astronomy departments and the pgre

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spoiledscientist
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astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby spoiledscientist » Tue Nov 09, 2010 1:24 pm

Is it true that astronomy departments care less about the physics gre scores than the regular physics departments? I got 630, and I'm an engineering undergraduate, so I figured my chances are zero until I read a post here that says astro people are easier with the pgre.

Another thing. When a university says pgre is not required, but encouraged, would it be a nice idea to submit a score in the 600s or not?

Happy application season everyone :D

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grae313
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby grae313 » Tue Nov 09, 2010 3:11 pm

If you browse the profiles threads you'll probably notice a trend towards lower scores in the astronomy applicants and accepted students.

spoiledscientist
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby spoiledscientist » Sat Nov 13, 2010 5:07 am

I looked at the profiles. The number of astronomy applicants is small, but they do have comparatively lower scores. I was going to do the test again in November, but I'm also considering applying to engineering schools. Now I'll apply to both.

vesperlynd
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby vesperlynd » Sat Nov 13, 2010 4:32 pm

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Last edited by vesperlynd on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

spoiledscientist
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby spoiledscientist » Mon Nov 22, 2010 2:51 pm

I spoke with a physics professor at my university and he told me that the score is good for an engineering undergrad, but I don't think the admissions committee would look at it this way. My recommendation letters aren't coming from known professors, but I believe they'll be good. The supermassive black hole, if you'll excuse the pun, is the lack of research whatsoever in astronomy. I did some research in physics related areas though.

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InquilineKea
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby InquilineKea » Tue Dec 07, 2010 6:23 pm

Okay here's a question: Are there applicants with *high* PGRE scores who still get rejected by astronomy departments?

My impression is that astronomy departments tend to tolerate lower PGRE scores (in other words, you don't need as high of a PGRE score to get in) - but I've seen a student with a high PGRE score (850) get into several astro departments (including Wisconsin), even though he had a GPA of around 3.3 and only a summer of biotech research (no recs from astro or physics professors either). So it might be more that their PGRE distributions are lower.

vesperlynd
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby vesperlynd » Sat Jan 01, 2011 6:10 pm

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Last edited by vesperlynd on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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InquilineKea
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jan 14, 2011 3:23 am

Wow, that's very interesting. Thanks for all the information! :)

As for my contact, yes, it might have been the recommendations. However, I don't think his recommendations were exceptional, since he only did research for a single summer and it was research with bioengineering professors (not astro professors). Also, he's not very enthusiastic about science/astro at all, and this lack of enthusiasm showed in his personal statement (in fact, even though he got accepted by several astro grad programs, he turned them all down in favor of something more practical).

Ah, which department did your advisor come from? As for my department (http://www.astro.washington.edu/grad/admission.html), it says this about GREs:

Do we consider GRE scores? Carefully. On the down side, various studies show that GRE scores do not correlate highly with ultimate success in physics, and that there is a gender bias in the GRE testing methods. We are keenly aware of this. Even so, GRE scores seem to be a better discriminator of success than grades, the latter having lost some of their value owing to grade inflation. So no application is considered without the full set of GRE scores.

treblkickd
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby treblkickd » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:17 am

vesperlynd wrote:Second, your friend's score is great, but I'm sure he had excellent recommendations. I was told that recs and research count for about 70%, grades about 15%, PGRE about 10%, and the SOP about 5%.

Third, about the PGRE. A) My advisor told me that there is basically a threshold for scores and above that, there's no correlation between scores and success in grad school. B) A professor visiting my school said that the PGRE and research ability were slightly negatively correlated. Whether this applies to physics departments as well, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if it does.


In at least one top astro program it is the norm to define a few hard cuts with PGRE and Verbal GRE (for native english speakers). There can also be soft cuts where the committee prefers PGRE above something like 60th percentile, but will sometimes admit people down into the 30ths if there are spectacular references/research.

Raw GPA isn't really used all that often. It's much more useful to look through a transcript and see how applicants performed in their higher level physics classes.

