Stress about my future career - advice?

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Nov 28, 2019 12:02 pm

Stress about my future career - advice?

Post by wowlover465 » Thu Nov 28, 2019 12:25 pm

Hi everyone!

I'm currently a sophomore undergraduate student. This past month I've started researching the grad school application process - checking these forums, and asking professors and students at my university. It has caused me quite a bit of stress, and here's why:

It's been my dream to do theoretical physics since I was in high school. Since then, I've focused my interests on theoretical astrophysics, high energy, or quantum information. I will probably continue to get more specific as time goes on. But the problem is that it seems like any theoretical program is incredibly difficult to get into, and it's causing me lots of anxiety. What if I do everything possible (good grades, research, REUs, grad classes) and still get denied because someone else was slightly better than me (they got an A in a class when I got an A-). Maybe I'm freaking out for no reason. Or maybe I'm pursuing something that's so incredibly difficult I should try to do something else? (I can't see myself doing anything else!)

So I suppose I'm searching for advice from people who have gone through what I'm going through. Maybe some anecdotes of things working out for people, against the odds, or some reason for not being this worried? Thank you!

Posts: 143
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Stress about my future career - advice?

Post by geekusprimus » Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:07 pm

First of all, there are thousands of graduate schools. One of them is bound to accept you. Maybe not the one you want, but one of them will take you.

Secondly, you've still got time. Don't stress out. Your undergraduate degree is a great time to figure out what you might or might not want to do. Two years from now, you might decide that you're sick of school and just want to get a job. It happens a lot more frequently than you might expect. You might also decide that you're interested in experimental physics. I have a friend who was doing quantum information theory, got tired of theory, and started working with an electrical engineering professor doing quantum optics-type stuff with applications in quantum computing.

Lastly, don't stress out. If this sounds the same as the last one, it's because it is. If you look around the profiles on this board, you'll see plenty of people with 3.2 GPAs and a 620 PGRE score that got into respectable graduate programs. Do well in your classes, but not at the expense of your health and your life. College is a great time to develop socially, which is something that a lot of physics majors neglect so that they can get into that perfect graduate program, get a PhD, burn out, and leave physics altogether.

User avatar
Posts: 241
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:37 am

Re: Stress about my future career - advice?

Post by Nishikata » Thu Nov 28, 2019 9:51 pm

Sorry that this forum adds to your stress.

It is not impossible to pursue your “dream” and do theoretical physics as a grad student.
Perhaps, you misunderstood your “dream” a little.

What’s hard is getting into a theoretical program in a specific group of schools, which obviously has limitations on the number of students they can accept. Hence, there will always be selections and may the best students win. It is not always about who has the highest GPA/GRE/Pubs but also about fit: recommendations, research field, affirmative action, being self-funded, etc. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t count on mere luck. There is always a reason behind each choice, even though it may not be the most justified order of choice.

That’s why we call some schools as “Reach” and “Safety” based on our chances of admission.

If your dream again is to do theoretical physics as a grad student, you can fulfil it regardless where you study. There will be differences in the work done in some schools than others, however it is not related to your dream to do a theoretical study. There are theoretical programs all across the world, which may take international students. If this is your dream, please don’t limit yourself to a geographical space.

Also, here comes the wake-up call:

Getting A- while someone else gets A is a strong evidence that you did not do everything possible.

A- is definitely a good result, don’t misunderstand, but objectively they are not the best possible results. Someone else may have sacrificed more of his life to work towards that “A” that you didn’t get. The sacrifice may not be done during the exam, or even in that semester. It might be during their high school where they built their knowledge base to become better learners. Getting a rejection based on grade/scores is the fairest rejection actually, because I can identify where I was not sufficiently good at.

Post Reply