Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

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physicsschmysics
Posts: 1
Joined: Fri Jan 17, 2020 4:05 pm

Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by physicsschmysics » Fri Jan 17, 2020 4:19 pm

Hi all!
I've tried browsing past results to see what types of schools I'd have a shot at, but I haven't found another person's profile matching or even that similar to mine, so I'm hoping someone with more insight into the process might be able to help me out. I'll put my stats below for reference. I went through undergrad thinking I wanted to be an actor, but did a math double major anyways for a better shot at a fallback job. Grad school wasn't at all on my horizon, so I didn't get to know my professors well and didn't do one single minute of research. After a year of doing acting and tutoring math and science on the side to make money, I realized I wanted to be a professor instead, and I also realized I care much more about physics than math. I took a couple physics undergrad classes last semester (waves, and quantum mechanics I) and knocked those out of the park. I have an acting job this semester so can't take classes, but will be studying E&M I, E&M II, and QM II on my own to stay caught up, with the plan from my QM professor being to then take graduate QFT in the fall (along with anything else that looks interesting that's being offered, tbd). I want to apply to graduate programs this fall, but am concerned at the lack of research experience since it sounds like that's incredibly important based on what most people are posting here.

Stats for me:
Degree: B.M. from NYU, double major in math and theatre
GPA: 3.93 (from undergrad degree, summa cum laude)
GPA from post-degree physics courses so far: 4.0
GRE: 170, 170, 5.5
pGRE: not taken yet but I'm very good at tests so I'm assuming at least 900, probably a 990 (yes I've looked at the practice tests)
Domestic mixed (asian/white) female

Research: ABSOLUTELY ZERO
Awards/honors: NYU honors program, dean's list, summa cum laude. I got some physics and math awards in high school but I don't think that would be really relevant anymore.
Rec letters: I'm thinking one from my quantum mechanics professor, one from my waves professor, and one from one of my theater professors since they know me incredibly well and can speak to my work ethic and character on a level that I think most STEM professors probably couldn't. (If that's a bad idea and I should do entirely STEM people also lmk)
Other relevant: Work full-time as a math and science tutor so have excellent teaching ability plus work experience (4+ years)

Basically, I know scores-wise I can shoot for just about any school, but since I have no research experience, should I set my sights lower?

ALSO I've been googling and asking around about how to gain research experience, but it looks like most research programs are restricted to undergrads currently enrolled in degree-granting programs, which I am not. If anyone has any advice or leads on getting research experience as a not-undergrad not-grad student, please please let me know :)

geekusprimus
Posts: 71
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by geekusprimus » Fri Jan 17, 2020 5:43 pm

Research experience is really helpful. In fact, it's probably more important than your GRE scores and at least as important as your grades, if I understand the admissions process correctly, because it's the one thing that shows you have what it takes to be a real scientist.

A pretty good bet as an American citizen is to look at some of the national labs. A lot of them will offer "post-bacc" positions that will give you the opportunity to do research for about a year. If you started one in the summer, you'd have at least six months or seven months of full-time research experience by the time your applications are due. You'll be competing with people who have a lot more experience, but a lot of that is part-time work washing beakers and pushing buttons before they actually know how to do anything useful. This would also give you another possible recommendation writer, which would be more useful than your theater professor (I'm sure they know you well and will write a glowing review, but they won't be able to speak about your potential as a scientist).

To land one these kinds of jobs, you should work with your physics and math professors to leverage their connections. They're highly competitive, but there's enough autonomy in the labs that getting a position depends at least as much on who you know as it does on what your personal qualifications are.

You can also try working in industry for a little while. If you find something STEM-based, especially companies like defense contractors or major tech companies that do a lot of research (generally more applied than fundamental, but still good), that could also beef up your credentials a bit.

Something else that will play in your favor: a degree in theatre requires a certain level of communication and social development that is relatively uncommon in the sciences. Any professor would love to have a bright, hard-working student (fairly common) who can communicate clearly (not so common). Use that to your advantage to build personal connections, reach out to potential employers or advisors, and so forth.

