Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

  • 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.

TakeruK
Posts: 884
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby TakeruK » Wed Sep 14, 2016 12:46 pm

Hello! I just want to share some news regarding Astronomy PhD programs in the US that are removing the Physics GRE requirement for admissions this year. My own advice is for students planning to apply to US Astronomy PhD programs this year to continue any existing plans to take the Physics GRE but if the school(s) you are interested in come up on this list, you don't have to report it (or you may not be able to report it), so save your 4 free score reports for other schools. My plan is to regularly update this list.

Edit: (Updated on Feb 20, 2017).

In case you didn't see the post from jguillochon below, there is now a nice Google Doc list personally curated by jguillochon (be sure to thank them!) that will be updated much more frequently and is nicely colour-coded and sorted. I'm replacing my own list here with a link to the new list that will be much more useful!

Here is the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/ ... sp=sharing


--- Read below for more context ---

Here's a brief history, in case you were curious or didn't already know:

In December 2015, the President of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), published this draft letter [https://aas.org/posts/news/2015/12/presidents-column-rethinking-role-gre], indicating her stance against the use of Physics GRE (and General GRE) scores in the graduate admissions process. In this letter, along with the many references cited, the AAS leadership plans to urge Astronomy departments across the country to limit the use of GRE scores in the admissions process.

In January 2016, at the annual AAS meeting, the Council officially voted to adopt this draft letter as their official stance.

Since then, many people have been working at their schools to reduce or eliminate the use of Physics GRE (and sometimes GRE) scores. In the last few weeks, schools started announcing these decisions for the Fall 2017 year.

Influential articles (cited in the AAS letter) that lead many people to this decision:

Levesque, E., Bezanson, R., Tremblay, G. (2015) "Physics GRE Scores of Prize Postdoctoral Fellows in Astronomy" http://arxiv.org/abs/1512.03709

Miller, C. & Stassun, K.G. (2014). A test that fails: A standard test for admission to graduate school misses potential winners, Nature Careers 510, 303 http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v5 ... -303a.html
Last edited by TakeruK on Mon Feb 20, 2017 2:20 pm, edited 9 times in total.

milkywayguy
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Sep 06, 2016 5:34 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby milkywayguy » Wed Sep 14, 2016 6:37 pm

It's great to see more astronomy programs dropping the PGRE requirement! Thank you so much for bringing this to attention :)

TakeruK
Posts: 884
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby TakeruK » Wed Sep 14, 2016 7:49 pm

milkywayguy wrote:It's great to see more astronomy programs dropping the PGRE requirement! Thank you so much for bringing this to attention :)


No problem---for those who checked earlier, I now have links to official websites that show the requirement is gone. There was a push by many other people to get the info out ASAP so that people can use this knowledge when entering the test this Saturday.

Maybe next year, we can work on getting rid of the General GRE too :)

Cosmos1
Posts: 14
Joined: Wed Aug 27, 2014 4:52 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby Cosmos1 » Wed Oct 12, 2016 5:28 pm

From UC Santa Cruz's website:

"While we require the GRE General Test, and recommend the GRE Physics Test, we do not employ a threshold for consideration."

One more to add to the list!

queenbee
Posts: 18
Joined: Mon Sep 12, 2016 10:29 am

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby queenbee » Thu Nov 03, 2016 6:14 pm

I must have been looking at an old requirements list for UT Austin because I had on my spreadsheet "general and physics GRE required". Oops. (I've already submitted them.)

astroprof
Posts: 102
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby astroprof » Fri Nov 11, 2016 6:01 pm

This is a rapidly evolving development, with more departments revising their requirements as we approach admissions season. You may want to check department web sites again during the next few weeks, as I expect several more programs will decide to drop the PGRE requirement for the 2016-17 admissions cycle. Since these decisions are happening in real-time, the department web sites will be more up-to-date than gradschoolshopper.com (or even the University's on-line application form).

TakeruK
Posts: 884
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby TakeruK » Mon Nov 14, 2016 1:42 pm

If anyone hears more about other schools, please do post them here for others to benefit. I will also update my original post when the official department website updates (or if I have something written that shows the change, e.g. an email or tweet from a department representative) because I want to err on the side of caution and not mislead anyone. (e.g. all the info I can find from Santa Cruz still says they want to consider GRE scores)

alfredthered
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Jul 16, 2015 9:29 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby alfredthered » Mon Nov 14, 2016 10:13 pm

Vanderbilt's Astrophysics program does not consider nor accept physics GRE scores for consideration.

ckitc
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2017 4:52 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby ckitc » Mon Jan 09, 2017 5:24 pm

Indiana no longer requires the PGRE for astro either.

