Applying for PhD despite very weak undergraduate GPA

In summary: Applied Physics provides students with the necessary background to pursue careers in industry, research laboratories, or teaching positions in universities. Included in the curriculum are courses in physics, mathematics, engineering physics, and computer science."Based on these descriptions, it seems like the program would be a good fit for you. However, you should be aware that the program has one and only one course in the standard grad school core curriculum, so your story isn't "got straight A's in hard school" - it's "got a 2.6 as an undergrad and an A in first semester math methods". This means that you will need to make a case to the faculty in your program that you are worth taking on. If you are
  • #1
EsbMtrx
19
3
Hi everyone,

I'll keep it short and to the point. Just as the title say, I'm looking for advice on my situation. I'm very passionate about physics and want nothing more than a career in academia. I went to NYU and graduated with a bachelor's in physics in 2019. Due to various health issues (both physical and mental), I didn’t do very well which led me to graduating with a 2.6 GPA. Luckily, I was able to get into a Master's program in 2022 and currently have a 4.0 GPA here and have gained tons of research experience. I work at BNL, am teaching, and am doing awesome research as a particle physicist. Safe to say I've been very very fortunate to have these opportunities and have been working very hard.

I have a year until it's time to apply to PhD programs so I'm wondering what I can do between now and then to improve my chances at getting into a program. My main concern is my undergraduate grades. Any advice is greatly appreciated. I'm mainly interested in pursuing some sort of mathematical physics program or particle physics program.
 
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  • #2
EsbMtrx said:
Luckily, I was able to get into a Master's program in 2022 and currently have a 4.0 GPA here and have gained tons of research experience.
<<Emphasis added>> Just to clarify, where is "here"?
 
  • #3
CrysPhys said:
<<Emphasis added>> Just to clarify, where is "here"?

Oh sorry, by here I meant in the Master's program I'm currently doing. It's also also in physics.
 
  • #4
EsbMtrx said:
Oh sorry, by here I meant in the Master's program I'm currently doing. It's also also in physics.
Yes, I know you meant you have a 4.0 GPA in your Master's program. But what school are you enrolled in for your Master's program? You said you got your bachelor's from NYU. Are you continuing your Master's at NYU? Did you enroll at the George Santos Institute of Technology? Or ...?
 
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  • #5
CrysPhys said:
Yes, I know you meant you have a 4.0 GPA in your Master's program. But what school are you enrolled in for your Master's program? You said you got your bachelor's from NYU. Are you continuing your Master's at NYU? Did you enroll at the George Santos Institute of Technology? Or ...?
Oh sorry again. I'm enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University's Master's program!
 
  • #6
EsbMtrx said:
Oh sorry again. I'm enrolled at Southern Connecticut State University's Master's program!
The website for that school lists two master's options under graduate studies in physics: MS in Applied Physics and MS in Science Education. Which program are you enrolled in?
 
  • #7
CrysPhys said:
The website for that school lists two master's options under graduate studies in physics: MS in Applied Physics and MS in Science Education. Which program are you enrolled in?
I'm enrolled in the applied physics program. To give you more information: it also lists 2 different tracks, the nano track and the optics track. I plan on doing both of them since one would fulfill the elective requirements.
 
  • #8
First, you need to recognize an unpleasant fact. More people would like faculty position than there are jobs available. If the average professor has ten graduate students, only one of whom is needed to replace her, the odds are 10% given that you graduate. Three times as many people take the PGRE than enter grad school, so that makes the odds more like 3%. Not everyone who starts grad school finishes, so that;s maybe 2% - for an average student. Below average it will be smaller?

I don't think there is value about arguing whether the final number is 1%, 3% or 5%. It's in the single digits of percent, so you need to prepare yourself for the likelihood that it is not going to happen.

When you get picky about the subfields, the odds go down even more.

I think you are correct that the MS will do little good. The program has one and only one course in the standard grad school core curriculum, so your story isn't "got straight A's in hard school" - it's "got a 2.6 as an undergrad and an A in first semester math methods".

What did you get on your PGRE?
Have you met any university faculty at BNL? What are the odds they will take you on?
 
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  • #9
OP: I'm a bit confused as to how you got into your current program and why you enrolled in your current program.

(1) From the SCSU website for your program (https://inside.southernct.edu/physics/graduate-programs/ms-applied-physics): "Candidates seeking admission are expected to have a Baccalaureate degree in physics, engineering, or another related field. A GPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0) is required." But you said your GPA was 2.6. Did they request any additional supporting material for your application to overcome the GPA deficiency?

