Post-bacc work before applying

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Joined: Sat Mar 26, 2016 5:16 pm

Post-bacc work before applying

Postby apsides » Tue Nov 22, 2016 6:45 pm

Hey all,

I am currently a 5th year undergrad at an HYPSMC - switched to physics from math 3rd year, and was ever so slightly too far behind to make graduation for my class. Academically, I think my record is pretty good - high GPA, advanced course load, etc. On the other hand, in part due to the midstream dismount and in part for reasons I would rather not discuss (unless you think they're probably relevant), I haven't had any research experience during my undergrad, nor much contact with the faculty in my department. For related reasons, I am not applying to grad school right now, but grad school is still my current career plan.

All this to ask: lacking past research or sources of recommendation, what are my best options for work in the several months+ that I will have before I apply? In other words, I'm looking for non-permanent physics jobs for people with a physics BS.

Ideally this would be something resembling a research environment/that would prepare me for grad school and/or applying. I really just want to find some place where I can do physics - that's the most important criterion. I don't care that much about making a ton of money, am open to moving far away, willing to learn new skills, trying to cast as wide a net as possible, etc.

One might wonder: why am I so interested in grad school? And I think I should be clear that I am not 100% fixated on a doctorate, or getting tenure somewhere and dying as a professor. I do really want to work in physics (even if it's grungy research work), and I think that grad school is the best path to that end. But I am not against defecting to something else if I enjoy it - and if possible I would like a first-hand idea of what I would be getting into.

If this sounds like a poor use of my time to you, or if I come across as hopelessly misguided or something, please don't hesitate to tell me why. Any suggestions would be terrific.

My many thanks,


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

Re: Post-bacc work before applying

Postby astroprof » Wed Nov 23, 2016 11:01 am

The best advice: talk with professors at your current institution. You will need letters of recommendation both for a post-bacc job and for graduate school, so now is a great time to talk with your current professors about your career options (i.e., laying the ground work in advance of asking for a letter of recommendation). During those discussions, you can ask if they know of someone you could work with next semester (to get a little research experience before applying for a research job) and if they know of good post-bacc jobs in Physics that would take someone with little research experience. After you have spoken with your current professors (who know you because you are in class), then you can make an appointment to meet with any professor who is working on research that intrigues you. Even if they were not mentioned as potential research mentors, you can ask them if you can volunteer in their group next semester to get some research experience and to learn more about their field.

In regards to finding post-bacc jobs that are not simply continuations of research projects started as an undergraduate, they should be advertised in Physics Today. Similar astronomy-related jobs are advertised in the AAS Job Register. But almost all of these jobs will expect you to have some relevant experience, so it really is important that you make some connections at your home institution first.

One other option is to apply to a masters-only graduate program. This will provide you with the research experience you seek and provide a fall-back position (masters degree) if you decide that you do not want to pursue a doctorate. Application deadlines for masters-only graduate programs are usually later in the year (feb/march deadlines) and may not require the physics GRE. But they will require letters of recommendation, so you really do need to talk with your current professors. Your current professors are also the ones best positioned to give you specific advice given your specific situation.

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