Seeking opinions on my school list

Post Reply
SeannieCosmos
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Aug 04, 2020 4:01 pm

Seeking opinions on my school list

Post by SeannieCosmos » Wed Sep 23, 2020 1:01 pm

Hi there! I am applying to astrophysics Ph.D. programs this winter and was looking for some opinions on my initial list of schools.

Some background: White male, son of immigrant father and highly educated mother who is out of the workforce due to family issues. I graduated in May '20 from a small liberal arts college that is not known for STEM research. 3.65 GPA, 3.75 in physics. Departmental honors and institutional honors (cum laude). Was involved in advising other members of the physics club. Held executive positions on club sports team. My research experience includes nine months building solid-state lasers, one year of exoplanet telescope installation and operation, three months of biophysics research while abroad, a summer REU in galactic astronomy, and a senior thesis in galaxy evolution (1.25 years and counting). 3 oral presentations, 3 poster presentations, but no publications ( :( ). I was a TA, tutor, and worked at the observatory while at school. I feel fairly good about my recommendation letters, though I do not believe they have connections to the places I am applying to.
My current interests are in numerical relativity, particle astrophysics, GW physics, and neutrino and dark sector physics, among others.

Anyways, here's my initial list after some research and emails to some members of departments. Not in order of preference, but the order of "gut-chances-of-getting-in." The total number of schools is 20, which I acknowledge is a lot. Due to my REU, I am granted a fee waiver for schools within the Big 10 academic alliance (*). As a result, 10 schools are without app fees, so I figure I might as well go big or go home.

Reach
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of Chicago *
Cornell
California Institute of Technology
Columbia University
Stanford
Yale
Penn
Match
Penn State *
University of Washington-Seattle
Ohio State *
University of Wisconsin-Madison *
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor *
Northwestern *
University of California-Santa Cruz
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities *
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign *
Safety
Michigan State *
Rutgers *

I recognize it is ambitious, but after speaking with the few from my school who went on to graduate school, they recommended the shotgun approach. I emailed at least 3 people in every department, and all got back to me (except Wisconsin) encouraging me to apply. The level of communication varied, and it was difficult to discern if there was mutual interest in taking me as a student, or if people are trying to get admissions numbers up to compensate for COVID.
Any advice is much appreciated! It is a strange time to be applying for graduate school. I hope everyone else is finding their way okay.

geekusprimus
Posts: 73
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Seeking opinions on my school list

Post by geekusprimus » Wed Sep 23, 2020 6:14 pm

Between the lack of funding due to COVID, no general or physics GRE, and the number of people who will decide now is a great time to go back to school, admissions are likely going to be considerably tougher next year. Penn, for example, has already said they are pausing school-funded PhD admissions for a year for their school of art and science. That doesn't strictly mean you can't apply to UPenn for physics, as far as I understand it, but if you get admitted, it's because someone with funding is interested in working with you.

To make a long story short, assuming you have time to thoroughly research each school, a wider spread is definitely a good idea. Particularly because of funding, don't consider any school a safety unless you have a solid connection at the school who has agreed to work with you, should you decide to attend. That being said, twenty schools is still quite a few, so try narrowing it down to 10-15.

While you're going big, I am surprised that Princeton isn't on your list. Frans Pretorius is well-respected in numerical relativity, and from what I can tell, they're part of some pretty big experiments in neutrino astrophysics and the search for dark matter.

SeannieCosmos
Posts: 3
Joined: Tue Aug 04, 2020 4:01 pm

Re: Seeking opinions on my school list

Post by SeannieCosmos » Thu Sep 24, 2020 2:55 pm

geekusprimus wrote:
Wed Sep 23, 2020 6:14 pm
Between the lack of funding due to COVID, no general or physics GRE, and the number of people who will decide now is a great time to go back to school, admissions are likely going to be considerably tougher next year. Penn, for example, has already said they are pausing school-funded PhD admissions for a year for their school of art and science. That doesn't strictly mean you can't apply to UPenn for physics, as far as I understand it, but if you get admitted, it's because someone with funding is interested in working with you.

To make a long story short, assuming you have time to thoroughly research each school, a wider spread is definitely a good idea. Particularly because of funding, don't consider any school a safety unless you have a solid connection at the school who has agreed to work with you, should you decide to attend. That being said, twenty schools is still quite a few, so try narrowing it down to 10-15.

While you're going big, I am surprised that Princeton isn't on your list. Frans Pretorius is well-respected in numerical relativity, and from what I can tell, they're part of some pretty big experiments in neutrino astrophysics and the search for dark matter.
Hey, thanks for your advice! You bring up a good point about both Penn and safety schools. I made a connection with a professor at Penn who showed mutual interest, but I am also trying to supplement that issue with a GRFP and others.

For what its worth, I connected with two professors at Princeton (including Pretorius) who were not taking students. Seemed indicative of how they are approaching this year, so I decided against Princeton.



Post Reply