My Advice to International Students

  • 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
physico_guy
Posts: 4
Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2021 9:27 am

My Advice to International Students

Post by physico_guy » Tue Jan 05, 2021 11:37 am

As an international student involved in many applications, I want to share my experience to the future applicants. This may discourage you however so take it with a grain of salt!

If you studied in a US school although you are international then your chances are same as with a domestic student.

Otherwise, as an international student your chances are not that great. Statistics show that a domestic student who has about the same qualifications with you has %50 more chances. (Unless you are female).

If your major was not physics and if you are directly applying to PhD (especially to a theoretical position) then don't bother applying :) . (One exception is if you have an engineering background and you are applying for an applied physics/experimental position)

If you have master's degree in physics in US, then your chances are mehh. If you have master's degree in physics outside US, then your chances are less then mehh.

If you are from India or China then PGRE score less than 900 means rejection. (Unless you are female).

If you dont have a published paper or a research experience then dont bother applying even if your scores are great. One thing people do is to join a research group and have their names on a random paper, just do a similar thing.

Admission committee do not know and care how good your school is in your country. To them, it is just a low-quality non-US random school.

If you are from China then try to apply for a Chineese PI. Similar for other countries. I am sorry but this is the reality :( . If you want an evidence take a look the following page https://sites.brown.edu/xiaolab/people/

HubbleBubble
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: My Advice to International Students

Post by HubbleBubble » Tue Jan 05, 2021 2:54 pm

That’s great advice! Mind if I provide additional commentary? If this comes off rude/incorrect/unhelpful please let me know and I can edit out my reply.
If you studied in a US school although you are international then your chances are same as with a domestic student.
Better chances than other internationals, mainly because such students usually have excellent language skills and are more likely to have better known/connected advisors with American circles. But they do face similar barriers like funding, so still worse chances than domestic applicants.
Otherwise, as an international student your chances are not that great. Statistics show that a domestic student who has about the same qualifications with you has %50 more chances. (Unless you are female).
50% sounds spot on. I’d be curious to see such statistics - I swore UW had a table on this but I can’t find it in their posted reports.
If your major was not physics and if you are directly applying to PhD (especially to a theoretical position) then don't bother applying :) . (One exception is if you have an engineering background and you are applying for an applied physics/experimental position)
Yep. Also true for domestic students at top schools, but the less competitive options are still in reach (low ranked programs as well as chemistry and applied physics programs where you might do the same work). Everyone should consider applied physics if the research interests you.
If you have master's degree in physics in US, then your chances are mehh. If you have master's degree in physics outside US, then your chances are less then mehh.
“Mehh” is right but the comparison gets complicated/case dependent. Many international, 2 yr MSc programs give enough time for great research strides with little cost. Moreover, you are on the “natural” path, i.e. you didn’t fail to get in to a PhD as in the case of US terminal physics MS degrees. One the other hand, 1 yr British programs have similar international fees as the US degrees with less experience gained, only worth it if you want a British PhD.
If you are from India or China then PGRE score less than 900 means rejection. (Unless you are female).
Yep. EDIT: Well at least for competitive programs.
If you dont have a published paper or a research experience then dont bother applying even if your scores are great. One thing people do is to join a research group and have their names on a random paper, just do a similar thing.
Yep. EDIT: Well at least for competitive programs.
Admission committee do not know and care how good your school is in your country. To them, it is just a low-quality non-US random school.
Well, they aren’t impressed with general reputation, but they do know which schools are good in their field. They don’t care if the name Tsinghua is respected but if they have a successful colleague there they will care, even if he is at a low tier school. That is the same within the US - students working with nobel laureates at UT will fair better than average students at Columbia.
Last edited by HubbleBubble on Sun Jan 10, 2021 12:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

geekusprimus
Posts: 137
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: My Advice to International Students

Post by geekusprimus » Tue Jan 05, 2021 7:29 pm

If you are from India or China then PGRE score less than 900 means rejection. (Unless you are female).

If you dont have a published paper or a research experience then dont bother applying even if your scores are great. One thing people do is to join a research group and have their names on a random paper, just do a similar thing.
Not to discount your experience, but that's not quite true. It is more difficult, but it's not impossible. I have a classmate from India (who did his undergraduate there, I might add) right now who had a sub-800 PGRE score, a mediocre GPA, and zero peer-reviewed publications when he was accepted at a top-25 university (top 10 in his subfield). After graduating, he took a gap year and got some internships with potential advisors in the US (presumably using them as letter writers, too), applied, and was accepted to several schools.

