Why do you think this person was rejected?

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Etranger
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Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:15 am

This is the profile I'm referring to.

One would imagine that he/she might have gotten in to at least *one* place with that kind of background. I intend on studying Physics in Germany as well...and this is worrying! 1.2/1.1 are excellent scores. Heck, I know of somebody with 1.7 who got into Part III Mathematics at Cambridge!

It can't have been coursework - it *probably* (European programs are usually stronger and more focused on the subject being studied, which in this case, is physics/maths) ticks all the boxes. Their PGRE score, while not as great as that of the usual "good international applicant" is a good score. The poster also has research experience.

Where did things go wrong? Did they just choose the wrong schools? I I tried googling "x school they applied to" and "quantum gravity" and saw (for the schools that I checked) that the physics departments in question, do have research being done in quantum gravity. :S

I'd be very interested in knowing your opinions.

Thank you.

bfollinprm
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:25 am

I would imagine schools with quantum gravity researchers accept 1-2 grad students every 5-6 years with the intention of them doing quantum gravity. There's no funding, and most hardcore theorists don't want a big group, it makes working together unwieldy. So, 1-2 grad students at a time/7-8 years of graduation doesn't add up to very good odds at any given school. The schools in that profile are all top-notch, so I have no doubt there were even more spectacular applicants (or maybe just applicants who had some connection to the theorist in question). If you want to do something that particular in a niche subfield of a department (no one builds a department around string theorists and company in the US), you should be applying to a TON of programs, and don't feel bad if you end up at a top 50 school instead of your dream appointment at Princeton.

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:30 am

bfollinprm wrote:I would imagine schools with quantum gravity researchers accept 1-2 grad students every 5-6 years with the intention of them doing quantum gravity. There's no funding, and most hardcore theorists don't want a big group, it makes working together unwieldy. So, 1-2 grad students at a time/7-8 years of graduation doesn't add up to very good odds at any given school. The schools in that profile are all top-notch, so I have no doubt there were even more spectacular applicants (or maybe just applicants who had some connection to the theorist in question). If you want to do something that particular and poorly funded (relative to the number of people who want to pursue it), you should be applying to a TON of programs, and don't feel bad if you end up at a top 50 school instead of your dream appointment at Princeton.


I had no idea!

Where can one find such information about graduate schools and research groups? Is this just from going through every physics department which is involved in QG research and then seeing how many applicants they accept or doing some stalking and observing how many current graduate students there and when they got in/are expected to graduate? :O

I'm trying to have my fronts covered, to get my priorities straight and do "this" (Physics/Applied Math) right - that is, get into a good program for whatever research interest I may have 3 years from now - as I decided quite late in the game what I wanted to do with myself and as a result, messed up a lot which meant not being able to go to schools (undergraduate) I wanted to. Not making mistakes again.

bfollinprm
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:36 am

Etranger wrote:Where can one find such information about graduate schools and research groups? Is this just from going through every physics department which is involved in QG research and then seeing how many applicants they accept or doing some stalking and observing how many current graduate students there and when they got in/are expected to graduate? :O

The latter. There isn't a lot of good information about graduate schools...things like this forum are good places for other's opinions, but the only place to get your own info is by stalking university websites, and doing some rough arithmetic.

From what I do know, with some overgeneralizations: Theory is harder to get into than experiment, and particle, high energy, and fundamental physicals are the hardest of all. Condensed matter, optics, energy research, and biophysics are better funded and hence there tend to be larger groups surrounding the professors who do research in these subjects. That tends to mean applications from students with these backgrounds and interests are favored, all things equal.
Etranger wrote:I'm trying to have my fronts covered, to get my priorities straight and do "this" (Physics/Applied Math) right - that is, get into a good program for whatever research interest I may have 3 years from now - as I decided quite late in the game what I wanted to do with myself and as a result, messed up a lot which meant not being able to go to schools (undergraduate) I wanted to. Not making mistakes again.

Are you in an undergraduate program right now? If not, there's no reason to rush your life. Take a year off, put yourself back on track, and get into the programs you want. It's harder to do that later in life, so do it now. I understand your position here, though, if you've already done half a degree.

