Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

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Lavabug
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Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Lavabug » Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:24 am

So I got back my last rejection from NRAO's summer research program and it looks like I have nothing lined up after graduation. As a rising physics senior with an interest in astrophysics on the hydrodynamics+computational/theory side, is there anything I can do besides retaking the GRE's (granted) or getting a masters(not an option) to do something worthwhile until next application season?

I'm filing for the Fulbright scholarship (which you get a year after requesting) but I'm pretty sure it's a long shot for me. I should also mention that I'm no spring chicken, I'll be turning 26 this summer so I would really like to know if its still feasible to insist down this path or give up on academics. I've wanted to pursue a phd in this area for a really long time and I've been putting all my eggs in the same basket for this, and the prospect of going back to the same retail jobs I had before university isn't particularly alluring.

I have been told one can ask for volunteer work at a p&a department, what is the proper way of going about this? During the summer, I will be fairly close to 2 uni's in NJ with departments that conduct research I'm interested in and would like some guidance on contacting professors to get research experience. Any help is greatly appreciated.

TakeruK
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 13, 2013 11:58 am

Sorry to hear about the bad news :(

I'm not sure what all the American terminology means -- what's a "rising physics senior"? Senior = 4th year right? Does that mean you are going to go into your senior year next fall, or does that mean you're about to finish your senior year? Or something else?

Some options to consider:

1. (This advice is specific to how my undergrad University works, I'm not sure if it's the same elsewhere). You could delay graduation. Stay in undergrad for another year and maybe take a few grad courses or senior physics courses that you think might help you. More importantly, take the "independent research" or "honours/senior thesis" courses so that you get more research work done. I would take the minimum amount of courses to keep full-time status. At my school, you pay tuition on a per-credit basis so if money is an issue, then just take one course (the research course) and switch to part-time status. With only a few courses, you might also be able to work a part-time job on the side to make money or volunteer in the department.

2. Alternatively, you could still graduate then re-enroll in your school as a special/non-degree student. This will allow you to take the research courses and work on research. Of course, you would have to check how this works at your school and make sure you are able to do it!

3. Volunteering at a P&A department could work, however, it's much much easier to be volunteering at your own school, where people know you. Are you able to stay at your school this summer and work/volunteer with your own department? Many schools that I know of (Canadian ones though, so may not apply), like to hire their own undergrads for the summer after they graduate.

The best advice I can give for getting volunteer work at a department that doesn't know you is to just "cold-call" them. Just go and do it! Many will probably say no -- free work is complicated, but you just need one "yes". I would email them soon saying that I will be in the area this summer and that you would like to gain additional research experience by working in their lab. I would write a 1-2 paragraph summary of my experience and maybe attach a CV (or ask if they would like to see it).

Good luck!

bfollinprm
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Mar 13, 2013 11:59 am

A rising senior, or a current senior? I'm somewhat confused by your post.

And 26 is not old (at least that's what I tell myself).

Lavabug
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Lavabug » Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:03 pm

bfollinprm wrote:A rising senior, or a current senior? I'm somewhat confused by your post.

And 26 is not old (at least that's what I tell myself).

Sorry, current senior.
TakeruK wrote:
1. (This advice is specific to how my undergrad University works, I'm not sure if it's the same elsewhere). You could delay graduation. Stay in undergrad for another year and maybe take a few grad courses or senior physics courses that you think might help you. More importantly, take the "independent research" or "honours/senior thesis" courses so that you get more research work done. I would take the minimum amount of courses to keep full-time status. At my school, you pay tuition on a per-credit basis so if money is an issue, then just take one course (the research course) and switch to part-time status. With only a few courses, you might also be able to work a part-time job on the side to make money or volunteer in the department.

2. Alternatively, you could still graduate then re-enroll in your school as a special/non-degree student. This will allow you to take the research courses and work on research. Of course, you would have to check how this works at your school and make sure you are able to do it!

3. Volunteering at a P&A department could work, however, it's much much easier to be volunteering at your own school, where people know you. Are you able to stay at your school this summer and work/volunteer with your own department? Many schools that I know of (Canadian ones though, so may not apply), like to hire their own undergrads for the summer after they graduate.

