My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

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swestrings
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My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby swestrings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 9:06 am

I have looked at the profiles for 2009 and 2010, and I still can't work out which universities I should apply to, and its getting late!

The information is somehow not so useful, I dont really know what the profiles' letters of recommendation were like, the SOP, their CV/resume and the quality of their school will also count. None of their accounts really suit me, so I was hoping to try you guys out. People who are tired of these kinds of request may kindly ignore it, rather than flame-hating it down :) Thanks!

So here is my stuff

School: top 100 university in world, in northern europe
Degree: masters in engineering physics
Length of Degree: 4.5 years (hybrid bachelors-masters in my country, been in use for ages)
Overall GPA: different system but it equates to 3.70/4.00
Position in Class:top 3-4 but will not say on my transcript, we dont have rankings here
Type of Student: European male, handsome
Status: done, finished, completed :)

Second school: another top 100 university, also in northern europe, whose top ranked department is physics
Degree: masters in theoretical physics
Length of Degree: 2 years
Overall GPA: different system but it equates to 3.82/4.00
Position in Class: unknown, there are few students with many different specializations. Even within theory it is hard to say.
Status: havent gotten this degree yet, busy working on thesis

Letters of Rec: there will be 1 OK one from a pretty famous guy; and their will be one OK one from a regular (but good) researcher; and then a third one is from another researcher and will be somewhere between good to very good I guess (he knows me the best, too). Got a good SOP going too, I should imagine..

No research experience apart from masters thesis, which might be publishable in near future. Some scholarships.

Misc stuff that might help: for reasons I wont go into, my performance on the degree in engineering physics was really awesome and I have a letter explaining it. Anyone in my home country would immediately identify me as truly excellent.

GRE: to-be-announced
PGRE: 740 first time (62nd percentile), and 750 second time (65th percentile)

So you can all see the fly in the soup, we have two mediocre GRE physics scores. Coming from a country where no-one knows what the GRE or PGRE is, I hope they have some sense for this. But they do love those GRE scores..

So.... difficult question: where to apply for string theory, quantum gravity, mathematics in QFT etc? Very fundamental stuff, no experiments or phenomenology for me, thanks :). I have already applied to the best of the best (i.e. all top 10 you can imagine in the US), but how are my chances?

Please comment, and feel free to recommend any universities that you think have excellent research in the listed areas, but perhaps arent so extremely competitive like Princeton, Berkeley etc... Especially if you know any universities whose last application date is today, the 15th dec. I have all material ready and I am ready to rock, please let me know!

twinb87
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby twinb87 » Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:28 pm

Since you want to do theory, I am sorry to say that your PGRE scores will probably keep you from getting into the top 10 schools. Two schools that I can think of off the top of my head that are less competitive but still have strong research in the areas you listed are Penn State and SUNY Stony Brook. Please note that while these schools are less competitive than the top 10, I would not say it is guaranteed you will get into them just that you will probably have a better chance. Hope this helps.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Wed Dec 15, 2010 1:31 pm

Let's be honest.

No research + International + (750 PGRE + Wanting to do theory).

Now I am by no means saying you won't get into a program, but to be aiming at top 10 schools with this type of background will be pretty difficult unless someone knows you personally at these schools. If you don't believe me you can meander over to the application profiles and decide this for yourself. Even my setup:

Some research + Domestic + (890 PGRE + Wanting to do experiment) does not guarantee me a spot in a top 10 University. (In fact I'm only applying to two of them and hoping for the best)

Although I'm sure most of us are capable of being successful in these programs, it is the mere fact that there are so many other students with better credentials that will fill these positions first.

-Riley

axiomofchoice
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby axiomofchoice » Wed Dec 15, 2010 2:46 pm

swestrings wrote:The information is somehow not so useful, I dont really know what the profiles' letters of recommendation were like, the SOP, their CV/resume and the quality of their school will also count. None of their accounts really suit me, so I was hoping to try you guys out.