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Wed Mar 14, 2012 1:11 am

bfollinprm wrote:The latter. There isn't a lot of good information about graduate schools...things like this forum are good places for other's opinions, but the only place to get your own info is by stalking university websites, and doing some rough arithmetic.

From what I do know, with some overgeneralizations: Theory is harder to get into than experiment, and particle, high energy, and fundamental physicals are the hardest of all. Condensed matter, optics, energy research, and biophysics are better funded and hence there tend to be larger groups surrounding the professors who do research in these subjects. That tends to mean applications from students with these backgrounds and interests are favored, all things equal.


I see.

Can Chemical Physics be lumped in the same category as biophysics and condensed matter? While I have not studied the subjects, I think I might like fluid mechanics and dynamical systems - these would be found in both physics and applied math departments, yes? - and was wondering whether it would be hard (particle physics hard?) to get into those as well?

Other than Simfish/InquillineKea, I don't think I've seen anyone on here applying to anything even remotely similar. So, limited data set. :p

Are you in an undergraduate program right now? If not, there's no reason to rush your life. Take a year off, put yourself back on track, and get into the programs you want. It's harder to do that later in life, so do it now. I understand your position here, though, if you've already done half a degree.


Oh no, I am only about to start one. It's a three year program. Still waiting for a decision from them but I think it's gonna take a while more - sent the letter three weeks ago.

What I was referring to, in the earlier post, was me just *** around a lot and not getting what I should have done. Or indeed, not getting on my arse to figure out what had to be done. In other words, just being another underachieving lazy teenager. I'm trying to change things for undergraduate study.

I have another question. I can imagine that not every physics departments have German professors and as such, not everyone will be familiar with the course content, let alone, the grading system. For example, "Calculus II" on my transcript, which is a first year, 2nd semester course, would really be a course which in one part, covers ODEs and on other, covers Vector Analysis. So, definitely not the usual "Calculus I-II" sequence. Where on the application should things like be explained? Should I ask whoever is writing the recommendation letter to briefly outline this? I doubt clogging the SoP with this would be a good idea but I can't think of any other way.

vasilis
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby vasilis » Wed Mar 14, 2012 7:33 am

I believe I have a stronger profile than he does (I haven't post it though) + this year I have been working with one of the co-founders of supergravity for my Master's thesis and still didnt get in any Princeton-like uni. What I heard about these universities is that in order to get in you might need to pull some strings; the competition is too high so you better make sure that "you" have approached at least one member of the committe (you might ask, what about the rec. letters, yes but what if the guy who reads them has no clue who your supervisor is). Of course, you have to satisfy some standard criteria in the first place, e.g. super duper GPA, GRE etc. There might be a few exceptions but in any case, you see people on gradcafe with a 990 PGRE and a 4.0 GPA getting rejections from the top 10 unies and you wonder why.

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:12 am

vasilis wrote:I believe I have a stronger profile than he does (I haven't post it though) + this year I have been working with one of the co-founders of supergravity for my Master's thesis and still didnt get in any Princeton-like uni. What I heard about these universities is that in order to get in you might need to pull some strings; the competition is too high so you better make sure that "you" have approached at least one member of the committe (you might ask, what about the rec. letters, yes but what if the guy who reads them has no clue who your supervisor is). Of course, you have to satisfy some standard criteria in the first place, e.g. super duper GPA, GRE etc. There might be a few exceptions but in any case, you see people on gradcafe with a 990 PGRE and a 4.0 GPA getting rejections from the top 10 unies and you wonder why.


Do you intend to post your profile? :-)

If you don't mind me asking, why are you applying to a US program when you already have a Master's (is it a Diplom, by any chance?), when you could have stayed in Germany? At most US schools, one will have to take a coursework again, pass quals and only then begin research!

I'm not very concerned with "Princeton-like" universities. Rather, I will be looking for a program that:
a) is fully funded
b) has good (or prominent?) researchers in my field(s) of interest

As it turns out, funded MSc programs in Europe are quite rare, so in my situation, it's better if I were to give the US a shot.

Since you seem to be from a German uni, what did you about the differing course content? Or does your transcript contain the specific details of subjects covered? That part is quite worrying, I should say!