(2) That same website summarizes the program as follows:

"The Master of Science in Applied Physics promotes workforce development in Connecticut by providing an educational pathway for individuals seeking applied research and management positions in the state's high-tech industries, while providing a source of trained professionals for technology employers.

The M.S. program in applied physics has two tracks -- materials science/nanotechnology and optics/optical instrumentation -- intended to develop the state's workforce in the established optics industry, as well as in the emerging nanotechnology sector.

The M.S. in Applied Physics program was initially developed in consultation with an industrial advisory committee that will continue to guide the program as it matures. Companies represented on the Advisory Board include Smiths Detection, Phonon Corp., Nights Inc., Sikorsky and Zygo Corp.

The Department of Physics at SCSU has a good working relationship with the state's businesses and several externally-funded research projects on campus, including a major collaboration with Yale University funded by the National Science Foundation. Yale and SCSU jointly run a Center of Excellence for Materials Research and Innovation also known as a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). Professor Christine Broadbridge is the leader of these activities at SCSU."

That doesn't sound at all like a suitable program for your stated goals. So why did you enroll in this program?
 
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  • #10
Vanadium 50 said:
First, you need to recognize an unpleasant fact. More people would like faculty position than there are jobs available. If the average professor has ten graduate students, only one of whom is needed to replace her, the odds are 10% given that you graduate. Three times as many people take the PGRE than enter grad school, so that makes the odds more like 3%. Not everyone who starts grad school finishes, so that;s maybe 2% - for an average student. Below average it will be smaller?

I don't think there is value about arguing whether the final number is 1%, 3% or 5%. It's in the single digits of percent, so you need to prepare yourself for the likelihood that it is not going to happen.

When you get picky about the subfields, the odds go down even more.

I think you are correct that the MS will do little good. The program has one and only one course in the standard grad school core curriculum, so your story isn't "got straight A's in hard school" - it's "got a 2.6 as an undergrad and an A in first semester math methods".

What did you get on your PGRE?
Have you met any university faculty at BNL? What are the odds they will take you on?

Hi, thanks for the response. That's exactly what I'm thinking as well. Although just to add something that may help my case: the program had second semester math methods listed as a course which I plan on taking as an independent study in the fall but it'll show up on my transcript as math methods 2. But I suppose the contribution will be minimal.

I actually haven't taken the PGRE yet. I believe my admission to this Master's program was a combination of strong recommendations and the program being easier than usual to get into. I plan on studying for the PGRE and taking it before applying for PhD programs. Another thing I was considering was taking the math GRE since some of my math grades weren't so good.

I haven't been able to network much with university faculty at BNL yet, just PhD students and postdocs but I'll speak to my advisor about being introduced to faculty.
 
  • #11
CrysPhys said:
OP: I'm a bit confused as to how you got into your current program and why you enrolled in your current program.

(1) From the SCSU website for your program (https://inside.southernct.edu/physics/graduate-programs/ms-applied-physics): "Candidates seeking admission are expected to have a Baccalaureate degree in physics, engineering, or another related field. A GPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0) is required." But you said your GPA was 2.6. Did they request any additional supporting material for your application to overcome the GPA deficiency?

(2) That same website summarizes the program as follows:

"The Master of Science in Applied Physics promotes workforce development in Connecticut by providing an educational pathway for individuals seeking applied research and management positions in the state's high-tech industries, while providing a source of trained professionals for technology employers.

The M.S. program in applied physics has two tracks -- materials science/nanotechnology and optics/optical instrumentation -- intended to develop the state's workforce in the established optics industry, as well as in the emerging nanotechnology sector.

The M.S. in Applied Physics program was initially developed in consultation with an industrial advisory committee that will continue to guide the program as it matures. Companies represented on the Advisory Board include Smiths Detection, Phonon Corp., Nights Inc., Sikorsky and Zygo Corp.

The Department of Physics at SCSU has a good working relationship with the state's businesses and several externally-funded research projects on campus, including a major collaboration with Yale University funded by the National Science Foundation. Yale and SCSU jointly run a Center of Excellence for Materials Research and Innovation also known as a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). Professor Christine Broadbridge is the leader of these activities at SCSU."

That doesn't sound at all like a suitable program for your stated goals. So why did you enroll in this program?

I was admitted via conditional acceptance meaning I would need to get all As in my first semester to remain in the program since my GPA did not meet their requirement.

