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  • 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.

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Zmvernlaro
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Post by Zmvernlaro » Sat Jan 25, 2020 7:25 pm

Edited.
Last edited by Zmvernlaro on Tue Jun 15, 2021 9:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

geekusprimus
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Re: Chances in HEP-Th/String Theory coming from a small liberal arts college and should I consider a double major?

Post by geekusprimus » Sat Jan 25, 2020 8:33 pm

A few recommendations before answering your real question:
  • Give it at least a year or two before you start worrying about graduate school. I can't count how many classmates I've had who said on day one that they were going to grad school who decided after a couple years that they were sick of school and just wanted jobs.
  • Get some hands-on research experience before deciding you're definitely doing HEP theory. I changed my mind about four times before I finally realized the stuff I enjoyed was the stuff I was actually doing.
  • Figure out what employment prospects are like before deciding you're definitely doing HEP theory. Just about every freshman walks in and says, "I'm going to be a string theorist!" before they realize that string theorists are just about the most likely physicists to end up not doing physics for a living. "But I'm different! I really want it," you might say. Well, basically everyone else said that, too, and they're still not working as string theorists.
To answer your actual question on getting into a great graduate school: the most important features of an application (coming from one with absolutely no authority, I might add) as I understand it are your letters of recommendation, your personal research experience and statement of purpose, and your grades (particularly in your upper-level physics classes). Things like the PGRE are important, too, and cool awards and extra coursework certainly aren't going to hurt your chances, but you need to focus first on nailing your physics classes and getting all the research experience you can. If your school doesn't have a lot of opportunities, apply for REUs, research internships, and summer schools.

After that, if you're absolutely positive what you want to do, apply to people, not schools. You'll find that the best faculty in your field aren't always at Princeton, MIT, et al., and the guy doing the kind of stuff you like might be at Texas or UIUC instead. (I mean, they could be at Princeton or MIT, but it's not a guarantee.) As much as possible, try to get in touch with them beforehand. Find out what they're like as a person, whether or not they're actually taking on new graduate students, and whether or not you would be a good fit for their research group. You can drastically improve your chances of getting into a school if there's a professor who is willing to vouch for you on the admissions committee, and you can avoid applying to schools where the guy in your field is actually a world-class tool.

Zmvernlaro
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Post by Zmvernlaro » Sat Jan 25, 2020 9:31 pm

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Nishikata
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Re: Chances in HEP-Th/String Theory coming from a small liberal arts college and should I consider a double major?

Post by Nishikata » Sat Jan 25, 2020 11:45 pm

Since you are a freshman, how about searching for exchange program/summer program opportunities in a school that has strong upper-level mathematics / physics modules? Better if the school has a reputation in these areas so it validates your acquired skills.

Zmvernlaro
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Post by Zmvernlaro » Sun Jan 26, 2020 12:00 am

Edited.
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geekusprimus
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Re: Chances in HEP-Th/String Theory coming from a small liberal arts college and should I consider a double major?

Post by geekusprimus » Sun Jan 26, 2020 12:38 am

Zmvernlaro wrote:
Sat Jan 25, 2020 9:31 pm
Overall, I greatly appreciate what you are saying. One thing I am curious about though, what do you mean by “world-class tool?”
Sometimes the greatest scientists are not the greatest mentors. I took my advanced lab course from an atomic physicist who earned his PhD at MIT. He was a student under Wolfgang Ketterle as part of the research group that did all the work on Bose-Einstein condensates that led to Ketterle receiving the Nobel Prize. Despite that rousing success story, my professor has absolutely nothing kind to say about Ketterle. Apparently the man was such a terrible mentor that my professor almost transferred to a different, lesser-renowned university just to get away from him.

In another story, when I was looking at graduate schools myself, my advisor and another professor who is a part of our research group warned me about a particular professor at UIUC. This man completely revolutionized my field and made enormous contributions, but apparently all his graduate students have basically said he's a tyrant, a slave driver, and a nightmare to work for.

Basically, the person you decide to work with isn't just going to magically transplant all their knowledge into your head and throw your name on a bunch of papers; this is someone you'll be working very closely with for upwards of five years (depending on how soon you start research, of course). Ideally, of course, you want someone like John Wheeler, who is both an amazing scientist and an amazing teacher, but with those being somewhat rare, it's a lot better to look for a pretty good scientist who is an amazing teacher rather than a fantastic scientist with the people skills of an angry Rottweiler.
Last edited by geekusprimus on Sun Jan 26, 2020 3:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Nishikata
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Re: Chances in HEP-Th/String Theory coming from a small liberal arts college and should I consider a double major?

Post by Nishikata » Sun Jan 26, 2020 2:14 am

geekusprimus wrote:
Sun Jan 26, 2020 12:38 am

In another story, when I was looking at graduate schools myself, my advisor and another professor who is a part of our research group warned me about a particular professor at UIUC. This man completely revolutionized my field and made enormous contributions, but apparently all his graduate students have basically said he's a tyrant, a slave driver, and a nightmare to work for.
who is this slave driver from UIUC, if I may know? (can also message me if you're not comfortable with naming the prof here)

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Nishikata
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Re: Chances in HEP-Th/String Theory coming from a small liberal arts college and should I consider a double major?

Post by Nishikata » Sun Jan 26, 2020 2:16 am

Zmvernlaro wrote:
Sun Jan 26, 2020 12:00 am

One thing I was considering was transferring to Georgia Tech (I am a resident of Georgia). It’s much easier to transfer there than getting in as a first-year student. And of course, Georgia Tech has a strong reputation in mathematics and science.
Yeah, why not. Consider all your options and do not be afraid to grab an opportunity if you can get it.

Zmvernlaro
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Post by Zmvernlaro » Sun Jan 26, 2020 3:08 pm

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