Good assumption to make is in those profiles that are similar to yours in the objective part (i.e. international, mid-700 PGRE, etc.) they have as good recommendation, CV, and SOP as yours.

I agree with twinb87 and WhoaNonstop. It would be very foolish of you if you only apply to top 10, because if you look at all the international profiles, even many of those 900+ with awesome profiles did not get into top 10, and when the PGRE score goes lower to the 700s, odds are really against you. That is, unless all you want to do in the US is to go to a top 10 school, and you have good backup options in your home country. Otherwise you will risk getting into nowhere.

I would suggest, as I mentioned in your other thread, that you to talk with the professors in your department to see if they know of other schools beside the top 10 that also have good hep-th research. In addition to the schools I mentioned over there (which are suggestions from my professor in the same field), off the top of my head, I would probably add Rutgers, SUNY at Stony Brook.

Some of the best things you can do for yourself is to look at the rank 10-50 school (google or search the forum, the list is out there), and go to their website and look at the "Research" part. Look up all their hep-th professors: are they doing string theory, etc. (they usually mention their interests on their website)? Have they published recently (they would usually list their publications, or you can search in HEP-SPIRES http://www.slac.stanford.edu/spires/)? I would say any of those school with more than 2 or 3 professors doing stuff that interest you, and are fairly active (i.e. papers published within the past 2 years), you should apply to them, as much as you have time and money for.

swestrings
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby swestrings » Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:37 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:Let's be honest.
No research + International + (750 PGRE + Wanting to do theory).
Now I am by no means saying you won't get into a program, but to be aiming at top 10 schools with this type of background will be pretty difficult unless someone knows you personally at these schools.


Thanks for your reply! :)

Are they really that stuck up about the GRE? I mean Calabi-Yau manifolds are extremely advanced objects, how does memorizing a simple number-equals-number equation like Torricellis equation (needed for PGRE) correlate with understanding them? I would think that the PGRE would be _least_ important for theory of that kind, and _most_ important for general physicists who will work in labs and need to know a little about everything, including error propagation, electronics and filthy log-log plots.

Surely the private universities must be best at choosing the very most intrinsically mathematically gifted students from other countries... Northern Europe is not pakistan, china or india: can the "uncertainty" really be just as large? Because I can really understand the desire to base 70% of the decision solely on the PGRE when the applicant comes from a completely anonymous top 2000 indian university with completely unrecognized letters of recommendation. I would too base all my judgment on the PGRE then. But to do the same for a nice european country with really old univerities seems silly or paranoid.

I really hope to get into princeton or Santa barbara, are the chances really so slim given the described profile? Is it really like 0.000%? They accept 80 of which usually 20 accept or so, are each and everyone of those 80 sitting there with PGRE 800+ ?

Again, thanks for your replies :)

The_Duck
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby The_Duck » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:04 am

Out of interest I ctrl-f'ed through the profile threads to find acceptances to Princeton.

2010 acceptances: PGRE scores were 960 (international from Ukraine) and 990 (domestic).

2009 had more accepted, all were domestic. PGRE scores 850, 910, 910, 920, 950, 960, 980, 990.

2008 acceptances: Internationals with 860, 970. Canadian with 870. Domestics with 960, 990, 990.

Of course, I'm sure the sampling bias of this survey is huge. In the interest of producing even more worthless statistics, Gradschoolshopper claims that Princeton physics accepted 53 students in 2010. If we guess that they accepted similar numbers in 2009 and 2008, then 16 of ~150 students accepted to Princeton in the last 3 years posted it on these boards. Generalizing ridiculously, we might therefore guess that ~10% of prospective physics grad students post on this board.

The_Duck
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby The_Duck » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:18 am

Having finished my applications, I have some time on my hands. Here's UCSB, searching on "ucsb" and probably missing people who spell it out.

