3 years vs 4 years and other questions

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Izaac
Posts: 63
Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:24 am

3 years vs 4 years and other questions

Postby Izaac » Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:27 pm

Hi there,

My GPA is 3.18 what are my chances at Harvard... er, no. Sorry. Couldn't help. Eh eh.

I'm a French 2-year undergrad in Physics. I'm considering applying to a bunch (about 10) US universities this fall, this idea being mainly motivated by an encouragement to do so from my last internship mentor, a faculty at the Univ. of Pittsburgh.
However, I'm not really sure about this, for a couple of reasons: my GPA ain't that wonderful (something like 75%, which nonetheless got me in the top 5% for the first year), and most importantly I have a great doubt about the path I want to take. There is no field in Physics I'm particularly interested in; however, I feel really attracted by all the mathematical aspect of it, but it doesn't show up in my grades (my maths GPA is around 50%).
The main reason why I want to apply is that I feel tired about French universities, where there's very few people impassionated about what they're studying or teaching, and I'd like to believe that it's different in the US. You'd tell me that a year or two won't change much, but I'm really desperate for leaving that system.
So, the first question would be: should I apply to US universities now? Should I wait?

Another argument for delaying would be that I'd be much interested in applying to places like Stony Brook, for the mathematical physics aspect, and so I would better build some kind of "mathematical profile".
I was considering starting this year a double major degree, that is going on with my third Physics year, plus starting a second Mathematical year*. And then applying to the US universities one year or two from now, that is with 4-5 years of Physics and 3-4 of Maths.
You may say "why do a Maths degree if you got a GPA of 50%?" Well, I can't really explain it, but I got the feeling that I might succeed in this degree. I had a look at my past courses in maths (in my Physics degree) and the courses offered by the Maths degree, and the latter seems more understandable to me.
The question two would be: do you think this could improve my application to some mathematical-physics-oriented PhD? Doesn't it look too laborious in some way (like, I'm undecided or something)?

I guess that makes it... Thank you for any advice.



*why second? In France first Physics and Mathematical year is almost the same, so on a mathematical aspect I don't have to start a mathematical degree from scratch.

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

Re: 3 years vs 4 years and other questions

Postby CarlBrannen » Tue Jul 17, 2012 11:10 am

Your application will do better if you profess to be interested in experimental work. Everyone with a BS (not just in physics) wants to be the next theoretical Nobel Prize winner in elementary particles. Avoid that group.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: 3 years vs 4 years and other questions

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:03 pm

Physics as a rule is quite mathematically involved...can you be more specific as to what you find interesting?

If you don't feel an attachment towards physics, I'd warn against pursuing a PhD. It's a lot of work, a big commitment, and doesn't make a lot of sense economically. You should only go into it if you're sure you're going to love your time as a grad student.

From a maturity point of view, judging by the lack of coherence in your interests, I'd say it's best for you to wait a year or two before applying. A lot of schools also ask for "4 years or equivalent" preparation before they accept you to graduate programs. Have you thought of simply doing a study abroad year here? You generally don't have to go through the application process that way, and you often (if your school takes students from US universities for semesters abroad) only have to pay the tuition charged by your home university, which is generally much cheaper than pursuing a bachelors in the US (it will run you 50k/year--40,000 euros to enroll on your own). Then you can spend a year pursuing maths and physics here in the US at the advanced undergraduate level, refine your interests, and participate in some laboratory work (I'd make finding a place where you can get involved in real research while you're there a priority). You also wont have to worry about transferring credits, visa restrictions, etc.

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Izaac
Posts: 63
Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:24 am

Re: 3 years vs 4 years and other questions

Postby Izaac » Tue Jul 17, 2012 1:55 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:Your application will do better if you profess to be interested in experimental work. Everyone with a BS (not just in physics) wants to be the next theoretical Nobel Prize winner in elementary particles. Avoid that group.


Yeah, I noticed that trend (I wonder why it's so, by the way... nowadays most of the Nobels in Physics are about experimental stuff... maybe theorist sounds like "architect" and experimentalist "factory worker").
I don't intend to express an absolute passion for Th. HEP, since all the internships I did so far were experimental; although, even if I'll probably say I have some interest in experimental (as suggested somebody in the profile post), I'd much appreciate graduate studies peppered (I mean downpoured, or even flooded) with maths.

@bfollinprm: what interests me is mainly the mathematical aspect of physics. For instance I'm now devouring Griffiths' EM book just for all the tricks he mentions about how to compute an electrical field or a potential. I'm now working with a friend on a problem of classical mechanics representing a non-integrable system. The idea is physical, but we're only interested in the maths under it.
By contrast, I'm currently doing an internship in experimental photonic, and well, I might just have bumped into the wrong lab, but each time there's something needed, like to have a room cleaned to install some apparatus, or to manufacture a special part at the workshop, it takes ages, just because you can't go to the workshop and ask the guy, you have to send a paper that'll bounce back and forth before the authorization finally comes a couple of week later. My last internship was in Particle Physics, and it just was like 75% of debugging some code. Not really my cup of tea.

Anyway, thanks for the opinion, I appreciate it. Still have time to decide, still have time to get lost...




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