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Applying to Grad school with a failed year + other questions?

  1. Dec 2, 2009 #1
    Hello. This is a long post, so some of you may find it a bit boring, and you probably won't want to read all of it. I've read some of the posts related to my questions, but my situation is a bit funkier so I decided to make my own post. Thanks for reading. Questions start with bold numbers.

    Currently I'm a second year science major doing physics and math courses. In my very first year of university, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I tried arts, but I didn't like my courses very much, so I didn't bother going. I didn't end up writing any of the finals, so I failed pretty hard (23.6% average).

    I went to a community college after that, as a science major, and got back into university. Right now I'm taking 3 physics and 2 math courses, and I'm considering transferring to engineering. I have about a 95% average in those courses, but my cumulative GPA is much, much lower.

    1. If there's hope of me getting into teaching at the post secondary level, I'd like to do graduate level physics. I'm always wondering how things work, and it's fun to figure it out and explain it to other people. I feel that I am happiest when I'm teaching. However, I don't know if a physics graduate school will let me in with a failed year. A lot of people I've talked to seem to think I'm doomed. If I am, then I might just do engineering. I would learn a lot about how things work, and I think it could be fun too.

    2. I've read a lot about how difficult graduate level physics is. From what I've read, effort is the main determinant of success. This is a big problem for me because I have a very hard time sitting down and focusing on a single question for a long time. At the college, the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Aspergers. I'm worried that I may simply not be cut out for academia, and maybe I should just stick with a Bachelors degree in something more practical. I have the option of taking stimulants to help me focus, but I'm not sure if that would be enough. If I could focus, then I wouldn't mind the large time investment towards my courses.

    One of my professors said that in undergrad, third and fourth year involve more work than second, but you aren't expected to learn material much faster than at second year. Once you're over the second year "hump", then it's not too hard. Because of this I think can do an undergraduate degree. If I'm wrong though, I wouldn't mind some input.

    Thanks again for reading. I appreciate any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2009 #2
    Maybe this is just me wondering this, but seriously how do people let their grades get that low? And why would you pay for a class (or, even worse, waste someone else's money paying for a class) that you never go to.

    Anyways, it shouldn't affect your record overall since most places will ask for both your overall GPA and your GPA in your major. If not, be sure to explain that situation and it shouldn't be a big deal. Also, for most non-university teaching positions, a BS/BA in Physics plus the appropriate teaching degree is enough.
  4. Dec 3, 2009 #3
    a) Work, depression, family situations, poor planning, etc. Sometimes you just get in over your head and can't handle it.
    b) You didn't intend to skip the class or you thought you could ace it without going (I've had classes like that) or any of the situations in .
    Similar situation to op, except mine's even messier, so I talked to a professor who was on the admissions committee at the grad school I want to apply to. He said that as long as there is a decent record after that year, (and possibly explain it on the application) it shouldn't lead to an automatic rejection. You can email the schools you want to go to and ask them what their policy is. Another way to soften the year effect is to already work for the professor you want to work with in grad school, preferably if he's already got funding for you. My mentor called up the director of the grad program, who said that getting in shouldn't be a problem as long as the recommendation says the right things.

    As for grades, you can soften the effect on your GPA by taking lots of other courses. Also, find out if your school has an F-retake policy (at my school you choose which courses the retake counts for, so it's not an automatic/well-known policy) or anything else that can help soften the grades.

    It depends on the professor and the school, but yeah. 3rd and 4th year, at least in my school, have a lot of projects applying concepts, but the concepts are usually manageable chunks of info. 1st and 2nd year can actually be worse in some ways 'cause it's cramming in a lot of fundamentals.
  5. Dec 3, 2009 #4
    Work and poor planning are not unforeseeable problems, so I don't accept those as valid reasons. Depression is a mental issue, and family stuff can come up without warning, so I'll at least accept those as valid. That being said, it makes much more sense to drop the class/es and retake it/them at a more convenient time than to fail them miserably. Even if some kind of emergency came up after the drop deadline, schools have procedures in place for that to help students get through it since it is out of their control.

    As for part b, that's just silly. Even if you thought you could ace a class without going, why would you risk it? And even if you knew 100% that you could pass it, then why wouldn't you just go to get your (or whoever else's) money's worth? Regardless of whether or not you go to class, you (or whoever pays for your education) pay the same amount of tuition.

