To go to Grad school or wait...

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To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by Mustangczap » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:05 pm

So I'm sure there will be quite a few of these and of course like everyone else's mines completely different from theirs.... But it looks like I only got into 1 of my programs (OSU for AMO). Quick break down of my profile:

Undergrad, small state school with little rep in Physics
Physics GPA: ~3.5
Overall GPA: ~3.3
Did undergrad research in AMO but nothing published

Grad school, MS in Mechanical Engineering
Masters GPA: 3.9
post baccalaureate GPA: 3.3 (got boned because I didn't "know" any undergrad ME so I had to take undergrad classes but was told they wouldn't count on my GPA but they still appear on my transcript :'( )
Two conference papers, a conference presentation and thesis (in ME obviously)
I really have no idea how my MS helps/hurts me

PGRE: 800

Should I work for another year (been working for ~2 years as structural analyst) and reapply or go to OSU?

Things I can change:
Should be able to get a paper published (albeit for my ME thesis NOT physics)
Can study more for PGRE (took it twice and got 800 first time and 780 second time)
Continue research with local university (good school but the group I was doing research with while applying was in dark matter)
Might be able to move my current job to a more Opto-mechanical capacity instead of strictly mechanical
MIGHT be able to get with an AMO group at the local university instead of the Dark matter group

Reason I'm hesitant about OSU is I was really hoping for CU Boulder (shocker) or UW Madison (I had a connection here which is why this was such a hit). After doing more research into Columbus as a town I'm a little more hesitant of living there (I haven't heard many good things can anyone change my mind) I know this is superficial but I'll have to live there for 5+ years so I better freaking like it.

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by Tacosbeforevatos » Wed Mar 08, 2017 2:58 pm

Personally I would just go to OSU. Your pgre is probably "good enough" (much better than mine but ya). Your grades won't change so basically you're asking, is one more year of research going to get me into better places? I don't know.. you don't know for sure you will be able to get into a relevant research group yet and that's a lot you'd be giving up (OSU) on a possibility. Also .. it actually won't even be a full year of research since applications are due again in 9 months? And if you don't get published in physics.. is it that more helpful? Also do you have the funds for applying again?
I took the path of attending a master's program to re apply again.. and it was tough knowing the whole time I was just working up to the difficult application process again. Puts a lot of pressure on anything you do from now on. Another thing.. are your letter writers willing to help you again? Talk to them.

If you really are not happy with the school you were accepted to, don't feel pressured to accept. If you want to give it another shot, go ahead, just know the risks you're taking (ending up somewhere "worse").

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by Mustangczap » Wed Mar 08, 2017 3:49 pm

You mean you don't have all the answers??? What do I come here for!?

Seriously though thanks for the reply. And you're right there's so much that I just don't know about bumping up my application. Would more research in dark matter help? Maybe but probably not as much as research in optics. Would the optics groups even take me, especially since I've got a full time job so my helping would have to work around that. Would any ME publications actually help? No freaking clue, inclined to say yes but it's like a 60/40 split right now.

I would definitely prefer not to do the master's in Physics route since I'm already older (26) so I wouldn't even be able to start an MS in Physics until after applying again then add 2 years minimum and I'd pretty much be dead before even starting a PhD.

I also didn't mean to sound pompous against OSU, I know lots of people would be thrilled about going there and I was too until everyone else said no. Can anyone speak to their time at OSU/Columbus? I'm from California so I'm kinda being a pansy about Columbus.

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by tooterfish » Wed Mar 08, 2017 4:56 pm

Food for thought...
  • What attracted you to OSU in the first place? You did apply there after all.
  • Columbus is a major city, so you'll be probably be fine finding community and accessing the things you need. It's no West Coast city for sure, but it's still a metropolitan area. Does this location hold any deal breakers for you (e.g. if surfing is necessary for your happiness, you're SOL)?
  • Have you visited OSU or talked directly to their professors and research groups?
  • If your goal is academia, I'd imagine entering a PhD program is the best route. Have you looked into transferring to other programs the next year?

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by Mustangczap » Wed Mar 08, 2017 5:17 pm

Again thanks for the reply, and if these don't help me then hopefully then can help someone else down the line.

These are all good points, which I was trying to get at with my last post saying "I was thrilled about it until all the nos". I really like their apparent diversity in experimental optical work (at least to me it seems like a lot is going on) and I had talked with a professor there and after that phone call I was SUPER excited about it.

I wasn't able to attend the open house (working a full time job made it hard to leave) but I am trying to schedule a trip to visit through the department. I think this is what I'm most hesitant about. Everywhere else I applied to I heard fantastic things about not only the school but the city it's in and with Columbus I just can't find much about it besides people saying oh it's a big city so there's lots to do (to be fair I don't personally know anyone who's lived there so I'm judging this off second/third hand).

Right now I think Academia would be dope but if not there a research lab. I've spent too long as an engineer re-designing and re-analyzing the same $h!t and I miss being on the front end of the science that I was doing during my masters (yes I know it was an ME masters and it's different science but I also did research as an undergrad but as I was an undergrad I didn't feel as "pushing the envelope" type experience I did when it was me calling the shots for the project).

I haven't looked into transferring programs actually. Anyone out there care to share their two cents about their experience transferring?

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by Tacosbeforevatos » Wed Mar 08, 2017 6:47 pm

I definitely get the " I was thrilled until all the no's". Same for me (including a no from OSU).
Visiting is probably the most productive thing you can do at this point. I am not familiar with Columbus but I went to school in Pennsylvania.. it wasn't that bad other than the lack of beaches. I don't think Columbus is so "Midwestern" which would be a turn off for me.

