Returning to Physics

  • 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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Posts: 5
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:43 pm

Returning to Physics

Post by Prodigal » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:54 pm

Hi Everybody,
First of, I'm glad to have found this post, reading all of your replies has been very helpful, so thanks much.
I've recently decided to apply to Physics grad schools after a hiatus from it all for 3 years, during which time I've been working in fields completely unrelated to science in any way. I graduated Stanford with a BS in physics and a pretty high GPA, but only one summer research experience. I made the decision to go back to school a few months ago, but haven't had the wherewithall to get it together until now, and are just starting to enter the fray regarding the GREs and applications and all.
I guess my main questions are:
-Am I in major trouble preparation wise? I've got a whole lot to remember (you forget it quick) and am working full time as well. I had hoped to start studying this spring, but am just starting now.
-Do I need to take the november GREs, or can I wait till December?
-Is there any way that schools will take me in the state I'm in now having been out of it for so long?
As you can tell, I'm a bit out of the loop with it all, and pretty worried I'm kidding myself to think I can get back into this. Any help or advice would really be appreciated.

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Joined: Sat Nov 04, 2006 7:48 pm

Post by schmit.paul » Tue Jul 17, 2007 12:10 am


You'd be smart to get in touch with your former undergraduate mentors/advisors/professors. After all, you will definitely need letters of recommendation to vouch for your capabilities, and if you can find prof's that can write a current letter to confirm your former and (somewhat well maintained) current skill set, that will be an asset. As far as preparedness for the GRE, there's no way any of us can tell you what sort of situation you're in. However, I always recommend the November test just to save yourself some stress in getting the scores to schools on time without worrying about any kind of first-come, first-served policy. You should have plenty of time to review for the GRE between now and November, but this is definitely not something you can afford to push off and only put an honest hour into a week. Knuckle down and bite the bullet for the next few months and you should be able to do all right. You've got a Stanford degree going for you, so that should count for something, as long as you still know some of the faculty at the campus and aren't completely on your own. It is always a good idea to get in touch with faculty, especially if they're writing you a letter...the more of your personal motivations you can show them in your own way, the more confident they feel giving you their own personal seal of approval, which effectively puts their reputation for identifying good students on the line. Good luck.

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Post by jackal » Tue Jul 17, 2007 5:31 pm

Yeah, definitely contact your professors and make sure they remember you, at the very least! Beyond your GRE score (which should hopefully convince the admissions committee that you're prepped -- even if the physics gre is a poorly designed, and imo pointless, exam) and gpa, your letters and experience will determine your chances at getting into a decent program.

You should consider joining a research lab/program (if that's possible given your current circumstances) pursuing topics in which you are interested. This will give you some recent experience you can discuss in your application, a possible recent rec. letter, and also something that'll make you a stronger applicant next year, should you not get into the program of your choice this coming year. It will also confirm for you that you really want to do this since with time one tends to romanticize college :) (it's happened to me in the span of a year after college...)

I worked in an industry unrelated to physics for a year, but I also applied to grad school that year so it wasn't a huge gap. Another option to consider is do a master's in physics at a school that offers a terminal master's program -- especially if you have the financial resources to support this. An attractive option related to this is to do your Master's in the UK where it is more common, and a raft of scholarships exist that could support you with this. You'd be a super-strong applicant to any ph.d. program with that in your application!

Congratulations on making the first step to deciding this might be the path to you -- for most people, leaving a comfortable job in ndustry is unthinkable.. I've certainly gotten my share of surprised looks. Best of luck!

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Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 9:45 pm

I'm right there with you

Post by ipercher » Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:02 pm

Hi Prodigal,

This is just to let you know that you are not the only one who's trying to take the GRE three years out of school. I was working in physics for portions of that first year, but since then it's been a technical and then totally non-technical work, (when there has been work.) In any case, I have heard and am eager to believe that some time out of school makes an applicant more attractive. True, we may be a little rusty, but these years have made us more worldly and mature than the fresh-out-of-school set. Studying for and taking the physics GRE at this point is a pretty major effort, and the faculty members who read your application should appreciate this. The fact that we went through the physics GRE process on our own shows that we really want to get into the program, that we are willing to work hard to get there, and that we will probably work hard and with purpose after we are admitted to a program.

I tend to get a little dramatic about my work towards the GRE test, but really, this is one of the most challenging projects I've ever taken on, just because I am working all alone. This does not play to my strengths - I find it MUCH easier to be accountable to people other than myself. Hopefully you are more focused (and you will need to be, since you work full time and I'm strategically down to part time), but either way it is possible for you, and for me, to get back into physics with a lot of hard work. Fight the good fight! Solidarity! Good luck!

(BTW: I've been looking for someone with whom to compare notes and trade pep-talks, let me know if you're the guy/gal. -i)

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Joined: Tue Jul 24, 2007 7:53 pm

father of prodigal

Post by david.saroff » Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:06 pm

I'm 54. I'm getting back in after 30 years. Wish me luck. GRE in two months.

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Post by kptnblaubar » Tue Aug 14, 2007 12:58 pm

good luck !!

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Post by tnoviell » Tue Aug 14, 2007 2:16 pm

Lol, I just graduated in May and I've already forgotten everything. I would think looking over old tests and notes would go a long way in studying. I never studied for the physics GRE myself...although I did take it.

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