TakeruK
Posts: 884
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby TakeruK » Tue Jan 10, 2017 3:14 pm

Thanks, I've updated the list with Vanderbilt and Indiana after finding their admissions pages :)


User avatar
quizivex
Posts: 1033
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:13 am

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby quizivex » Sun Jan 15, 2017 7:52 pm

I'm disappointed to see that the astronomy programs are starting to phase out the PGRE. They're trying to justify it based on those "studies" that compare PGRE scores of an already-successful group of applications (such as Harvard students) to their research productivity. Since admissions at a given school are based on a holistic evaluation of the many components of a student's record, it's natural that the accepted applicants at that school who had lower PGRE's than the other students had offsetting strengths in other areas. Otherwise they would not have been admitted into that group.

If the physics or astronomy programs want to legitimately test the ability of the PGRE to predict success, they should be starting with a sample of undergrads from a range of institutions who took the PGRE in a given year, say 2005, not a select group of students from an elite school who already went through a vetting process. Looking for correlations of PGRE scores with the success of prize postdoctoral fellows is also ridiculous.

Does anyone else agree with this?

ckitc
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2017 4:52 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby ckitc » Mon Jan 16, 2017 12:25 pm

I would flip that around on you - why do you think it's such an important metric for admissions decisions? (And for context, are you in astronomy?)

corebake
Posts: 11
Joined: Thu Dec 08, 2016 10:08 am

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby corebake » Mon Jan 16, 2017 1:54 pm

I agree that taking action based on the limited-scope studies available doesn't feel to be the right choice.

I'm not defending the PGRE as a key metric to measure graduate school performance - although I have heard from professors in charge of graduate programs that they see a correlation between a high-enough PGRE scores and academic success - but again it is just another part of an application and should be treated as such unless there is considerable evidence that does more harm than good.

cosmosis
Posts: 55
Joined: Fri Oct 21, 2016 2:20 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby cosmosis » Mon Jan 16, 2017 3:49 pm

One of the big issues with GRE in general is that it is correlated with socio-economic status of students. While other aspects of the applications require little or no fee (e.g. students can apply for fee waivers), GRE makes it very difficult for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to (a) repeat GRE tests because of the cost and (b) apply to fewer schools compared to their peers because there is no fee waiver for sending scores and each score report costs $27. Having personally faced this issue and having seen many of my friends restrict the number of schools they are applying to because of this, yes I do think that it does more harm as it creates stratification among students. If schools have reasons to believe that GRE is a good indicator, then they should either (a) pressure ETS to lower the cost or (b) like transcripts, ask students to submit unofficial GRE scores until they officially admit the student.

physicist91
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed May 04, 2016 12:34 am

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby physicist91 » Mon Jan 16, 2017 6:44 pm

cosmosis wrote:One of the big issues with GRE in general is that it is correlated with socio-economic status of students. While other aspects of the applications require little or no fee (e.g. students can apply for fee waivers), GRE makes it very difficult for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to (a) repeat GRE tests because of the cost and (b) apply to fewer schools compared to their peers because there is no fee waiver for sending scores and each score report costs $27. Having personally faced this issue and having seen many of my friends restrict the number of schools they are applying to because of this, yes I do think that it does more harm as it creates stratification among students. If schools have reasons to believe that GRE is a good indicator, then they should either (a) pressure ETS to lower the cost or (b) like transcripts, ask students to submit unofficial GRE scores until they officially admit the student.


You right!!!! The tests conducted by ETS are often too expensive for ordinarly students.

ckitc
Posts: 24
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2017 4:52 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby ckitc » Mon Jan 16, 2017 7:43 pm

Bingo. I see no compelling reason to keep it when A: It's obviously problematic and restrictive for some groups and B: A poor grade isn't indicative of anything useful.