Thank you.

CarlBrannen
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Mar 14, 2012 7:39 pm

Soso scores, top-notch schools, foreign grad student, and probably asked to study theoretical physics. That's a death sentence a couple times over.

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Thu Mar 15, 2012 3:20 am

CarlBrannen wrote:Soso scores, top-notch schools, foreign grad student, and probably asked to study theoretical physics. That's a death sentence a couple times over.


How is being a foreigner a disadvantage? I was under the impression that this didn't matter for grad school as much as it does for undergrad.

What do you mean by "asked to study theoretical physics"? As in, he sounded like someone who spent more time reading pop science (Hawking, Sagan, etc) as opposed to taking grad courses or getting involved in research?

bfollinprm
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Mar 15, 2012 3:33 am

Not coming from a US undergrad institution hurts your chances of getting into a US grad school, full stop. Any other impression is misinformed.

CarlBrannen
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby CarlBrannen » Thu Mar 15, 2012 3:44 am

Etranger wrote:How is being a foreigner a disadvantage? I was under the impression that this didn't matter for grad school as much as it does for undergrad.


US universities are paid for by taxes that are collected almost entirely from US citizens. Since US citizens like their children to get into grad school, they arrange things so that universities are motivated to give advantages to US citizens. Most countries do something similar. France is an exception, apparently they want people to come to France to study so they can help shore up the French language (which is dying out).

Etranger wrote:What do you mean by "asked to study theoretical physics"? As in, he sounded like someone who spent more time reading pop science (Hawking, Sagan, etc) as opposed to taking grad courses or getting involved in research?


In the US you have to write a short description of what you want to do in grad school. The school determines if they have room for that sort of thing. It turns out that theoretical quantum gravity is what EVERYONE wants to study (so they can be the next Einstein). The competition for those positions is very much greater than for things like "condensed matter experiment". Result: if you put down something like "I am interested in elementary particle physics theory", they will simply reject your application unless you came out on the very top. His physics score was only 810. This happens to be the average score at a 2nd tier school like U. Washington: http://www.phys.washington.edu/phd_admissions.htm Good lord, he applied to Caltech, Berkeley and Princeton. See: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=688 for a list of average scores at some top schools. But to get in as a theoretical student would require even higher scores.

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Thu Mar 15, 2012 5:06 am

CarlBrannen wrote:US universities are paid for by taxes that are collected almost entirely from US citizens. Since US citizens like their children to get into grad school, they arrange things so that universities are motivated to give advantages to US citizens. Most countries do something similar. France is an exception, apparently they want people to come to France to study so they can help shore up the French language (which is dying out).


I didn't think of it from that perspective. Thank you.

Hmm. With France and other European countries (take Switzerland, for instance, who have minimal tuition fees - ~500 euros - but on the flip side, the cost of living there is insanely high), one will need to have a Master's degree first. Usually, a two-year MSc, where the 2nd year is dedicated to a research project. I don't know of *any* country except for the States (and a few programs in India, I think?) where funding is available (of course, if one gets in) right after the Bachelor's till the PhD.

In the US you have to write a short description of what you want to do in grad school. The school determines if they have room for that sort of thing. It turns out that theoretical quantum gravity is what EVERYONE wants to study (so they can be the next Einstein). The competition for those positions is very much greater than for things like "condensed matter experiment". Result: if you put down something like "I am interested in elementary particle physics theory", they will simply reject your application unless you came out on the very top. His physics score was only 810. This happens to be the average score at a 2nd tier school like U. Washington: http://www.phys.washington.edu/phd_admissions.htm Good lord, he applied to Caltech, Berkeley and Princeton. See: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=688 for a list of average scores at some top schools. But to get in as a theoretical student would require even higher scores.


Well, that was naive of him?

So, as an international applicant, to have a realistic shot at a Tier 2 (Tier 1 is a crapshoot for anyone, I understand?) school in their field of interest, one must have a PGRE score which is >900 and everything the good US applicant has? (lots of research experience, excellent SoP and LoRs)

Sounds feasible.

I don't think my next (and hopefully, last) question warrants a thread of its own, so I'm just gonna ask here.

