GPA in Major: 3.97
Overall GPA: 3.97
Length of Degree: 4 years
Position in Class: near top; school does not rank
Type of Student: DWM
GRE Scores: 990 on pGRE; sent to MSU, PSU, and Berkeley
Research Experience: 1 year condensed matter without much to show for it; year and a half of research that plays on boundaries of medical and particle physics; summer REU in accelerator physics
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Departmental scholarship; school-awarded fellowship
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: three-year SPS officer, 2 year undergrad TA
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help:
Special Bonus Points: Will have a couple of grad classes, a publication, and a senior thesis before graduating. Current research advisor is pretty well-connected in my intended field.
Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter:
Applying to Where: (all for HEP-Ex, specifically neutrinos and dark matter)
Stanford - Physics - (Feb. 25: ACCEPTED via email; $48,600/yr RA/TA)
Berkeley - Physics - (Feb. 25: ACCCEPTED)
U Chicago - Physics - (Jan. 28: REJECTED via website)
UW-Madison - Physics - (Jan. 28: ACCEPTED via website/email; $2580/month TA/RA+ $2500 one-time scholarship)
U Washington - Physics
UC Santa Barbara - Physics - (Feb. 18: ACCEPTED via website/email; no mention of financial support; perhaps this info is forthcoming...)
Penn State - Physics - (Feb. 4: ACCEPTED via website/email; $23,490 TA + $9000 1-year fellowship)
UC Irvine - Physics - (Jan. 13: ACCEPTED via website/email; $7,500/quarter TA + $10000/year 2-year fellowship)
Michigan State - Physics - (Jan. 27: ACCEPTED via website/email; $29,328/year TA)
UT Austin - Physics - (Feb. 8: Open House Invite)
Feb. 25 Update: Still waiting on U Wash, but i'm not sure their decision will make any difference. Feels good to be pretty stress-free before March! Figured I'd type up a few takeaways to assuage and/or incite the anxiety of future applicants who have stumbled upon this page while writing applications:
- Be American; be experimental. The standards are much higher for international students, and funding for theorists is dry.
- My current research advisor has decades of research experience in the field to which I am applying. This made a huge difference, as the people reading my application and evaluating my worth as a candidate got to read a letter from a respected colleague, and in some cases a friend.
- IMO having one strong letter (see point 2) and one mediocre one is better than two average letters. My advisor was committed to writing a very strong letter, and I believe he did just that. However, one of my recommenders was a professor with whom I took a couple of classes; nothing more, nothing less.
- You must make prior contact with at least one PI at every school. I was able to do this at every school except for Chicago and Washington, hence my results from there. Poor sample size and anecdotal evidence aside, most schools don't do interviews for physics. Actually meeting someone on the faculty (and having a good impression of course) will set you apart from the faceless applications, and is too easy to do in the age of Zoom. Don't feel shy about doing this; PIs are trying to grow their programs, so it's as much an interview for them as it is for you.
- Don't half-ass your statements of purpose and personal statements. I started drafting them in September; by October, they were unrecognizable, and November's drafts bore only a passing resemblance to October's. When you're happy with it, confer with you advisor, friends, colleagues, and anyone who will read it. I found success writing them with a mindset similar to one writing a funding proposal. Just as NSF funds projects and needs to be assured of their intellectual merit and broader impacts to the field, universities are funding your education, and expect to be assured that their investment in you will produce a return: value to their program and a contributing member of the scientific community.
- Any advice I give about the pGRE will likely be worthless next year. Maybe some schools will bring it back; maybe everyone will lose it. I've no doubt that it strengthened my application (especially as a domestic student, for whom pGRE scores appear to be quite a bit lower). All the same, I studied (i.e. memorized everything) for a good few months. Whether that justifies better odds for 30% of my applications is up to you.