When I first applied I wasn't sure what my goals were. All I knew was that I wanted to go back to school since I didn't enjoy my job and I was applying to smaller schools that I thought had a better chance of accepting me given my weak undergraduate application. This was the first application I sent out and I got accepted so I just decided to go without sending out other applications since I wasn't confident I would get in anywhere else given my GPA. After I got here and spent a few semesters, I realized I really love my research, I love teaching, and I love physics and want to pursue a career in academia. So I've been trying to get advice from as much people as possible on my situation.
 
  • #12
EsbMtrx said:
Luckily, I was able to get into a Master's program in 2022 ...

EsbMtrx said:
I have a year until it's time to apply to PhD programs ...

EsbMtrx said:
After I got here and spent a few semesters, ...
Something is not quite adding up. With respect to your current Master's program, please clarify: (1) when you started, (2) how far along are you, and (3) when you plan to finish.
 
  • #13
CrysPhys said:
Something is not quite adding up. With respect to your current Master's program, please clarify: (1) when you started, (2) how far along are you, and (3) when you plan to finish.
I started January 2022, so the Spring semester. I am a part time student so I have been taking 2 courses a semester. I plan to finish the program December 2024 so I will be sending out PhD applications in the Fall 2024 cycle to start in Fall 2025.

I began working at BNL and teaching (as part of my grad student duties) in the Fall 2022 semester and that’s when I realized I want to pursue a PhD and really enjoyed what I am currently doing. I am in my 3rd semester right now.

Sorry for all the confusion. I wrote my original post in a rush last night so I hope this clears most things up. I appreciate your responses and patience.
 
  • #14
EsbMtrx said:
I began working at BNL and teaching (as part of my grad student duties) in the Fall 2022 semester and that’s when I realized I want to pursue a PhD and really enjoyed what I am currently doing. I am in my 3rd semester right now.
Is the job at BNL part of the Master's program (I suspect not because it's not aligned with the goals of the program), or entirely separate? Is it full time? I'm trying to understand your situation better because your Master's program is ill-suited for your current goals. So you need to decide whether to continue it. At the same time, as V50 pointed, the chances of you attaining your current goals is slim. So will your Master's program, should you complete it, provide a satisfactory Plan B?
 
  • #15
CrysPhys said:
Is the job at BNL part of the Master's program (I suspect not because it's not aligned with the goals of the program), or entirely separate? Is it full time? I'm trying to understand your situation better because your Master's program is ill-suited for your current goals. So you need to decide whether to continue it. At the same time, as V50 pointed, the chances of you attaining your current goals is slim. So will your Master's program, should you complete it, provide a satisfactory Plan B?
So the job at BNL is through the Master's program because my advisor is faculty at BNL. It's part time. I think completing the program is better for me because I am gaining a lot of research experience and learning quite a lot.

Honestly, I would be happy getting into any Physics PhD program. I just want to do more physics and see where I can go from there. I just want to know what I can do to offset my poor undergrad GPA and make myself a stronger PhD candidate. Be it a strong PGRE score, networking, research experience, a strong Master's thesis, and so on. Whatever would help.

As for a satisfactory Plan B, I would have to think more about that...
 
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  • #16
EsbMtrx said:
So the job at BNL is through the Master's program because my advisor is faculty at BNL. It's part time. I think completing the program is better for me because I am gaining a lot of research experience and learning quite a lot.

Honestly, I would be happy getting into any Physics PhD program. I just want to do more physics and see where I can go from there. I just want to know what I can do to offset my poor undergrad GPA and make myself a stronger PhD candidate. Be it a strong PGRE score, networking, research experience, a strong Master's thesis, and so on. Whatever would help.

As for a satisfactory Plan B, I would have to think more about that...
So, I'm looking at the course map for your program. With respect to the thesis option/research project option/internship requirement, will you be able to fulfill those with your advisor at BNL, rather than at an affiliated optics/materials science company?
 
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  • #17
CrysPhys said:
So, I'm looking at the course map for your program. With respect to the thesis option/research project option/internship requirement, will you be able to fulfill those with your advisor at BNL, rather than at an affiliated optics/materials science company?
Yes that is absolutely an option! Currently the plan is to do my thesis with my advisor at BNL. The sPHENIX detector is new and planned to start up this Spring and he mentioned bringing me on to the team and having my research and thesis work be centered around developing new analysis methods using this detector.

I should add that despite the program description, they are very flexible and do their best to meet the student's needs and goals. The moment I mentioned I am interested in pursuing a PhD, they waived the requirements of the business course electives and allowed me to replace those with more physics courses. So I have a lot of freedom in the program in that sense.
 
