Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

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AriAstronomer
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Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby AriAstronomer » Mon Sep 19, 2011 10:04 am

Hey everyone,
So as the PGRE approaches, I've been thinking alot more about what type of school I want to go to. I mean of course everyone has dreams of going to Princeton and Harvard because they're supposedly the best, but as the GRE approaches I'm less certain. I've talked to a few profs of mine who did astro grad school (which is what I want to do), and they told me that at the bigger fancier schools, the work piles up so much that you never really get a chance to enjoy anything else. I mean, I definitely want to pursue astronomy, but at the same time I don't want to be either eating, sleeping, or doing astronomy. There are other things I would like to do with my time. Do you find that maybe at less prestigious schools you have more free time or is this a myth? If so, does this take away from your overall education?

Also, everyone here has probably been asked this 1000 times, but what's a respectable PGRE score for an average school...750? What's a necessary score for a top school....900?

Ari

bfollinprm
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:43 pm

I don't know--I think at any school the work is what you make it. At Chicago I definitely felt there were more 60 hr/week workers than there are at Davis, but there are slackers at both places. Professors expect good work either way, but at a lower-ranked school there might be a little less perceived pressure from your peers. Might be a false sense of security though, since you have to compete with the Chicago et al students in the end anyway if you stay in academia.

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grae313
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby grae313 » Tue Sep 20, 2011 10:56 am

I think this depends on what career path you see for yourself. If you want a career in academia at a top school, you'll be competing against people who went to top schools and busted their asses every week. If you're fine teaching at a lower-ranked college that isn't as research focused or working in industry, it probably doesn't matter as much.

bfollinprm
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Sep 20, 2011 11:29 am

bfollinprm wrote:I don't know--I think at any school the work is what you make it. At Chicago I definitely felt there were more 60 hr/week workers than there are at Davis, but there are slackers at both places. Professors expect good work either way, but at a lower-ranked school there might be a little less perceived pressure from your peers. Might be a false sense of security though, since you have to compete with the Chicago et al students in the end anyway if you stay in academia.


An edit, really. Just my personal opinion, which might hold some weight because I think I'm like you. I like physics, but it isn't my life. I think this precludes me from ever getting a research job at a top school anyway, so I didn't lose anything by going to a lower ranked school. It sounds like you might be in the same boat. Working 70 hrs/week in lab must sound like fun to someone, else no one would do it. I want a life outside of my work, and since some of our peers don't, they're the ones that end up on "top" with the "coveted" faculty positions at Harvard et al, likely leaving me out in the cold. If you're brilliant, it probably doesn't matter where you go; if you're intelligent, going to a top school opens doors otherwise closed. But only at the cost of mortgaging your life while there--if you aren't liking that prospect enough to want it, there's nthing wrong with saying "Hey, I like Astronomy, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I'd love to teach, or do outreach, or engage with people outside of my immediate peers." If that's you, you probably aren't going to get a ton out of the top schools you wouldn't get elsewhere, and I'd just go wherever (in the top 30-40) that you feel most comfortable.

AriAstronomer
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby AriAstronomer » Tue Sep 20, 2011 1:32 pm

bfollinprm wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:I don't know--I think at any school the work is what you make it. At Chicago I definitely felt there were more 60 hr/week workers than there are at Davis, but there are slackers at both places. Professors expect good work either way, but at a lower-ranked school there might be a little less perceived pressure from your peers. Might be a false sense of security though, since you have to compete with the Chicago et al students in the end anyway if you stay in academia.


An edit, really. Just my personal opinion, which might hold some weight because I think I'm like you. I like physics, but it isn't my life. I think this precludes me from ever getting a research job at a top school anyway, so I didn't lose anything by going to a lower ranked school. It sounds like you might be in the same boat. Working 70 hrs/week in lab must sound like fun to someone, else no one would do it. I want a life outside of my work, and since some of our peers don't, they're the ones that end up on "top" with the "coveted" faculty positions at Harvard et al, likely leaving me out in the cold. If you're brilliant, it probably doesn't matter where you go; if you're intelligent, going to a top school opens doors otherwise closed. But only at the cost of mortgaging your life while there--if you aren't liking that prospect enough to want it, there's nthing wrong with saying "Hey, I like Astronomy, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I'd love to teach, or do outreach, or engage with people outside of my immediate peers." If that's you, you probably aren't going to get a ton out of the top schools you wouldn't get elsewhere, and I'd just go wherever (in the top 30-40) that you feel most comfortable.


