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2 year gap between BS completion and start of PhD.

  1. Apr 29, 2014 #1
    Looking for some feedback on this. I will have (by next month) completed a BS in physics and a BS in mechanical engineering. I applied to 5 nuclear engineering PhD programs, got into 2 but neither offered funding (tuition waiver + TA/RA). I've decided to work for 2 years. Over the next 2 years I plan to improve my physical health, get my driving license, do better on the standardized exams, bank money, and continue to narrow my research interests.

    I'm looking for ways to improve my application in 2 years. Obviously, with more money I can apply to more places. But I don't think by working 2 years in government or industry that I will be able to get a publication, not sure that it matters given I'll be being work? Also, how hard is it to transition back to school after a 2 year break? I've heard once you start making decent money there's no way you'd want to be a grad student. Also, what about personal life items like delaying marriage? If anyone has any experience with this sorts of issues, let me know what you think.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 29, 2014 #2


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    The answer to how difficult the transition back to student life can be varies from person to person, as I'm sure you know. It's certainly possible for a well-motivated person. I think what tends to happen is that peoples' priorities change once they start working. They take on mortgages, loans for vehicles or lines of credit and those obligations can't be easily shrugged off to go back to school. They also get a taste of non-frugal independence. Having your own pad without room mates to put up with or your own wheels can be huge luxuries to give up for example.

    And people tend to get into more permanent relationships once they leave university and start working. One of the main issues with this is that when you're in a committed relationship (not necessarily even marriage) the decision to go back to school will have a significant impact on your partner. It may for example require your partner to move. Or you may want to decide to put off having children or getting married until you are once again stably employed. So to some extent, the decision is no longer entirely yours.
  4. Apr 30, 2014 #3

    Meir Achuz

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    Concentrate on studying to do better on the GRE.
    Don't go to grad school without financial support from the school.
  5. Apr 30, 2014 #4
    Hey this is a lot of good advice here. I'm probably going to avoid items like trying to own a home, moving up too far for my job, or entering a relationship due to these things probably being the end of my chances of going to grad school for the reasons you listed.

    Yeah going to a PhD program without funding would be a dumb decision. But is there anything I do other than the standardized scores? Will the 2 years of work experience be a good boost to my application if I can get something meaningful done or make good contacts?
  6. Apr 30, 2014 #5

    Meir Achuz

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    You could try taking a course in your field to show a good grade,
    and have another teacher to write arecommendation.
  7. Apr 30, 2014 #6
    Choppy's right; being in a serious relationship definitely makes some things more complicated. But there are benefits to (healthy) serious relationships too. (e.g., emotional support, sharing costs) For me, being married has made it pretty difficult to plan out grad school, but I don't regret it at all.

    You really don't need to actively avoid relationships, just be aware of the potential complications: don't get too serious before making sure they're okay with your plan to go back to school.

  8. Apr 30, 2014 #7
    It works differently in different countries, I know, but if by applying for PhD programs you meant it literally, as in not a U.S. grad school kind of deal, then you could go for a masters first to prove your research potential. That would also take 2 years or so, some programs might even be 1. You'd have no money, but you would have a paper or two if it went well.
  9. May 1, 2014 #8
    An MS program is probably off the table because I didn't apply to any either and those are rarely funded. I'm not sure what another class could do. I didn't miss getting to go to grad school by that much. I'm mostly looking for a way inside of my working a job I could improve my application.
  10. May 1, 2014 #9


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    Times are changing. I recently had a meeting at a University of California campus and they indicated that the majority of new MS students in Engineering are paying their own way. This was unheard of in my day but it is one way the Universities are dealing with reduced state support.
  11. May 1, 2014 #10
    Hey, it worked for me. I got my BA in May 2003, and worked as an engineer for about 3.5 years. I went back to grad school in 2007, and I'm now graduating with my Ph.D. in physics.

    I think what helped me was that many of my colleagues at my job had doctorates, and the job involved a lot of R&D. I didn't have any undergraduate research experience, so I described my work experience as research experience, since really, it was. I didn't have any references from my undergraduate school, so I got recommendations from my coworkers; (one had a Ph.D. in the physics field I was going into, another had a physics Ph.D. and another had a masters in engineering.) I had worked closely with them so their recommendations were certainly a lot more legitimate than anything I could have gotten from one of my undergraduate professors.

    It depends on where you work. If you end up working a few years at a nuclear power plant, I'm sure your experience will make you way more qualified for the Ph.D. program than some guy out of college.
  12. May 1, 2014 #11
    Yeah for MS the funding varies highly by the school and the quality of the applicant. And apparently as I experienced this is also starting to creep into the PhD applicants.

    Yeah definitely if the work is legit then it should be the same level as research or research itself is what I'm thinking. Although I wonder how did you account for it? All of the research would just be internal publications and not in like journals or anything, right? I guess that's why the recommendations count so much then.
  13. May 1, 2014 #12
    Yeah, I didn't have anything published to show for it. I'm not really sure how they make their decisions. I suppose it will help to get a good GRE score.
  14. May 3, 2014 #13
    I'd advise against getting a PhD frankly. Why exactly do you want one? Just nothing else to do in life?

    Realise this will cost you $2-500k or more in lost earnings and living costs, probably not give you a permanent career, and severely damage you for re-entering your old career.
  15. May 5, 2014 #14
    I'd like to look at the higher-end research and design jobs in industry, not very interested in academia. A PhD would help a great deal but it is possible to get one of these jobs with just a BS though unlikely.
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