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  • #18
What does your advisor think of your chances of getting into a phd program? With your resume your best bet is a "I know Bob at rutgers and will vouch for you" type of connection.
 
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  • #19
EsbMtrx said:
Yes that is absolutely an option! Currently the plan is to do my thesis with my advisor at BNL. The sPHENIX detector is new and planned to start up this Spring and he mentioned bringing me on to the team and having my research and thesis work be centered around developing new analysis methods using this detector.

I should add that despite the program description, they are very flexible and do their best to meet the student's needs and goals. The moment I mentioned I am interested in pursuing a PhD, they waived the requirements of the business course electives and allowed me to replace those with more physics courses. So I have a lot of freedom in the program in that sense.
OK. That makes the program sound more reasonable then. But your future basically hinges on your performance at BNL, rather than on the Master's program per se. When you apply for a PhD program, you will be competing with candidates with high GPA, high PGRE, and strong research experience. So your performance at BNL will be the distinguishing factor. Will it be enough? Beats me. At least your schedule works in your favor, since you will have completed your program, including thesis, by the time you submit your applications for PhD programs.

Have you discussed your plans with your BNL advisor? Are there other program options through BNL? E.g., hypothetically, if you were hired by BNL, what advanced education program opportunities does BNL offer?

Otherwise, on paper, the career track offered by your Master's program is a job in industry in the optics/materials fields. But to fully exploit that opportunity, you would need to do your research and internships with affiliated companies in those fields.
 
  • #20
So, your plan is to wait until 2024 or 2025 to take the PGRE?

Suppose you score in the 25th percentile. Now what?
 
  • #21
Office_Shredder said:
What does your advisor think of your chances of getting into a phd program? With your resume your best bet is a "I know Bob at rutgers and will vouch for you" type of connection.
Honestly he is more optimistic than I am. Whether that's misguided or not, I don't know but he is very happy with my research contributions. We've discussed my GPA deficiency and my poor grades, especially in certain core physics courses in undergrad and he thinks the goal is definitely to focus on my research and try my best to get my name on publications to offset that as well as make connections with others at BNL and people in the high energy field.

CrysPhys said:
OK. That makes the program sound more reasonable then. But your future basically hinges on your performance at BNL, rather than on the Master's program per se. When you apply for a PhD program, you will be competing with candidates with high GPA, high PGRE, and strong research experience. So your performance at BNL will be the distinguishing factor. Will it be enough? Beats me. At least your schedule works in your favor, since you will have completed your program, including thesis, by the time you submit your applications for PhD programs.

Have you discussed your plans with your BNL advisor? Are there other program options through BNL? E.g., hypothetically, if you were hired by BNL, what advanced education program opportunities does BNL offer?

Otherwise, on paper, the career track offered by your Master's program is a job in industry in the optics/materials fields. But to fully exploit that opportunity, you would need to do your research and internships with affiliated companies in those fields.
That's a really nice way to put it. I haven't taken the PGRE yet but I'm confident I can do very well on it. I'm a good test taker and I've taken the standard GRE before and got a 170 on the quantitative section (which I imagine helped my case for admission to this program). I have mentioned my plans with my BNL advisor but we haven't talked about program options through BNL specifically. I will ask about that as soon as possible and give an update.

Basically, what I'm getting is that I should be taking full advantage of my position at BNL and making the most out of it. Since I would be applying for PhD programs in the Fall 2024 cycle (or even later than that depending on any educational or employment opportunities at BNL), then I have some time between now and then to look into any opportunities.

Is there anything else you think I should be doing? I thought about taking the math GRE as well but I'm not sure how helpful that would be.

Vanadium 50 said:
So, your plan is to wait until 2024 or 2025 to take the PGRE?

Suppose you score in the 25th percentile. Now what?
Yes, I plan on taking the PGRE sometime in 2024. CrysPhys gave a lot a fantastic advice: essentially I should be leveraging my position at BNL and using that to make connections, get my name on publications, exploit educational opportunities if available, and so on. I'm going to speak to my advisor about this, ask what he thinks, and try to form some plan centered around my research at BNL.

Is there any other advice you can give me in that regard or anything else you think I should be doing to improve my PhD application?
 