2010: International: 950, 950, 990. Domestic: 790, 790, 800, 810, 870, 870, 870, 880, 990

2009: International: didn't see any. Domestic: 870, 900, 950, 980, 990

2008: International: didn't see any. Domestic: 830, 850, 860, 900, 930, 980, 990, 990, 990

UCSB accepted 89 students in a recent year. We have 26 over 3 years. 26/(89*3) gives almost exactly the same ratio as for Princeton - about 10%.

axiomofchoice
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby axiomofchoice » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:21 am

swestrings wrote:Are they really that stuck up about the GRE? I mean Calabi-Yau manifolds are extremely advanced objects, how does memorizing a simple number-equals-number equation like Torricellis equation (needed for PGRE) correlate with understanding them? I would think that the PGRE would be _least_ important for theory of that kind, and _most_ important for general physicists who will work in labs and need to know a little about everything, including error propagation, electronics and filthy log-log plots.

Surely the private universities must be best at choosing the very most intrinsically mathematically gifted students from other countries... Northern Europe is not pakistan, china or india: can the "uncertainty" really be just as large? Because I can really understand the desire to base 70% of the decision solely on the PGRE when the applicant comes from a completely anonymous top 2000 indian university with completely unrecognized letters of recommendation. I would too base all my judgment on the PGRE then. But to do the same for a nice european country with really old univerities seems silly or paranoid.

I really hope to get into princeton or Santa barbara, are the chances really so slim given the described profile? Is it really like 0.000%? They accept 80 of which usually 20 accept or so, are each and everyone of those 80 sitting there with PGRE 800+ ?


As much as you may be frustrated by PGRE and its role in graduate admission in the US, now is not the time to rant about it. The truth (that is, the past profiles) is, even if you are a domestic student, not having 800+ on the PGRE => very, very, very hard to get into top 10. There are counterexamples, but those profiles, all domestic if I remember correctly, have awesome research experiences or other factors that makes up for the less stellar PGRE score. I'm not saying that you have 0.000000% chance of getting into a top 10 school, nor discouraging you from apply to those places since you would never know until you apply (you probably already did). But I'm suggesting that, if you are serious about going to graduate school in the US next year, you should apply to other places that you have better chance of getting into. Be realistic.

By the way, this is what UC Santa Barbara says, in case you miss it:
What are your minimum GRE score requirements? Are my scores competitive?
The Physics Department does not require a minimum GRE score. However, we receive a large number of applications each year so as a guideline, we consider the following scores to be competitive. If your scores fall below the guidelines stated below, it is unlikely your application will be considered competitive. If your scores fall well below the stated guidelines and you still choose to apply, excellent grades and outstanding letters of recommendation will help to balance out your application. GRE scores (General and Subject) are required for admission.

Verbal: approximately 580+
Quantitative: approximately 780+
Writing Assessment: approximately 5.0+
Physics Subject: approximately 800+
Minimum TOEFL Score Accepted: 550 (paper-based: PBT) / 213 (computer-based: CBT) / 80 (internet-based: IBT)
Minimum IELTS Score Accepted: Overall band score of 7 or higher
Average GPA (US): approximately 3.80

swestrings
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby swestrings » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:58 am

The_Duck wrote:Having finished my applications, I have some time on my hands. Here's UCSB, searching on "ucsb" and probably missing people who spell it out.

2010: International: 950, 950, 990. Domestic: 790, 790, 800, 810, 870, 870, 870, 880, 990

2009: International: didn't see any. Domestic: 870, 900, 950, 980, 990

2008: International: didn't see any. Domestic: 830, 850, 860, 900, 930, 980, 990, 990, 990

UCSB accepted 89 students in a recent year. We have 26 over 3 years. 26/(89*3) gives almost exactly the same ratio as for Princeton - about 10%.


Wow... depressing numbers! This is really a joke, they are OBSESSED with calculus-based problems :p

Thank you very much for digging this up, although I must say the message is bad :/

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Dec 16, 2010 2:30 am

swestrings wrote:Are they really that stuck up about the GRE?


As I have made the example many times before. If there are 5 students and they all are exactly the same in every aspect except their PGREs are 950, 850, 750, 650, 550. Which one is most likely to get accepted to a program? I highly doubt they weigh everything on the PGRE, but when it is the only difference they have between applicants, how do they make a choice to reach beyond that?