    Something I forgot to add in my original post: you shouldn't have any problems trying to become a teacher, assuming you're in the US, since we're so desperate for teachers (especially math and science teachers).
  6. Dec 3, 2009 #5
    Sometimes you can't drop a class cause you need to be full-time, (some scholarships and parental health insurance plans require it).

    Depending on your school's level of bureaucratic disaster area, failing can be much more attractive. At my school, not much short of the threat of a lawsuit will get them to bend their policies. This is assuming you even understand the bureaucratic maze well enough to figure who to start out with (and that person will invariably be the first in a zig-zagging chain you will have to go through until you've seen everyone 15 times and learn that person you really need to talk to is in a different department.) By the way, this is while you're going through whatever issues are causing you to mess up in the first place, so you may not have the time or energy for this mess anyway.

    Look, I know full well that it's incredibly irresponsible to fail all your courses and not show up to class and all that jazz, but I think it's understandable.

    Cause the professor is awful? I had two classes where I went to every other session and still did well, because the professor was never on topic and graded arbitrarily, and just about the only times we even covered the material ware the two times the TA came in.

    He wants to be a post-secondary teacher, which means college/community college. At the least, he'll need either a masters or enough of a reputation to get an adjunct position. It'd be really unlikely for him to end up on a tenure track.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2009
  7. Dec 3, 2009 #6
    I can understand the bad professor thing, but my school has a procedure for student leaves of absence in the event of an emergency even if it happens after the drop deadline. Maybe that's different elsewhere, but it seems like that kind of thing would be pretty standard. I can't say I've ever had that bad of a bureaucratic nightmare, though. Maybe I've just been lucky.

    Totally missed the "post" part of post-secondary. If that's the case, I think the standard advice I've read on this board has been "don't expect to get a job, especially a tenure-track one".
  8. Dec 3, 2009 #7
    Usually the dean of students will handle these situations. That's what they are there for. Your dean of students office should be able to direct you to the right place if they don't handle something themselves.
  9. Dec 3, 2009 #8
    Thank you for all of the advice. I appreciate the honesty.

    To davesface, I think you are completely right that I was irresponsible. My counselor was appalled that I just didn't bother showing up to the courses and that I did not withdraw from anything. Failing all of those courses was easily the most humiliating thing in my life, and I don't want it to happen again.

    As for everyone who is saying I would be really unlikely to end up on a tenure track, is that because I'd only have a masters or because of my failed year? I do want to do a PhD, but that's a very foolish statement to make in second year undergrad, so I just want to set one goal at a time.

    Graduate level physics is supposed to be a massive time investment of hellish proportions, and I would need to try to get internships, try undergrad research, etc. I was thinking of doing my masters in engineering if I ever get there. Hypothetically though, if I could do a PhD in applied science or physics, what would be my chances of teaching at a university?

    Again, thanks for all of the advice.
  10. Dec 3, 2009 #9
    It's because no one is likely to end up tenure track. 2 of Princeton's 23 PhD grads last year took tenure track positions. 16 are doing postgrad, and some amount of them will probably end up tenure track, but you're still not looking at great odds. And that's Princeton.

    http://gradschool.princeton.edu/about/docs/ratestable/tablea/PHY.pdf [Broken]

    Edit: Now that I look at it again, those 2 were the first in at least 5 years of grads to get academic (non-postgrad) jobs directly from Princeton.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  11. Dec 3, 2009 #10
    Alright, I'll finally do the actual math :smile:. According to AIP there are 9150 full time equivalent physics faculty (http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/emptrends.html). There are about 1400 new PhDs each year (http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/highlite/ed/figure13.htm).

    Assuming an average full time faculty career of 30 years, 1/30 of those positions open up each year. 9150/30 = 305.

    305 positions per year are available to 1400 PhDs. So roughly 2/9 physics PhDs get full time equivalent faculty positions. The number gets closer to 1/10 when you look at PhD granting institutions.

    Does anyone have a real number for the average duration of a FTE career? There will be some attrition, but do tenured professors ever really retire :smile:?

    Edit: Calculator fail.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  12. Dec 3, 2009 #11
    Assuming the school even offers a tenure track, (which, like kote said, is increasinlgy rare), someone without a phd wouldn't even be considered in most circumstances. Faculty positions are often posted in departments, and almost all of them (even the assistant professor positions) require a phd. At that stage, very few schools care about what you did as an undergrad.
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