody saw the website and improved their application, but they had to work harder to do so?

Just a random musing, inspired by the fact that it really does seem ridiculously difficult to get into some US grad schools. And it has been suggested to me by a few professors that the strength of applications has been rising (one professor in particular was shocked that publications are pretty much expected these days). I'm sure the economy changing has a lot to do with it too, but I can't help but wonder if ignorance wasn't bliss before physicsgre.com!

signminus
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby signminus » Tue Mar 16, 2010 2:12 pm

I've been thinking about this recently as well. My impression isn't so much that people work harder because of this site, though. Rather, because so many tips and techniques to strengthen an application are available to everyone, the strength of everyone's application rises uniformly as a result.

That viewpoint doesn't connect with the information about more applicants having publications and so on; I imagine that some people have been motivated to improve their credentials to approach those of students admitted to top schools. Still, I wonder about whether sharing advice on a public forum like this could be hurting future applicants in the long run, as everyone works off this common pool of knowledge to craft perfect applications, and standards are pushed skyward year after year.

kroner
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby kroner » Tue Mar 16, 2010 2:52 pm

Insofar as the site is an advantage, it's a prisoner's dilemma. There's no way to force everyone to opt out, and anyone who does is at a disadvantage. Taking the site down would not make the information go away. People would just discuss it elsewhere. Welcome to the internet age.

However I think that a lot of the advantages to being better informed aren't zero-sum. Doing a better job picking programs that fit you, and having an easier time finding the information you need makes your life easier without making anyone else's harder. Having a stronger application is zero-sum but that's only part of the picture.

mobytish
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby mobytish » Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:03 pm

I know this site helped me to eliminate some programs from my list (based on chances of getting in), which saved me money and saved my recommenders the hassle of having to submit letters to more places. I think people will work to improve their applications regardless of whether there is a discussion forum about it or not. If there weren't the internet, someone would have published a book about it by now (maybe it's already happened) and everyone would be buying it and reading about how to improve their apps. It can't be stopped. True that everyone improving their apps doesn't change anything, but there are definitely people out there not making the effort and that's better for the rest of us.

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YellowXDart
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby YellowXDart » Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:19 pm

Last year when I applied to grad school I wasn't aware of this site at all. As a result, I applied to schools that were WAY out of my league and felt like a sucker for getting rejected. I think that this site first of all helped me to determine where I stand in relation to everybody else, and it also provided a support structure during what I would consider the most depressing 6 months of my life. I feel that there is a lot of useful advice on this site, but nothing on here makes you a better applicant, just better at applying. For example, my research experience and GPA didn't change because of this site. Although it was a useful resource for studying for the PGRE, I think that my own commitment to studying contributed more to my score than anything else. Unless you've been reading this forum since your freshman year of college and following every bit of advice given, I doubt that it improved your application significantly. It just made you more aware of what the grad schools are looking for in an applicant and therefore better able to cater to that. Also, I would guess that only about 300 current applicants actually read this forum regularly, which is only a small fraction of the total number of applicants out there.

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quizivex
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby quizivex » Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:07 pm

This idea has been brought up before. If all this forum did was swallow up people’s time and “help” everyone equally, then yes it would be a waste, just like adding 50 points to everyone’s GRE score. But that’s not what it does.

The forum has a ton of valuable information that can help students greatly without giving them an “advantage” over others in the application process (for ex, the threads on what “medical physics” is all about may make a big difference for students making a major career decision).

Even the GRE and application process threads don’t directly give students an advantage either. It just levels the playing field so that everyone has access to key information that otherwise only lucky students would get. For instance, the larger and/or better schools often have organized PGRE prep sessions, whereas at my no-name tiny Ugrad department most students didn’t even know the test was multiple choice or that there were four practice tests.

Saying that publications are helpful on one’s record won’t get you a publication. Hearing some myth that “dimensional analysis can answer many of the questions on the PGRE” still hasn’t given away any answers, (and if it were that simple, then people here wouldn’t still be struggling with the test).

The forum allows people to post specific questions to experienced students from around the country that the limited handful of people in their own department might not be able to answer (or may give them a bad answer). It’s not fair if a student’s future is compromised because he never found out until late junior year that undergrads are expected to participate in research nowadays, or that nobody ever told him REU’s exist. This forum won’t hand you free points. You still have to earn them. The forum gives students more control over their future… we’re better informed and can thus better focus our efforts on what matters. So one’s ability will be the primary factor in his success, not a lack of information.

Also, the profile thread is extremely valuable. Seeing a large sample of profiles and admission results allows students judge for themselves what matters in admissions, and to predict what would be a reasonable list of schools for their own record. That way they don’t have to guess aimlessly, or rely on some random prof’s opinion at their own school. It also shows the kinds of activities and research programs undergrad physics majors can get involved in so beginning undergrads can get ideas. It’s also fun!

Oh and most importantly, the forum gives students a chance to converse and even joke around with people from all over the world who have similar interests. I had a great time with the PGRE.com class of 2008.

So the answer to the question is a resounding NO… and if anything, it’s posts like these that waste people’s time and make it harder to succeed… posts where the question has such an obvious answer but even after writing a tedious post like this, some people still won’t want to believe it.

Maxos
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby Maxos » Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:23 pm

quizivex wrote:So the answer to the question is a resounding NO… and if anything, it’s posts like these that waste people’s time and make it harder to succeed… posts where the question has such an obvious answer but even after writing a tedious post like this, some people still won’t want to believe it.


quote

pqortic
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby pqortic » Tue Mar 16, 2010 11:05 pm

michael wrote:Just a thought about the effect this website is having on us all.

