Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

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Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by hariseldon » Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:20 pm

About Me:

Domestic male at a private top 10 physics school
Major: Physics, Math
Minor: Astronomy
PGRE: 740 62%
GRE: Q:169,V:168,W:4.5 [98%,98%,72%]
GPA 3.6, more like 3.5 for physics/math/astro coursework
Research: 3.5 years at accelerator lab, name on lots of conference papers, made one presentation at a large international conference. MAY have a paper in preprint the next month or so. Also did a summer REU at NASA, but nothing to show for it.
Recs: Will have one good one from my research supervisor, one good one from my lab course professor, and one mediocre one from another professor

Will be applying to experimental physics programs, but not sure about specific fields. Looking for larger programs since I'm not totally sure about what I want to study, so ideally the faculty has broad research interests. What are my chances at schools in this range, and are there other programs I should focus on?

University of Washington
University of Colorado
University of Maryland
University of Chicago
University of Pennsylvania
Columbia University
University of Texas
University of California at Irvine (and/or Davis, comments on UC schools?)
Johns Hopkins University
University of Wisconsin
University of Michigan
Indiana University
University of Hawaii (not a big department, but its Hawaii!)

Any comments or suggestions are welcome, I feel like choosing schools below the top 10 is sort of a shot in the dark.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by physicspeople » Mon Nov 28, 2011 6:35 pm

Since I'm just starting this process, I don't have a lot to go on--but have you considered adding more in the 25-40 range? CMU, Rice, Duke etc.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by bfollinprm » Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:00 am

Go Davis! But seriously, check out my thread here about UC schools; I know it's about cosmology but I think a lot of the statements I made apply more generally. ... vis#p36204

You should be fine with your list, you'll get in somewhere. Your profile sounds pretty similar to mine and my fellow first years at Davis and there are several places on your list with similar rankings/admissions criteria.

Also, a note about Hawaii: a CME friend went there and said the department for him boiled down to one guy in a leaky room in the basement with a 40 year old piece of equipment that he almost lost in a lawsuit with the University of Chicago. Not saying don't apply (and this could be totally wrong, since it's officially now 3rd hand information), but from several sources I've heard that Astro gets the the first cut of funding, the Porterhouse, and half the rest of the cow, so if you don't have a chance to visit and see for yourself, I'd be careful.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by physicienne » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:48 am

re hawaii only, for you or anyone else considering it... if you haven't already applied to hawaii, it wouldn't be a great idea to expect to work with pakvasa, madey, vause, or lam. madey is a great guy but, well, slow in terms of project progression and obtaining funding (he invented the FEL, he's who bfollinprm was referencing, and the lawsuit was with duke), pakvasa is close to retirement and not in expt anyway, and vause and lam don't really have/take grad students (euphemism).

there is some great experimental work going on with hep and particle astrophysics, though (learned, varner, gorham, etc) - i would contact the people you're interested in working with (or their grad students) to see if they might having funding for you in a year or two, but i'm guessing that you'd be able to find something to work on either way.

i'm also guessing that you'd have a decent shot at getting in there.

and for the record: the stipend is basically at the poverty line for hawaii - this sucks for such an expensive city, but is doable. it's also not a place i would at all recommend for female students.

edit: the astronomy program is a completely different story.
Last edited by physicienne on Sun Dec 25, 2011 7:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by grae313 » Tue Dec 20, 2011 3:20 pm

physicienne wrote:it's also not a place i would at all recommend for female students.
care to elaborate?

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by physicienne » Sun Dec 25, 2011 8:53 am

the physics department (not inclusive of the astronomy program) was an awkward, male dominated place with sexist undertones when i was affiliated with it a few years ago. the experience of a new student will obviously be different, since she will be interacting with a different mix of fellow grad students in her classes (and in this i was unlucky), but the professors are also part of the atmosphere - and something was just off about it. one more egregious example: the department chair at the time gave a talk on his trip to the nobel prize ceremony and specifically referenced the beauty of every woman in his slideshow of photos. some of his comments were fairly inappropriate, particularly for something masquerading as a physics colloquium; but i think i was one of two women, and perhaps the only one who cared, in the audience of, say, 30 or 40. but hey - if the department chair is saying it, it must be acceptable, right?

