Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged- looking for suggestions

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Spherical Harmonics
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Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2014 4:13 pm

Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged- looking for suggestions

Post by Spherical Harmonics » Wed Oct 29, 2014 4:15 pm

Hi all, this is my first post to this forum, so if you find anything glaringly wrong with my etiquette or anything, please let me know. Thanks!

Brief Backstory: I received my B.S. in astrophysics from Ohio University in 2013. Due to a combination of my weak application and my naivete when it came to choosing reasonable programs to apply to, I was rejected across the board (in hindsight, this was hardly surprising). This ended up working out for my personal life, as it allowed me to stay close to my girlfriend who had yet to complete her undergrad in sociology, and with whom I hope to colocate for grad school.

I've spent the past couple of years trying my best to regroup and prepare to send out a second round of applications to various physics and astronomy programs this coming season. I retook the GRE and PGRE (which turned out to be a big disappointment...), and I tried to gain a better understanding of what programs I actually might have a chance of getting into. Nonetheless, I'm still left feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, and I would love to hear whatever suggestions, advice, or words of encouragement any of you have to offer.

Now for the embarrassing part...

Physics GPA: 3.301
Overall GPA: 3.272
General GRE: 160Q 156V 4.0AW (up from 154Q 156V 2.0AW - actually studying helped)
Physics GRE: A dream-shattering 550 (believe it or not, this was an improvement from 540)

Here comes the part where I try to explain myself (if you have no patience for excuses, feel free to ignore this part)

My Physics GPA: This is due primarily to my low grades in Quantum Mechanics (B-) and Thermal Physics (D+). The former was just an outright difficult, mixed grad/undergrad class with a notoriously difficult (and brilliant) professor, while the latter was the result of a bombed final (the last one of my senior year, of course).

My Overall GPA: With the exception of math, I didn't perform particularly well in any of my non-major classes. My only excuse is that I was suffering from the "I'll never need to know this" form of idiocy that's far too common in higher education.

General GRE: Even my new scores were a bit of a letdown, as I'd managed to score 164Q on a practice test.

Physics GRE: This was a huge bummer. I spent the three months leading up to the exam devoting essentially all of my free time to studying for it. I bought the white book and reviewed as thoroughly as I could. I walked in feeling very confident that I had a damn fine understanding of the material that I was about to be tested on, but in the end, poor time management did me in. I wasted far too much time carefully pondering questions which shouldn't have taken me more than a few minutes to complete, and before I knew it, I had 15 minutes left and was only on question 40 or so. I've always been a slow test taker, but this was the epitome of fail for me.

Anyway, here I am. I'm not off to a great start, but I'm ready to work with what I've got. My current "short list" of schools to apply to includes the following:

University of Kentucky
Drexel University
Rutgers University (rejected me once before)
West Virginia University
University of Toledo

Other programs I've looked into, but am unsure about when it comes to their competitiveness are:

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Western Michigan University
Indiana University, Bloomington (astronomy)
University of Notre Dame

I've gotten emails from a handful of schools thus far (including WVU, Drexel, Notre Dame, and UC Riverside) based on my GRE scores, but I've found it difficult to guage which ones I'd actually have a fighting chance of getting into.

With all of that said, I'm going to cut myself off here. If anyone has any advice on what other schools to look into or what schools I might want to cross off of my current list, fire away. Any and all feedback is welcome.


Edit: fixed a typo.

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Re: Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged- looking for suggestions

Post by bfollinprm » Wed Oct 29, 2014 5:56 pm

I think those schools are reasonable.

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Re: Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged- looking for suggestions

Post by zhuk » Wed Oct 29, 2014 6:52 pm

One way to "redeem" yourself is to apply and do well in a Masters only program. The one I am finishing now helped me understand physics better and gain research experience. PGRe was not required.

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Re: Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged- looking for suggestions

Post by bfollinprm » Wed Oct 29, 2014 7:02 pm

I agree that that's often the best idea. If you can look at your record and say 'gee, there's these things I could really understand better," a masters is the appropriate medium for that for most people. The PhD program can be pretty sink-or-swim.

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Re: Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged- looking for suggestions

Post by Catria » Wed Oct 29, 2014 11:39 pm

Pay attention to whether the masters is funded or not, if you elect to earn a masters first. You wouldn't want to be footing a $40k+ bill just to get an unfunded masters...

I had to do so in my home country because I couldn't get *any* research experience as an undergrad; said lack of research experience as an undergrad cost me a direct PhD passage, but I would have been confident of scoring at a similar level since that masters at home taught me nothing that was of any use whatsoever on the PGRE (QFT, GR are completely useless)

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