I think by "this website" you mean the profile threads. because there is no doubt that the rest of the information here is really useful even for nonphysicists.
for profile threads, yeah they reveal the though competition out there to get into the grad schools. its what it is in real world. and I believe all applicants are in need of this forum for better selection. if you put your selection basis only on what schools say in their website you will waste your time and money. (for ex. MIT never says if your PGRE is less than 700 you wont be accepted because nobody dislikes more money in the packet!)

without those threads there might be a great number of second year applicants who apply first year and end up with nothing until they gauge their level and select schools more wisely next year (as YellowXDart said earlier).

michael
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby michael » Thu Mar 18, 2010 4:20 am

Hey, sorry if I offended anyone there, that definitely wasn't my aim. I have to say that I have also found GRE physics very useful, and really feel better off because of it. I think it is a very good resource for lots of people, in particular because there are a number of posters who contribute so much of their time to help advise people.

One related thing: I don't think that when a person improves their application, they necessarily improve their ability as a physicist (a key example in my opinion is the PGRE). I dont know if the existance of this website leads to people improving aspects of their application which only make them LOOK, rather than BE better physicists. However, I cant help but feel it may a little bit (despite lots of good points in response to my original comment).

mobytish
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby mobytish » Thu Mar 18, 2010 7:53 am

That seems a little silly. I mean, you can only do so much to improve your application and, unless you're lying, you're still the same applicant as you were before. Maybe your scores are better because you got advice on how to study, or maybe your statement of purpose is better written due to the tips on the website, but I don't see how this would make someone look better than they actually are.

signminus
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby signminus » Thu Mar 18, 2010 11:28 am

mobytish wrote:Maybe your scores are better because you got advice on how to study, or maybe your statement of purpose is better written due to the tips on the website, but I don't see how this would make someone look better than they actually are.


While it wouldn't really make someone look better than they actually are, it does make that person look better, period. And that's the whole idea of playing the admissions game, really: to make yourself look as attractive as possible to potential graduate schools. If everyone succeeds in making themselves *look* better, then admissions committees face even tougher choices as to who to accept, if only for aesthetic reasons.

rp
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby rp » Thu Mar 18, 2010 11:34 am

michael wrote: One related thing: I don't think that when a person improves their application, they necessarily improve their ability as a physicist (a key example in my opinion is the PGRE). I dont know if the existance of this website leads to people improving aspects of their application which only make them LOOK, rather than BE better physicists. However, I cant help but feel it may a little bit (despite lots of good points in response to my original comment).


I share your opinion.
The GRE might measure how prepared you were, not necessarily how good you are. And as an international, I still can't understand how undergrads in the USA can publish string stuff while taking their first quantum mechanics course. And how that would make them better. But I guess everyone has their personal opinion on what's important.

Just that I feel I've been unjustly rejected from many places, simply because I found out too late what american universities expect from their applicants (that is, met this site after applying). I mean, if I knew back then I needed some publication to get in, well, I would surely try to get one. Guess that's natural selection for you, those that don't adapt to the system die.
But I woudn't say this site makes it harder. I think quite the contrary, it helps to make the process more fair, as long as everyone has access to the information here early on.

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quizivex
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby quizivex » Fri Mar 19, 2010 7:45 pm

rp wrote:And as an international, I still can't understand how undergrads in the USA can publish string stuff while taking their first quantum mechanics course.
I'm domestic and that makes no sense to me either. I've ranted a lot about the obsession with "undergrad research" in the past and wondered how so many undergrads can "publish" new work in physics while taking "Introduction to the Fundamentals of Electromagnetism for Beginners I", and then miss a pendulum problem on the PGRE... (rant cut short)
rp wrote:But I woudn't say this site makes it harder. I think quite the contrary, it helps to make the process more fair, as long as everyone has access to the information here early on.
Yep, exactly!
michael wrote:I dont know if the existance of this website leads to people improving aspects of their application which only make them LOOK, rather than BE better physicists.
Lol, as if the application process before this website existed was a perfect, pure, pristine gauge of how good a physicist one is? There was always a GRE. GPA's always included BS courses like language and art. The reputation of our recommenders was always important...

Your original question was whether this site makes it harder for us to "succeed", not be better physicists. Nevertheless, becoming a physicist requires getting into grad school. Memorizing vocab words got me a high verbal score and impressed some people on committees... It clearly didn't directly make me a better physicist, but it helped me get into the right program which may help me become a better physicist.

This forum helps people find their way... helps them better focus their time on what matters. Each person may end up "looking" better than they otherwise would have, but this does not have a null effect. Some people will clearly be helped more than others. The people who are helped most by the key pieces of information on here are those who otherwise never would have found out. The only people who will find it harder to succeed due to this website are those who would've been lucky enough to have all this important information handed to them anyway without PGRE.com, since they would have faced less competition from people like me and RP who would've been oblivious and thus "looked" weaker in the application process. That's why we say PGRE.com levels the playing field. It's a good thing.

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noojens
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby noojens » Fri Mar 19, 2010 11:48 pm

The people who are helped most by the key pieces of information on here are those who otherwise never would have found out. The only people who will find it harder to succeed due to this website are those who would've been lucky enough to have all this important information handed to them anyway without PGRE.com
Agreed. Having been at a third-tier state school and at an Ivy, I can say that there's a huge gap in the career, networking, and information resources available to students. This site levels the playing field somewhat by at least making the process more transparent.

Power to the PGREople.

mobytish
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Re: Is this website making it harder for us to succeed?

Postby mobytish » Sat Mar 20, 2010 8:24 am

noojens wrote:Power to the PGREople.

Very cute.




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