User avatar
Nishikata
Posts: 228
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:37 am

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by Nishikata » Mon Jan 20, 2020 4:16 am

physicsschmysics wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 4:19 pm
Hi all!
I've tried browsing past results to see what types of schools I'd have a shot at, but I haven't found another person's profile matching or even that similar to mine, so I'm hoping someone with more insight into the process might be able to help me out. I'll put my stats below for reference. I went through undergrad thinking I wanted to be an actor, but did a math double major anyways for a better shot at a fallback job. Grad school wasn't at all on my horizon, so I didn't get to know my professors well and didn't do one single minute of research. After a year of doing acting and tutoring math and science on the side to make money, I realized I wanted to be a professor instead, and I also realized I care much more about physics than math. I took a couple physics undergrad classes last semester (waves, and quantum mechanics I) and knocked those out of the park. I have an acting job this semester so can't take classes, but will be studying E&M I, E&M II, and QM II on my own to stay caught up, with the plan from my QM professor being to then take graduate QFT in the fall (along with anything else that looks interesting that's being offered, tbd). I want to apply to graduate programs this fall, but am concerned at the lack of research experience since it sounds like that's incredibly important based on what most people are posting here.

Stats for me:
Degree: B.M. from NYU, double major in math and theatre
GPA: 3.93 (from undergrad degree, summa cum laude)
GPA from post-degree physics courses so far: 4.0
GRE: 170, 170, 5.5
pGRE: not taken yet but I'm very good at tests so I'm assuming at least 900, probably a 990 (yes I've looked at the practice tests)
Domestic mixed (asian/white) female

Research: ABSOLUTELY ZERO
Awards/honors: NYU honors program, dean's list, summa cum laude. I got some physics and math awards in high school but I don't think that would be really relevant anymore.
Rec letters: I'm thinking one from my quantum mechanics professor, one from my waves professor, and one from one of my theater professors since they know me incredibly well and can speak to my work ethic and character on a level that I think most STEM professors probably couldn't. (If that's a bad idea and I should do entirely STEM people also lmk)
Other relevant: Work full-time as a math and science tutor so have excellent teaching ability plus work experience (4+ years)

Basically, I know scores-wise I can shoot for just about any school, but since I have no research experience, should I set my sights lower?

ALSO I've been googling and asking around about how to gain research experience, but it looks like most research programs are restricted to undergrads currently enrolled in degree-granting programs, which I am not. If anyone has any advice or leads on getting research experience as a not-undergrad not-grad student, please please let me know :)
What about your own research interest? what do you want to study at a grad school?

I do not think you should set your sights lower. You should go for the school that you want. You have a very good chance with your score and your student status/gender. However, you should have a clear purpose which they will look from your application.

If you only applied to schools just for the prestige, it will reflect on the application that you write.
By the way, character references carry no weight. I think I read that somewhere when I applied to top ten schools last year. Please reconsider about including your theatre prof as a referee if you have someone else.

Anyway, you'll probably get in somewhere. Just make sure that you end up in a place that you want to be.

livelongandprosper
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2019 3:42 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by livelongandprosper » Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:14 am

Since you're a US citizen, you can look into some post-bac programs that many universities offer (Cambridge and Oxford also have a version of this, I believe, at Cambridge, they call it the 'MASt' program). This program will allow you to take classes for 1-2 years while you do research. I would highly recommend you do this for the following reasons:

1) It will strengthen your Physics undergrad knowledge so you will do good in your grad classes and pass your qualifiers. You don't want to get into a grad school just to not pass the required exams and then drop out.

2) It will give you some research experience, which is very essential for grad school applications (probably one of the two most important aspects, the other being your recommendation letters).

3) At least (depending on how many different research groups your explore) one of your recommendation letters will come from a professor you have done research with. Ideally, all three of your letters should come from people you have done research with. You can probably do so by exploring different research groups during your post-bac. I would suspect that grad schools would care not just about the fact that the recommendation letters comes from someone you have done research with but also what they say about your work. Doing research for 5 years before applying to grad school is not good if every professor you have worked for has said in the letters that you are not good at research. So make sure that when you do research with these people, you are the best student they have seen in the last 10 or 20 years. Take that last sentence and inscribe it in your heart! A letter that says "this was the best student this year" is a very average letter for Ph.D schools, at least the top ones.

4) It will give you a sense of what research is like and whether you like it or not. This is very crucial since a lot of students enjoy studying Physics and Math but do not like doing research. It will give you a chance to see if you are one of these students or not.

