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Admission to graduate schools like MIT,Princeton(for physics,maths)

  1. May 22, 2014 #1
    I am an Indian student currently pursuing a Bachelor in Technology in the field Food Technology. However,I have been wanting to study more of physics,maths and computer science in graduate school. I never had great scores in my high school examinations,not because I feel I didn't have the ability to,but because I didn't really try hard enough. I really am inclined towards astrophysics. I really really want to get into the top grad schools like MIT,Cal Tech,Princeton etc. I have been utterly confused all my senior high school years about what I really want to do with my life and as a result,I couldn't focus on one particular thing at a time leading to getting only average scores and also a poor result in my Engineering Entrance Examinations. Even after having completed 2 years of B.Tech. in Food Technology(with average scores,a CG PA of 6-7 out of 10 in each semester),I feel I can do so so much more than this and I am capable of gaining admission to such schools. I am fascinated by physics,maths(especially theoretical physics and maths),and I am willing to do anything it takes to get grad admission in such schools,since I believe I can really do it. Can you please suggest what should I be doing at this point of time? I have 2 years left for grad school to begin. I have taken basic physics and maths courses in my college in my first 3 semesters of college but I feel I still don't have good real knowledge about them and I realize that I need much more courses to be eligible for applying. I want to know how much will it take me to reach at the level where I can apply to such top schools and be considered as a worthy candidate for pursuing astrophysics,or other such theoretical math and physics intensive courses in grad schools?
    Last edited: May 22, 2014
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  3. May 22, 2014 #2
    It doesn't look good. First of all, MIT and Princeton are some of the most competitive universities in the world. Nobody is guaranteed admission there. Certainly not if you're not from the US.

    Your GPA is average, which is not good enough for MIT or Princeton. You'll have to get perfect scores from now on. You'll have to do very good on the GRE, have insanely good letters of recomendation, etc.

    Also, your bachelor is in Food Technology? What makes you think that you could handle a PhD in Math or Physics? Or more relevant, why would somebody at MIT prefer to let somebody in who completed a BS in Food Technology with average grades over somebody who completed a Math degree with perfect grades?

    If you want to do math or physics, why are you still majoring in Food Technology?
  4. May 22, 2014 #3

    I have been nothing but frustrated these 2 years,not working towards what I wanted to do. Actually,not knowing what I was capable of or what I wanted to do with my life.Without consulting anyone,I had adamantly made up my mind that my course couldn't be changed. It's not as if I hate this particular course,but that I'd be much more happier if I were doing some more of hard physics,maths. I am deeply fascinated by science,and I am starting to realize this more and more with every passing day. I have completed 2 years already and I have talked to my college admission officer,it's not possible to change now.

    How impossible can it be? Science is my passion. Irrespective of whatever grades I got and what so ever academic failures I had,I am trying hard to leave it all behind and not let it dictate my future plans. Even if it sounds daunting,I am willing to do all it takes to be considered as worthy as any potential MIT applicant in Maths/Physics field when applying to grad school? More than worthy,I want to be an applicant with academic credentials that just cannot go unnoticed. I just don't have clear plans at the moment. I know I am capable of it. I wanted suggestions on what exactly do I need to do to be considered a worthy applicant for such schools? (Not bothered by the number of hours I'd have to study the subjects,or the amount of workload). How and when should I start with what? I am getting started with the fundamentals of physics by Halliday,Resnick and Walker. I am in need of some really good advice here.
  5. May 22, 2014 #4
    I went to one of these graduate schools. The (few) students from India I met were people who had placed on the Putnam or topped the JEE, for the most part. All had graduated from IITs, except for a few who had attended Harvard/MIT/Caltech as undergraduates.

    I regret to say this, but without that level of credential, I don't think you can realistically expect to go to the very top US graduate schools in physics or mathematics.