The best advice I can give for getting volunteer work at a department that doesn't know you is to just "cold-call" them. Just go and do it! Many will probably say no -- free work is complicated, but you just need one "yes". I would email them soon saying that I will be in the area this summer and that you would like to gain additional research experience by working in their lab. I would write a 1-2 paragraph summary of my experience and maybe attach a CV (or ask if they would like to see it).

Good luck!

A couple of things: My living situation is complicated (my university is on another island) and have been attending it thanks to a scholarship that has lasted me for the duration of my undergrad. I don't have an apartment in my school's province anymore so sitting in on grad courses is neither financially nor physically possible. Working for professors isn't really common in my country as it is in the US or UK (where I am right now as a 4th year exchange student on a scholarship, scouring to get something for the summer in any vaguely related field, they do offer funding but I haven't found a prof willing to supervise me yet), so even if I could stay in the province I doubt I'd be able to procure some research experience.

I'll be heading to the states (as a legal US resident) in the summer since unemployment is pretty rife back in the Canaries(where I'm from), so I can at least do something to get some savings going (and I'd be closer to potential GRE+PGRE testing locations).

Do you think 'cold-calling' on the phone is the best option? I thought an email explaining an interest in their research and my competences would be enough, but maybe you're right, I should probably be more aggressive in my situation. My senior thesis (in high energy astro: computation/theory) is not far from completion so I could provide them with it if they showed an interest. In a similar fashion as you just described, I have already sent out about a dozen emails to profs at the Max Planck IfA about 1.5 months ago but haven't received a reply yet (this is the way they hire summer research students, they offer funding but don't advertise openings).

If I'm not mistaken, both of you are in astro or astro-related fields. How does one pitch research interest to a prof in a subfield you don't have specific research experience in? Bring up your competences with a specific programming language, graphing software and relevant courses you've taken?

Thanks for the replies

TakeruK
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby TakeruK » Wed Mar 13, 2013 1:21 pm

Oops, sorry, I was just using the expression "cold-call" but I really meant, "cold-email", as you pointed out! :) Sounds like what you are suggesting is the best plan, sorry that the other options won't work out!

During my undergrad, I did co-op, where we worked in industry or research full-time during one of the school years. I spent 8 months working with a medical physics research group although my previous experience and education was in astronomy/astrophysics. For that position, the key skills I used to sell myself in the interview, I think, was definitely image processing (astronomical images isn't too different from medical images), knowledge of detectors (again, they all work similarly) and most importantly, working experience with programming techniques. Although nothing the medical physics group did was exactly the same (different image processing software, different detector types, different programming languages!), it's the previous experience that is valuable, as it helped me pick up the new skills quickly.

I'm not sure if you are an astrophysics major trying to work in related fields, or a physics major trying to work in astrophysics, but the above ideas/transferability of skills work both ways. From talking to profs in North America, the number one thing they wish their undergraduate researchers and first year grad students knew more was programming! They also all expressed a desire for the undergrad programs in their schools to offer more computational physics courses but unfortunately, there's rarely room for more than one semester of this. So, previous research experience becomes very valuable even if you learned nothing more than to become very competent in a programming language (as long as it's a "mainstream" language where picking up another language is just a matter of learning syntax).

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Andromeda
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Andromeda » Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:43 am

Ah the Canaries that helps... I have a friend in my astro dept here who is from there and did undergrad there as well.

My biggest advice to you is to consider doing a M.Sc. and then applying again, either to the US if your heart is set on that or to northern Europe where the funding situation is much better (I know the UK funding is bad if you're not from there, but Germany and the Netherlands do not discriminate like that). It sounds like your situation isn't good back home, but can you maybe consider going up to "the mainland" as my friend calls it? (She did her M.Sc. in Barcelona, and also did so in her late 20s.)

shokan
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby shokan » Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:02 am

@Andromeda: Are you by any chance at Leiden?

Etranger
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Etranger » Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:54 am

What about astromundus? Or applying for an M.Sc in Germany, and trying to get a DAAD scholarship?

I remember seeing a post on physicsforums.com a few months ago where someone said he (an American) got one for his M.Sc in Germany.

Lavabug
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Lavabug » Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:13 am

Edit: Had a look at this astromundus thing. Looks good if you get funding, but unfortunately the application deadline for this year was last November.