5) This will also help you get good PGRE scores. Given that you haven't taken the exam yet, you don't know what score you will get. I am not sure what you mean when you say you have "looked at" past tests, but if that does not mean you have actually timed yourself and solved all the problems and then gotten 900 or 990, then that really doesn't tell you how good you are. I would recommend you do that before you speculate on how well you will do on the actual PGRE test.

I would highly recommend against applying to grad schools right away, not only because your chance of admission are low given your lack of any research experience, but also because if you do get in, and don't like research, quitting then would be worse than quitting after a post-bac since you would have already sort-of made a commitment for 5-6 years in the Ph.D program.

Here are some profiles for reference that are similar to yours (their GPA isn't as high, but they have no to very little research experience) and they got rejected from almost every school they applied to:
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 00#p199889
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 09#p199609
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 81#p199581
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 88#p199288
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 51#p238151
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 62#p234062

Given this fact, I would be very cautious in shelling out money in applying to grad school with no research experience.

Also, why do you want to be a professor? Is it because you like teaching? Why not become a high school teacher in Physics? Getting a professorship is difficult for the best of the best of the best people and people get these positions not because they are good at teaching but because they are good at research...

geekusprimus
Posts: 71
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by geekusprimus » Mon Jan 20, 2020 2:04 pm

livelongandprosper wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:14 am
Here are some profiles for reference that are similar to yours (their GPA isn't as high, but they have no to very little research experience) and they got rejected from almost every school they applied to:
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 00#p199889
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 09#p199609
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 81#p199581
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 88#p199288
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 51#p238151
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 62#p234062

Given this fact, I would be very cautious in shelling out money in applying to grad school with no research experience.
This list is not terribly representative of her situation. All but two of these students had giant red flags unrelated to research on their applications (international students with dangerously low TOEFL or verbal and writing GRE scores, domestic students with borderline to abysmal PGRE scores, applying only to elite universities as an international applicant, etc.). The two who didn't both got into some great schools.

OP definitely should try to get some research experience and some formal coursework, but she's pretty far above most of the candidates on this list.

ztruwk
Posts: 27
Joined: Fri Oct 25, 2019 3:20 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by ztruwk » Mon Jan 20, 2020 2:54 pm

Hi! I was in an extremely similar situation about 18 months ago. I graduated from NYU as well with a double major in physics and film and zero research experience. I'm also female, for what it's worth. I'm here to tell you that you can get into an amazing school, but if you want to get into an amazing school, get research experience.

What did I do to get research experience after graduating? I emailed upwards of 30 PI's all around the country, applied for REU's I wasn't even eligible for (as a graduate) just to get in contact with PI's, I pretty much asked for a research position and asked everyone I knew about openings until I got one. Express motivation and certainty and someone in the NYU physics department will let you work for them. I know this because I asked around there too. "I know I want to get a PhD in physics but I have no research experience and I want to spend the next year working full-time on a research project. Do you have any projects I can work on?"

After dozens of rejections, I've now been at my amazing research position in Colorado for about a year, working full time (looks great to admissions committees), have posters and presentations, and might have a paper by summer. I just got into my dream school for theoretical physics with a 2-4% acceptance rate.

Granted, I have a small leg up because my major is physics and not math, but you DID take physics classes, and you just need to crush the physics GRE (not that hard, just put in a LOT of time). You'll be okay, but stay motivated and stay patient. It's possible. But do research. Do. Research. You should make sure you like it before committing six years to it anyways. Ask anyone and everyone until you have a job. Work your ass off in your gap year to make your application as awesome as possible.

Mizar
Posts: 16
Joined: Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:54 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by Mizar » Mon Jan 20, 2020 3:14 pm

A profile much more representative of the OP's situation:

https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=6459#p51563

livelongandprosper
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2019 3:42 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by livelongandprosper » Mon Jan 20, 2020 4:48 pm

geekusprimus wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 2:04 pm
livelongandprosper wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:14 am
Here are some profiles for reference that are similar to yours (their GPA isn't as high, but they have no to very little research experience) and they got rejected from almost every school they applied to:
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 00#p199889
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 09#p199609
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 81#p199581
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 88#p199288
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 51#p238151
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 62#p234062

Given this fact, I would be very cautious in shelling out money in applying to grad school with no research experience.
This list is not terribly representative of her situation. All but two of these students had giant red flags unrelated to research on their applications (international students with dangerously low TOEFL or verbal and writing GRE scores, domestic students with borderline to abysmal PGRE scores, applying only to elite universities as an international applicant, etc.). The two who didn't both got into some great schools.

