Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

  • 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.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby microacg » Sat Mar 03, 2012 3:11 pm

I looked through examples of 2012 applicants and how they are doing, but I didn't find any who have the same situation as me, so I can't tell if I will be able to get into a physics doctoral program or not. Here is a summary of my candidacy so far:

- I am currently studying for the Physics GRE so I'm hoping to do well (it might be very necessary given the rest of my application)

- I also need to take the regular GRE, which I'm obviously hoping to do well in (my SAT composite was 1450/1600 in ~2002 and I would expect roughly comparable results)

- I have a masters already, but it is in science education (my gpa is almost a perfect 4.0 at least...)

- I have no research experience (thinking this is very bad; I DO have experience as an undergraduate TA, as well as high school teaching experience)

- I haven't kept in touch with any professors from my bachelors (graduated in 2007) so getting academic letters of recommendation (aside from my advisor from my education masters who I did a mini thesis with) will be difficult. I could easily get professional letters of recommendation from school administrators, etc, but I don't think they are sufficient.

- My undergraduate GPA was 3.44 (double major in physics and science education at university of Maryland, college park).

- My math GPA was 3.78

- My physics GPA was 3.27 (double majoring with education really killed my focus on some of my physics class, internships/etc made it harder)

- Already included in the physics GPA is a C in Quantum Mechanics 1 (only C in math/science, but still bad)

- Due to education track, didn't take statistical thermodynamics, quantum mechanics 2, modern physics, or advanced lab

I know this is probably a difficult question to answer, but I'm having a lot of trouble answering it myself with research. If I study hard for the GRE/PGRE and do well on them, does that have the potential to overcome some of my current deficiencies? In other words, if it's pretty clear that there's no way for me to get into any doctoral program in physics, I should find out now and use my time more appropriately.

Alternately, are there things I can do over the next several months that could greatly increase my candidacy? I read a thread about possibly doing research after graduating, for example, although I have no idea how I could make that work.

Thank you very much for any help you can provide.

CarlBrannen
Posts: 381
Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby CarlBrannen » Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:52 am

Your situation really is unique. What I would do is to apply mostly to get into a program that offers a PhD in "Physics Education". After you're admitted to the physics department, you can take whatever classes you want, and if you do well in the program it is inevitable that you'll end up with a regular "Physics" PhD. And you can pick up the education classes too -- that will make it easier to find a better job afterwards.

For example, a great school for that is Arizona State University; look at their program to see what I mean. In addition to the PE program, they have a reasonably good physics department with stuff going on. They're a big school so there will have to be a lot of funding for teaching assistantships which makes it easier to get paid.

Bozostein
Posts: 32
Joined: Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:06 am

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby Bozostein » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:48 am

let me tell you i was in a pretty similar situation with a pretty non-outstanding record. The thing is that you are probably not going to be accepted at the top schools, but if you apply to a lot of other schools and really put a lot of effort into getting back into physic you can definitely get in. I just got in, and my stats were definitely significantly worse than yours. But you will have to apply to alot of safety schools : (state schools/ lower ranked schools). For me, i don't really care where I am as long as I can study physics so that is not an issue... remember you will still really have to work very hard and get a good pgre score and all that extra stuff... try to get involved with some research. I suggest ind. researching something you want to do on your own... do a ton of work and then after you have done a ton of background research start contacting people to see if there is some way to connect your work with other people.

Bozostein
Posts: 32
Joined: Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:06 am

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby Bozostein » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:52 am

and about the recomenddation letters, this is by far the most important thing you will need to work on for your application... I suggest contacting your old pfs. from college now, and see what they advise you do. Don't ask them for rec letters yet, just ask them for advice. They may be willing to recommend you even if you just took 1 class with them years ago. But you are really going to need to work closely w/ someone to find a good rec letter. THis is where doing some ind. research comes into play. You MUST find people doing the same interetst you want to do. IT TAKES ALOT of time to do this so start now. would be my advice. I didn't do this, and i almost did not get into grad school at all, which would have cost me like $500 dollars and a year of time... but i got lucky but in retrospect i strongly advise you to spend most of your time figuring out how to get strong rec letters from people you have actually worked with.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby microacg » Sun Mar 04, 2012 11:37 am

Thanks CarlBrannen and Bozostein.

