Confused international student!

  • 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.

bookworm
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:34 pm

Confused international student!

Postby bookworm » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:00 pm

Hi! I just found this forum... I am a senior student at the No 1 university of my country studying Applied Physics with extra subjects of Theoretical physics... I am taking next year off so I just recently started searching for grad schools... I want to get a Phd in astronomy...
However I am really confused! My GPA will probably be around 7.5 on a scale of 10, which translates to 3.0 for you americans! In my school, my GPA is considered good, no one gets more than 8.5, but I read many posts here saying that not even a 3.6 is a good GPA! Enter panic! :shock:
So what I want to know is do I have any chance of admission in a good university in US? Do you need to have a stellar GPA to go to grad school? Also, how hard is the GRE Physics test? How much should I study? Could a good score in the GRE make up for my 'low' GPA?
Thanks!

dan1234
Posts: 23
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 6:04 pm

Postby dan1234 » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:14 pm

I think the admissions commitees generally put your grades into context (if they're familiar with your undergrad institution), i.e. if your GPA is good for your school, then the commitee will know this and you won't be penalized.

Personally, I would say that the individual questions on the GRE are generally pretty easy. The test is difficult because you need to answer so many questions in such a short time! Studying a bit (a lot?) is useful because it will help you become more familiar with the test's types of questions and you'll be able to work through it more quickly.

-Dan

soluyanov
Posts: 51
Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2006 1:06 pm

Postby soluyanov » Thu Feb 22, 2007 8:05 pm

I decided to go to a US grad school in late july only. Passed TOEFL easily, than started to prepare to GRE - and here I have made a great mistake. I had no idea of what these tests are and which sections are really valuable. I started to prepare for Verbal part. Got 530 in it, and was really dissapointed (in all final training tests I was beyond 600). I wasted almost 2 months for that. And this effort was absolutely useless. 330 is more than enough for an international. Q part is for babies - really nothing to do, but concentrate. The only reason to make a mistake is not to mention "-" somewhere.
So, I started my preparation to Physics only 2 weeks before the test. I failed on it. All problems are easy, but you don't have time to remember forgotten formulas. E.g. for a charged particle in cyclotron. You write two eqns and here u go. But u have time only to remember the formula itself. Another mistake I made was making problems one by one. I made only 1 mistake, but scored really poor - 730.
This is very dissapointing, taking into account, that I have a very good research experience, publications, good GPA. Almost all grad courses. And teaching experience (I conduct seminars on quantum mechanics for undergrads). But this score had blowed up my chnces to get to a top school. By far I have only one rejection (from Yale) but think, that I have no chance to get into a school like that.
Nonetheless, I have some good offers.

So, prepare to GRE subject. Start with a review of physics courses. Than take all the tests available on the net and (4 of those I think) and start solving. Problems are typical. I think getting >900 is not a problem if you are well acquinted with these typical problems. And do not solve them one by one. Easy ones must go first, then more problematic ones.

Richter
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Dec 19, 2006 3:45 am

Postby Richter » Thu Feb 22, 2007 10:25 pm

Well, I agree that the physics GRE is not a difficult test in that it doesn't test how good your calculation techniques are, or how clear your physical concepts are, but how fast can you think to solve an unfamiliar question, to associate well-known formula with problems.

I got a 990 of the Nov test last year.

In preparation for it, I suggest you to find out some GRE study guide in the internet, which contains the major formula tested in GRE. Then, you may review different topics by your past lecture notes, or, in my case, read a general physics book which contains most of the important physical laws.
Remember to do some past papers before taking test, in order to familiarize yourself with the questions' style.

bookworm
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:34 pm

Postby bookworm » Sat Feb 24, 2007 7:19 am

Wow, Richter isn't 990 full marks? That's amazing!
Anyway what grade is considered good in the GRE Physics?
Also, I heard that since my school doesn't use the american system the transformation of my grades probably won't be as simple as multiply by 4 and divide with 10... Someone said that it will be something like multiply each A (9-10) by 4, each B (8 ) by 3 etc, sum and then divide by 4*number of classes... I tried this and it makes a HUGE difference on my GPA! Did anyone else ever hear this before? Any international students who know if this is the right transformation to the US grading system?

dan1234
Posts: 23
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 6:04 pm

Postby dan1234 » Sat Feb 24, 2007 12:01 pm

Bookworm,

From what I hear, there are different standards for GRE scores for students in the U.S. and students outside. A professor at my school (an ivy in new york ;) ) said that a score above 800, in the U.S., is "good" in the sense that it won't hurt your chances of getting into a school. Of course, higher scores certainly look good!

The trend seems that students on the outside are expected to score a bit higher to do "well" - above 900, maybe? There are different sorts of ways of justifying or looking at this, but the bottom line is that there IS a different standard, but definitely one that you should be able to reach with the right preparation.

Again, I would say that the biggest factor is how you compare to your peers. Your application is looked at intelligently - they're not going to blindly compare your grades to mine and like me more because my school grades more easily. Just do your best and you'll be ok.