-Riley

swestrings
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby swestrings » Thu Dec 16, 2010 7:49 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:
swestrings wrote:Are they really that stuck up about the GRE?


As I have made the example many times before. If there are 5 students and they all are exactly the same in every aspect except their PGREs are 950, 850, 750, 650, 550. Which one is most likely to get accepted to a program? I highly doubt they weigh everything on the PGRE, but when it is the only difference they have between applicants, how do they make a choice to reach beyond that?

-Riley


http://darthno.ytmnd.com/

Too true... I just have to hope that they dont get too many that are as good as me :)

badphysicist
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby badphysicist » Thu Dec 16, 2010 3:21 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
swestrings wrote:Are they really that stuck up about the GRE?


As I have made the example many times before. If there are 5 students and they all are exactly the same in every aspect except their PGREs are 950, 850, 750, 650, 550. Which one is most likely to get accepted to a program? I highly doubt they weigh everything on the PGRE, but when it is the only difference they have between applicants, how do they make a choice to reach beyond that?

-Riley


If all other aspects are the same and their PGRE scores have a huge range as you list then there is something wrong with a test that is supposed to measure physics aptitude. A good experiment is precise, the value you give are definitely not that.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Dec 16, 2010 4:51 pm

badphysicist wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote:
swestrings wrote:Are they really that stuck up about the GRE?


As I have made the example many times before. If there are 5 students and they all are exactly the same in every aspect except their PGREs are 950, 850, 750, 650, 550. Which one is most likely to get accepted to a program? I highly doubt they weigh everything on the PGRE, but when it is the only difference they have between applicants, how do they make a choice to reach beyond that?

-Riley


If all other aspects are the same and their PGRE scores have a huge range as you list then there is something wrong with a test that is supposed to measure physics aptitude. A good experiment is precise, the value you give are definitely not that.


Are you clearly understanding what I mean? I'm saying that the PGRE gives them another way to "judge" applicants as far as common physics knowledge goes. I don't think that the PGRE is a bad measurement of this. Obviously if you understand your undergraduate physics courses very well you should do well on this test, while if you do not understand your undergraduate physics courses as well you will not do as well. Sure there may be some people that are "better" at getting the right answer quicker, but I guarantee you most of them know their physics very well to do so. So even though there are other things, such as research and recommendations, it is very realistic to give application committees more information about the student, and I believe this is included in the PGRE.

Although it is dangerous to assume things, is it ridiculous to say that a higher PGRE correlates to a better student on average? Of course, I'm sure all the low end PGRE scores will disagree with me, and all the high ones will agree with me.

But if the PGRE is a bad way to gauge an application in any way, research, recommendations and GPA can be lumped into the same boat. For example, maybe the research you did was wonderful and you grew substantially during it, but didn't get a publication, yet someone else who barely does any research gets a publication because they were just "around". Or perhaps someone who got a high GPA (3.9+) because they went to a suck school (like myself ;) ) and a person who got a 3.3 at a top 10 school. How about someone who have better recommendation writers than others?

Truly you can argue all of these things. It's unfortunate there isn't a better way to gauge applicants, but this is the best way they know how.

-Riley

badphysicist
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby badphysicist » Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:14 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
badphysicist wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote:As I have made the example many times before. If there are 5 students and they all are exactly the same in every aspect except their PGREs are 950, 850, 750, 650, 550. Which one is most likely to get accepted to a program? I highly doubt they weigh everything on the PGRE, but when it is the only difference they have between applicants, how do they make a choice to reach beyond that?

-Riley


If all other aspects are the same and their PGRE scores have a huge range as you list then there is something wrong with a test that is supposed to measure physics aptitude. A good experiment is precise, the value you give are definitely not that.