CarlBrannen: I didn't know that Arizona was known for that, but it sounds like something worth investigating. U Maryland (where I went undergrad) is also known for PE in the physics department, and I've already considered that. However, they are highly ranked which makes it a challenge. How would I find out what other schools might have a specialization in physics education within the physics department?

Bozostein: Thanks for sharing your background a bit with me. It's reassuring to learn that my chances aren't null. Regarding your main suggestion of getting involved with research, I'd definitely like to do that but I have no idea how (at least not without traveling really far away). I don't live that far from Brookhaven National Lab, but I have no idea if they would take on someone for a research internship or volunteer researcher, or anything like that. Maybe in NYC there could be opportunities? That would give me a research background and hopefully a letter of recommendation, both of which I'm desperate for. This of course is also contingent on me doing well on the PGRE.

Bozostein
Posts: 32
Joined: Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:06 am

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby Bozostein » Mon Mar 05, 2012 1:07 am

re: how to get involved in research...


excellent question... this is exactly where I got tripped up in my application process. I thought that I was supposed to contact people and be like: "Hey, you don't know me, but you want to help me out and let me work on physics with you?"

I did this quite a bit and got mostly null- responses. It's basically like hitting on girls, but instead of girls your hitting on physics professors. The problem is that you have nothing to offer them that they want.

I suggest a completely different approach. Don't contact anybody. Take about 4 months and spend a couple hours a day learning about something that interests you in physics. Something that you would want to study say if you were already a full time professor and could study anything you want. NOw do this for like 4 months and learn as much as you can on your own without contacting anybody. Now, start contacting people after this... this way even if they don't respond you can continue to work on your own and have some truly independent research experience.

That and study your ass off for the GRE's would be my recommendation.

asdfuogh
Posts: 78
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2011 11:21 pm

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby asdfuogh » Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:17 am

I don't know how the situation is with universities where you live, but here, you could basically sit in at any class and no one will stop you. I think you'll have a better chance of getting research if you sit in a class, talk to the professor about your auditing, perhaps tell him beforehand you are looking for research. Then, you could show that you are legitimately interested when you talk to him, and even if he doesn't need people for research, you could ask him to refer you to another professor who might. Face-to-face interactions really improve your chances because they have a harder time saying no to a face than to a faceless electronic message.. good luck!

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby microacg » Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:25 am

Ah, thanks.

Or alternately, instead of desperately searching for research, I'm considering applying for entrance into a masters program locally for Spring, 2013. This gets me started a semester early and is easier to get into (I assume). It's much more difficult financially, but it gives me the option to graduate and work, or to continue with a phd. A masters typically is three semesters, right? So I believe I'd be done Spring 2014 which would be good timing.

With a semester or two of masters classes under my belt, assuming things go well, it will be much easier to get academic references from professors, and I'll probably be able to get some type of research experience by that point.

I can probably improve the prestige of the phd programs I apply for reasonably a great deal if I start with a masters.

Regarding financial aid, I'm going to have 0 salary indefinitely starting this summer. If I fill out a fafsa, it's going to ask me how much I paid on my 2011 taxes. The amount I paid is pretty substantial (compared to a poor grad student). However, it's misleading since I won't have the income for the latter half of 2012 or beyond. Is there a way to demonstrate on a fafsa that I'm not as financially independent as my 2011 tax return would indicate?

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Do I have a shot / Is it worth the time applying?

Postby microacg » Tue Mar 06, 2012 11:12 pm

After a little bit more research and talking to people (and considering advice from this forum) it looks like my best bet is to quickly apply for a masters program nearby (one of the four CUNY schools in NYC probably) for entrance in Fall 2012. I will probably need to fulfill a couple of pre-reqs, so I should get started earlier than Spring. This gives me less time to prepare, but doesn't require the GRE/PGRE.

If anyone has any input I should consider please let me know in the near future as I will be applying soon.

Once I get started with the program I should have a better shot of getting into the phd program I am interested in.




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