MUST READ!

  • 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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fermiboy
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MUST READ!

Postby fermiboy » Sat Jan 26, 2008 8:55 pm

http://incoherently-scattered.blogspot. ... ysics.html

Interesting perspective from an anonymous professor...

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will
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Postby will » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:20 pm

I think the comments are a lot more enlightening than the article itself.

Something I'd like to comment on is the fact that he isn't so much impressed that bright foreign students get perfect scores, as surprised that not as many bright domestic students do. At the same time, he seems to believe that foreign students work harder or are more motivated or have better preparation, so I don't get why he would even raise an eyebrow. What I think he dismisses too readily in the comments is the fact that American students know it isn't weighted as heavily as other aspects of the application. He argues that students still know it's important, so they should do their best - but this discounts the fact that it is a hard test. I've not heard of anyone getting a 990 without an immense amount of preparation, and guess what? Some of us are too busy getting published and doing advanced work to spend months learning tricks and reviewing physics I/II/III. I don't think it's wrong for admissions committees to recognize that.

Anyway, while it's said that scoring well on the PGRE correlates mildly with getting successful grades, I've heard from professors that it correlates poorly, if at all, with almost every other metric of grad school success.

If it's too hard for promising Chinese students to get into grad school here, then I propose we implement a program where we start exchanging the faulty ones we admit.

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will
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Postby will » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:29 pm

I didn't mean for that to sound as xenophobic as it did. I just strongly believe that this guy is dreadfully wrong in his opinion that foreign students with perfect GRE scores are likely to make better scientists than domestic students with good, but imperfect scores. There's too many variables at play, and he wants the physics GRE to be something that it really isn't.

I don't think outright cheating is as big of a problem as some say it is, but the PGRE is something that one prepares for. You can't memorize into existence an original contribution to science.

VT
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Postby VT » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:54 pm

:cry:

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dlenmn
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Postby dlenmn » Sat Jan 26, 2008 10:57 pm

The comments on that page are crazy. I'd heard a few rumors about cheating in foreign countries but I wrote them off just like the author initially did. I also didn't realize the percentage of >900 scores received by US students was so low (I knew it was low, but his numbers were _really_ low).

However, as a domestic student with an unimpressive score, I guess that I can't complain about the system...

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:05 am

I believe it. I had a Chinese friend who personally told me that he had studied out of a special GRE dictionary memorizing American words for the verbal test. He said that he knew people who studied it so much that they not only knew every word in the book but could tell you what page that word was on!! Amazing! And he also told me that he knew people were cheating on the general test because they had a list of all the questions that were ever on any of the GRE tests.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:27 am

I think there's no doubt that plenty of cheating existed in the past and possibly still today. It's also very likely that even with honest test takers, Chinese and other foreign students still outscore Americans by far.

After reading that part of the reason they added the writing section was to identify cheats who got perfect scores on the verbal without being able to form a sentence, I hope this doesn't undermine my app. I got a 4.5, quite pathetic for a native english speaker. I didn't bother explaining to admission committees the truth that I originally had a 5.5 but requested a rescore because I was hoping for a 6, which would probably do more harm than good. My verbal score is <deleted for anonymity> and is the second highest I've ever seen on the forum. Every other strong domestic applicant this year and in the past has a 5.5 and typically a verbal in the 600s. I've never seen a 4.5. 4.5 is so incompatible with my verbal that I hope this doesn't make anyone suspicious that I was a cheater, in which case my physics GRE and my whole app is down the drain :( .

I was also surprised how few high scores this professor sees are from Americans. There are tons of high American scores on the forum this year. Though maybe this is just a 2007 trend... Last year a 970 was 97%ile, this year it's 95%... so it looks like lots of people scored high this year.
Last edited by quizivex on Sun Jan 27, 2008 4:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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butsurigakusha
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Postby butsurigakusha » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:31 am

You requested a rescore on 5.5? I don't get it.

I don't think 4.5 is that bad. I really don't think it is going to affect your chances at all.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:34 am

I don't think graduate schools will consider those scores. Not for physics, anyway. And it's unlikely to raise a red flag unless you're an international student.

Personally I would've just went with the 5.5. Almost no one gets a 6.0 on that and since they don't release the grading criteria we have no idea what they actually want. To make matters worse it's scored by some random professor so it's completely subjective. Don't trip out about the 4.5, I don't it'll even raise an eyebrow.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:40 am

@ butsurigakusha

Yeah I know it sounds weird... but I was just really hoping for a 6... when I opened the letter and saw 5.5 I'm like UGH!! And then to see my percentile of 82, I'm thinking hmmm... that just seems low... I mean 82 percentile in math would kill us, and since many of the test takers aren't english speakers...

Also note that the subjectivity and randomness in the grading is obvious... anyone who writes anything will get from a 3 to a 6 in integer increments... so getting a 5.5 automatically suggests there was a discrepancy between the different graders and that a rescore might be different...

So I figured there'd be no harm in rescoring... what's the worst that could happen? Get the same score back and lose $45... that's what ETS would insist, since their grading system is supposedly consistent. I think the fact that they can give the same essays a 5.5 and a 4.5 looks worse on ETS than on me :lol:

@ Twistor

Thanks, I hope so.

