Considering Physics, is there hope.

  • 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.

Callmejoe
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Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:32 pm

Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby Callmejoe » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:10 pm

Hello, I'm currently at an my local community college. I was originally going to a mid sized state school, but a lot of bad decisions and going to a majors(CS to engineering) that I didn't care much lead to me getting poor grades and having to withdrawal. I've rediscovered my child hood love for physics and (especially) astronomy. I know I'm going to fight an uphill battle, is there a hope despite having currently around a 2.0 gpa after 3 years of schooling? I have a few main concerns

1)GPA, my GPA is poor and already has a lot of credits built up. It probably will take me a total of six years to graduate. So even doing good for the next few years won't give me a good gpa. Will doing good, especially on physics classes make it a "good" gpa despite its initial appearance or it something I'm always going to live down. I know I'm assuming a lot here, but I could get a 4.0 for the next three years and my GPA still won't raise above a 3.5 because all of my course baggage.

2)Timing, Will the time I took to graduate count against me to a significant factor? I changed majors twice already so I think I have an excuse, but it still an excuse.

3) Having enough time to do research. As I said I'll only be at school for 2 years,is that enough time to get some research done while taking a full course load? If not will research during the spring/summer during/after senior year and applying next year be enough to boost it enough? If not will going to a Msc first give me enough time or will this just look like padding out my application?

4)How will can I prepare now for research? Should I try to do some advance self learning over this year? Is it realistic for me to learn enough to prepare for research using mostly online resources?

5)I'm probably going to a mid-no name state school next year. I might not have access to letters from recommendations from well known researchers, is this a big deal or is it more about show interest and potential in research, rather than having impressive publications. Should I just run with the best research my school has even if its not in a topic of my interest and try to switch after admission to grad school?

Thanks for any answers, I hope that I still have a chance despite making many poor choices over the last few years. :(

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twistor
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Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby twistor » Wed Jun 17, 2015 8:11 am

It is theoretically possible for you to start over with a clean slate by enrolling in a new school without transferring your old credits. This means starting over from scratch but it may be the only option if you've accumulated so many credits that your GPA is irreparable. 2 years is plenty of time to do a research project. Most students wouldn't begin research during their first 2 years, anyway.

The best way to prepare for research is to learn a to program in C, C++, Python, Fortran, and Matlab. It's not as bad as it sounds since once you learn one language those skills are transferable to others. You can also take online courses on physics, math, statistics, and research skills for free through Coursera and edX.

Getting into graduate school is more about what you've done (GPA, overall research potential) than about letters from specific people.

Callmejoe
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby Callmejoe » Wed Jun 17, 2015 10:44 am

It is theoretically possible for you to start over with a clean slate by enrolling in a new school without transferring your old credits. This means starting over from scratch but it may be the only option if you've accumulated so many credits that your GPA is irreparable. 2 years is plenty of time to do a research project. Most students wouldn't begin research during their first 2 years, anyway.


Damn, I don't know if this is an option for me. My only real option is to stay at my community college for the next year and transfer to a state school for the next two. I don't know If I could afford 4 or so years of school out of town. How much could an "upward trend" help me. Especially considering it will be 3 years of upward trends(hopefully) and that would include almost all my physics courses except the basic introductory courses.

TakeruK
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Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby TakeruK » Wed Jun 17, 2015 4:34 pm

I don't think it's necessary to completely start over. Please also note that some schools will require you to provide transcripts of ALL post-secondary education, not just credits transferred, so starting over might not erase everything.

I can't give answers to a lot of your questions because it's hard to know what the admissions committee will consider. But I do know that most people will definitely place more weight on your most recent courses, especially the upper level Physics and Math courses than your earlier GPA.

Callmejoe
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Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby Callmejoe » Wed Jun 17, 2015 8:38 pm

TakeruK wrote:I don't think it's necessary to completely start over. Please also note that some schools will require you to provide transcripts of ALL post-secondary education, not just credits transferred, so starting over might not erase everything.

I can't give answers to a lot of your questions because it's hard to know what the admissions committee will consider. But I do know that most people will definitely place more weight on your most recent courses, especially the upper level Physics and Math courses than your earlier GPA.


I hope your right, that would help me alot, I don't even have that any "mid level" courses in physics, so hopefully I'll have a chance to get a good major GPA that will at the very least interest ad coms. Another thing that is worrying me though, is there roughly speaking a "minimum" amount of research done to get in say, a top 20,30 school? Judging from the applicant thread it seems that everyone has 3 summers worth of work, a published paper, and several things miscellaneous, this is discouraging because I don't think I'll have much time to get stuff done.

TakeruK
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Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby TakeruK » Thu Jun 18, 2015 1:59 am

Callmejoe wrote: Another thing that is worrying me though, is there roughly speaking a "minimum" amount of research done to get in say, a top 20,30 school? Judging from the applicant thread it seems that everyone has 3 summers worth of work, a published paper, and several things miscellaneous, this is discouraging because I don't think I'll have much time to get stuff done.


No, there is not. I am at a top program and some of the people that are here with me had zero research experience (not even a senior thesis) when they got into my program. Most people do not have a published paper. At my top program, I would say the most common amount of research experience is 1 summer + 1 senior thesis or 2 summers worth. But many people have less. At other programs I've visited and been to, having more than 1 research experience is an exception, not the norm.

