Help me out - recent physics alumni returning to graduate school

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Joined: Wed May 25, 2016 10:16 pm

Help me out - recent physics alumni returning to graduate school

Post by adyy » Tue May 31, 2016 10:46 pm

Hey all -
I graduated in 2015 from a top 10 USNWR school (average for physics); I was burned out of school-work by the end of undergraduate studies, and I decided to take some time to earn money / pay loans with a good job at a tech firm while I sorted out my academic future. One year on, I feel prepared to apply to physics PhD programs in the coming cycle. However, I have some questions regarding my profile, which includes a mediocre GPA and bang-average research experience.

My questions:
1) How do I strengthen my application? ... I'm particularly worried about having sub-standard recs because of my time out of school, away from research. I was never a super strong undergraduate researcher either. I'm super willing to reach out to all the research groups I'm interested in and talk to whomever, I am tenacious.
2) What other graduate programs should I look into? I like interdisciplinary applications of physical principles to other systems, computational methods, and physicists with industry experience / deep involvement outside academia. As an example, Art Rosenfeld (physicist + champion for energy efficiency in California) is my hero.

Undergrad Institution: Duke
Major(s): Physics (BS)
GPA in Major: 3.5
Overall GPA: 3.41
Length of Degree: 4
Position in Class: Average, challenging coursework (3 graduate-level courses by 2015)
Type of Student: Domestic Asian Male

GRE Scores :
Q: not taken yet
V: not taken yet
W: not taken yet
P: 830 (76%)

Research Experience: 1 summer doing computer engineering / signals analysis @ NASA Goddard. 1 summer building Monte Carlo simulation of photonic QKD @ Sandia National Labs. ~8 months research (independent study) in theoretical chemistry (ab initio quantum models of photoabsorption in various molecules) -- resulted in a publication in JPC-A as third author.

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: I think I got dean's list once. Some generic physics honors society. Lol.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: I've spent the last year at a software firm as an engineering program manager, heading up a newly-formed data services team. I was a TA for freshmen engineering math courses. I put on physics demos at local elementary schools as part of an outreach program.

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Lots of independent study (Coursera, Udemy) into statistics, machine learning, and shoring up my programming skills in the time after undergrad.

Special (Not) Bonus Points: I'm not that confident in my recommendations because I have been removed from school by 1+ year.

Applying to Where:

UCSB - Physics - Complexity, Astro (particularly computational/modeling side)
Texas-Austin - Nonlinear, Quantum Applications
UChicago - Physics - ANY! Dream school, I love the UChicago research institutes' and interdisciplinary slant.
Carnegie Mellon - Physics - Computational
U Michigan - Physics - Complex Systems, Computational (particularly Cosmology), Applied Physics (??? this program looks down my alley)
MIT - Physics - ANY! similar to UChicago
U Washington - Physics - Computational (Astronomy in particular)

Reasonable (?)
UC Davis - Physics - Complexity

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