Are you clearly understanding what I mean? I'm saying that the PGRE gives them another way to "judge" applicants as far as common physics knowledge goes. I don't think that the PGRE is a bad measurement of this. Obviously if you understand your undergraduate physics courses very well you should do well on this test, while if you do not understand your undergraduate physics courses as well you will not do as well. Sure there may be some people that are "better" at getting the right answer quicker, but I guarantee you most of them know their physics very well to do so. So even though there are other things, such as research and recommendations, it is very realistic to give application committees more information about the student, and I believe this is included in the PGRE.

Although it is dangerous to assume things, is it ridiculous to say that a higher PGRE correlates to a better student on average? Of course, I'm sure all the low end PGRE scores will disagree with me, and all the high ones will agree with me.

But if the PGRE is a bad way to gauge an application in any way, research, recommendations and GPA can be lumped into the same boat. For example, maybe the research you did was wonderful and you grew substantially during it, but didn't get a publication, yet someone else who barely does any research gets a publication because they were just "around". Or perhaps someone who got a high GPA (3.9+) because they went to a suck school (like myself ;) ) and a person who got a 3.3 at a top 10 school. How about someone who have better recommendation writers than others?

Truly you can argue all of these things. It's unfortunate there isn't a better way to gauge applicants, but this is the best way they know how.

-Riley



If you haven't, I'm sure you have, read the application requirements for the NSF GRFP. Their way of assessing if an applicant will be a good researcher is probably a better method. The applications are very similar except that the NSF does not accept the GGRE or the PGRE. They instead have the applicants actually write out a research proposal for the given school that they list on the application. There is a big difference between designing a project from scratch and writing a proposal for the project than joining a research lab and doing what you're told. One gives you experience as a lab tech while the other is experience for a researcher, which is what the ad comms want.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Thu Dec 16, 2010 6:32 pm

badphysicist wrote:If you haven't, I'm sure you have, read the application requirements for the NSF GRFP. Their way of assessing if an applicant will be a good researcher is probably a better method. The applications are very similar except that the NSF does not accept the GGRE or the PGRE. They instead have the applicants actually write out a research proposal for the given school that they list on the application. There is a big difference between designing a project from scratch and writing a proposal for the project than joining a research lab and doing what you're told. One gives you experience as a lab tech while the other is experience for a researcher, which is what the ad comms want.


As I was saying, I do not think PGRE nor GPA gauges an applicant's potential in research. However, it does indeed correlate with how much motivation and drive they will have in passing a school's qualifier for PhD candidacy, which makes them available to actually do the research. Schools want to make investment in all-around good students. When the pool of applicants to choose from is large, this is their best option. They want students who can GET through the academic course load. If they can't, they have wasted time and money on that person.

I agree with you on the writing proposal part. That would be a good thing to ADD to the existing application, but I don't think basing a person completely off of this shows their FULL potential.

-Riley

-Riley

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quizivex
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby quizivex » Thu Dec 16, 2010 6:55 pm

badphysicist wrote:Their way of assessing if an applicant will be a good researcher is probably a better method... They instead have the applicants actually write out a research proposal for the given school that they list on the application. There is a big difference between designing a project from scratch and writing a proposal for the project than joining a research lab and doing what you're told...
I always thought the obsession with undergrads doing research has gone too far, but still, you think just writing about research beats doing rudimentary research or lab work under a prof's guidance... ???

I think having a year of undergrad work with astronomy, doing well on relevant courses and being able to answer the Doppler shift problem and basic lens problems on the PGRE is better than just writing about what you'd do if you had access to a big telescope at school X and what the "broader impacts" would be on disadvantaged kids... If you can't solve the lens problem, good luck with nonlinear optics. If you don't know that what you see in a telescope is a virtual image... um you get the idea.

axiomofchoice
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby axiomofchoice » Thu Dec 16, 2010 8:44 pm

badphysicist wrote:If you haven't, I'm sure you have, read the application requirements for the NSF GRFP. Their way of assessing if an applicant will be a good researcher is probably a better method. The applications are very similar except that the NSF does not accept the GGRE or the PGRE. They instead have the applicants actually write out a research proposal for the given school that they list on the application. There is a big difference between designing a project from scratch and writing a proposal for the project than joining a research lab and doing what you're told. One gives you experience as a lab tech while the other is experience for a researcher, which is what the ad comms want.