The thing is, I'd rather avoid getting into debt, which to me, sounds sensible. My home university has a physics program and I don't know how it stacks up compared to better undergraduate programs. I'm willing to borrow some money (education loan - they're pretty annoying; ~7-10% interest) if it means that I will really benefit from another university (right now, I can only look at Europe or perhaps South Africa - anything else, and I'd have to take a year out and start college at 20!) but if that won't change my situation much, I'd rather not.

Link to syllabus. The specific details concerning what's in each course are located further down on page/file.

Not too sure what various subjects mean but if I've got this right, sophomores at Caltech are at the same level as seniors (third year) here.

Does that seem about right or am I way off here? More importantly, would I be making a very, very bad move if I were to study here? If it means I have a better shot at getting into a good grad school if I go to Europe, I'm willing to get into (some) debt.

Again, thank you.

P.S: Excuse the n00b-ness. Within a few years, it'll be over. Promise!

TakeruK
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby TakeruK » Thu Mar 15, 2012 11:12 am

bfollinprm wrote:Not coming from a US undergrad institution hurts your chances of getting into a US grad school, full stop. Any other impression is misinformed.


I think not being an American citizen also hurts your chances of getting into some US grad schools, even if you have an undergraduate degree from the US. For many schools, tuition for non-citizens are higher and we are not eligible for many fellowships and grants that could help offset our costs. Although these are not academic reasons, and there really isn't much one can do about it, it's still a factor!

For Etranger, you might also be interested to know that the Canadian system is similar to Europe in some ways. There is a 4 year undergraduate program (usually an honours one, so that includes a 4th year thesis project), followed by a 2 year Masters and then a 4 year PhD. The MSc and PhD programs are both fully funded, at least in the physical sciences (you still pay tuition, but your funding package is enough to cover tuition and living expenses). You have to apply to the MSc and PhD programs separately (generally you can only apply to PhD programs once you have a MSc), but there are a few programs that allow direct to PhD routes, or at least lets you transfer to a PhD program after your first year in the MSc. Canadian MSc programs are generally lighter in coursework than US programs and you would do research along with classes the entire two years.

So if you feel that you might not be competitive enough for a US PhD program (e.g. 3 years might not be that much time to get research experience), spending 2 years at a funded masters program (e.g. in Canada) could be option before applying to US schools. Most US schools won't really let you count a MSc from elsewhere towards much PhD credits, but you could gain a lot of experience and skills during your MSc that will help you during your PhD. Also, with the shorter European BSc, it might not hurt too much to spend an extra time for a MSc first. Finally, it seems like US schools understand the Canadian grading system better than other foreign countries, so that could be helpful too. Just a thought for you to consider!

A note though: Canadian graduate programs usually do not have an admissions committee that selects the top X candidates. Instead, the candidates who pass some minimum level are forwarded to profs in the department and each individual prof decides whether or not to take you on (since money for you will be coming out of their grants!) so unlike most US schools, you are usually accepted to a research group/prof right away. This also means that it's a good idea to contact potential supervisors while you are applying so they know to expect to see your application. One exception is the University of Toronto, which behaves more like a US school though!

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Thu Mar 15, 2012 12:09 pm

TakeruK wrote:
bfollinprm wrote:Not coming from a US undergrad institution hurts your chances of getting into a US grad school, full stop. Any other impression is misinformed.


I think not being an American citizen also hurts your chances of getting into some US grad schools, even if you have an undergraduate degree from the US. For many schools, tuition for non-citizens are higher and we are not eligible for many fellowships and grants that could help offset our costs. Although these are not academic reasons, and there really isn't much one can do about it, it's still a factor!

For Etranger, you might also be interested to know that the Canadian system is similar to Europe in some ways. There is a 4 year undergraduate program (usually an honours one, so that includes a 4th year thesis project), followed by a 2 year Masters and then a 4 year PhD. The MSc and PhD programs are both fully funded, at least in the physical sciences (you still pay tuition, but your funding package is enough to cover tuition and living expenses). You have to apply to the MSc and PhD programs separately (generally you can only apply to PhD programs once you have a MSc), but there are a few programs that allow direct to PhD routes, or at least lets you transfer to a PhD program after your first year in the MSc. Canadian MSc programs are generally lighter in coursework than US programs and you would do research along with classes the entire two years.