Knowing someone who is willing to work with you and having great letters of recommendation is a lot more important than having good test scores, even for international applicants. If you've got lousy test scores and no publications, you're probably not getting accepted right out of undergrad, but you're not out of options, either.

HubbleBubble
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: My Advice to International Students

Post by HubbleBubble » Tue Jan 05, 2021 8:58 pm

Agreed that rec letters are underrated, and it is easy to see how I would rather take a paperless student who 3 professors I respect said great things about over someone with a name on a paper but meh rec letters indicating they didn’t contribute so much.

I think it is impossible to give hard rules, these are only generalizations. But your friend’s case was not typical - looking at past profile threads, it is clear that international students with ‘good-but-not-great’ PGRE scores or no solid research results do poorly in admissions, especially compared to Domestic students. Research results hurts everyone more equally, but I think admissions rely on PGRE for international students where transcripts are not directly comparable. Seriously, go look at international profiles if you haven’t. Will be interesting to see how loosing the PGRE at a lot of schools this year will change admissions for internationals.

Also, just saw:
If you are from China then try to apply for a Chineese PI. Similar for other countries. I am sorry but this is the reality :( . If you want an evidence take a look the following page https://sites.brown.edu/xiaolab/people/
I don’t think this is necessarily a terrible thing - if some of the main barriers for internationals are language skills/advisor communication and advisors not knowing international professors/transcripts/strengths, it makes a professor from a particular nationality might hire more from that country. I guess that implies bias... Idk I think the real trouble would be how ANY group treats members from different nationalities. Anyways, I do suggest reaching out to alums of your undergrad, they have a better chance of knowing your rec letter writers and properly evaluating your transcript. And for internationals, I guess you can write emails to your countrymen in their native tongue, that might help you stick out. Maybe, idk.

geekusprimus
Posts: 137
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: My Advice to International Students

Post by geekusprimus » Thu Nov 18, 2021 12:27 pm

truthchannel,

First of all, congratulations on resurrecting a dead thread. Secondly, I'm not an international student, but I have lots of international classmates. About half of what you said is total baloney.
1. If you haven't get research experience in the United States then don't bother applying
There are two guys in my research group right now from India who had no prior research experience in the United States, and they're not unique. Roughly half my program is international, and only a relative handful had any sort of experience in the United States. I'm in a top-25 program in the United States, by the way.
2. Research experience outside the U.S. counts only 50%
See previous statement.
6. The committee doesn't care if your home institution is strict on grading. If your GPA is less than 3.8, then it is better for you to get a job in the industry
Absolutely not true. Anything below a 3.0, yes. Anything below a 3.5, your options are limited. Below a 3.8, it's really only the super prestigious schools (Harvard, Princeton, MIT, etc.) that will be a challenge. International scales also rarely translate directly to the US 4.0 system (i.e., something that directly translates to a 3.8 might actually correspond much better to a 4.0 or a 3.5 in a US scale, depending on what each point represents), so assigning strict cutoffs is actually very difficult.
7. If you graduated from a no-name school, it means rejection
Again, this is patently false. Your odds will obviously be better from a big-name institution, and I won't pretend that it doesn't make a difference, but it's far from the most important factor. There are a bunch of guys from India in my program who went to a 1000+ ranked QS school, and there are more than a few Americans who went to small liberal arts colleges and run-of-the-mill state institutions.

I think you also vastly overstate the importance of publications. They certainly don't hurt, but research is research. Theses, presentations, posters, and letters of recommendation from research mentors can all speak to how much research you did. Your field also strongly affects the likelihood of publications; because it takes so much time to make a meaningful contribution, undergraduates in theory groups are not very likely to get publications. Meanwhile, getting on an experimental or observational paper might only require a few weeks of collecting data for someone else to analyze and work with.