Uhhhhhhh, if you already know how to become a PI (i.e. designing project and writing proposal) before you go to grad school, what do you need grad school for? My understanding of the NSF stuff (I may be completely mistaken since I did not apply) is the judges are looking for someone who shows the knowledge and initiative to learn about the research that they are going to do. And then there's the broader impact thing... good luck if you are a potential string theorist. Hmm, "string theory is going to change the lives of everybody"??? I would say very few undergrads would have done enough research to know how to start a project from scratch. Just as much as PGRE cannot gauge everyone's potential perfectly, the ability to write a good research proposal to get the NSF fellowship is far from the perfect gauge for everyone's research potential. Heck, I can probably write up a proposal for the next linear collider (I'm sure NSF is not looking for a 300 page technical paper), but I surely am not capable of starting that project. :lol:

badphysicist
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby badphysicist » Thu Dec 16, 2010 9:22 pm

WhoaNonstop wrote:
badphysicist wrote:If you haven't, I'm sure you have, read the application requirements for the NSF GRFP. Their way of assessing if an applicant will be a good researcher is probably a better method. The applications are very similar except that the NSF does not accept the GGRE or the PGRE. They instead have the applicants actually write out a research proposal for the given school that they list on the application. There is a big difference between designing a project from scratch and writing a proposal for the project than joining a research lab and doing what you're told. One gives you experience as a lab tech while the other is experience for a researcher, which is what the ad comms want.


As I was saying, I do not think PGRE nor GPA gauges an applicant's potential in research. However, it does indeed correlate with how much motivation and drive they will have in passing a school's qualifier for PhD candidacy, which makes them available to actually do the research. Schools want to make investment in all-around good students. When the pool of applicants to choose from is large, this is their best option. They want students who can GET through the academic course load. If they can't, they have wasted time and money on that person.

I agree with you on the writing proposal part. That would be a good thing to ADD to the existing application, but I don't think basing a person completely off of this shows their FULL potential.

-Riley

-Riley


I see your point and I'll agree.

quizivex wrote:
badphysicist wrote:Their way of assessing if an applicant will be a good researcher is probably a better method... They instead have the applicants actually write out a research proposal for the given school that they list on the application. There is a big difference between designing a project from scratch and writing a proposal for the project than joining a research lab and doing what you're told...
I always thought the obsession with undergrads doing research has gone too far, but still, you think just writing about research beats doing rudimentary research or lab work under a prof's guidance... ???

I think having a year of undergrad work with astronomy, doing well on relevant courses and being able to answer the Doppler shift problem and basic lens problems on the PGRE is better than just writing about what you'd do if you had access to a big telescope at school X and what the "broader impacts" would be on disadvantaged kids... If you can't solve the lens problem, good luck with nonlinear optics. If you don't know that what you see in a telescope is a virtual image... um you get the idea.



To win the NSF GRFP you would need to have a solid undergrad research background as well as being able to write an effective research proposal, so yes the undergrad would have research experience. Writing the proposal demonstrates to the NSF committee how well the undergrad has assimilated that experience. And the proposal is a more effect gauge of physics knowledge than the PGRE because to write an effective proposal one needs to have a solid understanding of what he is wanting to research and how he is going to research it.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:47 am

badphysicist wrote:To win the NSF GRFP you would need to have a solid undergrad research background as well as being able to write an effective research proposal, so yes the undergrad would have research experience. Writing the proposal demonstrates to the NSF committee how well the undergrad has assimilated that experience. And the proposal is a more effect gauge of physics knowledge than the PGRE because to write an effective proposal one needs to have a solid understanding of what he is wanting to research and how he is going to research it.


I'm sorry. I find it very hard for someone to have this knowledge and not be able to convey it on the PGRE. If you have a solid understanding of physics, you should do fairly well on that test.