OP definitely should try to get some research experience and some formal coursework, but she's pretty far above most of the candidates on this list.
Not really because these candidates at least majored in Physics. I feel like their okayish GPA of 3.6-3.8 might be seen as equivalent to, if not a lot better than, OPs 4.0 as Math major. Grad schools would want the OP to not just excel in what she does but also have a pretty good grasp of basic Physics, which, without a Physics major, even with high PGRE scores, may not convince the admission committee that she does.

geekusprimus
Posts: 71
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by geekusprimus » Mon Jan 20, 2020 7:33 pm

livelongandprosper wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 4:48 pm
geekusprimus wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 2:04 pm
livelongandprosper wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:14 am
Here are some profiles for reference that are similar to yours (their GPA isn't as high, but they have no to very little research experience) and they got rejected from almost every school they applied to:
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 00#p199889
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 09#p199609
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 81#p199581
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 88#p199288
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 51#p238151
https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 62#p234062

Given this fact, I would be very cautious in shelling out money in applying to grad school with no research experience.
This list is not terribly representative of her situation. All but two of these students had giant red flags unrelated to research on their applications (international students with dangerously low TOEFL or verbal and writing GRE scores, domestic students with borderline to abysmal PGRE scores, applying only to elite universities as an international applicant, etc.). The two who didn't both got into some great schools.

OP definitely should try to get some research experience and some formal coursework, but she's pretty far above most of the candidates on this list.
Not really because these candidates at least majored in Physics. I feel like their okayish GPA of 3.6-3.8 might be seen as equivalent to, if not a lot better than, OPs 4.0 as Math major. Grad schools would want the OP to not just excel in what she does but also have a pretty good grasp of basic Physics, which, without a Physics major, even with high PGRE scores, may not convince the admission committee that she does.
Maybe, but I don't think it will be a big deal-breaker, especially if OP is interested in theory. I personally know a few people who have done an undergrad in math at schools not nearly as well regarded as NYU and gotten into physics and astronomy programs at pretty solid grad schools; if you have research experience and advanced coursework, the title of your degree doesn't matter nearly as much.

Speaking of which, OP, you should strongly consider courses in analytical mechanics and thermal physics/statistical mechanics. E&M and quantum are important, but they're only about half the expected requirements among graduate schools.

livelongandprosper
Posts: 7
Joined: Fri Nov 29, 2019 3:42 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by livelongandprosper » Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:41 pm

geekusprimus wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 7:33 pm

Maybe, but I don't think it will be a big deal-breaker, especially if OP is interested in theory. I personally know a few people who have done an undergrad in math at schools not nearly as well regarded as NYU and gotten into physics and astronomy programs at pretty solid grad schools; if you have research experience and advanced coursework, the title of your degree doesn't matter nearly as much.
I can understand that if your degree is in Math or Engineering or something. However, note that you said "if you have research experience", the OP doesn't.
geekusprimus wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 7:33 pm
E&M and quantum are important, but they're only about half the expected requirements among graduate schools.
Will she not have to take the qualifiers in these subjects? Or take them as part of the required grad school curriculum?

geekusprimus
Posts: 71
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Fantastic Grades But Zero Research

Post by geekusprimus » Tue Jan 21, 2020 12:17 am

livelongandprosper wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 11:41 pm
geekusprimus wrote:
Mon Jan 20, 2020 7:33 pm
E&M and quantum are important, but they're only about half the expected requirements among graduate schools.
Will she not have to take the qualifiers in these subjects? Or take them as part of the required grad school curriculum?
Many schools will expect you to have E&M, quantum, mechanics, and thermo on your transcripts when you apply. Others, like Cornell, might let you in without them, but they'll often make you take the prerequisite undergraduate courses before you can take any of the following graduate courses. Whether or not qualifying exams are a good indication of the student's undergraduate preparation depends on the school. Some schools don't offer them at all, and just require you to pass a candidacy exam later on. Some, like my home institution, intentionally make them hard enough that they expect most incoming graduate students to fail them the first time. I'm not sure for the exact reasoning on this, but I know that's the way it is.



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