So if you feel that you might not be competitive enough for a US PhD program (e.g. 3 years might not be that much time to get research experience), spending 2 years at a funded masters program (e.g. in Canada) could be option before applying to US schools. Most US schools won't really let you count a MSc from elsewhere towards much PhD credits, but you could gain a lot of experience and skills during your MSc that will help you during your PhD. Also, with the shorter European BSc, it might not hurt too much to spend an extra time for a MSc first. Finally, it seems like US schools understand the Canadian grading system better than other foreign countries, so that could be helpful too. Just a thought for you to consider!

A note though: Canadian graduate programs usually do not have an admissions committee that selects the top X candidates. Instead, the candidates who pass some minimum level are forwarded to profs in the department and each individual prof decides whether or not to take you on (since money for you will be coming out of their grants!) so unlike most US schools, you are usually accepted to a research group/prof right away. This also means that it's a good idea to contact potential supervisors while you are applying so they know to expect to see your application. One exception is the University of Toronto, which behaves more like a US school though!


That is excellent! I shied away from Canada when I saw that funding/scholarships for foreign undergrads were scare. I sort of assumed that on the postgraduate side of things, it would like in the UK...

It really is a relief to know that their MSc programs are funded. I'd much rather do the German B.Sc than stay here. (it's also more mathematical than the degree here, which has more "math methods" courses than actual math courses)

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grae313
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby grae313 » Thu Mar 15, 2012 7:28 pm

To elaborate a bit more on Carl's excellent points:

CarlBrannen wrote:
Etranger wrote:How is being a foreigner a disadvantage? I was under the impression that this didn't matter for grad school as much as it does for undergrad.


US universities are paid for by taxes that are collected almost entirely from US citizens. Since US citizens like their children to get into grad school, they arrange things so that universities are motivated to give advantages to US citizens. Most countries do something similar. France is an exception, apparently they want people to come to France to study so they can help shore up the French language (which is dying out).


Because funding for US schools comes from US citizens, their tuition is subsidized by those taxes to a certain extent. When you enter a PhD program your tuition is "waived," but what this really means is that the school is paying for it out of their funding. Therefore, every international student costs the University much more to enroll. You can also see this effect in undergraduate programs at state schools. UC Berkeley, for example, is a California state public school. Since California residents pay taxes that go to support the University, their tuition is much cheaper than out of state students, which in turn is much cheaper still than international students.


CarlBrannen wrote:
Etranger wrote:What do you mean by "asked to study theoretical physics"? As in, he sounded like someone who spent more time reading pop science (Hawking, Sagan, etc) as opposed to taking grad courses or getting involved in research?


In the US you have to write a short description of what you want to do in grad school. The school determines if they have room for that sort of thing. It turns out that theoretical quantum gravity is what EVERYONE wants to study (so they can be the next Einstein). The competition for those positions is very much greater than for things like "condensed matter experiment". Result: if you put down something like "I am interested in elementary particle physics theory", they will simply reject your application unless you came out on the very top. His physics score was only 810. This happens to be the average score at a 2nd tier school like U. Washington: http://www.phys.washington.edu/phd_admissions.htm Good lord, he applied to Caltech, Berkeley and Princeton. See: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=688 for a list of average scores at some top schools. But to get in as a theoretical student would require even higher scores.


Actually I think many Universities have more students by number looking to do research in condensed matter experiment than in quantum gravity. As I'm sure Carl knows, the important factor is actually popularity versus available money. Theory is popular, yes, but it's only saturated and competitive because there is not enough money in the field to support its popularity. Simply put, there are more students than available spots, and the number of available spots is determined by funding. Condensed matter physics is a much larger field with a lot more funding.