-Riley

swestrings
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby swestrings » Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:02 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:
badphysicist wrote: However, it does indeed correlate with how much motivation and drive they will have in passing a school's qualifier for PhD candidacy, which makes them available to actually do the research.


I would respectfully disagree here. This is what precisely does not make sense for theory students, at least from Europe. Who on earth can ever, ever feel interest for Newton rings, cathode ray gas tubes, resistor spider-webs and positronium when you have been introduced to, and mastered, fiber bundles, chern classes, advanced algebras, riemannian geometry and lie algebras (ie the stuff of REAL modern research).

A friend and I literally joked about how VERY LITTLE our pgre efforts would help us when we got back to doing geometry, topology, string theory and quantum field theory. Seriously, there was no motivation to learn Torricelli's number-equals-number high school crap.

Of course, this is no excuse to perform _poorly_ on the PGRE. It just means that I cannot imagine a _theory_ student being turned down because they cant do newton rings faster than those guys who spent weeks artificially interesting themselves in that hundred-year-old trifle.

The PGRE is a nice little supplement to base decisions on, especially on people coming from completely anonymous non-top 200 universities, but the kind of hysteria that I witness in their acceptance rates (MIT, Princeton etc) as witnessed by this forum, is completely, COMPLETELY unwarranted in magnitude. Seriously guys, lets all pick up our phones and quickly dial the Weinbergs, Wittens and Wilczeks of today and ask them if they know at what hertz the next overtone for a hollow pipe closed at one end will be (hang up after 170min/100 =102 seconds. Also, stress them by saying they CANT stay at MIT or whatever if they get it wrong).

axiomofchoice
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby axiomofchoice » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:21 am

swestrings wrote:Seriously guys, lets all pick up our phones and quickly dial the Weinbergs, Wittens and Wilczeks of today and ask them if they know at what hertz the next overtone for a hollow pipe closed at one end will be (hang up after 170min/100 =102 seconds. Also, stress them by saying they CANT stay at MIT or whatever if they get it wrong).


Yeah, but even if they don't know off the top of their heads in 102 seconds (I doubt it; they probably have god's mind that we ordinary mortals can't comprehend :wink: ), it probably takes only minutes for them to brush up. We were all given fair warnings that we should study for the PGRE, and not just show up on the test day and hope that we would ace it automatically. I'm sure partly why grad schools care is to know whether you can put some efforts into studying. I can bet that at some point in our grad school career / later on we have to learn materials that are not completely, or completely not relevant to our research. Not to mention that at some point (especially if you are a theorist) you might have to become a TA to some most lovely non-physics majors who have to learn many of the materials on the PGRE that you don't care a d*** about. (By the way, if you know the freshmen level textbook such as Halliday et al inside out in addition to some rudimentary QM and Stat mech, you would do quite well on the PGRE). Grad schools would certainly care about that you can actually teach those materials (or at least able to learn them well enough to teach).

I'm playing the devil's advocate here, as I don't like the PGRE much either (I might change my tone if I have a 990 :lol:). But I do believe that your attitude toward the PGRE is completely unproductive and wrong if your goal is to get into a good grad school here in the US. Granted, you already took the test and thus have the right to rant about it. For future applicants/test-takers, it's better to just take the test as a challenge and actually study for it as if it is a course that you have to ace on - whether or not you think you need know the materials on the test or not.

badphysicist
Posts: 84
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby badphysicist » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:27 am

WhoaNonstop wrote:
badphysicist wrote:To win the NSF GRFP you would need to have a solid undergrad research background as well as being able to write an effective research proposal, so yes the undergrad would have research experience. Writing the proposal demonstrates to the NSF committee how well the undergrad has assimilated that experience. And the proposal is a more effect gauge of physics knowledge than the PGRE because to write an effective proposal one needs to have a solid understanding of what he is wanting to research and how he is going to research it.