A masters is totally out of the question for me, financially speaking. I also don't want to tack on additional 2-3 years taking courses (with the added stress of getting grades instead of doing research) that I'm almost certainly going to retake in any US grad school and end up graduating in my mid 30's, which is looked upon very unfavorably in the academic job rat race according to an academic I know that hires postdocs.

I also want to go to the US for another reason: upgrading to a US citizenship within 4-5 years (which I'm eligible for). Ignoring that, it is still much more cost-effective for me to try retaking the GREs. But I need something else to boost my credentials in the meantime, because I really don't have much research experience.

Can anyone share more experiences/advice in asking prof's for volunteer work?

Etranger
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Etranger » Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:38 am

Removed.
Last edited by Etranger on Mon Mar 18, 2013 7:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

walczyk
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby walczyk » Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:09 pm

I graduated from college in 2010, and I was an unorganized and poor student. Intelligence I have plenty of, but my grades were bad (3.31, 3.5 in major) and I have no publications. I didn't get any good jobs either (some IT temp work), and in Fall 2011 I took some graduate physics classes at the local university (an hour away). I tried applying to school but was too late and didn't get any good responses. It was disappointing, but I wasn't trying hard enough so I figured I would try harder next year. I studied for the PGRE and took it in November and got a very good score (960). I missed deadlines for about half of the schools, but I was able to put a strong enough profile to get into a decent school (penn state). The only advice I can give is over-study for the PGRE, you can't study enough for it, and get to work on your essays early and get lots of different feedback.

astroprof
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby astroprof » Sat Mar 16, 2013 8:41 pm

It is not uncommon for students to take a year or two between undergraduate and graduate school. There is a growing niche of temporary research positions for recent graduates interested in attending graduate school, eventually. These positions are sometimes advertised on the AAS job register (although none are currently listed), but are most often obtained through contacts or are a continuation of undergraduate honors research projects. If you have the appropriate work permits, you should contact (via e-mail) professors at local institutions to see if they have a project that may need either volunteer or hourly workers (by local, I mean nearby to where you will be living for the year, not just for the summer).

In addition, you should take a second look at possible graduate schools for this year. While the major application deadlines are past, some schools are still looking for good students. While this forum tends to focus on the top 50 or so schools, it is possible to get an excellent education at lower tier schools. The primary difference between top tier and middle tier schools is the breadth of research opportunities and the more readily available resources to complete those research projects. However, if you already know your area of research specialization, carefully selected lower tier institutions may offer similar or better research opportunities than middle tier schools. You might consider contacting the director of graduate studies at some of these schools to see if they would consider late applications.

In particular, you mentioned that you were interested in NRAO's summer research program. You might look into the Universities located near the major NRAO sites (not just UVa in Charlottesville) as they tend to have good working relationships with NRAO, so students may complete their dissertation either with faculty or with NRAO staff scientists. Similarly, you might look into Universities located near national labs, as there are usually research opportunities beyond just the local faculty. These programs do not always register as "top tier" institutions due to their smaller faculty size and more limited research programs, but students will get top-tier research experiences and will be well positioned for their future career.

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Andromeda
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby Andromeda » Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:05 pm

shokan wrote:@Andromeda: Are you by any chance at Leiden?


No, University of Amsterdam.

IAMAredditor
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Re: Rejected for grad school & summer internships... now what?

Postby IAMAredditor » Mon Mar 25, 2013 1:48 am

I'd just like to add my voice into this.

Don't give up. I got into almost nowhere my first time around (declined a ridiculous offer on the east coast from a third rate school). 640 PGRE, lowish (3.5) GPA with B's in quantum mechanics, mediocre letters.

So ... I got a job. You dont have to tell them it's temporary. Work there for a few years doing some science-related things, show some leadership, develop programming skills etc., re-apply after getting a letter or two from them and studying your butt off for the gre when you get home every night. That's what I did; and hey the pay can be pretty decent.

After bumping my PGRE to 810 (yes, it is possible), getting a letter from a phD at my work, I went from nothing to getting into UC's Davis, Irvine and San Diego. Sure I'm not heading to caltech, but I'm not complaining.

I did it; so can you. it's just a matter of : how bad do you want it?




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