Research is supported mostly by grants for which professors apply. These grants come from a variety of public and private sources such as the NSF, DOE, HHMI, etc. It is a lot easier to take the public's hard earned tax money and distribute it to research professors when you can justify the research in terms of practical results with real-world benefits. This is why there are many people willing to give money to people doing things like biomedical research and very few people willing to give money to people studying quantum gravity. (Disclaimer: I'm not supporting this fact, just stating it)



In terms of general, practical advice for international applicants

If you want to do theory at a top school, you should have excellent grades, glowing letters of recommendations, good research experience, and a PGRE of at least 900, preferably over 950, and unfortunately probably 990 or close to it if you're Indian or Chinese. Given these things, you've got a decent shot but could still end up rejected.

Top schools are saturated with applicants that have near perfect grades and test scores. The things that set you apart are your letters of recommendation and your demonstrated success in research. You'll want to form strong relationships with respected professors and aim to do publishable research, and as much of it as possible.

bfollinprm
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby bfollinprm » Thu Mar 15, 2012 8:10 pm

To add on top of what was added...

If you want to do theory, graduate coursework as an undergrad becomes more important (I wouldn't say necessary, but important). Not because you can't learn it once you get to grad school, but if you lay out your heartfelt desire to do Quantum Gravity without ever having any experience in field theory--well, how would you know if fundamental physics is a good fit for you if you don't even have exposure to the basic tools? I think it's this reason why a lot of students have trouble getting into grad school with an interest in fundamental theory: their only exposure is a pop-culture book from someone like Hawking or Greene, and they don't have any real knowledge about how theory works.

Also, another reason why (fundamental) theorists get less funding. Because by nature fundamental theories are speculative (they often times aren't phenomenological, so they're hard to test immediately), it's kind of hard to know WHICH theorist to fund. There are a ton of really smart people thinking about a problem, and it's not until someone finishes a theory that you realize how to test it. So, you can't evaluate the potential of the science ahead of time. Since there isn't enough money to go around, most funding agencies require a proposal that justifies the potential of a science to produce good results, and since you really can't write (for the reasons above) good proposals ahead of time for fundamental theory, the science ends up not being funded. It IS possible to get funding for basic science with no practical results--astronomy has been quite good at getting their share of the pie, and no one's curing cancer or solving the energy crisis with astrophysics, at least on purpose.

Etranger
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby Etranger » Fri Mar 16, 2012 12:27 am

Should the issue with Americans and their paying taxes (and therefore, harder to get full funding) even be one at all if one is applying to private institutions? I'm half-assuming some - although it's most probably far less than with public universities - of your tax money still goes towards them, somehow, no?

Who knows, I might enjoy performing experiments, collecting data and trying to make sense of it. :D Oh, by the way, if one is interested in experiment (for whatever field of physics), would statistics classes be useful?

I've never read a popular science book and I intend to keep things that way, at least for a while. I've never felt the "burning need" to and I find physics interesting enough without. Maybe it's just an ego thing...(haha)

I'm definitely not Indian but my ancestors, as with those of most of the people living here, were. I wonder whether that just puts me in the pile of Indian applicants or in the one of African ones, seeing as I'm from an "African country" (kind of...).

What difference could the LoRs possibly make? Except if perhaps someone has some truly messed up personality traits that triggered to, I don't know, burn down the chemistry lab (?!?!), I'm not sure what kind of impact they could have. That's in the case of whoever is reading them, not being acquainted with whoever has written them! I'm sure they get hundreds of letters filled with praises about every Tom, Dick and Jason who applies. The way I see it, the only way excellent LoRs could actually help the boat stay afloat would be if some people in the departments I'm applying to know the profs!

I have more hope for Canada...it looks much, much easier/less competitive for entry.

When you say "publishable research", does it matter which journal it's published in? I understand the process of getting one's paper sent in, reviewed and to the point of being accepted, can be quite lengthy because every journal has their own annoying parameters...
Would uploading one's papers count (assuming one gets "endorsed") to arXiv be a good way to get "published" or would academics raise an eyebrow or two at an undergrad doing such things, seeing as they're completely avoiding the peer-review process?

