(Need Advice!) On The Road to Graduate School

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Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2019 5:04 pm

(Need Advice!) On The Road to Graduate School

Post by punjipao » Tue Jan 08, 2019 7:35 pm

I'm a senior physics and mathematics major who was thinking about applying to graduate school, but I'm not sure how strong my application is at the moment and was hoping for suggestions for how to proceed.. I'll list my stats before I say more:

Undergrad Institution: Ivy, Top 10 in physics

Major(s): Physics and Mathematics


GPA in Major: (Depends on how I calculate it)->
Average of all my physics classes alone: 3.45
Average of all my physics classes in addition to the required mathematics for the major: 3.69
Average of all my mathematics classes (the reason why this is lower is because I bombed some of my early analysis classes my
freshman year): 3.46

Overall GPA: 3.33
Another comment on my overall GPA: My freshman/sophomore year I had one F, one D, and two C's. I really struggled at the beginning of college, but slowly built my way up to the harder classes. Year by year breakdown-
Progressive Physics GPA:
Freshman: 3.0, Sophomore: 3.22, Junior: 3.5, Senior: 3.91
Progressive Math GPA:
Freshman: 2.35, Sophomore: 3.54, Junior: 4.0, Senior: 3.85
Length of Degree: 3.5 years
Position in Class: Unknown
Type of Student: White guy

GRE Scores:

Research Experience: Spent three years in a single lab doing something I hated, had one paper presented in a local conference (second author). My research PI and I have had a very rocky relationship (she once accused me of making up data, when really I was just an incompetent freshman) so I doubt that I'll get a recommendation from her and I didn't do well in her class as a sophomore (no hard feelings, mea culpa); my other two recommendations are from a String theorist and a Condensed Matter theorist for both of whom I just did well in their classes, but don't know particularly well (the latter one I TA'd for).

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: My mom once called me handsome.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: I TA'd analytical mechanics my junior year. Can do blots, PCR, e-beam, sputtering, nano-column growth etc. (My unfortunate specialty is bioNano-Fab).

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: I can eat 5 lbs of wings in under 10 minutes; can also take a beating.

Special Bonus Points:
My CMT advisor is a helluva nice guy and said he'd contact some peeps at other universities and would see what was up.

Any Other Info That Shows Up On Your App and Might Matter:
Wrote columns for the school newspaper for three years and competed in 3 Amateur MMA bouts, though I stopped recently after seeing a buddy infantilized by a nasty elbow.

Now the question is: Do I apply this next cycle and just hope the research I can generate in about 9 months, will be enough to land me a solid research recommendation? Should I do a masters to try to raise my GPA (I think it'd be significantly higher, given I got wrecked so bad my first two years), along with getting more research experience? Should I just work in a lab for a year and bolster recs and research? My goals are to attend school around the Bay area, Boston, NYC or Philly. I grew up in a super small rural town and lemme tell ya-it was butt. I'm pretty set on attending physics grad school as I loved my classes, but I just want to make sure I'll end up in a place where I can be happy. What to do.

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Re: (Need Advice!) On The Road to Graduate School

Post by Nishikata » Tue Jan 08, 2019 10:41 pm

It is still January, so as you said, the next cycle is still in 9 months. You do not need to decide anything now.
If something comes up from now till this Oct and you are cool with it, then go apply then.

What I think you should do now is to register for pGRE this coming April's test, and gGRE on June/July. Getting all these tests cleared up as soon as possible will ease your burden of preparation later on. Do not try to do everything in Sept/Oct.

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Joined: Sat Dec 08, 2018 3:21 pm

Re: (Need Advice!) On The Road to Graduate School

Post by sphonino » Mon Feb 04, 2019 1:06 pm

The first question you should start thinking about with whether you want to do experimental or theoretical work, and in what. Do you want to stick with CMT? If so, I would say that realistically your GPA isn't ideal - universities generally have higher expectations for GPAs/GRE scores for theorists than they do for experimentalists. Your grades however improved a ton since your freshman year (you should be very proud :)) and that makes a good impression on people reviewing your application.

It sounds like despite the 3 years of research you did with this advisor, you're not expecting a recommendation letter from her. That will stick out unfortunately. If I were in your position, I would probably be looking at doing research at another lab before applying again, because you want someone to speak to your skill in a lab positively.

Good luck!

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Re: (Need Advice!) On The Road to Graduate School

Post by chris314 » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:50 pm

I think you're fine to apply, admissions committees know that Ivy schools can be an adjustment. I don't think it's worth mentioning why that first year was tough, just mention your recent GPA and focus on the positive. There's plenty of research out there you can volunteer for, plenty of people do collaborations online especially if you're competent with programming. My research advisor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory keeps most of his work publicly available on GitHub and occasionally gets people to make contributions. CERN also has a lot of data available online you can make your own project around. You can also volunteer in a lab if you don't have an internship or something else lined up for this year.

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