  • #22
OP: You should also discuss options for Plan B with your BNL advisor. Looks like you have your heart set on a PhD program. At least if you try your best to get into one, you won't have to look back with regret ("I wish I had tried. Who knows how that would have worked out?"). But what if it doesn't work out, and you don't get in? As I mentioned above, by concentrating your efforts on BNL, you are also giving up opportunities leading to a job in industry in the optics/materials fields. Your courses in the Master's program are not core foundational physics courses (with the exception, as V50 pointed out, of the Methods of Theoretical Physics). Will you be content continuing on in a support role, not as a lead investigator, in a lab such as BNL?

And even if you do get into a PhD program and even if you do successfully complete it, what happens if you do not land a position as an academic researcher in particle physics? Will you be prepared to say, "OK. I've completed that phase of my life; time to transition to a new phase." ? Will you be content to move on to another field in which you can apply your knowledge, skills, and experience? Even if that other field is, e.g., industrial R&D, finance, or data analysis?
 
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  • #23
And what happens if you wait a couple years to take the PGRE and then do poorly on it? Worry about it then?

I see a lot of "hope" and not a lot of "plan" here.
 
  • #24
@EsbMtrx : What exactly is your career goal?

So far in this thread, the end-game seems to be getting into an PhD program, which is not a career goal.

If the intention here is to become a practicing physics, either as a university faculty member or research scientist, then as Vanadium has pointed out, the chances of this are rather small, and not only that, most universities and research facilities tend to select candidates from brand-name schools with pedigree, especially if you plan to stick with the field of high-energy/nuclear physics.

On the other hand, if your research work is on the detector (i.e. detector physics), than maybe this is your "Plan B" in which, after graduation, you have the knowledge and skills to be employed outside of academia and increases your chances of getting a job. If that's the case, then getting into top-tier institutions for your PhD may not as crucial.

What it boils down to is the question on what do you intend to do after all this, because obviously it may dictate what area of study you decide to focus on and consequently, where you might be able to get into.

As a side note, I know that this is being nit-picky, but RHIC and the Phenix detector are not usually considered as "particle physics", even though they collide "particles". RHIC is a nuclear physics facility (funded by that branch of study in DOE Office of Science). It is a user facility, meaning that personnel from other institutions and companies are welcomed to do their research work there. It doesn't mean that they are "faculty members" of BNL, i.e. they are not employee of BNL. On any given day, there could be more non-BNL personnel on site than there are BNL staff due to the various user facilities there (RHIC, NSLS II, etc.). I, myself, spent 3 years doing my postdoc at BNL (condensed matter) but was considered as a "NSLS User".

BTW, you have very good writing skills, something that is not that common in many physics graduates that I have come across.

Good luck!

Zz.
 
  • #25
CrysPhys said:
OP: You should also discuss options for Plan B with your BNL advisor. Looks like you have your heart set on a PhD program. At least if you try your best to get into one, you won't have to look back with regret ("I wish I had tried. Who knows how that would have worked out?"). But what if it doesn't work out, and you don't get in? As I mentioned above, by concentrating your efforts on BNL, you are also giving up opportunities leading to a job in industry in the optics/materials fields. Your courses in the Master's program are not core foundational physics courses (with the exception, as V50 pointed out, of the Methods of Theoretical Physics). Will you be content continuing on in a support role, not as a lead investigator, in a lab such as BNL?

And even if you do get into a PhD program and even if you do successfully complete it, what happens if you do not land a position as an academic researcher in particle physics? Will you be prepared to say, "OK. I've completed that phase of my life; time to transition to a new phase." ? Will you be content to move on to another field in which you can apply your knowledge, skills, and experience? Even if that other field is, e.g., industrial R&D, finance, or data analysis?
Vanadium 50 said:
And what happens if you wait a couple years to take the PGRE and then do poorly on it? Worry about it then?

I see a lot of "hope" and not a lot of "plan" here.
Frankly I'm not very interested in the optics/materials field. In the Master's program, I've taken a machine learning course and also have a good amount of experience using machine learning in my research so I would be interested in pursuing a career in that if something in academia doesn't pan out, something like a machine learning engineer or data scientist / data analyst. I think a Master's degree in a quantitative field like physics makes me well positioned to do that.

I would definitely be content working in a support role in a lab at BNL. If after a PhD I do not land a position as an academic researcher, then I would be okay with moving with that part of my life. At the moment I just really want to study more physics.

I suppose my Plan B looks something like either going for a support role in a lab and if that doesn't work out then I would really enjoy a career in machine learning / AI related field. So yes, the Plan B would be something like going for a data analysist position if an academic reseearcher / support role at a lab doesn't work out.
 
  • #26
ZapperZ said:
@EsbMtrx : What exactly is your career goal?

