Thinking about Grad School for Physics

  • 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.

Kyden
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Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby Kyden » Sun Nov 14, 2010 2:27 am

Sooo... I've been job searching now for a few months after quitting an engineering sales job. I haven't been able to find anything and have been thinking about getting a masters in Physics, but I have a few concerns.

1. My major - I graduated with a BS "Comprehensive Science" degree from my school. This is basically a back up program for anyone who does not want to or cannot finish their science degree, bio/chem/phys, and still wants to graduate in 8 semesters. Basically all of the credits transfer into elective science courses, So I took alot of Physics when it was my major, 3 years. But didnt get a BS physics per se. I also finished the math requirement, calc 1-3, diffeq, also took a few other math courses.

2. My GPA - For many reasons I graduated with a technical GPA of 2.0, was a cheerleader and also in a fraternity which took up serious amounts of my time. Also had mono 1 semester and had to leave mid way through another semester for financial reasons. Also at that age, 18-22, I was really unfocused and really was just concerned with learning the concepts and doing well on tests. I rarely turned in or did well on homework and also did not write many of my tedious lab reports.

3. No references - I disliked many of my physics professors including my adviser. It also did not help that the program was so small that many teachers cycled through and taught me again the next semester or year. I did not develop any friendships with any of them and am not in a position to ask for a letter.

Based on these 3 circumstances, will a good GRE score get me in somewhere? I am much more focused now as I am a few years older and am also in a more stable environment. I'm positive that I can study for a few months or half a year or so and do well on the test. Would this even be worth it or have I screwed myself already?

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twistor
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby twistor » Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:47 am

was a cheerleader


I got distracted when I got to that part...

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grae313
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby grae313 » Sun Nov 14, 2010 4:14 pm

Your research experience, grades, and letters of recommendation are much more important than your PGRE score. I'd recommend applying to masters programs and trying to get good grades and good research experience and some good letters out of it and then moving on to a PhD program.

admissionprof
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby admissionprof » Sun Nov 14, 2010 5:06 pm

grae313 wrote:Your research experience, grades, and letters of recommendation are much more important than your PGRE score. I'd recommend applying to masters programs and trying to get good grades and good research experience and some good letters out of it and then moving on to a PhD program.



Grae is, as usual, correct (has she ever not been?). But it may not be that easy to get into a masters program with a 2.0. An alternative would be to sign up for some advanced undergraduate physics classes at a university for a year (even if you had them years ago). Most universities will allow unclassified students to take courses that don't fill up (and advanced physics courses never fill up). That would give you letters from physics teachers. And if you can get research experience, that's even better. It might be easier to take undergraduate courses as a refresher first.

pqortic
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby pqortic » Sun Nov 14, 2010 7:22 pm

twistor wrote:
was a cheerleader


I got distracted when I got to that part...

me too. how long did it last for you?

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Sun Nov 14, 2010 7:35 pm

I read this post last night and postponed my response. I am going to be very critical of this post because I feel he needs to understand what is expected of him and what is realistic.

Kyden wrote:I've been job searching now for a few months after quitting an engineering sales job. I haven't been able to find anything and have been thinking about getting a masters in Physics, but I have a few concerns.


A few questions about this:

Why did you quit the engineering sales job? What were you hoping to do after quitting that job?

Why do you want to get a masters in Physics? What are your other options besides getting a masters in Physics?

Kyden wrote:1. My major - I graduated with a BS "Comprehensive Science" degree from my school. This is basically a back up program for anyone who does not want to or cannot finish their science degree, bio/chem/phys, and still wants to graduate in 8 semesters. Basically all of the credits transfer into elective science courses, So I took alot of Physics when it was my major, 3 years. But didnt get a BS physics per se. I also finished the math requirement, calc 1-3, diffeq, also took a few other math courses.


When you write: "who does not want to or cannot finish their science degree" May I ask you which one of these categories you fall under?

I can understand the reasoning for wanting to get out of school within 8 semesters, but if you're missing some of your advanced courses in physics, graduate school in physics is going to be rough (as if it wasn't already).

Kyden wrote:2. My GPA - For many reasons I graduated with a technical GPA of 2.0, was a cheerleader and also in a fraternity which took up serious amounts of my time. Also had mono 1 semester and had to leave mid way through another semester for financial reasons. Also at that age, 18-22, I was really unfocused and really was just concerned with learning the concepts and doing well on tests. I rarely turned in or did well on homework and also did not write many of my tedious lab reports.


I think that admission committees will frown upon your GPA being blamed on cheer leading and fraternity activities. I don't think these activities alone should justify the GPA you achieved. However, I'm sure a bad semester due to mono would be explainable, but this can't be the sole reason for your overall GPA.

In particular, this sentence confused the hell out of me...

Kyden wrote:I was really unfocused and really was just concerned with learning the concepts and doing well on tests.


I teach students in Physics and I don't ever remember one of them as this. I'd be surprised that an unfocused individual would want to learn the concepts, instead of just concentrating on doing well on a test. This is contradicting in my eyes.

Kyden wrote:3. No references - I disliked many of my physics professors including my adviser. It also did not help that the program was so small that many teachers cycled through and taught me again the next semester or year. I did not develop any friendships with any of them and am not in a position to ask for a letter.


