Year off w/ no plan

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Year off w/ no plan

Post by physicsguy » Wed May 12, 2010 4:13 pm

Hello everyone,
I am hoping to start grad school in one year (Fall 2011), but I just graduated. I currently have no plans. I was accepted to volunteer, but decided against it at the last minute; I am hoping to get a job in web development for a year. I am wondering how much this sort of thing will negatively affect my application to graduate schools?

Right now, I have:
GRE: 800 (Math), 590 (Verbal), 4.5 (Writing), and 720 (Physics)
GPA: 3.65 with Physics, Computer Science, and Spanish majors from a small LAC.

I also have done 2 summers worth of research (and quite a bit during the school year) in health physics and have been on a successful programming competition team. My letters of recommendation should be good.

I really, badly want to go to Madison (for a lot of reasons). Is there anything I can do in this time frame that could bolster my app? Do I have a shot at Madison?

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by mobytish » Wed May 12, 2010 6:50 pm

Well, I can't really speak to your chances at Madison, but I don't think a year off will hurt you, especially if you discuss it in your SoP and talk about how it was good for helping you gain focus or some other benefit on why you're going to be a better grad student.

As for improving your chances, you can always try to find some research, even part-time and/or unpaid. Or you could try to retake the PhysGRE to improve your score.

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by kroner » Wed May 12, 2010 8:16 pm

I think a lot of people take a year off (and some take a lot more). Like mobytish said, if you want you can use it to improve your app, but even if you don't I don't think it hurts you at all.

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by grae313 » Wed May 12, 2010 8:56 pm

A lot of people take a year off, but it's not the year off that helps or hurts their application, it's what they do during that time that matters. I don't think a year of programming work will hurt you, as a regular job is certainly better than a year of nothing, but I don't think it's that great for grad schools either. My basis for this opinion is the professors and admissions committee members I've spoken to that unanimously and strongly say that letters from people you did research with or took physics classes from are much preferred to letters from bosses even in science-related industry, and even if the job was recent but the research and classes were very old. The view seems to be that research and jobs are quite different and require different skills, and that if you want to be a researcher then you should spend the year doing research and showing you have research skills.

So if you wanted to use the year to really bolster your app, a programming job is probably mediocre and a research job is the way to go. However, if you feel your app is relatively solid and just want to chill for a year and put away some money from a good-paying job, maybe study and retake the PGRE, I definitely don't think it will hurt you.

For your chances, if you go through the three stickied profile threads and do a search for "madison" you'll find a lot of information on what types of applications get accepted to or rejected from madison and you can judge your chances that way. Also

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by AO » Thu May 13, 2010 2:45 am

I think I'm particularly suited to answer this question. I will be attending Madison next fall at the ripe age of 26. I took my time to get through my undergrad (briefly dropped out for health reasons) and am currently wrapping up my second of two years doing research at a national lab, in a field, astronomy, not directly related to what I will be studying at UW, plasma. Your scores and grades are across the board as good or better (in most cases) than mine. I would say the single biggest factor in my admission (educated guess?) was the fact that I've done more than 4 full years of research and had great letters from every supervisor.

Do not think that programming is the same as physics research. It is not. Working in academia requires a completely different skill set that includes, but is not limited to programming. If you can, get yourself a job doing research and subsidize that with web development.


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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by geshi » Fri May 14, 2010 12:03 am

Taking a year off won't hurt you at all. As far as what you do in the year off helping or hurting you, I wouldn't sweat that either. To be honest, I've done absolutely nothing in my year off. Most schools didn't seem to notice or care that I was taking a year off. When I visited programs, I mentioned that I was in the middle of a year off. The professors casually asked what I was doing. I told them I was doing "nothing important, just sort of relaxing, taking up some hobbies." Every person I mentioned to just laughed and said something along the lines of, "Well a year off is probably a good thing. You'll be fresh for when you start grad school."

That being said, a year off to do some web design/programming can easily go into your application somewhere (there's usually a place where you can fill out any jobs you've held). It won't make a huge difference, but it might.

Bottom line: it won't hurt your chances.

P.S. The reason for my year off was because I got 7 rejections from 7 applications during senior year. You can view my profile for 2010. I'm going to end up going to Ohio State. I got 3 or 4 offers this year from schools that rejected me last year. Obviously me taking the year off and doing nothing of any value in that year off didn't hurt me. I did improve my PGRE score by a reasonable margin which is probably why I got acceptances this year.

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by noojens » Tue May 18, 2010 6:26 pm

It's not too late to land a job at Madison. If that's where you want to end up for grad school, there's no better place for you to work next year than with a Madison professor. Start emailing your CV and a concise cover letter around to faculty. Emphasize your programming experience; coders are always needed in both theory and experimental groups. Work your contacts, too -- your old professors may know people there who can get you a foot in the door.

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by Quantum Triviality » Thu May 20, 2010 9:25 am

I just finished up my undergrad in physics at Madison. Do you know what area of research you want to go into? What do you mean my health physics (is that medical physics)?

If you are looking at the physics department, I might be able to recommend some professors that I know will actually look at your CV for a job now. Just give me some more specifics about your research interest.

Otherwise, if you don't want to go to Madison for a job, I don't think one year off will hurt you. It really is only 3-4 months off until the time you send in your applications, so they won't noticed. Your only risk is if you only want to go to Madison and don't get in for Fall 2011, it makes it tougher for Fall 2012 since it will then be two years off.

As for getting into Madison, I would think you will be a serious candidate.

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Re: Year off w/ no plan

Post by quark314 » Thu May 27, 2010 12:39 pm

Well, I had a somewhat similar profile and took a year off and got into Madison. So I would say, while nothing is ever a sure thing, you certainly have a decent chance.

My GPA was a bit lower, but I went to a research school, PGRE was lower, and my year off was spent doing physics-realted stuff, but still, overall pretty similar... If anything your profile is probably stronger than mine depending on the details of your research experience. (see my profile in the profiles thread if you want more details)

Anyway, definitely don't write off Madison. You have a decidedly non-trivial shot.

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