I'm sorry. I find it very hard for someone to have this knowledge and not be able to convey it on the PGRE. If you have a solid understanding of physics, you should do fairly well on that test.

-Riley


A person with a solid understanding of physics will do well at the PGRE provided he is used to taking that type of test and/or puts the effort into studying for the test. A low score would show lack of effort, understanding, and/or just not being good at standardized tests.

axiomofchoice wrote:
swestrings wrote:Seriously guys, lets all pick up our phones and quickly dial the Weinbergs, Wittens and Wilczeks of today and ask them if they know at what hertz the next overtone for a hollow pipe closed at one end will be (hang up after 170min/100 =102 seconds. Also, stress them by saying they CANT stay at MIT or whatever if they get it wrong).


Yeah, but even if they don't know off the top of their heads in 102 seconds (I doubt it; they probably have god's mind that we ordinary mortals can't comprehend :wink: ), it probably takes only minutes for them to brush up. We were all given fair warnings that we should study for the PGRE, and not just show up on the test day and hope that we would ace it automatically. I'm sure partly why grad schools care is to know whether you can put some efforts into studying. I can bet that at some point in our grad school career / later on we have to learn materials that are not completely, or completely not relevant to our research. Not to mention that at some point (especially if you are a theorist) you might have to become a TA to some most lovely non-physics majors who have to learn many of the materials on the PGRE that you don't care a d*** about. (By the way, if you know the freshmen level textbook such as Halliday et al inside out in addition to some rudimentary QM and Stat mech, you would do quite well on the PGRE). Grad schools would certainly care about that you can actually teach those materials (or at least able to learn them well enough to teach).

I'm playing the devil's advocate here, as I don't like the PGRE much either (I might change my tone if I have a 990 :lol:). But I do believe that your attitude toward the PGRE is completely unproductive and wrong if your goal is to get into a good grad school here in the US. Granted, you already took the test and thus have the right to rant about it. For future applicants/test-takers, it's better to just take the test as a challenge and actually study for it as if it is a course that you have to ace on - whether or not you think you need know the materials on the test or not.


Good points.

pymtab
Posts: 36
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby pymtab » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:35 am

Perhaps I am a little subjective, because I did well on the PGRE. But nevertheless, I think it is a good exam and it serves its purpose well. How else can you compare a 3.4 GPA at MIT to a 3.95 GPA at some anonymous university? How can you compare two students from the SAME university, where one had taken an extremely difficult course load and the other did most of his work at the humanities departments? The fact is, just like your GPA, the GRE is supposed to measure you capabilities in physics. It is inferior to GPA in that it's only one exam, but it is superior in that it removes the advantages that people who were ONLY concerned about their GPA had.

Now if you take both the GRE and GPA out of the picture what are you left with? Research experience, which many recent graduates have almost none (and yet they may be extremely talented), and rec letters, which depend a lot on luck, as in meeting nice professors who write good letter, and on the politics of sucking up.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Dec 17, 2010 9:24 am

pymtab wrote:How else can you compare a 3.4 GPA at MIT to a 3.95 GPA at some anonymous university?


I sometimes feel without my higher GRE, admission committees might look at my 3.9+ GPA and just pawn it off onto the fact that I went to an "unknown school", which they have every right to do... A perfect example would be another student at my university who probably has a 3.7/3.8+, yet scored in the bottom 1% of the PGRE.

-Riley

swestrings
Posts: 32
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby swestrings » Fri Dec 17, 2010 10:02 am

WhoaNonstop wrote: I went to an "unknown school", which they have every right to do... A perfect example would be another student at my university who probably has a 3.7/3.8+, yet scored in the bottom 1% of the PGRE.


Was this a US school?

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: My profile: lost in the jungle of US theoretical physics

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Dec 17, 2010 10:50 am

swestrings wrote:
WhoaNonstop wrote: I went to an "unknown school", which they have every right to do... A perfect example would be another student at my university who probably has a 3.7/3.8+, yet scored in the bottom 1% of the PGRE.


Was this a US school?


Yes.

Riley




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