    However, you may be able to go to some US graduate school, possibly a good one. To do this in physics you would have to work hard, spend an extra couple of years and finish the full physics curriculum, smash the physics GRE, get involved in physics research and try to be part of publishing a paper, maybe somehow do summer research in the US or at some well known Indian institution (TIFR, PRL, whatever) and get solid letters of recommendation.

    If I were you, actually, since you already have a background in food engineering which I assume means you have studied biology, chemistry and/or engineering, I would focus on putting together the absolute strongest application I could in one of those fields (chemical engineering maybe?)--and then if you remain interested in physics, once admitted to a graduate program, try to move in the direction of whatever you are interested in by your choice of coursework, advisor, and project. What many people don't realize is that there is actually a lot of overlap, at the research/PhD level, between physics, applied mathematics, and many branches of engineering, with people often moving between departments and fields.
    Last edited: May 22, 2014
  6. May 22, 2014 #5

    Perhaps you're right. But everything can have a first time,can it not? Aren't there any maths or physics Olympiads held at the undergrad level in India that are widely recognized throughout the U.S. ? Something,anything that helps establish the fact that I am worthy of applying for such courses after all?

    I am asking solely under the assumption that you have an idea of what opportunities are available in India for the above mentioned situation.
  7. May 22, 2014 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    This is not a plan. This is a hope.
  8. May 22, 2014 #7
    Uh,now that I've written it,I can't say you're wrong. Could you suggest me what should I be doing at this point of time? What would be the plan if you were at my place?
  9. May 22, 2014 #8
    I don't like to be negative. But it seems your chances to get into MIT or Princeton are very close to nonexistant at this point. There are simply too many negative points about your situation: your GPA, your major which isn't physics or math.

    Maybe if you would enter Putnam and win it with a perfect score together with other competitions, then you might have a chance, but the chances on that are so incredibly small...

    I would try to think of a Plan B. You might not get into MIT or Princeton, but there are other US grad schools where you might get in. Moontiger has some good advice.
  10. May 22, 2014 #9
    Grad school is about research. The way to US grad admissions is to demonstrate your ability to do outstanding research. Do the things I mentioned in my last post. Broadly recognized credentials include research publications, and good recommendation letters from anyone known to US professors. Work somewhere like TIFR or PRL for a while and you may find connections to Indian physics professors in the US. Good grades in your physics classes and scoring high on the physics GRE are necessary but not at all sufficient.

    If you manage all of the above really, really well, you will still not land at MIT, but you will have a shot at say Boston University, or Tufts, or U Mass Boston.

    But I'll repeat what I said before...my advice to you is to capitalize on the training you do have as much as possible, and work your way over to physics if you feel inclined.
  11. May 22, 2014 #10


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    If you're really passionate about physics, you should be happy to study it anywhere. Why this focus on a top school when you know so little about physics in the first place? When you don't even know what field of it you're interested in? When you don't know where the top professors are located?
  12. May 22, 2014 #11
    That is really the right question to ask. I knew so little about physics because as I mentioned,I never tried to realize this ambition until now. I had been involved in many things,and a lack of focus on one made things disastrous for me. I never knew the importance schools had to play,until I got into an average university where all I got to hear was students ranting about the teachers,the lectures,the world in general. Not saying that I am great at all,but when even the teachers aren't interested in delivering the concepts well,and when the atmosphere doesn't encourage real learning and understanding of the subjects,I end up feeling miserable regretting how I wasted a lot of opportunities and I could have done so much better than this. I want to be great. I just want to be at par students that are at schools like that.
    I am not implying that schools can make or break anyone,but I am just trying to justify what happened all these years and it's only now that I really want to explore my full potential.
  13. May 22, 2014 #12
    This is understandable. But there are many more ways to develop your true potential than to go to schools which are top of the world. I mean that there are a lot of universities which are not top universities, but which still give you an extremely good education and which do have very good profs. You really don't need to go to MIT or Princeton for this.