HubbleBubble
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: My Advice to International Students

Post by HubbleBubble » Thu Nov 18, 2021 4:29 pm

truthchannel wrote:
Thu Nov 18, 2021 12:00 pm
3. Paper uploaded to Arxiv as a pre-print but not yet published means no publication
4. A published n-author publication >>>>> a first-author Arxiv preprint
This is so plainly and egregiously false. I disagree with a lot of your post, but these two points are simply wrong - the exact opposite is true. I was specifically complemented on my submitted arXiv manuscript. ArXiv manuscripts clearly exhibit significant research results to admission committees. They don't count the same as an accepted paper, but the difference is small, whereas the difference between an 'in prep'/submitted paper not on arXiv is massive. If you can submit a paper to a journal and put the pre-print in on arXiv, DO SO!!!! And point it out prominently on your app (though mark which papers are submitted/accepted).

Everyone knows you can't control the timeline of the referee process, but this is one area you can make a difference. Besides advertising your work to people who check arXiv daily, you can also solicit comments and catch any missing citations etc. before official publication. An Nth author publication can be super valuable - it can mean you took data, had a cool idea, made a plot, wrote a section, mentored a younger student, lots of great stuff... but often you just can just pick these up from being on a collaboration and not personally contributing. At this stage, you really need a reference letter to parse out your contributions and research ability. On the other hand, a first author work is an awesome outcome from your own efforts.

HubbleBubble
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: My Advice to International Students

Post by HubbleBubble » Fri Nov 19, 2021 3:13 pm

truthchannel wrote:
Thu Nov 18, 2021 9:57 pm
HubbleBubble wrote:
Thu Nov 18, 2021 4:29 pm
truthchannel wrote:
Thu Nov 18, 2021 12:00 pm
3. Paper uploaded to Arxiv as a pre-print but not yet published means no publication
4. A published n-author publication >>>>> a first-author Arxiv preprint
This is so plainly and egregiously false. I disagree with a lot of your post, but these two points are simply wrong - the exact opposite is true. I was specifically complemented on my submitted arXiv manuscript. ArXiv manuscripts clearly exhibit significant research results to admission committees. They don't count the same as an accepted paper, but the difference is small, whereas the difference between an 'in prep'/submitted paper not on arXiv is massive. If you can submit a paper to a journal and put the pre-print in on arXiv, DO SO!!!! And point it out prominently on your app (though mark which papers are submitted/accepted).

Everyone knows you can't control the timeline of the referee process, but this is one area you can make a difference. Besides advertising your work to people who check arXiv daily, you can also solicit comments and catch any missing citations etc. before official publication. An Nth author publication can be super valuable - it can mean you took data, had a cool idea, made a plot, wrote a section, mentored a younger student, lots of great stuff... but often you just can just pick these up from being on a collaboration and not personally contributing. At this stage, you really need a reference letter to parse out your contributions and research ability. On the other hand, a first author work is an awesome outcome from your own efforts.
The fact is, I can submit as much manuscript as I can to Arxiv to "boost" my publication list. They carry zero value. Professors are not fools. The only valuable publications are those published in the journal article. Guess what? This was told by a well-experienced professor in the admission committee of a U.S. school. So if any readers still want to believe these "encouraging" stories, then so be it. But the real world will not adjust according to your imagination. Good luck being rejected everywhere while behaving like a cry-boy asking "why why why" :lol: :wink:
Encouraging? My message was not encouraging. You want hard truths?

1. Your N-th author paper doesn't really matter for PhD apps.

Sorry, but at the PhD app stage the extent to which an N-th author matters depends purely on your rec letters. And if you have an amazing rec letter, that paper wouldn't have changed much anyways. That's not to say N-th author publications don't matter in general - not having any for post doc/faculty apps is a red flag about your team working ability. But at this stage that info is about equivalent to your rec letters.

2. If you can't manage to submit your first author "in prep" paper, you're screwing yourself.

Professors are not fools. They can skim your paper and can tell its quality. My last arXiv submission got 9 citations over the 2 months before it was accepted. If I had been applying that would've look great. If you are behind this semester and can't submit your paper, that will hurt you. A submitted manuscript would've help a lot.

Having time for the referee process to finish is better, but not nearly as much as you describe. Some referee giving an 'accepted' stamp doesn't magically change your paper. I don't know any scientists who even read new journal volume releases (though I'm sure there are some old profs). ArXiv is how science is communicated, use it. Should peer review matter more in an ideal world? Sure, but apparently not in the real world. [And maybe with good reason - I know 3rd year PhD students refereeing for top journals, what exactly are they adding?]



Post Reply