bunnysid wrote:my undergrad was only 3 and Masters was 4 (as I was told by some US universities regarding my Indian degree). I have applied to schools ranked within 40-100. I had 2 years research experience too and my referees are also well known (Both of them did their PhD's from US, one at Caltech and another at Stonybrook). However I would like to know if having a gap in your academic career has negative impression on the Admissions Committee. I got my Masters in 2011 and after that worked as a Junior Research Fellow till 2014. Did this have an effect on my application.
Overall, my general answer is "yes", the time for your degree and time since your degree does influence admission decision, however, not necessarily negatively like implied here. Here are some more thoughts/details:
Did you mean your Masters was a 4th year, or that your Masters took 4 years to complete? I think you did the right thing in taking the Masters because of the short undergrad degree length. However, taking 4 years to finish a Masters degree is abnormal, and I think it would have affected your application negatively if this was the case and if you did not address it in your application. Why did the Masters take so long? One thing the committee may be worried about is whether you will finish your PhD in a timely manner, because research/thesis based Masters are typically 1-2 years.
Working as a research fellow from 2011-2014 is a good thing and I don't think it would negatively impact you. As godwin said, what you do during years off matter and working as a researcher is great. I think this probably helps your application as it gives you additional experience. But it's important to know some details here: is it a full time position? What did you work on? What did you achieve? I think grad schools would be using these 3 years as a indicator of how productive you would be as a researcher in grad school (as you would have the same training/experience as their current PhD students during this time). So, this time could hurt you if you don't properly present your experience and accomplishments.
Finally, what have you done since 2014? Why did you stop being a research fellow? Have you still been doing research since then? If not, then why not? Have you done other academic things to keep current in your field?
I think that applying as an experienced student (i.e. with a Masters and research experience, like you) is different than applying as a student fresh out of undergrad/MSc. With a Masters degree in physics, you would be expected to act more like a junior scientist / young person in the field instead of a freshly graduated student. So, I think the committee would be looking for evidence that from 2011 until now, you are developing and producing work at a level that would demonstrate you would do well in their graduate program. If you have not focussed your application to demonstrate this, perhaps this would be a good way to restructure your applications for next year.