Changing Subfields

  • 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.

jsmith
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2016 2:23 pm

Changing Subfields

Postby jsmith » Wed Nov 16, 2016 4:38 pm

I had a question regarding the commitment that you make when you write a personal statement.

I am currently applying with the intention of joining an experimental particle physics group. I am very specific about this in my personal statement. I was wondering if I were to be accepted to a program, would I have to follow through on this. If I have a change of heart in graduate school and want to do CME instead, would this be frowned upon?

Thanks

jsmith
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2016 2:23 pm

Re: Changing Subfields

Postby jsmith » Thu Nov 17, 2016 10:54 pm

???

muonneutrino
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2016 9:41 pm

Re: Changing Subfields

Postby muonneutrino » Fri Nov 18, 2016 1:12 am

I can't speak too much on this, but I know Stanford says that only 50% of their graduate students end up writing a thesis in the area they listed as their primary interest (https://physics.stanford.edu/sites/defa ... School.pdf). My best guess would be that this is fairly universal, I don't think your SOP in any way commits you to an area of study.

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Changing Subfields

Postby astroprof » Wed Nov 23, 2016 11:11 am

It is fairly common for graduate students to change their research direction once they have entered graduate school, but this should not be used as a *strategy* to get into a school when your actual plan is to work in a different (highly competitive) research area. Graduate admissions committees do think about the distribution of research areas and the available research positions in the different research groups. If you specify in your application that you want to do something for which there are many research positions, and then you switch to a different subfield that also has many research positions, then there should be no problem. But if you want to switch to a highly competitive research area, then you may discover that there are no faculty advisors and no funding available.

jsmith
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2016 2:23 pm

Re: Changing Subfields

Postby jsmith » Wed Nov 23, 2016 12:36 pm

Thank you for the advice. This does open up a few more questions for me.

I have read that it is advantageous to specify clearly in your personal statement your desired subfield. Would it be safer for me (funding wise) to also speak of my potential interest in CME?

Also, if I were to be accepted to a program that I applied to for Hep-ex, would I most likely be able to get funding for Hep-ex research or would I still have to compete on a level playing field with all other admitted students for the RA positions? Would I get any special treatment from these groups because I specified my interest early on in my application?

Generally, I am confused as to how difficult it is to join your desired research group once you are admitted to a program.

astroprof
Posts: 95
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2008 4:47 pm

Re: Changing Subfields

Postby astroprof » Wed Nov 23, 2016 2:58 pm

The details will depend on the school. Some programs expect you to find a research group (and funding!) within the first semester, while others expect you to have settled on a group by the end of the first academic year (prior to the first summer where you can focus on research). One of the questions you should ask each program is "how difficult is it to change research groups?". You should also verify that the research advisors you are interested in are still taking students! That said, no one will remember what you put in your SOP. You will not have priority over other students simply because you stated that you wanted to study X with Professor Y in your SOP. The reason it is "advantageous" to include these statements in your SOP is that it indicates that you have thought about what you want to do and identified schools where you can do it.

Your SOP should be a reflection of who you are, why you want to go to graduate school, and what experiences you have had that make it likely that you will succeed in graduate school. If you are truly uncertain about which sub-field of physics you want to study, it is ok to say that, followed by a brief statement about why both Hep-ex and CME are of interest to you given your background, previous research experience, etc. Mentioning specific professors/research groups/experiments by name is an indication that you have done your homework (i.e., looked into their program in detail), not a commitment to work with any of them (and vice versa - it is not a commitment by the faculty to have you as a research student if you are admitted to the program).

All of the above is appropriate for graduate school in the United States. European programs have a completely different set of rules, where admission to a graduate program is much more similar to accepting a job working with a particular faculty member (and graduate positions are often advertised like jobs in the discipline-specific job registers).

jsmith
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Nov 16, 2016 2:23 pm

Re: Changing Subfields

Postby jsmith » Wed Nov 23, 2016 6:52 pm

Thanks so much. That's really helpful for me to know




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