It's worth emphasizing the Verbal GRE again, because the common lore holds that high VGRE scores are a great indicator of future success. This is especially useful in a world where the PGRE is extremely prep-/gameable, and the VGRE much less so.

References are the most difficult thing for an applicant to really gauge going in (unless your reference people let you read them). Some references are superlative, and those go much farther than any other single piece of an application to convince committees to admit an applicant. Most references end up being pretty similar, and therefore not so useful for distinguishing an applicant.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:34 am

treblkickd wrote:This is especially useful in a world where the PGRE is extremely prep-/gameable, and the VGRE much less so.


I completely disagree with this. They are at least equally "gameable". When someone doesn't speak English as their first language and can score in the 600s by memorizing words I'd say that's not too difficult. As far as the VGRE being a great measure of future success, who honestly believes that crock of crap? Eh, maybe I'm just biased due to my moderate Verbal score. =P

-Riley

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InquilineKea
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:42 am

Okay, wow, thanks for all the responses!

Anyways, my impression is that most of the astro undergrads tend to be weaker than physics undergrads, so I see a lot of astro undergrads get grades of below 3.0 in upper division physics classes. I don't know if they're aiming for grad school though.

Also, would these courses count as upper-division physics?

PHYS 227 Elementary Mathematical Physics (4) NW
Applications of mathematics in physics with emphasis on the mechanics of particles and continuous systems. Develops and applies computational methods, both analytic and numerical. Prerequisite: either MATH 134, MATH 135, MATH 136, or MATH 308 any of which may be taken concurrently, or MATH 318; 2.0 in PHYS 123. Offered: AWS.

PHYS 228 Elementary Mathematical Physics (4) NW
Applications of mathematics in physics with emphasis on the mechanics of particles and continuous systems. Develops and applies computational methods, both analytic and numerical. Prerequisite: PHYS 227. Offered: AW.


Even though they're technically sophomore level, they're popularly recognized as "weeder courses".

badphysicist
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby badphysicist » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:46 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:
treblkickd wrote:This is especially useful in a world where the PGRE is extremely prep-/gameable, and the VGRE much less so.


I completely disagree with this. They are at least equally "gameable". When someone doesn't speak English as their first language and can score in the 600s by memorizing words I'd say that's not too difficult. As far as the VGRE being a great measure of future success, who honestly believes that crock of crap? Eh, maybe I'm just biased due to my moderate Verbal score. =P

-Riley


I remembered reading the verbal thing somewhere before so I went a head and searched for it and found it here: http://swps.berkeley.edu/appgs.pdf
Doing a search of the author gave me: http://lasp.colorado.edu/~bagenal/
(note that this article pertains to astronomy and prob application in general)


Does it mean anything? I don't know. I'm just surfing the web at 1:45 in the morning waiting for this scan to finish.
Last edited by badphysicist on Fri Jan 21, 2011 6:17 am, edited 1 time in total.

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InquilineKea
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:54 am

If you do a research project (e.g. REU) at a non-academic institution (e.g. govt. lab)
make sure the person writing your recommendation letters can make a useful
comparison of your performance with those of other students. General statements such
as “I was amazed how quickly Amanda learned how to analyze the data” are nice but
useless for admission committees. We are looking for “I was impressed that within a
month Amanda taught herself IDL, learned how to extract and calibrate data from the
BLAH database and re-plot them in the new co-ordinate system she developed with my
assistance. I have worked with 10 students over the past 3 summers and the only student
of her caliber is now finishing a PhD at Top Notch U.”


Wow, this advice is quite amazing.

In other words, simply asking for research is not enough. There is a lot of research available for mediocre students, especially in astronomy departments. What really matters is that if you have talent, then you better find a way to show it to the professor. And if the professor doesn't appreciate your talent, then it may be better to find another professor.

Commitment matters, as does ability to "do the research project all the way to completion". But even those things are things that any mediocre undergrad can do.