I'm sorry I don't have more specific answers, but I don't think that any exist! There's no recipe that you can follow to get accepted into a grad school.

-Dan

mathlete
Posts: 43
Joined: Tue Dec 05, 2006 12:22 am

Postby mathlete » Sat Feb 24, 2007 12:10 pm

Doesn't your country have a university with PhD programs in physics?

bookworm
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:34 pm

Postby bookworm » Sat Feb 24, 2007 4:35 pm

Of course my country has universities with Phds, good ones too! It just doesn't offer the same opportunities for research in physics as the US do... Yeah there's the Max Planc Institute and of course CERN and... that's it! Since it's a relatively small european country the academic comunity is really small, so there aren't many job opportunities in academics... So I think you can understand why so many students from Europe (and Asia) want to go to the US for graduate studies!

european
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:00 am

brain drain - why?

Postby european » Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:23 am

Hi,
actually I do not understand why so many students from Europe (and other countries - but I'm most familiar with the situation in Europe) are so excited about grad studies in the US.
I will decline offers from Harvard and Caltech and start a PhD at a no-name European university with a well-respected professor, who also is a fantastic mentor. I've spent time at both US schools and I think this choice will be better for my sanity and developent as a scientist (which depends on more things than prestige and money).
It has been discussed before that the highest ranked school is not always the best choice, and I don't want to restart that discussion.
But I would like to hear why people choose 2nd/3rd tier US programs over European programs of similar quality. Would anybody share her or his motivation?

cazcazcaz
Posts: 14
Joined: Sat Oct 14, 2006 1:47 pm

Postby cazcazcaz » Sun Feb 25, 2007 11:01 am

European, remeber the forum you are posting on. This is a forum first about the physics gre and second about grad schools. The people who come to this site are applying to American schools almost by definition, as they are researching an American graduate physics enterince exam. There are a varity of reasons poeple decide to study in the USA I'm sure, however this site is not going to have an accurate survey of what countries people decide to apply to. I know that this doesn't answer your question, but hopefully it will ease your confusion.

braindrain
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Sun Feb 25, 2007 12:17 pm

I'm American so I can't speak for the Europeans. But, from the students I've met, they said that its a lot more political in Europe. You have to know the right people and have the right political views to get jobs anyway. I'm sure that happens here too, but its more rampant in Europe from the way they described it. From the students from Asia, they describe a US degree as a status symbol. Plus it may just be more of an adventure to go away from home and live in a foreign country. People won't get the adventure chance later so they do it for grad school.
@european: since you spent time at both schools in Europe and in the US, did you see an educational or atmosphere difference? I'm curious. I only spent a short time in Europe, but see lots of difference in the scientists coming to the US. For one thing, I thought the Europeans were much more fawning of bosses and less likely to disagree. In the US, we can tout 'freedom of speech' and in some places its even encouraged to assertively state your opinion and question authority more. It doesn't mean we win, but it does mean we get heard. Although the German scientists questioned people giving seminars a lot for scientific discourse. The Russians interrogate the speaker it seems for purposes of undermining them and often it seemed asked questions off topic and just for stumping purposes. I think they were playing a 'win favor of their boss' game that no one else was playing. Maybe I shouldn't generalize, but I did think there were differences.

european
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:00 am

Postby european » Sun Feb 25, 2007 3:05 pm

@cazcazcaz: I understand what this forum is about, I started reading it when I prepared for the physics GRE and went throught the application process for US grad schools. But I started to wonder why so many students from abroad are so enthusiastic about applying to US schools, and I though people on this forum would know.

@braindrain: I don't know how to quantitatively compare the amount of politics involved in getting a job, but my personal impression was that knowing the right people, or coming from the right school was even more important in the US.
Of course it depends on the kind of job you're talking about - which branch where you thinking about? For a career in academia, we could try to measure this by the range of institutions from which postdocs and professors in a department got their PhDs - of course the usual well known biases apply - but I can't think of a better measurement right now. Any suggestions?

About scientific discourse: I have seen many seminars ending with two or three people arguing at the black board in the US and in Europe; I don't think I noticed any fundamental differences. Maybe this depends on the country, so I would like to hear other opions as well.

As a general difference, I got the impression that US grad school was an extreme pressure cooker and I got to know more grad students with work-sleep patterns which seemed really unhealthy to me in the US than at European institutions.
I hope I'll have many more years to work on a lot of projects, so for me the "soft" component of PhD work was the deciding factor in choosing a school. By "soft" component I mean the things which are more related to becoming a creative scientist than to the particular project I will be working, such as developing a "good taste" for worthwhile problems, learning how to ask questions and developing a healthing time management/working style.

braindrain
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Sun Feb 25, 2007 3:18 pm

A European lifestyle is definitely less stressfull. But all that cigarette smoking is going to kill you all including second hand smoke. People smoke in public places there. People smoke right on top of another person without any consideration that they are blowing a smoke puff in their faces. IF you want to talk about unhealthy ...

