Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

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Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby Galois2199 » Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:27 pm

Hi all,
I am graduating with a double major in physics and pure mathematics, from an average US institution. I think my profile is reasonably good. I got an 870 (82nd percentile) on the PGRE, I got very nearly straight A's in math and physics, I will have strong letters, and I took nearly 10 graduate level math and physics classes instead of university electives. I took more advanced things like QFT, grad Classical Mechanics, Group Theory, Ring/Module Theory, Topology, Diff. Geometry....and General Relativity next spring. I am applying to:

-Mcgill
-NYU
-University of Washington
-University of Pennsylvania
-U of Illinois-Chicago
-Carnagie Mellon
-Temple Univ.
-Boston University
-Brown Univ.
-University of Oregon
-Northeastern Univ.

So my question is, do you think it's a decent chance I will get into one of those schools or should I add safer ones. Most of those aren't even top 30 but none of them are unknowns! And I know HEP-T is VERY competitive so I'm a little scared now!

Thanks all!

PeterH1
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 7:01 pm

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby PeterH1 » Sat Nov 30, 2013 12:24 am

Good grief, I sure hope you don't have trouble getting in to places. I'm hoping for something like HEP-Theory too, but my credentials are somewhat less impressive.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby Galois2199 » Sat Nov 30, 2013 1:11 am

Well people on this site seem to emphasize how competitive HEP-Th is compared to other fields in physics. It's pretty nerve racking! but I was just wondering if some of the schools I picked can safely be thought of as "safeties."

PeterH1
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 08, 2013 7:01 pm

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby PeterH1 » Sat Nov 30, 2013 12:27 pm

Yeah, I gather it is really quite competitive too. I'm hoping to get as far as possible doing beyond the Standard Model stuff, and then look for places where there might be more funding to *apply* those techniques (e.g., String Theory in Condensed Matter).

Anyway, I wish I could help you more, but I'm not aiming for the States yet, so I haven't done too much digging into those schools. I'm planning to do a Master's in Canada first (or Germany if I'm massively lucky and get the DAAD), and McGill was the one place I'm not looking here. Good luck!

bfollinprm
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Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby bfollinprm » Sat Nov 30, 2013 3:33 pm

First, your profile is great, so don't take this as a critique of your ability to succeed in HEP-th. But this is my impression of the state of things for HEP-th applications.

There is no such thing as a safety in HEP-th, if you're adamant that's what you want to be doing (and this singular focus is detectable in your application materials). Schools have very limited places for HEP-th (both due to funding and the higher time commitment from an advisor in training a HEP-th student), and for most schools there are years where they know there are no spots for a new HEP-th student (no matter the background), and will save you the nightmare of not having an advisor available by not admitting you in the first place.

Flexibility (cosmology and condensed matter theory are similar in many ways) will significantly improve your chances at admission, but be sure it's real flexibility or you might be forced into a PhD in something you don't really want to do*. Otherwise, I would apply to as many schools as possible--admission is one thing, but you'll probably also want to hear some interest from the HEP-th faculty before accepting, and you'll have a better chance of that by increasing the number of applications you submit.

Lots of people want to do HEP-th. Know that even if you do get admission, you still will likely have to prove yourself to an advisor for him to bother with you. Then, if you want to continue in physics, know that about 1/10 students who graduate with a PhD in HEP-th manage to find a postdoc...and most postdocs don't ever get a faculty position.


*Footnote: You might also consider applied mathematics departments, if you're more comfortable leaning the other direction. I tend to think fundamental theory kind of straddles the line between a math and physics department (and indeed, on rare occasions a HEP-th researcher can be found in applied mathematics). Members of the community, if forced to move off the line, seem equally likely to tend towards one or the other.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby Galois2199 » Sat Nov 30, 2013 4:21 pm

Thanks a lot for your reply! That is certainly a pretty stark outlook, even if I were to get accepted somewhere. So would you suggest broadening my interests in my SOP and CV somehow? But obviously not too broad, like you point out.

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

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby bfollinprm » Sat Nov 30, 2013 6:29 pm

So would you suggest broadening my interests in my SOP and CV somehow?


Yeah, I would, if you're truly interested in pursuits outside of beyond the standard model physics. For instance, you could say something like
While the experiences that led to me falling in love with [...insert HEP-th skills here...] have been in the context of physics beyond the standard model, I'm excited to learn more about applications in other fields, like condensed matter and cosmology.


If you are also excited about testing theories with experiment, I'd highlight that. Lots (though certainly not all) 'experimental' work (at least in my field of cosmology) involves deep understanding of a wide variety of exotic theories, since it's often the job of the experimenter to tease out potential observable consequences. Experiment is much less competitive, presumably because it's harder: it takes many more people to do an experiment than it takes to come up with a theory.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby Galois2199 » Sat Nov 30, 2013 7:18 pm

Awesome, thanks a lot for your help, you probably saved me a lot of headache :)

Would you say in HEP-T perhaps better schools might actually be safer because they have more theorists? For example, Univ. of British Columbia has about 21 theorists but I wanted to apply somewhere like Temple Univ. instead because it is much less well known. Perhaps from what you said i'd actually have a better shot at UBC than Temple due to the large number of theorists. Thanks again!

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

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Dec 01, 2013 4:34 am

With your profile I wouldn't take the top off any wish-list, so if you're interested in UBC certainly apply.

There is probably some benefit to larger programs, sure, though they'll have correspondingly larger application pools. Small number statistics means that smaller schools will have more variation, while admissions trends at larger (often better known) schools are probably more stable. Though I don't think top schools can ever be considered 'safe'. Maybe a school like Florida (for example) is as close to a safe bet there is--large, quality HEP program, low(ish) overall physics ranking, and not located in an 'in' city which always boosts applications.

Galois2199
Posts: 15
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2013 11:20 pm

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby Galois2199 » Sun Dec 01, 2013 3:21 pm

Thanks, I'll look into UF as well. I was thinking of adding UBC and U Michigan to the original list I posted. Are there any of those (13!) schools that you would say aren't worth applying to for highly theoretical stuff? They all have a decent number of theorists but you seem to have a lot more info than I do.

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby WhoaNonstop » Sun Dec 01, 2013 7:23 pm

Well, we don't know the specifics of all of those schools. You probably don't need to apply to 13.

Probably to emphasize some of the things bfollin said (or repeat them more likely).

You won't have any trouble getting accepted to these programs, especially if you broadened your statement to include all types of theory, or at least ones that you think could be related to HEP theory. A lot of things coming out of condensed matter theory draw from HEP nowadays. The only thing you need to worry about if you truly want to do HEP and HEP alone is getting a position doing that after you've been accepted to one of these programs. It really isn't as much competition for you getting into the school, but more so competition after you've arrived at a school. What you should probably do is make sure to really consider your options once you've figured out where you will be accepted and then decide which one has the most HEP opportunities as possible.

-Riley

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

Re: Pursuing Grad School in HEP-Theory and Scared!

Postby TakeruK » Mon Dec 02, 2013 4:05 am

If you want to know all about how UBC's physics grad program works (and also the policies relevant to how they accept/reject students), you can view the complete graduate program policy online: http://www.phas.ubc.ca/sites/default/fi ... rogram.pdf (it's intended for both prospective students to understand how admission works and for current students to understand how to complete program requirements).




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