So far in this thread, the end-game seems to be getting into an PhD program, which is not a career goal.

If the intention here is to become a practicing physics, either as a university faculty member or research scientist, then as Vanadium has pointed out, the chances of this are rather small, and not only that, most universities and research facilities tend to select candidates from brand-name schools with pedigree, especially if you plan to stick with the field of high-energy/nuclear physics.

On the other hand, if your research work is on the detector (i.e. detector physics), than maybe this is your "Plan B" in which, after graduation, you have the knowledge and skills to be employed outside of academia and increases your chances of getting a job. If that's the case, then getting into top-tier institutions for your PhD may not as crucial.

What it boils down to is the question on what do you intend to do after all this, because obviously it may dictate what area of study you decide to focus on and consequently, where you might be able to get into.

As a side note, I know that this is being nit-picky, but RHIC and the Phenix detector are not usually considered as "particle physics", even though they collide "particles". RHIC is a nuclear physics facility (funded by that branch of study in DOE Office of Science). It is a user facility, meaning that personnel from other institutions and companies are welcomed to do their research work there. It doesn't mean that they are "faculty members" of BNL, i.e. they are not employee of BNL. On any given day, there could be more non-BNL personnel on site than there are BNL staff due to the various user facilities there (RHIC, NSLS II, etc.). I, myself, spent 3 years doing my postdoc at BNL (condensed matter) but was considered as a "NSLS User".

BTW, you have very good writing skills, something that is not that common in many physics graduates that I have come across.

Good luck!

Zz.
I would describe it like this:

My #1 goal is to become a practicing physicist as you mentioned either as a university faculty member / research scientist. I know it's slim but I still want to try. Ideally I want my career to be in physics in any capacity, whether it's in a support role in some lab, and so on.

If that doesn't work out I would be happy with working as a data analyst / data scientist / machine learning engineer since I've acquired those skills throughout my education.

I appreciate the correction and thank you for the compliment! Creative writing is one of my hobbies so I would hope that my writing skills aren't half bad haha
 
  • #27
Vanadium 50 said:
And what happens if you wait a couple years to take the PGRE and then do poorly on it?
Then that would likely be covered by the "But what if it doesn't work out, and you don't get in [a PhD program]?" scenario.
 
  • #28
Others have given excellent, statistics based, quite objective advice to which I can't add any more. However, I would like to give a "softer" and rather subjective point of view articulated best by American paleontologist, Stephen Gould, when he faced and won against cancer, at least the first bout. I guess his (and my) point is to follow your heart.

After a difficult two-year recovery, Gould published a column for Discover magazine in 1985 titled "The Median Isn't the Message", which discusses his reaction to reading that "mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery." In his essay, he describes the actual significance behind this fact, and his relief upon recognizing that statistical averages are useful abstractions, and by themselves do not encompass "our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua."

https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/median-isnt-message/2013-01
 
  • #29
I spoke to my advisor and he agreed with the sentiment that my performance at BNL is really important and networking with others at BNL is also crucial. He also mentioned that he would help me meet others and try to create more opportunities to get my name out there whether it be through presentations at BNL or just casual conversation.

Another idea he mentioned is that since the Master's program doesn't have the usual core graduate physics courses, I could try taking some of those courses at other institutions such as Yale or Wesleyan and the Physics department at my university may be able to fund me, at least partially. I think this could be a good idea although I don't really know how taking courses at institutions I'm not a student at works.

vibhuav said:
Others have given excellent, statistics based, quite objective advice to which I can't add any more. However, I would like to give a "softer" and rather subjective point of view articulated best by American paleontologist, Stephen Gould, when he faced and won against cancer, at least the first bout. I guess his (and my) point is to follow your heart.

After a difficult two-year recovery, Gould published a column for Discover magazine in 1985 titled "The Median Isn't the Message", which discusses his reaction to reading that "mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery." In his essay, he describes the actual significance behind this fact, and his relief upon recognizing that statistical averages are useful abstractions, and by themselves do not encompass "our actual world of variation, shadings, and continua."

https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/median-isnt-message/2013-01
Thank you for posting this. I didn’t want to turn my post into a sob story but I actually struggled with cancer during undergrad and it was an incredibly difficult time. This is very inspiring.
 
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  • #30
CrysPhys said:
Then that would likely be covered by the "But what if it doesn't work out, and you don't get in [a PhD program]?" scenario.
Sure, but why wait? If his PGRE scores are poor, why wait to find out until it is too late to take action?
 
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  • #31
Vanadium 50 said:
Sure, but why wait? If his PGRE scores are poor, why wait to find out until it is too late to take action?
That's two different questions.

(a) The first question is: If the OP delays the PGRE such that they have only one shot before grad school applications are due, and if they blow the test, then what? The answer is that the OP will likely not be accepted into a PhD program, and will need to fall back to Plan B. As long as the OP has a satisfactory Plan B in hand, then it's OK.

(b) The second question is: How should the OP schedule the PGRE in order to maximize the chances of getting a high score? I looked up the latest test schedule. The PGRE is offered in April, Sept, and Oct. It's too late for April 2023. It wouldn't make sense to plan to take it in both Sept and Oct. So it would make sense to plan for Sept or Oct 2023, April 2024, and Sept or Oct 2024, if needed (3 shots, well-spaced apart to allow plenty of time for initial prep and remedial prep).

It's up to the OP to set priorities on their activities; e.g., prepping for the PGRE or making a strong impression at BNL. Only the OP knows what their appropriate balance is. The OP has previously responded:

EsbMtrx said:
I haven't taken the PGRE yet but I'm confident I can do very well on it. I'm a good test taker and I've taken the standard GRE before and got a 170 on the quantitative section (which I imagine helped my case for admission to this program).
 
  • #32
Honestly, @CrysPhys , I don't think the OP is coming across as very serious. He wants a "do-over{" and these are few and far between.
It;'s time to call aspade a spade with respect to grades. In grad school, a 3.0 is the minimum, and below that is considered failing. And undergraduate classes are easier. The OP is trying to get in with what will be viewed as an F average.

One thing that cam partially offset this - and only partially, as many places will look at this as demopnstrated proof that the OP can't handle grad school - is a very strong PGRE. It will at least allow for some advovate on the admissions committee to say "well, he must have learned something somewhere". The OP's plan for this? Wait a couple years and count on beingh a good test taker. Is tyhis a good plan?

And remember, admissions are competitive. He needs to convince the committee to offer him a slot over someone else who had a higher GPA (and likely from a higher ranked school). A pretty good PGRE isn't going to cut it - it needs to eb unusually high.

Also, a 170Q isn't some sort of get out of jail free card. First, the General GRE is essentially irrelevant ofr physics admissions. Second. the top third (roughly the admit fraction) score above 165. In short, he did abiut as well as expected on a test with little weight. Sure, it beats a 140, but it won't budge the needle.

The Makkinje paper says that about 0.1% of admitted students had a 2.6 GPA or lower. I don't think "I'm a good test taker" is going to overcone that. The OP is spending thousands on an MS program that isn;'t leading him anywhere. He can spend a few hundred on seeing where he is on the PGRE.
 
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  • #33
Vanadium 50 said:
Honestly, @CrysPhys , I don't think the OP is coming across as very serious. He wants a "do-over{" and these are few and far between.
It;'s time to call aspade a spade with respect to grades. In grad school, a 3.0 is the minimum, and below that is considered failing. And undergraduate classes are easier. The OP is trying to get in with what will be viewed as an F average.

One thing that cam partially offset this - and only partially, as many places will look at this as demopnstrated proof that the OP can't handle grad school - is a very strong PGRE. It will at least allow for some advovate on the admissions committee to say "well, he must have learned something somewhere". The OP's plan for this? Wait a couple years and count on beingh a good test taker. Is tyhis a good plan?

And remember, admissions are competitive. He needs to convince the committee to offer him a slot over someone else who had a higher GPA (and likely from a higher ranked school). A pretty good PGRE isn't going to cut it - it needs to eb unusually high.

Also, a 170Q isn't some sort of get out of jail free card. First, the General GRE is essentially irrelevant ofr physics admissions. Second. the top third (roughly the admit fraction) score above 165. In short, he did abiut as well as expected on a test with little weight. Sure, it beats a 140, but it won't budge the needle.

The Makkinje paper says that about 0.1% of admitted students had a 2.6 GPA or lower. I don't think "I'm a good test taker" is going to overcone that. The OP is spending thousands on an MS program that isn;'t leading him anywhere. He can spend a few hundred on seeing where he is on the PGRE.
First off, I'm a woman.

I'm not sure why you think I'm not serious about this. The reason I haven't taken the PGRE yet is because I want to take some time to study before taking the exam. I had a very difficult time during undergrad dealing with and recovering from cancer and the 2 years after that was essentially learning how to function as a normal human being again. The Master's program was a way for me to dip my toes into school again and see how classes go, how studying goes, how exams go. It was a chance to build my confidence up.

I don't want to take the PGRE until I feel prepared for it which won't be until I've properly studied for it. I plan to do that by reviewing the relevant topics through Halliday and Resnick's and doing every single problem in the book.

So again, I'm not sure what about my responses come off as not "serious" to you when all I've done is ask for advice and all you've done is made several assumptions and judgements on my situation. Please be more considerate.

I plan on taking the PGRE in 2024 after I feel I've sufficiently prepared for it and I consider myself a good test taker in general, which is why I even mentioned that fact. I'm confident in getting a good score after I've reviewed all the relevant material.

It also just seems like you aren't reading my posts at all. I've asked for advice and CrysPhys has given me fantastic advice, mentioning that my opportunity lies in leveraging my performance at BNL rather than my Master's program per se. I came here for help in formulating a plan and CrysPhys has been helping brainstorm one.
 
  • #34
One option to get into a PhD program would be to utilize the program you are in to find a job in industry, to demonstrate outstanding performance and your research bent there, and to ultimately seek admission to a PhD program on the strength of test scores and your solid real world performance as a physicist, with references from Master's faculty and your employers and co-workers (ideally with some a publication or two in an academic journal in some combination of graduate school and professional employment to demonstrate your capacity to do and publish academic class research).

Also, use vacation days or PTO to attend academic conferences in areas where you are interested and ask questions and engage in serious physics discussion with as many people as you can. And, to do that well, stay current on the literature.

For example, maybe your lab in industry has equipment that someone in a small PhD program at a non-flagship state college doesn't have access to, and you can parlay making your equipment available and supervising experiments operationally for a space on an authorship line of a professor's research paper. I know of a couple of physicists in industry who have done that.

And research where admission standards might be least rigorous (lower prestige schools, with smaller programs in less desirable places). Pay particular attention to schools that have admitted non-traditional candidates in the past and to schools were you've built a relationship even if a fragile and thin one with someone in the physics faculty.

When you've done nothing but school, you've got nothing to overcome poor grades with. But, the more removed you are from your undergraduate years, the more an admissions committee is going to evaluate a non-traditional PhD candidate based upon other criteria from your more recent past that demonstrates your potential.

Also, keep in mind that from the faculty's perspective, PhD candidates are as much a labor force of junior assistants as they are students. Proving to them that you know your way around a lab so they won't need to train you in the "stuff they don't teach you in undergrad and master's programs" about actually working as a junior physicist and will be ready to go and very helpful already on day one to take a load of "drudge work" off your PhD advisor can be very persuasive, even if the faculty is ambivalent about your academic potential at first. Likewise, if you can demonstrate polished, technically immaculate written work product, that shows them that they won't have to toil over proof reading your work for minor details as opposed to big picture concepts, that will make you attractive to them.

In an interview, you can also communicate and demonstrate that you are more in touch with where the hiring professors are in life than typical applicants are (i.e. you won't be showing up to the lab with a hang over or distracted by swooning over someone you just met at a college football game) and that you have more maturity and good judgment and take things seriously, so long as you also show that you have as much commitment to working long hours in the lab or as a TA as the folks straight out of undergrad. Let them know that you can assure them that they can trust you to be responsible unsupervised based upon your experience doing just that, in a way that less proven candidates can't.

When you are 24 years old, your undergraduate grades and the rigor of your master's program (which isn't great) is everything.

When you are 30 and have 5-6 years experience as a physicist in industry and you have two or three of solid, technical, academic journal publications under your belt (maybe one directly through work, and one or two in collaboration with professors who you barter resources and time for authorship with), and you've got solid test scores (with lots of test prep) and good recommendations, your undergraduate grades won't seem nearly as relevant to someone evaluating you as a non-traditional student in a small PhD program.
 
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  • #35
Your health issues gives the admissions committee an excuse for ignoring your undergraduate grades, BUT you need to give them a reason to look for that excuse. A large percentage of students do not complete their PhD program; you need to demonstrate that you will not be one of them.
1) Demonstrate an ability to do research.
2) Do well on the Physics GRE. You will need more than Halliday and Resnick to do this.
3) You mention being able to take classes at a neighboring university. You should choose among classical mechanics, e&m, quantum and stat mech. Obviously you will need good grades.
4) Exploit the networks of you advisor and BNL collaborators for prospective universities. A recommendation of unconditional support from a known person can go a long way.

Be aware that you can do all of this and still not reach your goal.

@ohwilleke‘s industrial approach is also a very good suggestion.
 
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