Thanks for the advice. I am in that boat for sure. I definitely want to pursue Physics as a career, and love it, but sometimes (specifically in 3rd year undergrad, my hardest year) when the work really piled up and I had no time to see friends, do extracirriculars, etc. it felt a bit overboard. Maybe now a days that's what it takes to make it? I mean, I'm not trying to say I'm a slacker, I don't think anyone whose made it through a real physics degree with a reasonable GPA can be considered a slacker (unless, as you mentioned, you're a genius), but I don't want to be in a 70 hour work week.

bfollinprm
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Sep 20, 2011 8:47 pm

AriAstronomer wrote:Thanks for the advice. I am in that boat for sure. I definitely want to pursue Physics as a career, and love it, but sometimes (specifically in 3rd year undergrad, my hardest year) when the work really piled up and I had no time to see friends, do extracirriculars, etc. it felt a bit overboard. Maybe now a days that's what it takes to make it?


Depends on what you mean by "make it". If you really want tenure at an R1 research university, know that the graduate school work ethic (~2 times more work than undergrad) is expected to continue--getting tenure is daunting even after you get hired.

AriAstronomer
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby AriAstronomer » Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:51 am

Thanks for the advice. I guess it's something I definitely need to think about. Yeah, by make it I meant end up with a cushy tenured job. I guess cushy isn't the right word then...

ol
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby ol » Wed Sep 21, 2011 10:07 am

If you really want to be an astronomer, you should not shy away from going to one of the top schools. When you have to apply for postdocs, it will be a lot easier to get one (especially if it's highly competitive like the Hubble Fellowship) if you went to a top school. In astronomy, most people are having to do two and three postdocs (read 6-9 years) to just get an Assistant Professorship or staff astronomer position. The people who only have to do one postdoc (or in some cases only a year of a postdoc) are the ones who worked super hard in grad school. It's up to you, of course, how hard you work. But you need to think about what you want after grad school and let that guide you in the appropriate direction.

That said, what you need on the PGRE to get into a top school depends on your research experience and who is writing your letters. Princeton will require a higher PGRE score no matter what (based on past years, 850+ for an average of 900). The other schools are little more lenient. Arizona's average is ~650, Berkeley's and Caltech's are higher (~800). If you have a ton of research experience, publications or poster abstracts, you can get away with a 700 at Berkeley and Caltech, even lower if your recommenders are well-known. At Harvard, it helps if you did the REU there, and the average at Harvard is also probably ~800. I know two people with a 650 and a 710 who got in. In fact, Harvard gave the 710 extra money as an incentive (this person had three or four publications). Someone last year on this forum was admitted to UCSC with a 10% on the PGRE because they had a ton of experience and publications to show for it. If I had to guess, I would say you should aim for a 50% or better, again depending on the experience you have. If you want to do theory, you need to do better.

AriAstronomer
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby AriAstronomer » Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:43 pm

ol wrote:If you really want to be an astronomer, you should not shy away from going to one of the top schools. When you have to apply for postdocs, it will be a lot easier to get one (especially if it's highly competitive like the Hubble Fellowship) if you went to a top school. In astronomy, most people are having to do two and three postdocs (read 6-9 years) to just get an Assistant Professorship or staff astronomer position. The people who only have to do one postdoc (or in some cases only a year of a postdoc) are the ones who worked super hard in grad school. It's up to you, of course, how hard you work. But you need to think about what you want after grad school and let that guide you in the appropriate direction.

That said, what you need on the PGRE to get into a top school depends on your research experience and who is writing your letters. Princeton will require a higher PGRE score no matter what (based on past years, 850+ for an average of 900). The other schools are little more lenient. Arizona's average is ~650, Berkeley's and Caltech's are higher (~800). If you have a ton of research experience, publications or poster abstracts, you can get away with a 700 at Berkeley and Caltech, even lower if your recommenders are well-known. At Harvard, it helps if you did the REU there, and the average at Harvard is also probably ~800. I know two people with a 650 and a 710 who got in. In fact, Harvard gave the 710 extra money as an incentive (this person had three or four publications). Someone last year on this forum was admitted to UCSC with a 10% on the PGRE because they had a ton of experience and publications to show for it. If I had to guess, I would say you should aim for a 50% or better, again depending on the experience you have. If you want to do theory, you need to do better.



Thanks for the reply for both parts of my question. I guess I do need to really decide what I want in life, and where exactly I want to be in 10 years. I really wouldn't mind busting my ass in grad school if it means I end up with more time down the line, but if I bust my ass in grad school, only to be busting my ass more so afterward, I may need to rethink everything. Maybe I'm just getting cold feet.