User avatar
quizivex
Posts: 1033
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:13 am

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby quizivex » Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:25 am

The PGRE is a valuable metric for comparing students from different undergraduate institutions. It's important to have a standardized metric, just like med schools have MCAT and law schools have LSAT. It can be a lifesaver for students from average undergrad institutions who want to stand out to top graduate programs. I was admitted to three top physics programs in 2008 and I don't think that would've happened if there was no PGRE. A high GPA from a low ranked school is not enough to stand out. What else do we have? Every applicant gets glowing LOR's and has "research experience", whose outcome depends more on the advisor/group/lab than the student. At least the PGRE directly tests a student's understanding of undergraduate physics.

Indeed, the PGRE or any standardized test could be improved. Perhaps the astronomy community would be better off having an astronomy GRE. But there should still be a standardized test. Tests play an even bigger role in grad school. The quals/prelims are arguably less fair because instead of 100 questions spread over all physics topics there's only a few hit or miss problems, and it's pass/fail.

Also, the PGRE doesn't create an income bias... College tuitions cost 2-3 orders of magnitude more than the PGRE... And students who are able to attend the better (often more expensive) colleges have numerous advantages (better instructors, better advising, better research opportunities, etc) over students who cannot afford those colleges or were unable to get admitted due to a disadvantaged pre-college education. If we're going to disregard the PGRE because it costs money, then we should disregard everyone's college record too.

By the way, I would certainly agree that ETS's new Score Select policy is a step in the wrong direction. It give students incentives to take the test many times and could put students at a disadvantage who don't want to take it many times or have financial pressures. It's a profit-driven scam, as is the outrageous cost of ETS score reports. But overall the PGRE test itself has a valuable role and shouldn't be used as a scapegoat for problems in our field. The PGRE asks questions about circuits, Doppler shift and point charges... and people try to say that the test has gender or racial bias. Sigh.

Ptolemy
Posts: 18
Joined: Sun Jan 22, 2017 9:27 am

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby Ptolemy » Sun Jan 22, 2017 9:49 am

quizivex wrote:The PGRE is a valuable metric for comparing students from different undergraduate institutions. It's important to have a standardized metric, just like med schools have MCAT and law schools have LSAT. It can be a lifesaver for students from average undergrad institutions who want to stand out to top graduate programs. I was admitted to three top physics programs in 2008 and I don't think that would've happened if there was no PGRE. A high GPA from a low ranked school is not enough to stand out. What else do we have? Every applicant gets glowing LOR's and has "research experience", whose outcome depends more on the advisor/group/lab than the student. At least the PGRE directly tests a student's understanding of undergraduate physics.

Indeed, the PGRE or any standardized test could be improved. Perhaps the astronomy community would be better off having an astronomy GRE. But there should still be a standardized test. Tests play an even bigger role in grad school. The quals/prelims are arguably less fair because instead of 100 questions spread over all physics topics there's only a few hit or miss problems, and it's pass/fail.

Also, the PGRE doesn't create an income bias... College tuitions cost 2-3 orders of magnitude more than the PGRE... And students who are able to attend the better (often more expensive) colleges have numerous advantages (better instructors, better advising, better research opportunities, etc) over students who cannot afford those colleges or were unable to get admitted due to a disadvantaged pre-college education. If we're going to disregard the PGRE because it costs money, then we should disregard everyone's college record too.

By the way, I would certainly agree that ETS's new Score Select policy is a step in the wrong direction. It give students incentives to take the test many times and could put students at a disadvantage who don't want to take it many times or have financial pressures. It's a profit-driven scam, as is the outrageous cost of ETS score reports. But overall the PGRE test itself has a valuable role and shouldn't be used as a scapegoat for problems in our field. The PGRE asks questions about circuits, Doppler shift and point charges... and people try to say that the test has gender or racial bias. Sigh.


I agree. I am an international student and if it hadn't been for my PGRE I wouldn't feel confident enough to apply to top-10 and top-20 schools. In my undergraduate institution for example it is more than hard to make a publication in HEP-theory because there are no HEP-theory groups or top-level professors who make publications frequently. I guess many Astronomy students have been in a similar situation.

However, as far as the Score Select is concerned, although I agree that it was implemented to increase profit, it might help people who had a good reason for not doing well in the first place. I believe the best would be allowing everyone to take the test only a limited number of times, maybe twice.

TakeruK
Posts: 884
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby TakeruK » Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:49 pm

quizivex wrote:The PGRE is a valuable metric for comparing students from different undergraduate institutions. It's important to have a standardized metric, just like med schools have MCAT and law schools have LSAT.
...
The PGRE asks questions about circuits, Doppler shift and point charges... and people try to say that the test has gender or racial bias. Sigh.