And then it shows that position of the faculty does sort of matter. A postdoc could write a really nice letter about you, but he can't compare you to a lot of other students. On the other hand, it's easier to be "the best I've ever had, even better than my grad students" at a non-exceptional institution, as compared to an exceptional institution.

treblkickd
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby treblkickd » Fri Jan 21, 2011 11:54 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:
treblkickd wrote:This is especially useful in a world where the PGRE is extremely prep-/gameable, and the VGRE much less so.


I completely disagree with this. They are at least equally "gameable". When someone doesn't speak English as their first language and can score in the 600s by memorizing words I'd say that's not too difficult. As far as the VGRE being a great measure of future success, who honestly believes that crock of crap? Eh, maybe I'm just biased due to my moderate Verbal score. =P

-Riley


I didn't post to start an argument. I'm just sharing first-hand information from one school.

I do disagree that the Verbal GRE is gameable in the same way as the PGRE. It does not test fluency of language, but rather the way that thoughts are structured in language. VGRE scores tend to be a good indicator of writing ability, and ability to write is just as important for long term career success as ability to do math (that is, you need to be able to do both).

Can you study and practice for the VGRE to improve your score? Sure. But it's not like the Physics GRE in that there are a fairly limited number of question types that can be drilled over repeatedly. Put it this way, you see plenty of cases where a student improves their PGRE score from ~30-40th percentile to 60th+ percentile from one taking to another. You very rarely see that happen with the VGRE (I can think of a single case).

But moving beyond individual GRE scores, the most important thing to remember is that (in the case of one astro program, at least), the admissions committee looks very closely at every piece of all applications. The "hard cuts" I referred to above are pretty generous, and there is no single bad number on an application that can't be overcome by strengths elsewhere.

vesperlynd
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby vesperlynd » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:13 pm

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Last edited by vesperlynd on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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InquilineKea
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:42 pm

Hm, what about analytical GRE? Does that matter?

Yes, there are really both hard cuts and soft cuts. Even hard cuts aren't necessarily hard, if the person gets special permission to get his application through (hard GPA cuts are especially unfair to undergrads coming from Caltech and Chicago, since both institutions practice grade deflation).

kapil_ds
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby kapil_ds » Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:57 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
treblkickd wrote:This is especially useful in a world where the PGRE is extremely prep-/gameable, and the VGRE much less so.


I completely disagree with this. They are at least equally "gameable". When someone doesn't speak English as their first language and can score in the 600s by memorizing words I'd say that's not too difficult. As far as the VGRE being a great measure of future success, who honestly believes that crock of crap? Eh, maybe I'm just biased due to my moderate Verbal score. =P

-Riley



Riley,

I don't know about the Chinese but I can provide some Indian perspective here using myself as a typical example.

First, one needs to differentiate between speaking a language vs. reading/writing in a language. My mother tongue is Hindi but I have been reading and writing in English since elementary school. My entire education since 5th grade has been in English with Hindi just being another subject. It should not come as a surprise then if some non-native english speakers can do well in Verbal GRE.

I think Verbal GRE is harder than PGRE. First, memorizing words is hard by itself. In addition, majority of words have multiple meanings and even various shades of meanings. Distinguishing between the shades of meanings in order to find the right relationship with another word is pretty damn hard.

In my undergrad institution, (IIT, which has some very smart people), Verbal GRE was a scourge. I have seen enough people getting decimated in that section.

Kapil

rhythm_keeper
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby rhythm_keeper » Fri Jan 21, 2011 2:02 pm

vesperlynd wrote:
Of astro departments, Santa Cruz's average is usually around a 60%, Colorado's is a 60%, Cornell's 60+%, Arizona's around 50%, Chicago's around 70%, Harvard I have no idea, but I know you can get in with below a 50%. Princeton is the only school I know of where the PGRE matters a lot (average is around 85-90%).


Princeton has a high PGRE average, but their graduate student body is ~57% international, so I have to wonder if that number is skewed just for that reason. Cornell is ~27%, UCSC ~11%, Arizona ~23%, U.Chicago ~17%, Colorado ~6% (AIP graduate enrollment statistics 2009).