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grae313
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby grae313 » Fri Mar 16, 2012 12:56 am

Etranger wrote:What difference could the LoRs possibly make? Except if perhaps someone has some truly messed up personality traits that triggered to, I don't know, burn down the chemistry lab (?!?!), I'm not sure what kind of impact they could have. That's in the case of whoever is reading them, not being acquainted with whoever has written them! I'm sure they get hundreds of letters filled with praises about every Tom, Dick and Jason who applies. The way I see it, the only way excellent LoRs could actually help the boat stay afloat would be if some people in the departments I'm applying to know the profs!


Every University has different things they look for, but letters of recommendation are very important at all of them and at some, they are the most important part of your application. At least in the US, most professors give an honest evaluation of their students. When a student goes off to grad school on a professor's recommendation, in a way they represent that professor and his/her word. Nobody is going to put their name behind someone they don't believe in. It's a small enough community and it's a community based in very large part on reputation.

Your most important letter(s) will come from your research adviser(s). In grad school, you'll spend one to two years taking classes and four to six years doing research. Furthermore, doing research is completely different from taking classes and it's not possible to predict your aptitude and enjoyment for research based on your classroom performance. This is why your research adviser's letter is particularly important. They will be able to compare you to other students and comment on your skills as a researcher.

Letters from professors are also very important because grades are not standardized between universities. A 3.5 GPA doesn't mean anything on its own. A professor can comment on the rigor of the program and the student's performance in academics not only relative to his/her peers, but every other student the professor has taught.

It's true that not every letter will be an unbiased view of the student including their shortcomings as well as their strengths, but admissions committees are very good at reading into letters. They'll recognize the standard, half-hearted praise and be able to distinguish this immediately from a professor who is wholeheartedly recommending their student. To roughly quote someone from memory, "If in four years of school you can't find one person to jump up and down with excitement about you in their letter, we're probably not going to admit you." When you truly impress the people you work for, they will work hard to help you succeed and it will show in their letters.


Etranger wrote:When you say "publishable research", does it matter which journal it's published in? I understand the process of getting one's paper sent in, reviewed and to the point of being accepted, can be quite lengthy because every journal has their own annoying parameters...
Would uploading one's papers count (assuming one gets "endorsed") to arXiv be a good way to get "published" or would academics raise an eyebrow or two at an undergrad doing such things, seeing as they're completely avoiding the peer-review process?


Well of course, a publication in Nature or Science or PRL would be more impressive than a publication in some journal no one has heard of. However, your focus should just be on publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. That's impressive enough as an undergrad and that accomplishment on its own is well respected, regardless of the journal. So, no one will dismiss your publication as long as it's in a peer-reviewed journal, but the journal will be noted and can carry additional levels of prestige.

As for arxiv, it's better than nothing but not preferable in my opinion to peer-reviewed journals. Your research adviser will direct you through all of this and help you select an appropriate journal for your results.

TakeruK
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby TakeruK » Fri Mar 16, 2012 11:24 am

Etranger wrote:Should the issue with Americans and their paying taxes (and therefore, harder to get full funding) even be one at all if one is applying to private institutions? I'm half-assuming some - although it's most probably far less than with public universities - of your tax money still goes towards them, somehow, no?


Faculty members in Canada (who have studied and/or worked in US institutions before) have told me that this funding issue for internationals is more for public universities than private ones. You can do a quick check by trying to look up the graduate tuition (it could be hard to find sometimes) rate for the schools: if you see a difference between in-state/domestic tuition and international tuition, that means you would cost more to the department. Most private, or semi-private, schools have the same tuition for everyone -- then it's probably not a disadvantage to be foreign there! My profs told me that I probably had a much better chance at Harvard than any of the UC (University of California) schools, even the smaller ones, because of this funding reason (in the end, I got rejected at all of them! lol -- but I did end up getting into other schools I really liked so it's no problem!).

You can also use sites that compile graduate program stats, such as http://www.gradschoolshopper.com/ or the NRC Doctoral Program Rankings to find the % of international graduate students enrolled. At the UC schools, this ratio is something like 10%, compared to a place like Harvard which I think had a ratio of 30%. It's also a bigger problem on the west coast than east coast, apparently.

