Help out a Undergrad

  • 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.

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Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2016 6:30 pm

Help out a Undergrad

Postby Sherlock067 » Sat Oct 01, 2016 6:52 pm

Hey guys.
First time posting but I've recently found myself needing the advice of this board.
Heres the story:
I graduated high school in 2014 and had taken a few AP's and a few community college classes to avoid taking high school classes I didn't want to take. Started college with more credit than I expected and got to waive into a higher math class. Eventually what my college advisor wants me to take for the next semester seems useless to me so I go talk to the Physics advisor who informs me I can take my first upper division the next semester and graduate in three years if I would like. I considered adding a double major in applied math at some point to get me to stay four years but I eventually decided against that and just focused on physics. The summer my freshman year I got to do some computational astrophysics research with my first physics professor there, and a semester after that i joined a experimental CDM research lab at my school and have been doing research with them for almost a year now, I have gotten a few scholarships and the LSAMP fellowship at my school, I am working with my research advisor on applying for the NSF grant right now, have done one talk and three poster presentations. I have never taken even taken the max amount of units and have never dormed, always commuting and working, and i still don't feel that i rushed and didn't learn the material, this is just the way it happened for me
Overall i feel pretty good with how i spent the last 2.5 years and am in the process of applying to graduate schools, and i am really motivated to start a phd program.
This is until all of a sudden no less than 4 physics professors I have talked to as part of a scholarship/mentorship program have decided to tell me that i would be better off delaying graduation for a year, doing a REU over the summer, and applying to graduate schools next year. I don't want to discredit their opinions and experience, but i feel genuinely disheartened. Graduate school would the more economically fruitful decision, but it seems that they feel i just won't get in anywhere? I have strong letters of rec and despite never having done a REU I have a letter from a professor at a very good institution.
Any opinions? personal stories? All insight is welcome.

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Re: Help out a Undergrad

Postby bfollinprm » Sun Oct 02, 2016 1:22 am

You'll get in somewhere certainly. You might get in a better program if you wait, but you might not. I was in a similar situation and ended up waiting a year (got a degree in philosophy in the meanwhile), then another two while I taught high school, while doing research in the summers. I don't think it changed the school I got into much.

If you're paying for school (don't have a full or near-full ride), I'd apply to grad schools. If you're less than excited about the PhD programs you get into, you can always go to a master's program for the same price as another year of an undergraduate degree.

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Joined: Sat Oct 01, 2016 6:30 pm

Re: Help out a Undergrad

Postby Sherlock067 » Sun Oct 02, 2016 6:16 pm

Thanks for the response. That was the direction I was leaning in anyways so I'm glad to hear your opinion is similar.

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Joined: Sat Aug 22, 2015 11:28 am

Re: Help out a Undergrad

Postby metapuff » Sun Oct 02, 2016 7:18 pm

I dunno, I was going to argue in the other direction. If you're really into physics and want to be doing it for the rest of your life, you should be trying to get into the best grad school possible. If you stick around and do research for another year (especially at a different school) and get a paper out, it will be much easier to do this. Maybe financially it'll be harder, but it's just a year. Plus, being an undergrad is fun! I would also say that professors have more experience and probably would know best, but they might have some weird ulterior motives or something. Anyway, just my two cents.

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Re: Help out a Undergrad

Postby albuser » Mon Mar 27, 2017 11:09 pm

Wow, this is almost exactly the situation I'll be in come this fall. I imagine it's becoming a more common phenomenon as the average number of AP classes high schoolers take goes up. If you don't mind my asking, what did you end up deciding to do? How has it worked out for you so far?

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Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2017 11:55 pm

Re: Help out a Undergrad

Postby HydrogenAndTime » Tue Apr 11, 2017 12:30 am

Firstly and almost tauologically, it REALLY depends; I don't feel that this information is enough for people to give accurate feedback.

What tier of grad schools are you aiming for? What are your GPA, research progress, and others like? Are you aiming for top schools only, or are you more open? What field are you interested in going into?

I am an international student, which means that I was practically never eligible for REU programs (most REU programs are funded by NSF and hence not open to international students). All my research experience was at my my undergrad institution. I did a total of 6 months of technician work in an experimental plasma physics lab and then a year of cosmological data analysis & analysis algorithm development work. I had no problem getting into some top grad schools. So, I would say that REU experiences, by themselves, do not mean much. Research at your undergrad school is completely fine, as far as you did meaningful research and your advisers are writing you strong letters. With that said, I did go to a R1 university and got letters from quite well-known professors, who all wrote me VERY strong letters.

So, no, REU themselves alone are not deal breakers/makers, but it does depend on what the other parts of your applications are saying.

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