EDIT: At the time I took the test, I didn't know anyone else who took the test and I hadn't yet found this forum. I didn't realize a 5.5 was very good.
Last edited by quizivex on Tue Jan 29, 2008 7:58 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:48 am

man, quizivex, that seriously sucks. I wouldn't worry about it too much, your application is awesome. You need to post your stats in the stats thread though!

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Sun Jan 27, 2008 2:55 am

<deleted>
Last edited by quizivex on Tue Jan 29, 2008 4:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Tue Jan 29, 2008 4:13 am

Hi... I realized I sortof derailed this thread by sidetracking it but wanted to give new life to it since fermiboy's article is very interesting to read. There are also other links on that page about the perks and perils of academic life, and a ton of thoughtful student comments on the main article.

trupti
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Postby trupti » Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:06 am

As an international student i can say that forigners doing good at pgre may have some other reason..In US anybody who wants to go to a grad school will have to give gres ..while in india( from where i am) people have a variety of options..only the most ambitious and aware crowd give GREs (both subject and general)..others give a variety national level entarance exams (we have many) to to stay back in India and get into good national level institutes...so only a selected percentage of forigners are giving GRE (if all students in India or China were to give GREs the statistics would have been quite different)
also some students here who donot get good scores in their GREs stay back and don't even apply so again only students getting good scores are applying...so its like hollywood showing only some of its best movies in India and we Indians feel that hollywood is so good than India's bollywood..but in reality in hollywood has a lot of produces a lot of trash of which we are unaware
and yes research opportunities at undergrad level in India are very less..so irrespective of a students research capabilities being able to do some research and publish a paper is almost impossible (unless a person is in very famous Indian universities like IITs)..so yes gauging a forigners research abilities is really difficult...
Also undergraduate syllabus is very advance as compared to US..but understanding of the subject of the students maybe not so good (even the class toppers)..but this preparation is really good to do well at PGRE...I don't understand that if US education system focuses so much on understanding of the subject than memorizing why the pattern of subject GREs is so, that one can do well by memorising a few formulae..none of the problems seemed to require a very deep thinking

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Wed Jan 30, 2008 8:28 am

So If we were to summarize some of the reasons for the score discrepancy between foreign and domestic students, I think this is a good list:

- Only the top foreign students have any chance of admission into US programs and thus only they will take the GRE. Or perhaps instead, only the top scorers will apply.

- There are a lot more smart foreign students than US students anyway because there are more foreign students period.

- Taking the GRE in a foreign country is often an expensive hassle that sometimes requires a whole day of traveling back and forth, and so the test takers are going to take it very seriously and be very prepared.

-Domestic students realize they can get in without a superhigh GRE.


On a side note:

Everyone keeps saying the GRE correlates poorly with grad school success and research. I don't think anyone should expect a big correlation with research. But what nobody addresses is the GRE is a good measure of one's knowledge and skill in undergraduate physics material (except for the 0177 test, that test sucked. This partly reflects the fact that the test is written by 5 profs who change from year to year). It's not supposed to measure our ability for research. However, there are still a few questions that require some type of data interpretation or familiarity with an instrument.

Most of the questions are not based on memorized facts and equations. Seriously, how many questions on the test required use of an unfamiliar equation? I'd say nearly all equations needed were ones we already knew, with a few exceptions (such as the velocity addition formula) which the ETS practice book told us we needed to know anyway. The problems require skill and creativity with the basics. Any responsible student should know he needs to memorize the double slit diffraction formula before taking the test, just like most exams we take in our advanced courses require memorization of some formulas.

I realize grad schools would rather have a student who will be useful in their labs than a student who has mastered basic problems but can't use an oscilloscope... But again, I think past research experience is not a fair metric to gauge candidates by... I mean seriously, seeing so many students walk away with sole authored or first authored publications, I don't think everyone has a chance for that...

If you're an experimentalist, you don't own a lab or any part of it. You don't control the grad students or anyone else affiliated with the lab. How are you going to sneak off into the corner, devise and run your own experiments, interpret the results with your undergrad background, and submit a paper without anyone else making you put his name on it?

Clearly it happens, but to marginalize an applicant because he hasn't accomplished these things is not fair. This isn't a reference to particular people here, as I know plenty of you know way more advanced physics than I do, but I see the craziest things happening all the time. Today a soph biochem major at my school who has barely passed her major classes and is taking calc 1 for her 3rd time announced on her facebook page that she's now working in a lab and doing cancer research. Maybe I'm bitter since she was one of the many disappointments in my life, but it remains true that everyone's doing research, everyone, and it's mostly random who gets the gold stars (pubs, awards) and who doesn't. Doing "research" is no longer a way to stand out but a requirement. I think the best way to stand out nowadays would be not to do research (hehe).

Think about how you got affiliated with your first lab... did you ask one of your instructors about his research? Did you get a grad student to hook you up with someone? How can you just walk in as a freshman stranger to a new lab and tell the professor, "Please put me on a project I can do myself."? If the prof doesn't laugh at you, the grad students are going to think you're trying to take over the lab.