I disagree. The evidence from ETS themselves show that the GRE (granted, not the Physics GRE, but others have shown the same for all subject tests**) shows a much stronger correlation to racial and gender attributes than outcomes. There are many other studies that show standardized testing does not properly evaluate knowledge. I don't really intend to use this space to debate the merits of whether or not standardized testing has a place in our educational system.

**By others, I mean Staussan from my linked Miller & Staussan article. I don't know if his work is published yet, but he has gone on a talk tour around the country to talk to Physics and Astro departments and present his evidence and his arguments for abolishing the Physics GRE. Sorry that I can't link to something but maybe your dept was one of the ones visited on this tour. I only changed my mind about the test after seeing this presentation and through discussions with him.

quizivex wrote:Indeed, the PGRE or any standardized test could be improved. Perhaps the astronomy community would be better off having an astronomy GRE. But there should still be a standardized test. Tests play an even bigger role in grad school. The quals/prelims are arguably less fair because instead of 100 questions spread over all physics topics there's only a few hit or miss problems, and it's pass/fail.


This might be an astronomy/physics difference then. Tests play a very small role in the graduate programs I've been a part of. Very few graduate classes have exams at all (mostly pass/fail final projects) and those with exams are often oral exams that are also pass/fail. So, I don't see how a standardized test can really help pick students for graduate programs---you don't need to do well on standardized tests to do well in grad school. I think a pass/fail test is much more fair than one graded with a score. If you are really just checking whether or not a student meets a requirement, then you only care about pass or fail. If you want to compare scores like 880 vs. 760, well, then you really better be very very confident in your ability to come up with these metrics. Why do we put so much trust in ETS and the PGRE to have such precise scores? (Note: the standard deviation on these scores are also quite large, up to 200 points).

My opinion is that the burden of proof of usefulness of PGRE scores lies on ETS. And from the evidence I've seen (e.g. the astronomy fellowship outcomes paper**), there is reasonable doubt that the PGRE score as actually useful. There is some evidence that suggests it may be harmful (e.g. Staussan). Therefore, my opinion is that until we are sure that the PGRE actually does something useful, we shouldn't be using it as there is risk of harm but not much evidence for utility.

**A note regarding the Levesque et al. fellowship paper: This work was not meant to be absolute proof (nor a rigorous study) disproving the effectiveness of the PGRE. I would view it as evidence showing that there are potential problems with the PGRE score usage. They also acknowledge that winning an astronomy fellowship isn't the only indicator of success. However, in case you are not familiar with these specific fellowships, they are indeed the pinnacle of postdoc appointments and the majority of these fellows go onto tenure track faculty positions immediately after holding these fellowships. That is, you wouldn't say people who don't win one aren't successful, but it's reasonable to say that if you do win one of these, you definitely count as "successful". Or, to put it another way, if there is a metric that marks these fellows as "not suitable for grad school", then that would not be a very good metric!!

And that's simply what the paper shows: many common uses of PGRE cutoffs in grad admissions would have excluded people who would have gone on to win these fellowships. That by itself may not be a big problem, okay, not all metrics are going to be perfect. However, when combined with the evidence that performance on these exams are biased by gender and race, then you are now implementing a metric that may unfairly exclude people who are capable of success on the basis of gender or race. And to me, doing this knowingly and without evidence for the utility of the PGRE is just not ethical.

jguillochon
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Oct 10, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby jguillochon » Mon Feb 20, 2017 9:45 am

Hi, thanks for putting this list together. Just an FYI, Harvard is dropping the Physics GRE requirement, but allowing for optional submission (for Fall 2017+). They will not accept the general GRE.

With Harvard (one of the larger programs in the US) dropping the requirement, I hope there's some momentum this year to drop it universally. I think now is the time to push for this to happen.

jguillochon
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Oct 10, 2015 6:32 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby jguillochon » Mon Feb 20, 2017 1:23 pm

Update: I am now personally curating a list of astronomy program policies regarding the Physics GRE (for 2017 forward). This spreadsheet will be continuously updated indefinitely: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/ ... sp=sharing

TakeruK
Posts: 884
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Some Astronomy programs dropping Physics GRE requirement

Postby TakeruK » Mon Feb 20, 2017 2:18 pm

Thanks jguillochon! I just saw your list and I was coming here to edit my post to reflect your awesome list :)




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests