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Applying for Grad School, Advice?

  1. Nov 1, 2009 #1

    I will be applying for graduate school soon. I plan to make the move in 2011. My interests are still a bit broad. I am interested in eventually learning plasma physics for advanced spacecraft propulsion. I haven't found a graduate level program yet though that is working on soemthing like the VASIMR thruster. The nearest programs I can find in the astronautical departments are hall thrusters and electric propulsion programs.

    I am also interested in nuclear physics and fusion, though I am worried about my ability to contribute meaningfully to a program there, as my background is in Astronautical Engineering. My interest in the area is in terms of overcoming the fundamental energy constraints that presently exist in chemical propulsion for interplanetary spaceflight.

    My qualifications so far:
    Good grades at a good engineering school for undergraduate (3.91 GPA)
    I program "fluently" in C++ and matlab
    I have been working in a research lab for the past 3 years as a test planner and engineer.

    Unfortunately, I didn't do well recently when retaking the GRE. My scores, (down from perfect back in 2003 :-( ) are 770 Quantitative and 620 Verbal. How much of a black mark is that getting into a graduate engineering program? Should I retake them? My math isn't too terribly atrophied. I can still hack differential equations, it is just doing timed trick algebra problems that I've gotten rusty at.

    I'm currently going to apply to Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford, possibly Cornell, possibly Caltech.

    How narrow does my statement of intent have to be if I'm applying for graduate school? Do I need to have a specific research program worked out with the faculty before writing it? Do I just need to provide my interests?
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 1, 2009 #2
    Your GRE scores are excellent. A 620 on verbal is nothing to sneeze at. I don't think your scores will keep you out of any of those schools.
  4. Nov 1, 2009 #3


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    When I applied to Grad School, My GRE was 760 Q, 580 V, and I still got accepted to good schools like Georgia Tech.
  5. Nov 2, 2009 #4
    The better the "fit" between your statement of intent and the school's research program, the better. If you just say, I'm interested in astrophysics, that is less impressive than saying I'm interested in the University of X, because of the research program they have in white dwarf degenerate matter physics. It's probably not possible to have a specific research program worked out in advance since you haven't been admitted yet.

    Needless to say, you'll probably have to write a somewhat different statement for each university.
  6. Nov 2, 2009 #5
    Also if you are interesting in energy constraints, one thing that you might look at work that is being done in orbital mechanics


    One thing that might hurt you in looking at nuclear physics and fusion is that it's pretty unlikely that either will be usable for interplanetary transport within a Ph.D. program time frame. You might look for schools with a specialty in plasma and atomic physics. Also, if the school that you are looking for has close and obvious collaborations between aero/astro and physics, then this is good since you can make your aero/astro background a positive.
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