What to do in a gap year

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graddespair
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Joined: Tue Feb 18, 2020 9:36 am

What to do in a gap year

Post by graddespair » Tue Feb 18, 2020 9:48 am

I am a senior who has applied to grad school this season, but I have been rejected from most of the top programs this season (still waiting for a few to reject me). I have strong grades (3.99 in math/physics) and a passable pGRE(910)/GRE(167Q/163V/4.5W) as an American student. I have 3 years of research experience and my recommenders all seemed excited to write letters for me, so I don't think I received a bad letter that tanked my app.

I have been accepted to a few programs in the 20s-30s rankings, but I would like to go to a very competitive program as I have been told that it will make getting postdoc positions and tenure track positions much much easier in the future. Seeing as I no longer can do REU programs after I graduate, what activities/programs are available for graduating students hoping to conduct research? Would it be better to just accept an offer to one of the schools I have been accepted to and grind it out?

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Nishikata
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Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by Nishikata » Tue Feb 18, 2020 12:59 pm

In my case, I enrolled in master’s program with intention to reapply this december.
I do not know if it will prove to be the right choice yet.

In America, it is probably too late, too rare, too expensive to enter a master’s program.

Good thing is, Germany’s free education (munich, Berlin) and US dollar is powerful for living expenses anywhere. They accept applications till June/July for October enrollment, so it works just at the right time.
France also accepts applications but their tuition isn’t free now.

Japan (Tokyo), is probably best for enrolling in April semester instead of September (which I unfortunately did). Now, April admission is over, so you can only enroll in September though. Because, cool standard grad courses are offered on April, while September courses are better taken with those as pre-requisites. For example, there are three QFT courses. QFT 1, 3 in April, and QFT2 in September. Tuition’s not free though, although not as crazy as US/UK.

The downside in doing this, is that you have to chase grades again. You need to maintain a high master’s GPA so all your undergraduate achievements can be carried over when you reapply.

fduffy0328
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Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by fduffy0328 » Sat Feb 29, 2020 9:04 pm

I'm not an expert, but as Nishikata seems to suggest, your best option may be to do a master's program. I'm unaware of research opportunities for non-students. To enroll in a masters program may make you eligible for them again, as well as give you access to your school's research labs; You might find some work to do there that boosts your CV. That said, the deadlines for Fall in US are coming up if not passed already (not planning for a masters so not completely in the know with that info but definitely check).

graddespair
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Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by graddespair » Sun Mar 01, 2020 11:35 am

After talking to my advisor (but not explicitly mentioning wanting a more prestigious program), he seemed to think a masters was not the best way forward. He suggested that I try to transfer schools after a year of classes at one of the 20s ranking programs where I have fellowship for the 1st year.

Does anyone know if transferring to more competitive programs for no reason other that prestige is normal? Do all PhD programs accept transfer students?

FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING A MASTERS THIS SEASON:

Both Brown (April 15th) and Northwestern (June 1) have deadlines that have not passed for their master programs.

cat_mama
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Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by cat_mama » Mon Mar 02, 2020 4:54 pm

graddespair wrote:
Sun Mar 01, 2020 11:35 am
After talking to my advisor (but not explicitly mentioning wanting a more prestigious program), he seemed to think a masters was not the best way forward. He suggested that I try to transfer schools after a year of classes at one of the 20s ranking programs where I have fellowship for the 1st year.

Does anyone know if transferring to more competitive programs for no reason other that prestige is normal? Do all PhD programs accept transfer students?
So my impression is that transfer for prestige alone isn't looked very kindly on by any programs. If you enter a PhD program and then decide to apply to another program, you don't have a guarantee that you will be accepted to more prestigious programs and at the same time you will be burning a bridge with your own program. Also, you likely need to do research in that year to be a competitive candidate, but joining a research group as a PhD student and then leaving is the ultimate bridge burning, and chances are, that professor will be networked with the professors at the famous schools through collaborations, academic family tree, etc.. I know someone who transferred from MIT (or Harvard? It was one of the two) to Caltech to be closer to their SO who's at Caltech, and another who transferred to Michigan (I think?) because of messy divorce/child custody issue, but that's the only transfer cases I'm personally aware.

My 2 cents is, I think you should only apply to schools that you would happily attend. I applied to a range of schools including in the 20s range, and I would honestly be thrilled to go to any of them because I chose these schools based on the advisors I like, even more so for the schools on the lower side of ranking. And I know I'm not just saying this as a lip service, because my acceptances are also across a relatively wide prestige range, and my problem deciding is only figuring out which school (or really, advisors) I like more than the rest. I've been making pros/cons list for all my choices for the past month, and I still haven't been able to cross off a single school!

As for the postdoc/TT placements, the grad student alumni of the professor I really like at UW-Seattle (a 20s ranking school) are 1 TT at Princeton and 2 postdocs Caltech and 1 postdoc at UW (no other in academia, since he is only a decade out from his PhD), and the remaining half in industry like Intel. I'm not saying that prestige doesn't matter, because I am also taking that into consideration in my decision. However, I think ultimately the professor reputation and connections matter a lot more than school ranking for the post-grad outcome, and professors in lower ranked programs are also very well-connected. My undergrad is even below the 20s ranking, but my fresh-hire advisor, who is a fantastic advisor I might add, has strong connections in many Top 10 Top 20 schools.

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Nishikata
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Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by Nishikata » Mon Mar 02, 2020 7:24 pm

I think no professors in their right mind, would be willing to accept a PhD student who's thinking of transferring out after 1st year for prestige.
  • They could've used their resources to train a long-term student instead of you.
  • It brings lots of questions to you and to the professor. Some may perceive the PI as not competent in advising, and that's not good.
  • they will see that you have to spend a few months of that first year to prepare for the transfer application, while that time could've been spent on their project otherwise.
At least in a master's program, it is natural that a student leaves the group when the program ends.
Transferring requires letters of recommendation too, ideally by the current supervisor. Good luck in getting that.

ChunnyD
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Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by ChunnyD » Sat Mar 07, 2020 8:42 pm

I would highly recommend looking into post-baccalaureate research at a lab at your current institution, or even emailing/contacting professors that you are interested in working for and seeing if they are willing to pay you a stipend for doing that kind of technical research work. My understanding is that this is becoming more common, as several of my peers have willingly chosen to not directly apply for grad school after getting their B.S. and going into industry or postbac research first.

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

Re: What to do in a gap year

Post by geekusprimus » Sat Mar 07, 2020 10:09 pm

ChunnyD wrote:
Sat Mar 07, 2020 8:42 pm
I would highly recommend looking into post-baccalaureate research at a lab at your current institution, or even emailing/contacting professors that you are interested in working for and seeing if they are willing to pay you a stipend for doing that kind of technical research work. My understanding is that this is becoming more common, as several of my peers have willingly chosen to not directly apply for grad school after getting their B.S. and going into industry or postbac research first.
I'll second this. I met a guy who's been working as an "adjunct researcher" at a couple more prestigious state universities to beef up his resume. Despite having a lower GPA and a mediocre PGRE, he got into some pretty good programs, including the school he's been working at most recently. I also know a guy who did a year postbacc at a national lab because he didn't like any of the programs he got into, and now he's a grad student at UIUC.

I took a class from a guy who tried to transfer to a different institution in the middle of his PhD. The circumstances were a little different then you (he wanted to go from a more prestigious to a less prestigious school because he hated his PhD advisor but enjoyed the kind of research), but he was basically told, "Fat chance." I don't think you'll be particularly successful trying to do any sort of switch because of prestige.



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