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by TakeruK » Wed Mar 08, 2017 8:39 pm

I think you should try to schedule a visit to OSU. Do you have some vacation days to take? You might have to pay for it out of pocket, which isn't great, but at least you do have a job. And, like you said, you want to make sure you are going to be happy there since you'll be there for 5 years.

I suggest visiting because to me, it sounds like the biggest worries you have are about department/research fit and lifestyle/culture fit. Both of these things can only be resolved with a visit! It's easy to get a lot of misconceptions about how things are at a place from your own impressions or online research. Nothing can really replace an in-person visit.

As for transferring, I think the term "transfer" is a bit of a misnomer. What you would be doing is leaving your OSU program and applying for a new one. You will likely start over again. You might be able to get a MS in Physics from OSU if you leave early. So typically, you would go to OSU for the first year, and then in your 2nd year, if you decide to leave, you would apply again. You will need to work hard in your first year to get very strong letters from OSU. You'll be at a disadvantage compared to students who have not started a PhD program, but this can be mitigated if 1) your letters from OSU show that the reason you are leaving is either personal or research fit, not performance related and 2) if you improve your application a lot by doing some awesome work at OSU. So, to get both of these, you'll need to work really hard.

That is, "transferring" is basically equivalent to doing a Masters and applying again. The difference is that you get to start this fall and you might want to just stay at OSU if you find that you actually like it. I think it's dishonest to accept a funded PhD offer with the intention right off the bat to leave after a year or two. However, it's completely fair to accept an offer with the intention of re-evaluating whether or not you are happy in this PhD program after a year. As long as you are still open to the idea of staying, I think it's okay to take the funded offer.

Finally, 26 isn't that old :P Yes, you will be older than grad students entering right out of undergrad, but in the long run, it will not make a big difference. When people talk about discrimination against older applicants (for grad school, postdocs, faculty jobs etc.) they are usually talking about much older people (i.e. starting a grad program in late 30s or 40s). But I do understand that maybe you're getting to the age where you don't really want to live the "grad student lifestyle" and want more stability in life. I'm going to defend very soon (just before I turn 30) and I'm really looking forward to being a "real person" instead of a student :P

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by Mustangczap » Wed Mar 08, 2017 11:25 pm

I am definitely not going to decide anything until I visit. They say don't make any big decisions when you're really mad/sad/happy/excited so I realize I need to try and step away from this for a bit, if nothing else for my sanity. Maybe I'll get the excitement back again when I see the school and realize that this is for real.

I get the notion of not going to OSU planing to transfer to a different school. That sounds taxing and hard to explain why I think I'm great but don't think OSU is. After looking at a grad schools FAQs (I actually can't remember which school, I'm not being coy about not naming the school) they said that they accept transfers and won't make you re-take any classes however you still have to finish the XX amount of units required for the PhD, like TakeruK suggested it's almost as if you would be starting over which isn't surprising. But it is nice knowing that if I choose to go to OSU and $h!t hits the fan then it's not the end of my PhD career.

I am also starting to give weight to the notion of working for a year (need to work another year to not have to repay relocation/signing bonus of my current job) while continuing the dark matter research at the local university, then trying to work directly with a group at a school I REALLY want to go to. However, that relies heavily on my being able to work with a group as some sort of lab tech/researcher in a year which, I suspect, is a real crap shoot. My chances may improve if I offer to work for free but then I'm dead broke (I could work a side job I suppose). But this is still more if's and maybe's. And if if's and but's were candy and nuts then I'd be a reese's peanut butter cup.

I gotta say team internet is crushing it today. I really do appreciate the help and it's nice to know that other people understand what I'm talking about and can give me a real unbiased opinion.

If anyone has any thoughts on the chances/likelihood of getting a lab tech position in a year feel free to let me know!!

If anyone has anything else (personal stories, stats, examples, etc.) about OSU please speak up!!

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by common_2012 » Wed Mar 07, 2018 8:40 am

I end up in the same situation, except for PSU instead of OSU, which are quite similar schools in AMO physics I guess.. Same submitted but not yet accepted paper, same low gpa, same unwillingness to spend 6 years in that remote town. I'd very want to learn what your choice has been, and if you regret now? :cry: :cry:

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Re: To go to Grad school or wait...

Post by dsr12 » Wed Mar 07, 2018 9:31 am

Mustangczap wrote:So I'm sure there will be quite a few of these and of course like everyone else's mines completely different from theirs.... But it looks like I only got into 1 of my programs (OSU for AMO).
For the moment I have only received an official offer from one of my programs as well (UH Manoa Astrophysics). Still waiting on 4 and waitlisted on one.

When I was applying to schools, I decided that for me, WHERE I live for 5-6 years matters, at least as much as the program. I love astrophysics, but studying like a maniac and surviving on a grad student stipend will be hard enough without having to live someplace that doesn't make me happy. That is a personal choice and I think applicants should definitely take that into account. I decided that I had to be willing to go and live in all the places where I applied. I can certainly understand your hesitance being from Cali. I am from Colorado :)

So I also recommend visiting if you can (I could not swing it financially to visit my schools). You may be surprised and feel at home there. The thought of facing another application season is daunting, and feasible only if you think something will change (school selection, your scores, published papers, etc.).

Anyway, good luck to you. I hope my rambling has made some sense, or perhaps will help someone in the future.

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