for a long time there were only one or two female grad students (though this has become 5 over the last 2 years, so perhaps they're making an effort to attract more), and there are no female faculty. that might not wind up being a big deal if you find a good advisor and quickly assimilate into his group, but other department-wide issues are social integration and cohesiveness: even if you do hit it off with your potentially tiny entering class (or the second years in your classes, or fellow TAs), the department dynamic is not terribly welcoming. no one ever asked me how i was doing (in the academic/settling in sense ... but also rarely in the day-to-day sense, now that i think about it). i would argue that this is a bigger deal in this department, given the location (neither the geographic distance nor time difference are trivial, particularly to the east coast), the transient nature of the young population in honolulu, and in general that most students entering the program will not have any local support system. so for me, personally: i'm not the most outgoing person you'll ever meet, but i do navigate social situations very well; and being in that department and trying to interact with the students and faculty felt, for the most part, like wading through awkward sludge. i certainly hope that your mileage varies, but it might not.

since everyone's situations and personalities are different, a better, amended version of what i wrote above would be: women should be very cautious about attending the uh physics program without first visiting the department and area and meeting with any potential advisors. unfortunately, the last i knew was that the department does not pay for these expensive plane tickets because too many people were treating the visits like vacations.

so if you've visited and you're okay with what you find when you google 'living in hawaii', then go for it.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by grae313 » Wed Jan 04, 2012 3:23 am

Thanks, I'm sure this will be an interesting read for future prospective students of Hawaii.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by GradSchoolShopper » Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:13 pm

Jumping in with some suggestions here. First, your research experience gives you a lot of power on choosing schools (even if you "got nothing to show for it" ;) ), and even without a "4.0" GPA you can get accepted to quite a number of great programs. Schools don't just look on one aspect but a combination of all three "main" ones -- your scores (GPA and GRE/pGRE), your research, and your statement and recommendation letters.

That said, different universities tend to require different parts of those. You can compare the requirements online.

University of Washington for instance, has a minimum GPA of 3.0. University of Colorado, Boulder is the same with GPA, but specifies the average GRE/pGRE scores of the students that were accepted last year.

See here: As for considering different programs, you can go over the offered research specialties and programs of schools in the USA, it might help you decide which program is suitable for you, the explanations are very thorough, and you can use the search engine to look for schools with certain academic conditions (research budget, faculty/student ratio, etc).

* Note: The information on comes directly from the department contact people and is updated yearly.

I hope this information helps. Good luck in your graduate studies!

GradSchoolShopper Team
American Institute of Physics

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by Dorian_Mode » Tue Mar 06, 2012 6:45 am

As a graduate student currently attending UH, I feel like I should weigh in on what physicienne discussed above, although I hate to drag this thread further off-topic.

The department is certainly still male-dominated, but in my experience this is sadly true of physics in general. I can't really speak to the sexist undertones, because as a guy I probably don't pick up on those as well as a woman would. We're making some progress, though. As you mentioned, there has been an increase in female grad students the past couple of years (my incoming group was about half female), which has been part of a wave of new grad students entering the program. We have also (finally) hired a female faculty member who has just started this month (she's speaking at the department colloquium this week), and the word I'm hearing around the department is that we will likely be hiring another woman who visited last fall to interview for a faculty position. That's not a huge number, granted, but since it's a somewhat small group of faculty in the first place I have hope that it can make a difference.

Also, based on my discussions with some of the older grad students, I think the "awkward" aspect has improved greatly in the last few years. The group of students who entered the year before me worked hard to convert an unused space into a library/physics lounge, and I think this is indicative of a greater sense of community among the younger grad students than I am led to believe existed in the past. This is probably due to the fact that past couple groups of incoming students have been much larger than those in years past, but since we are in the process of adding four new faculty members I'm hopeful that this feeling of growth will continue. I mean, it's still a physics program, so it's full of nerds, but I think it's a pretty ok group of nerds overall.

All that said, I would strongly urge anyone considering the program to visit if they are able. It's a fairly small department, and you'd better be interested in HEP, particle astro, or FEL, basically. Hawaii also has its own kind of weird vibe to it, and it's really far from basically everywhere else in the world.

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Re: Am I on the right track or over-optimistic?

Post by physicienne » Tue Mar 06, 2012 7:05 am

that's great to hear, thanks for the update. wish i'd had better timing.

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