Is a career as a theorist a pipe dream?

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Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:44 am

Is a career as a theorist a pipe dream?

Post by jorgithepirate » Fri Dec 09, 2011 3:14 am

Alright, let's start with my profile:
Undergrad Institution: Top 10-ish liberal arts college
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): Economics
GPA in Major: 3.22
Overall GPA: 3.11
Length of Degree: 4
Position in Class: Right around the median. Actually.
Type of Student: domestic WASP male
GRE Scores (revised version):
Q: 164
V: 163
W: not reported yet
P: 680 (39%)

Research Experience: One summer at home institution in QM theory. Resulted in publication (2nd author of 3 in EPJ B).
Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Dean's list while abroad.
Pertinent Activities or Jobs: SPS President, grader for intro classes.
Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Helped get SPS rechartered on campus?
Applying to:
UNC Chapel Hill
NC State
U Washington
Wash U
Wake Forest
William & Mary
Virginia Tech

I committed to physics fairly late in my undergraduate career. At the end of my sophomore year, I decided on a physics/economics double major before going abroad (an econ/int'l relations program in Geneva) for my junior fall. Due to scheduling conflicts and a healthy dose of bureaucracy, I could no longer complete both majors without an extra semester, which would be expensive. Long story short, physics won out and I've had to complete fully half of the physics major in the past two semesters. My PGRE score potentially reflects the fact that I didn't have a full three years of background knowledge when I took the test. Or it could show that despite taking the relevant classes very recently, I was unable to perform particularly well. I don't know which way an admissions committee would see it.

I really enjoyed the theoretical work that I did with one of my professors over the past summer and it resulted in a refereed publication. However, a cursory glance at my PGRE and GPA would indicate that I am not a strong candidate for theoretical work. Again, I'm not sure how schools will look at me. I think a lot is going to hinge on my letters of recommendation. Hopefully, the message gets across that I am very capable of handling the rigor in theoretical research and that by the time I graduate, I will have an adequate level of preparation to hit the ground running.

But if that's not the case, how much would it improve my position to take a year off, retake the PGRE and get some more research under my belt? For personal reasons, I would really prefer to head straight into a phD program, but it's a choice I would consider depending on how schools respond to me.

Posts: 60
Joined: Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:59 pm

Re: Is a career as a theorist a pipe dream?

Post by cryingsun » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:05 am

For admission purpose, I think it may be a bad idea to show a strong preference for theoretical work given your PGRE and GPA.

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