Etranger wrote:What difference could the LoRs possibly make? Except if perhaps someone has some truly messed up personality traits that triggered to, I don't know, burn down the chemistry lab (?!?!), I'm not sure what kind of impact they could have. That's in the case of whoever is reading them, not being acquainted with whoever has written them! I'm sure they get hundreds of letters filled with praises about every Tom, Dick and Jason who applies. The way I see it, the only way excellent LoRs could actually help the boat stay afloat would be if some people in the departments I'm applying to know the profs!

What grae said is very true and helpful! I think LORs are definitely at least the 2nd most important part of your application, if not the most important. To expand on her comments, it's very important to choose your LOR writers carefully and your choices may vary for each school you are applying to. But in order to have these choices, it's critical to get yourself doing research in the summers so that you have research advisors to ask for LORs. If/When you get a chance to do a second research project and you have a choice between continuing your last project or doing something new, I'd recommend doing something new (so that you have another LOR writer) unless continuing the old project means you will get some really nice result and publications.

Most schools require at least 3 LORs, and ideally all 3 of them will be from your research advisors. This is hard to do and many people have 2 research LORs and one academic one from a prof that knows them well. When you pick your LOR writers, they can strengthen your application if:
(1) You actually did research work with them and they can comment on your ability and potential to do graduate level research work.
(2) They are well known and respected in your field.
(3) They have personal connections with people in the department you are applying to -- especially if they are a collaborator, but also good if they are alumni, or used to work there, etc.
(4) They have former students that recently enrolled at the department you are applying to and they can favourably compare you to these students (assuming these students are doing well at said school!)

If you have to make a choice in selecting LOR writers (i.e. you may have multiple options for the 3rd or 4th letter), you could email all potential writers with your list of schools (and faculty) you're interested in and ask if they think they can write a helpful letter at these places. This was how I learned that one of my LOR writers had some connections at a school I applied to.

Etranger wrote:I have more hope for Canada...it looks much, much easier/less competitive for entry.


Canada is "less competitive" because fewer students apply to our programs. But there are different level of schools in Canada as well, and if you are planning to end up in the US for PhD, you may want to stick to more renowned schools. In general, UBC, McGill, and University of Toronto are the 3 biggest school names in Canada, but there could be other good places specific to your field as well. We can talk more about Canadian graduate programs/requirements if you want to send me a PM but the information might be more useful in a few years when you are actually applying to places.

Etranger wrote:When you say "publishable research", does it matter which journal it's published in? I understand the process of getting one's paper sent in, reviewed and to the point of being accepted, can be quite lengthy because every journal has their own annoying parameters...
Would uploading one's papers count (assuming one gets "endorsed") to arXiv be a good way to get "published" or would academics raise an eyebrow or two at an undergrad doing such things, seeing as they're completely avoiding the peer-review process?

I think that papers that are posted to the arXiv are taken more seriously if they were also submitted to a peer reviewed journal, so that the arxiv posting is just a way to get the information out faster, since the process could take a long time. I know some people only actually post to arXiv once the paper has been accepted for publication -- so that the peer reviewed information is ready since the delay between acceptance and actual printing could be many months!

Usually, most undergraduate publications are also co-authored by faculty and usually the faculty member will decide where to submit it. It's very very bad form to post a paper anywhere without getting consent/agreement from all your coauthors first.

spin1/2
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Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby spin1/2 » Sat Mar 17, 2012 5:25 am

TakeruK wrote:Faculty members in Canada (who have studied and/or worked in US institutions before) have told me that this funding issue for internationals is more for public universities than private ones. You can do a quick check by trying to look up the graduate tuition (it could be hard to find sometimes) rate for the schools: if you see a difference between in-state/domestic tuition and international tuition, that means you would cost more to the department.

Off the main topic, but are you aware of the reasons for differences in tuition fee for domestic & intl. students? I do not get it. Once you get into a univ, how is it any different for domestic & intl students. They all have similar course requirements, ta/ra duties.

TakeruK
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Why do you think this person was rejected?

Postby TakeruK » Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:16 pm

spin1/2 wrote:Off the main topic, but are you aware of the reasons for differences in tuition fee for domestic & intl. students? I do not get it. Once you get into a univ, how is it any different for domestic & intl students. They all have similar course requirements, ta/ra duties.


Grae313 answered this exact question a few posts above in this thread!




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