• 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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Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am


Post by braindrain » Fri Jan 05, 2007 2:20 am

Does anyone have any insight into the competitiveness of
different outside fellowships? I postponed applying for them
until I knew where I would be and what the blank I was doing.
I was surprised that the homeland security one made people
ineligible if they have a master's degree in a different field than
what you are applying for a phd in. I heard the Hertz one had
a horrendous interview where they are trying to unnerve you.

Any insights would be helpful for future reference. Thanks.

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Post by schmit.paul » Fri Jan 05, 2007 5:02 am

I am currently waiting to hear if I made it past the first interview into the second interview for the Hertz. I interviewed with a local Ph.D. who was a Hertz fellow and had a background in solid state physics (my declared interest was plasma physics, but he knew a fair amount about it). My interview was supposed to last an hour, but we ended up talking for about 2 and a half hours about fusion, fission, his work in energy research, etc etc. I felt pretty good leaving the interview, though I did get hung up on a couple plasma-physics-related questions and had to be given subtle hints to tease out the answers. For anyone else also in the Hertz process, I've been told the results for the first-round interviews will be released toward the beginning of February. All I know is that with the exception of a week-long course at Princeton preceding my summer research project at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT this last summer, I haven't had the opportunity to study plasma physics much at all, and I'll need to hammer on theory to prepare for the second interview, which I've heard is much more specialized and technical.

As far as the outside fellowships go, the NSF awards ~1000 fellowships(throughout all of the sciences, not just physics), the NDSEG gives out about 200, and the Hertz a miniscule 15 or so. Hertz is considered the grand-daddy of all fellowships (with an uncommon 5-year tenure and a total value of a little over 300,000), and even if you're a bomb-ass student, you would be setting yourself up for a lot of disappointment if you allow yourself to form any expectations about the award other than the expectation that you will give your best effort and hope the foundation leans in your favor. NDSEG and NSF are "less competitive" and "less prestigious," *only* awarding 3 years of support, but bear in mind that these fellowships, similar to the Hertz, are directed at students from many scientific backgrounds, not just physics, and often physics students win a very small fraction of the total awards (for NDSEG only about 6% of physics applicants get the award, representing about 8% of the total award field)...so these are still VERY competitive fellowships and carry both prestige and freedom to pursue more avenues to conduct research with mentors who normally might not have the support to fund an additional grad student. My friend put it best when he said "RA's work *for* the professors, fellows work *with* the professors." I'm not sure about homeland security (I didn't apply), but I believe they'd be on par with the DoD (which sponsors the NDSEG fellowship) in terms of competitiveness and award distributions.

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Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Post by braindrain » Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:38 pm

I went to a panel on fellowships once. If I'm thinking of the
right guy, I believe one of the board members at Hertz said
that it doesn't matter whether you know everything at the
interview but its how you handle yourself. Like if you freak out or
panic that you didn't know something versus you are completely
relaxed and confident. I think someone said they are trying to
unnerve you. I even heard they ask things like what a constant
of something is and nobody memorizes the constants.

But then this other guy said we shouldn't complain about the
fellowship process because its like a mini-grant proposal for us and taking 2 days to fill it out for 5 years worth of funding is a lot easier than what they have to do which is 4 months to write a grant proposal for 5 years of funding. So, even though the chances are small, from that perspective its worth trying.

Good Luck!

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