Note that the profiles you see on this website are NOT a good representation of the applicant pool. There is a selection effect since people who have the best profiles generally feel more willing to post their stats. I would say that the profiles are a good way to see when schools make choices and what their offers are, but it's a bad idea to compare yourself to the accepted profiles since I would say that most of the accepted profiles are going to be the top candidates, rather than the typical candidate.

Callmejoe
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Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby Callmejoe » Thu Jun 18, 2015 10:48 am

Well thats hopeful, I guess my long term plan is do a year at my community college, next year at a state school,hopefully research during the year, full time research if possible during the following summer, and then take the next year to finish my classes and do a senior thesis. I don't think I'll be ready to apply by the start of fall the senior year, my GPA still will be pretty low and I need every grade to boost it up, so I think I should take some extra time, raise my GPA, get a senior thesis, then maybe do research during the summer and apply the fall after my senior year and do some research and/or grad classes while waiting?

Would that look like an attempt overly pad my resume? Is it better just to apply the fall of my senior year with what I got? I know its speculative but I'm going to fighting an uphill battle and I want to raise my chances as best I can.

Also any other tips for suggestions to make my time here(cc limited options) the best? I'm thinking of tutoring for math, and I have some experience with coding and I'll brush up my skills in the mean time. Thanks for all the help

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

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby TakeruK » Thu Jun 18, 2015 11:16 am

That sounds like a good plan to me (doing research in summer of junior year, during senior year, and after senior year). I don't think it is resume padding at all (resume padding, to me, would imply that you write things in your resume that aren't very substantial, in order to make it look longer). In fact, many graduate students do not enter graduate school directly after undergrad (some work in the field, some do a Masters, some work in a different field first, etc.). Somewhere around 1/3 of grad students I know did not do "direct from undergrad".

That said, I am not sure if you even have to wait until after you graduate to apply. If you are willing/able to spend the time and money (potentially) twice, then maybe you can apply to schools in your senior year and if that doesn't work out, do it again the following year. But if you want to maximize your chances in one application season, I think applying after your senior year is the best way to make the most out of your time/money. Especially since you would want to have as many high physics grades on your transcript as possible. This also means you would be able to delay taking the GRE until after you graduate, giving you more time to focus on research and classes. If you do this though, you should have a plan for the year after your senior year so that you're doing something while you apply for grad schools and wait for results. If you can pay for it, maybe even delaying your graduation so that you are a part time student during the 5th year (if you're at a school where fewer credits = lower costs) might be a good idea. This is because it might be easier to find research opportunities while you're still registered as a student than when you are unaffiliated.

As to what you can do now, at CC, you should develop your research-relevant skills as much as possible. Tutoring is good. Coding is also really good. You could take some courses in useful skills like statistics or programming if they are offered. Or take them as self-study (e.g. Coursera). Or, just work on your own coding project. When you are applying for research positions at the state school, demonstrated ability to code will be really helpful. If you have something to show that demonstrates your ability, professors are more likely to choose you for their research projects.

Callmejoe
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Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby Callmejoe » Thu Jun 18, 2015 3:42 pm

Thanks for the info. One last question

Callmejoe
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Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby Callmejoe » Thu Jun 18, 2015 3:43 pm

Thanks for the info. One last question should I try to get a broad research experience or focus in the area I'm most interested in?I'm not pariculary die hard in any area but that might change as I go more indepth.

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

Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby TakeruK » Fri Jun 19, 2015 11:31 am

Callmejoe wrote:Thanks for the info. One last question should I try to get a broad research experience or focus in the area I'm most interested in?I'm not pariculary die hard in any area but that might change as I go more indepth.


This is up to you. I chose broad research experience. I did three major undergraduate projects and they were in Cosmology, Medical Physics and planetary science. I specifically chose the medical physics research experience because at that time, I was already certain I wanted to do something astro/planet related for grad school, so I figured that medical physics project was my last chance to do something outside of my field that interests me because I "specialize" in grad school.

Overall, I think the broad experience really helped me. When I visited grad schools, many professors remembered the "different" experience on my CV and commented positively on it.

I also would recommend the "broad experience" approach because, well, at this point, you have not had any research experience yet. Even if the first focus you work on is very enjoyable to you, you don't know for certain that this is the only thing you enjoy. Undergrad research is meant to be educational for you and I think the best way to learn about your own interests and also to pick up a variety of approaches is to do a lot of different things. Also, being open to more areas of research usually means more opportunities available.

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twistor
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Re: Considering Physics, is there hope.

Postby twistor » Fri Jun 19, 2015 3:17 pm

twistor wrote:It is theoretically possible for you to start over with a clean slate by enrolling in a new school without transferring your old credits. This means starting over from scratch but it may be the only option if you've accumulated so many credits that your GPA is irreparable. 2 years is plenty of time to do a research project. Most students wouldn't begin research during their first 2 years, anyway.

The best way to prepare for research is to learn a to program in C, C++, Python, Fortran, and Matlab. It's not as bad as it sounds since once you learn one language those skills are transferable to others. You can also take online courses on physics, math, statistics, and research skills for free through Coursera and edX.

Getting into graduate school is more about what you've done (GPA, overall research potential) than about letters from specific people.


I should add to this that the content of your letters of recommendation is very important. A fantastic letter from an established scientist is better than a mediocre letter from a Nobel prize winner, in my opinion. The way to get good letters is to carefully choose professors to work with on research projects, do good work, and establish a good relationship with them.




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