Undergrad Institution: an Australian University
GPA in Major: 6.95/7.0?
Overall GPA: 6.7/7.0 converts to US 3.7 or 3.8? (did not study hard/ had one particularly disastrous semester during early uni, perfect GPA last two and a half years)
Length of Degree: 3 + 1 year honours
Position in Class: near top? small cohort
Type of Student: International female
GRE Scores :
Q: 159 (83%)
W: 4.5 (81%)
P: 720 (51%) yike! prepped 1 day due to thesis submission the day before and general unpreparedness for US apps
TOEFL: (R: , L: , S: , W: ) Not needed
- Research based degree so I did four semester long projects (not including honours) throughout my undergrad. in theory/ exp in various fields.
- Spent last two years on topological photonics with six month 3rd year project (Jul 2018 - Nov 2018), three month internship in Singapore (Nov 2018 - Feb 2019) and also honours thesis (Jul 2019 - Oct 2019)
- Honours thesis was also in quantum optics theory in niche area (waveguide QED). First author arxiv submission in this field in Nov 2019, that was submitted to Physical Review Letters (got accepted in Feb 2020, don't think any schools would know except Cornell since I was emailing POI at the time)
- Various academic awards/ scholarships, mostly last two years of undergrad
- 1 prestigious conference (Lindau) and 1 conference specifically on niche subfield (quantum topological photonics) where I won best poster
- Fulbright, full tuition and stipend ($3.5kAUD/month) for five years for full US PhD (website said max funding for 10 months - 2 years, so I did not even realise it was five years till I got it. Fulbright used to only allow Australian PhD with US visit. I am one of the first cohorts for full US PhD's which is a heads up for future Australian applicants as not many people know this is allowed under Fulbright Aus now).
Pertinent Activities or Jobs:
- Olympiad tutor for 4 years?
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help:
- Topic very niche: topological photonics/ waveguide QED.
Special Bonus Points:
- Australian group and Singapore group are two of the strongest groups for topological photonics
- Did not plan for arxiv submission in waveguide QED, got very lucky and stumbled upon unexpected/ really deep result during honours project, which made supervisor want to push for publication quickly
- one strong main supervisor letter, one famous/ highly cited supervisor probably weaker letter, one overseas letter
- Got to meet a bunch of POI's that I was applying to during niche conference in December (Duke, Stanford, CUNY, Maryland). Lucky timing.
Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter:
Applying to Where:
Duke - ECE - topological photonics exp (Jan 9 Accepted) Dec interview
Stanford - Applied Physics - topological photonics/ waveguide QED (Feb 11 Accepted) no interview
Cornell - Applied Physics - topological photonics (Feb 14 Accepted) no interview
Harvard - Physics - quantum optics theory/exp (Feb 14 Rejected)
Caltech - Applied Physics - quantum optics exp (missing my strongest recommendation letter which I did not follow up) (Feb 21 Rejected)
CUNY - Physics - topological photonics (invited for interview - withdrew)
Maryland - Physics - topological photonics
Penn State - Physics - topological photonics, Nov interview (Feb 20 Accepted)
Columbia - Physics - waveguide QED theory, Dec interview
Cambridge (UK) - Physics - topological photonics (Jan 30 Accepted - withdrew due to guilt of accepting US funding) applied last minute in case US applications did not go well – sent one referee request to submit two hours before deadline and she actually submitted on time lol.
- It's possible with bad pGRE! Yay. For reference I think there was someone in forum few years ago with 660 who still did well
- I had VERY targeted applications. Emailed all schools/ groups with very specific research interests adjusted to fit the groups interest around October/November. I think this is why some interviews happened so early. Stanford was likely the strongest research fit since POI does both my niche topics. Harvard and Caltech were less related to research interests, so rejections there unsurprising. I think having keen/specific research interests was one of the stronger parts of my application, since I know there are people with higher scores/grades who did not get in to Stanford
- I think field matters. HEP-th and quantum information theory are normally really competitive. I think the fact that my field was really niche inadvertently helped. I expect the groups I applied to would be surprised to have applicants with background in the field
- You should write your application as if the field/ group you are applying to (and grad school) is a perfect fit for your interests, even if you are unsure. Same goes for grad jobs actually. Practical lessons I learnt late.
- I think opportunities came due to judicious life choices about what physics/ opportunities I did throughout undergrad, rather than just blind hard work. Though I did also work hard to turn my early grades around. Chose topological photonics because I knew there were groups if I wanted to do an overseas PhD. So I knew of a few of the groups I applied to since mid-2018.
- Was close, I think, to my referees. Or at least I respected them a lot, so probably helps with the letters. Good also to get your writers gifts as thanks.
- I guess serendipity, luck and privilege (as well as hard work) play a role
- May link my statement of purpose here as a reference later if I remember