If you're in theory, and somehow have the background to discover new things, you'll need to learn everything your prof has written over the past few years, and then go invent new things. Won't the prof want to be on the paper too since you used his work? And if you invented new things without consulting any prior work... let's just say you should not be in an undergraduate program.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:15 am

Yes, but when you're working in your lab you won't have under 1.6 minutes to determine whether or not you are interpreting data correctly. You actually have time to think critically about your answer and it's implications. I've said it before: the GRE measures nothing useful.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:15 am

Small correction: the GRE measures one's ability to get into graduate school by taking the GRE.

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will
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Postby will » Thu Jan 31, 2008 1:33 am

As a domestic, I had a research advisor who not only did allow me to do interesting independent research, but also let me in on his network of associates. My GPA is great, my rec letters are great, my research is great, I had a personal good word put in on my behalf at several places... Quite frankly I didn't have to worry about the PGRE. That I have the supposed baseline knowledge that the GRE is presumed to test is taken as an axiom.

As an international, American physicists probably don't know the people you worked with. They might not even be familiar with the journals you've published in, let alone read them. They know that in your country, the breadth of subjects is better, the topics get more advanced, but the students often understand less than their domestic peers. You need to prove them wrong on all counts... You need to show that you're not only better than other internationals, but better than the domestic students too! So what's the great equalizer? The physics GRE. Too bad people cheat and that international scores top out the scale. Better luck next year.

That's why the test is so worthless. So long as you don't perform miserably, it can't act as a useful metric for domestic students (nor should it), and it can't act as a good metric for international students because it doesn't test the things that American physicists often think foreign students are missing. In fact, it often serves only to reinforce the stereotypes.

trupti
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Postby trupti » Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:23 am

@quizivex
The method of research in our country is different... generally not many college professors are involved in research...there are seperate research institutes which may have direct phd programs but not undergrad. It is not so easy to get into these institutes during your undergrad years. In US universities are the places where research takes place, which also have undergrad programs.
@will
you have basically said the same things that i said, but you seem a bit angry with all foreigners coming to US. I have given both general and physics GRE and i can gaurantee that no cheating takes place in India (Though obviously you may not believe it by just a statement somebody writes in a forum)

The whole philosophy or attitude towards research in any field (not just scientific or technical) is very different than US..I can probably go on writting thousands and thousands of lines on this topic. But one has to actual experience it to understand. Not everything can be expressed in forums...Only people who have studied in both western and non-western education system can really appriciate it.

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will
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Postby will » Thu Jan 31, 2008 8:57 pm

Ah, you misunderstand me. I'm not angry about foreigners coming to the US, I'm just saying it's hard, and the physics GRE is, contrary to what it's supposed to be, a huge institutionalized disservice to internationals.

It's like the quantitative section of the general GRE - if you don't get a perfect score, that's cause for concern... But it is incapable of telling you something positive about the applicant; since international GRE scores are expected to be top, it doesn't make up for the fact that we can't gauge their research, classes, or professors.

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:39 pm

...
I guess I can understand what trupti is saying since I have lil bit of experience on how " research" is defined in non- western country.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:03 pm

I now regret writing that research rant. I've written similar things so many times before. I just don't like what I see sometimes. Research seems to go to everyone's head. I've seen so many incompetent students "doing research" and getting free bonus points, and so many capable students slaving away in labs, compromising their classes and social life, without getting anything tangible in return.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:17 pm

well here's how it worked for me: I got interested in grad school a few years ago and started reading stuff online and talking to professors. I found out that to have a good chance at top schools, research is almost required, so I talked to every one of my professors and told them I was interested until I finally got a job doing research. I was lucky enough to wind up in a lab with a senior research scientist who had already published a ton of papers, so on each project he designates a "leader" who organizes everything, plans all the experiments, sets up the apparatus if needed, takes the data, and eventually writes up the results. It's not super high class physics, but it's research and a publication regardless, and less work and more fun than a regular job.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Thu Jan 31, 2008 10:49 pm

yea that's cool. it's nice to be in a group that's well organized. it's better to have precise goals/directions and know you'll get something out of it eventually, than it is to be spread around doing random tasks in various projects.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Thu Jan 31, 2008 11:08 pm

I think I was lucky to end up in a lab at NASA rather than working with one of my profs, just becuase there really isn't any good research going on at my school. It is much more organized and the senior scientist who manages it all is very driven to publish papers, but he is always the last author on all of them and the students always do the work and the writing. I'm the only undergrad in our group though...

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Thu Jan 31, 2008 11:09 pm

and I'm still a little PUI. :shock:

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Fri Feb 01, 2008 12:07 am

ok
when do we actually use PUI, I am totally confused!

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Fri Feb 01, 2008 12:18 am

whenever you're posting while drunk!

... or stoned I guess but I don't do that...

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Fri Feb 01, 2008 12:28 am

OH OKAY!!


that means I "was" always PUI... hahahaha



ok, people, I don get stonned or hammered alrite, I have tried only once in my life, I told this before.

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fermiboy
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Postby fermiboy » Fri Feb 01, 2008 1:04 am

Suuuure you don't RG.




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