If you are looking for a healthy lifestyle and a more relaxing approach, I imagine California is more like that than the east coast US.

I agree, the US has its politics too. I really don't know how to measure. I knew that in Germany there is that habilitacion which renders your postdoc advisor a make or break situation for your career moreso than the US. The people from Eastern Europe said their families had job issues depending on which political party they were in which filters to the universities. I thought in the UK government positions are inherited (not that Bush isn't the son of a former president - cough cough). I guess it was general impressions.

I actually don't know anyone who sleeps completely well or gets a good night sleep. There's too much stress in the world around us with wars, terrorism, uncertainty in the future. Bliss is ignorance :).

bookworm
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:34 pm

Postby bookworm » Sun Feb 25, 2007 6:35 pm

You shouldn't forget the difference in the funding! From what I understand, graduate studies in the US have much better funding than in Europe... I think this goes for any graduate study, not just for physics... For example, in Greece where I am studying, there is NO funding for Phds, at least in physics! I know people who are either working or are depending on their parents, just like they did for undergraduate studies! Other european countries do have funding but I think it is a lot smaller than in the US. I am not saying that people expect to get rich in graduate school (although I know some who did!) but money makes a lot of difference...
european: I don't mind sharing my reasons for pursuing a Phd in the US: The most inportant one is the number of Research/Job opportunities. In my country, Cyprus, there are really no jobs for physisists! We only have one university and the professors there are relatively young so it will be long before there are any actual openings... There are no scientific institutes, no labs, nothing! Just high school teaching... I think this explains why I won't go to graduate school in my country! I didn't even stay there for my undergraduate degree. I came to Greece, a bigger european country, thinking things would be better here... Well they are not! The university system is completely disorganised, beyond any imagination! Any thought about going to graduate school here is just crazy!
I could try to get in a Phd program in a different european country, but to tell you the truth, besides the funding thing, I want a change! I really want to live somewhere else.... See a different culture... Maybe I won't like it, but I want to try!

braindrain
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Sun Feb 25, 2007 6:52 pm

Are you implying the educational system was better in ancient Greece than today? :) Didn't the Greeks, invent 'thought'? How odd to say education is lacking in Greece!!

bookworm
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Feb 22, 2007 5:34 pm

Postby bookworm » Sun Feb 25, 2007 7:49 pm

Don't get me wrong, I am not talking about the academic level of studies here... I don't like to make generalizations, I can only talk about my experience... I go to the best school in the country, studying Applied Mathematics and Physics. It's a polytechnic school, so it is a 5-year degree. (undregraduate studies are 4-year long in Greece) In this five years you have to take and pass 63 classes! 12 math classes, 4 physics, 3 labs, 6 programming classes, 4 mechanics(I am not sure if that is the right word...) and 6 humanities classes are obligatory for all in the first two years! Then you choose a direction: Applied Math or Applied Physics. I chose the second and I had to take another 30 or so physics classes! I think that's a lot more than what a physics undergraduate has to take in the US, so I assume the level of undergaduate studies in Greece is high! Also, I know that the content of most of my physics classes is the same or more advanced than yours...(Many professors who studied in the US have told us this...)
With this description, you would think that Greece has an amazing education system! Well, it doesn't! There are many reasons for this, I can only name a few. First of all, class attendance is not obligatory, except for lab classes! This may sound strange to you, but the majority of my classmates never come to the university during the semester! They only show up on exams! They have the books and they find out what the professors taught by the few students who actually go to class, and they just study before an exam! Since we don't have mid terms, tests, term papers or any kind of test, the majority of Greek students only study every six months! Of course, you cannot pass a class like that, that's why there are what we call 'The eternal students', students who take years and years to take their degree! The ones who manage to graduate have a lot of 5s on the trancript cause cramming and cheating on an exam can only take you so far!
Then there is the complete disorganzation of the system... Class dates, exam dates etc are never anounced more than two wekks before the actual event! You don't know when classes start, when you are supposed to be having an exam or being in a lab class! I don't know if it is because we are Meditteranean and all, but this is too much! Why is it so hard to plan and organize the semester in Greece, when it is done in all other countries? I still don't know what is the reason of this!
On top of everything, the facilities suck! The university building are old, in bad shape, dirty and destroyed! This is really sad, but true... There is just this culture among the students ( or lack of culture!) The smoke in class, drop the ashes on the desks and then throw their cigarettes on the floor! They drink coffee in class and they don't bother if they spill it... Seriously, I have had to change seats many times, because there was a sticky coffee stain on the desk! Any of you had similar experiences?
I know this may come of worse than it actually is, but I am a little upset since I haven't had classes for the last 2 months! I am a senior and I want to graduate on time, but I probably won't... The students have taken over the buildings of over 300 university schools in a way to show their dissagreement with some changes the goverment wants to make in the education system! Not all of the changes are good, but many are needed, in my opinion...
Anyway, this is the end of this rant!




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