    For example, I went to a university which isn't well-known at all, not even in the top 100 of the world. But I did get many opportunities to develop myself and to learn mathematics. Most professors were really good and knew their stuff. Obviously, I would have gone to MIT if I was given the opportunity, but I'm not at all disappointed at my university.
  14. May 22, 2014 #13
    There are many other ways to prove yourself, and you will have many opportunities to do so in the future.
    Last edited: May 22, 2014
  15. May 22, 2014 #14
    That sounds great. I guess I have just conditioned my mind to think this way,which might be due to a variety of reasons,specifically my past experiences. Well,thank you for the suggestions. I will just do my best and see how it goes.
  16. May 22, 2014 #15
    Wouldn't you say that the kind of people you're with and the kind of experiences you have shape your life to a good extent? I have been in average schools and universities since the past few years prior to which I was enrolled in one of the top high schools in the country, and I can really tell the difference now. It's almost as if I could have been a different person only if I had gone to the right place. There are not enough opportunities and more importantly,a dearth of people I would really want to connect with on a daily basis. I really don't think I am exaggerating. Of course,there could be thousands of contradictions to this,but to each their own. Hopefully,I can make amends for the past now.Let's hope for the best.
  17. May 22, 2014 #16
    I really hope so. Thanks. :)
  18. May 22, 2014 #17
    To one extent, this is true. If you are in the company of motivated people interested in physics and math, then this will carry over to you often.

    But on the other hand, you have a great responsibility too. If you want to self-study physics and work through several textbooks, then you can, nobody is stopping you. The brightest and most succesful people are the people who do their stuff without anybody helping them.

    So if you want to know a lot of physics and math? What is stopping you from getting a good textbook and working through it? You can ask questions here on PF if you wish. Don't let the negativity of other people harm your progress!
  19. May 22, 2014 #18
    Yes, but not as much as you'd think. Over the course of my career, which included teaching and mentoring many students, I observed that a bright and motivated student will find a way to shine wherever he or she lands. At most, a good school makes it a little easier and gives them more confidence, sometimes more resources, and some connections.

    In fact, sometimes it is also good to be a big fish in a small pond. At a big school you will be just one of many outstanding students, whereas at a small school you have less competition and if you put in the same effort you can stand out a lot more.

    If I were you and I wanted to prove myself, I would start working hard on food engineering (or whatever) and become the best food engineer at my university, and then go to the US for grad school in some kind of engineering.
    Last edited: May 22, 2014
  20. May 22, 2014 #19


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    This is a bit of a vague statement, I'll add to it by saying, always be excellent in whatever you do. Be excellent but if something is not right, be prepared to move on. Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of holding back, this never works. Whatever your job title is, own it.
  21. May 25, 2014 #20
    How smooth can this transition be? For example,even if I get into say genetic engineering at a very good uni,and I still have the inclination for physics/maths,I could transition into that only if I was an excellent student and I already had the knowledge of physics/maths to demonstrate to them how good I can be,right? Is it possible changing your field entirely or better making those two fields interdisciplinary?

    My second question is,I am trying to learn the foundations of physics,maths and programming together. Even if I could transition later,I would need to have a proper grasp of these subjects considering how programming is needed everywhere(and also I have the desire to learn it),and physics,maths go hand in hand. Now,at this stage,where my foundations are not strong,I have decided to start studying Resnick,Halliday and Walker for physics. I have no clear plans on how I should start learning these subjects together so that I have a strong foundation? Could you suggest me how should I start? Book suggestions could be helpful too. (Assuming I am aiming for MIT,Princeton for graduate school,. i.e. that kind of knowledge)

    This will be in addition to food engineering subjects I will be studying,but I believe knowing physics and maths to a great level side by side will help me really understand how the world works(my goal in life ultimately) and of course,will be my ticket to working in the best way I can in some of the best intellectual atmospheres in some of the best universities in the world.
    Last edited: May 25, 2014
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