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Andromeda
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby Andromeda » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:39 am

You can always apply and see where you get in (as you should be applying to a mix of schools anyway) and I'll bet good money that during the visit if you have programs to choose from you'll see which is the best fit for you.

I agree in that I was never someone who thought 70 hours a week sounded like a fun time which is one of the reasons I went abroad to Europe for my PhD (here you don't live for your job, you have a job so you can live, and astronomers just have the perk of really liking what they do in that "everyone takes 5 weeks of vacation and the building is closed weekends so don't try coming in" sort of way). This aspect of culture varies so much from department to department though that I think it's impossible to really say much about it before you have some acceptances under your belt and ask the students etc about it.

Regarding GREs, if you're applying to Astronomy departments proper these traditionally have average scores a twentieth percentile lower than physics ones IRC- I remember talking to the head of astronomy admissions in Columbia once and he told me that they did a study proving that as long as you got above 20th percentile in astronomy your GRE had no real bearing on your future success in the field, so they excluded it. Your mileage may vary committee member to committee member, however. :)

AriAstronomer
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby AriAstronomer » Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:00 am

Andromeda wrote:You can always apply and see where you get in (as you should be applying to a mix of schools anyway) and I'll bet good money that during the visit if you have programs to choose from you'll see which is the best fit for you.

I agree in that I was never someone who thought 70 hours a week sounded like a fun time which is one of the reasons I went abroad to Europe for my PhD (here you don't live for your job, you have a job so you can live, and astronomers just have the perk of really liking what they do in that "everyone takes 5 weeks of vacation and the building is closed weekends so don't try coming in" sort of way). This aspect of culture varies so much from department to department though that I think it's impossible to really say much about it before you have some acceptances under your belt and ask the students etc about it.

Regarding GREs, if you're applying to Astronomy departments proper these traditionally have average scores a twentieth percentile lower than physics ones IRC- I remember talking to the head of astronomy admissions in Columbia once and he told me that they did a study proving that as long as you got above 20th percentile in astronomy your GRE had no real bearing on your future success in the field, so they excluded it. Your mileage may vary committee member to committee member, however. :)


Very interesting advice on both questions. I was in Germany this summer actually doing a bit of research under a prof, and I was amazed learning about the amount of time off everyone gets. Unfortunately I don't speak any other languages, so I guess my best bet would be Britain (or maybe some French school where everything is taught in English). I know that to teach at a German school you need to speak German. I would like to have that kind of feel, where I'm definitely interested and pursuing a project, but not at the sacrifice of not seeing my family or having time to stay active, etc. Definitely something I'll be keeping in mind.

Interesting statement about the GRE's for Astronomy too. Obviously I'm going to just study my ass off and do as well as I can do, but I guess I'm no better than everyone else in the end - still fretting about what kind of score I need to fulfill my pipe dream haha.

Thanks a bunch,
Ari

bfollinprm
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Sep 22, 2011 2:17 pm

AriAstronomer wrote:Thanks for the advice. I guess it's something I definitely need to think about. Yeah, by make it I meant end up with a cushy tenured job. I guess cushy isn't the right word then...


Yeah, but there are several types of tenured faculty positions. The ones that require almost exclusively research (R1 research positions) won't give you tenure until you've established you're the (or one of a very few) clear experts on whatever field you work in (that generally means at least 8 high impact papers, and consistent grant income). Positions that require more teaching (R2 universities, most state schools, and liberal arts universities/colleges in descending order of research importance) can be just as fulfilling, but require less intensive research commitment (and hence a life outside of research).

florence101
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby florence101 » Wed Nov 09, 2011 8:04 am

Hi
Any US grad schools not requiring the GRE? If I were to take it it would delay the semester I would start grad school, should I choose to go to the US. I have one semester of undergrad left before graduation.
I am Canadian, and only recently gave thought to applying in the US, and as such I never bothered with the GRE.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Last minute thoughts: Schools and GRE's

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Nov 09, 2011 8:50 am

florence101 wrote:Hi
Any US grad schools not requiring the GRE? If I were to take it it would delay the semester I would start grad school, should I choose to go to the US. I have one semester of undergrad left before graduation.
I am Canadian, and only recently gave thought to applying in the US, and as such I never bothered with the GRE.


Of all the schools I've seen that don't require the PGRE they at least require the general. On top of that, a lot of them that don't require the PGRE do require it of internationals. It's hard enough as it is to get in as an intl, take away the PGRE and it will be exceedingly daunting.




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