I had six professors at my undergraduate school. You should have developed a friendship with them. It is almost interesting that you didn't, considering the circumstances you were under. This is a pretty big hit to any application. As someone has mentioned, research/recommendations is the big hitter, and without any, you might be in trouble.

Kyden wrote:Based on these 3 circumstances, will a good GRE score get me in somewhere? I am much more focused now as I am a few years older and am also in a more stable environment. I'm positive that I can study for a few months or half a year or so and do well on the test. Would this even be worth it or have I screwed myself already?


They won't look past the other 3 circumstances, even if you could pull off a perfect score on the Physics GRE (which was yesterday by the way). If you are talking about the regular GRE, although it is required by most programs, I feel it has very little impact on your acceptance to a program.

I think you should do some research on Physics programs. I know a few of them don't require any minimum undergraduate GPA, but I'm afraid it isn't making the cut that gets you into a school, it's beating out anyone else who may be applying as well.

If this is something you really want to do, you need to go back to undergraduate for at least a year, take some advanced courses in physics and line up some research with one or multiple professors. I'm fairly sure this is way more than you expected, but if you really want this, this is probably the only way I can see you'd have a chance of getting in anywhere.

Otherwise, to be honest... I think you'll have trouble getting in.

-Riley

Kyden
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Joined: Sun Nov 14, 2010 2:06 am

Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby Kyden » Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:17 pm

Hey everyone thanks for the replies, well at least the helpful ones. I quit my sales engineering job for a few reasons, it was a small company, my boss, secretary, the other guy I replaced and myself. We were reselling chinese equipment to international customers and to customers in the US. It was shady, stressful, the commute was 2 hrs each way, and after I learned how to assemble and operate all of the products it became rather boring as I was focusing primarily on sales. I didn't go to school to become a salesman.


The reason I picked physics as a major initially was to hopefully get into a better school, believing my uncommon major would help in that process. It was also my favorite subject in high school. I quickly realized in school that I wasn't prepared to sacrifice as much of my time that my peers were just to get an A on the test. I really didn't care about my GPA and wasn't really planning on grad school at the time. To be honest I couldn't connect with anyone in my classes or any of my teachers. I mean nothing against the people in my program but they weren't the type of people I would want to associate myself with. I began to resent them and my teachers and it lead to me having a very negative vibe on the whole matter. I began to fall behind after getting mono and then after leaving for a semester I would of had to wait another semester for the physics courses to be offered again. So I wanted to get out in 8 semesters not 10 so I switched majors.

I was entertaining the idea of teaching myself the last few physics courses over a few months. I have a really good ability to learn anything from a well written textbook. This is how I passed a few of my physics and math courses anyways. I think this is doable.

Are there any options that do not require me to go back to undergrad? I mean even A's in those courses are not going to raise my GPA above a 2.5. Also for financial reasons I would have a tough time justifying retaking courses for a degree I have already completed.

Is there any way to take masters classes without being in the program and then if I get accepted they can count for it?

Also, would it help to get into some research type position at a university and get a letter or two that way or are these positions primarily for students?

O and as for the cheerleading piece it was distracting for me too haha but I was good enough to get scholarship money after only my 2nd year so it was worth it in my eyes.

admissionprof
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby admissionprof » Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:32 pm

Kyden wrote:I was entertaining the idea of teaching myself the last few physics courses over a few months. I have a really good ability to learn anything from a well written textbook. This is how I passed a few of my physics and math courses anyways. I think this is doable.


Sure, you can teach yourself, in principle, but no admissions committee is going to give this any validity whatsoever. We would need to see good grades in upper level undergrad courses, and letters, and teaching yourself provides none of those.

Kyden wrote:Are there any options that do not require me to go back to undergrad? I mean even A's in those courses are not going to raise my GPA above a 2.5. Also for financial reasons I would have a tough time justifying retaking courses for a degree I have already completed.


Get real. Apparently, you do not have good grades in upper level undergraduate courses, and thus you HAVE to go back and take them. Your overall GPA is irrelevant---I've seen applicants with a 2.0 go back after a few years, retake some of the courses (and take some new ones), get good grades, and then we don't even consider the 2.0 part---we go by recent upper level course grades.

Kyden wrote:Is there any way to take masters classes without being in the program and then if I get accepted they can count for it?


Generally, no. It isn't hard to take undergrad courses by being "unclassified", but usually masters classes are reserved for people admitted. OTOH, it might not be hard to be admitted without any financial support---many places won't mind allowing that.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Thinking about Grad School for Physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Sun Nov 14, 2010 10:50 pm

Kyden wrote:Is there any way to take masters classes without being in the program and then if I get accepted they can count for it?


Even if this is the case, I believe you would need more preparation for such classes. I'm not saying you're capable of passing these courses, but according to your track record if I was in your shoes I'd be terrified to take graduate courses in Physics. They aren't easy. I really think it would be in your benefit to take advanced undergraduate courses (either ones you didn't get to or ones that will be extremely important for graduate school, Quantum, E & M) to help you understand how difficult this is going to be. If you really want to do this, you'll find a way.

-Riley




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