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InquilineKea
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jan 21, 2011 2:11 pm

Wow, does anyone know why so much of Princeton's student body is international?

rhythm_keeper
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby rhythm_keeper » Fri Jan 21, 2011 3:29 pm

InquilineKea wrote:Wow, does anyone know why so much of Princeton's student body is international?


Part of it is undoubtedly that private Universities can afford more international students. You'll notice all the public Universities have significantly lower percentages. (Harvard is at ~37%.)

Princeton is also a very unique University. From what I have been told from both direct and indirect sources about graduate life at Princeton is that it is very important that you feel you fit in and would be successful there. Working against this is the ongoing mentality inside and outside of Princeton is that it is all about being an undergraduate and being in an Eating Club, etc. By contrast, undergraduates at MIT and Caltech probably receive a lot less attention (although not surprisingly since they're outnumbered 2:1 which is the opposite at Princeton).

However, this does not mean one is destined to be unhappy there--it all depends on whether one feels it is an appropriate fit both socially and academically. I know the physics department is very inviting (e.g. many catered social gatherings), and graduate students in general are working to improve their image at the University. To answer your question, a lot of domestic students could be scared away after they see if the graduate students are unhappy, leaving the international students who would rather be at Princeton than their home countries.

treblkickd
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby treblkickd » Fri Jan 21, 2011 4:00 pm

InquilineKea wrote:Hm, what about analytical GRE? Does that matter?

Yes, there are really both hard cuts and soft cuts. Even hard cuts aren't necessarily hard, if the person gets special permission to get his application through (hard GPA cuts are especially unfair to undergrads coming from Caltech and Chicago, since both institutions practice grade deflation).



If by Analytic GRE you mean the writing component, then I can say that the committee I'm familiar with largely ignores it because they have no idea what the criteria are and what it means. I could imagine a case where you could have an applicant that was otherwise on the cusp of admission but had a 1/6 on the writing and that could tip the scales in the wrong direction, but then again my guess is that for anyone on the cusp like that the Analytic score wouldn't really even be noticed and it would be letters/research statement that would tip the scales one way or another.

The quantitative portion of the GRE is also pretty useless, except to serve as a red flag when its low.

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YodaT
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Re: astronomy departments and the pgre

Postby YodaT » Sat Jan 22, 2011 9:14 am

kapil_ds wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote:
treblkickd wrote:This is especially useful in a world where the PGRE is extremely prep-/gameable, and the VGRE much less so.


I completely disagree with this. They are at least equally "gameable". When someone doesn't speak English as their first language and can score in the 600s by memorizing words I'd say that's not too difficult. As far as the VGRE being a great measure of future success, who honestly believes that crock of crap? Eh, maybe I'm just biased due to my moderate Verbal score. =P

-Riley



Riley,

I don't know about the Chinese but I can provide some Indian perspective here using myself as a typical example.

First, one needs to differentiate between speaking a language vs. reading/writing in a language. My mother tongue is Hindi but I have been reading and writing in English since elementary school. My entire education since 5th grade has been in English with Hindi just being another subject. It should not come as a surprise then if some non-native english speakers can do well in Verbal GRE.

I think Verbal GRE is harder than PGRE. First, memorizing words is hard by itself. In addition, majority of words have multiple meanings and even various shades of meanings. Distinguishing between the shades of meanings in order to find the right relationship with another word is pretty damn hard.

In my undergrad institution, (IIT, which has some very smart people), Verbal GRE was a scourge. I have seen enough people getting decimated in that section.

Kapil


I kind of know where you're coming from and agree with you. My original language (I always mark it as my second so I don't have to take English exams when entering a school) is traditionally oral, it has only been written down for a little over half a century. My dad grew up speaking my language fluently, but was horrible at reading/writing when his generation was shoved into boarding schools. Yet, he is great at reading English... just not very good at speaking it. I grew up speaking both (despite minor speech problems) and it took me a long time to get into reading/writing either one. The odd thing about it is that all my applications will say that I'm a domestic US Citizen next year... and I know I will have a low verbal score.




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