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Applying to Grad School without Research Experience

  1. Jul 5, 2007 #1
    I'm going to apply for grad school this fall. I'm an international student from Pakistan. Although I don't have extraordinary credentials, but I think I satisfy the minimum - top 10% of my class. I'm also confident of scoring high on GRE Physics as some trials have went unexpectedly well.
    However, I'm faced with a dilemma: In my country, (or to be more precise), in my university (#1 of my country!), there is no concept of research at undergrad level (no thesis, no term paper, nothing!). There are hardly any institutes where you can work as an intern - even the ones which are involved in research are 'classified'. Industry doesn't exist. So how was I supposed to get research experience?
    There is, however, one way to do so. If I get enrolled in M. Phil., I'll have to write up thesis in the second year of study. But I think I'll be just wasting my time because the faculty is not good. I don't think it's a good idea since I've already completed 16 years of education, why should I study for two more years when I can get admitted into Ph.D. directly!
    I would be happy getting admitted in non-top tiers, but I've heard it's hard getting TA/RA jobs in such universities for international students, and fellowships are limited to locals only.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2007 #2

    George Jones

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    If you're considering grad school outside of Pakistan, don't do the M. Phil unless it's abosolutely necessary. You're probably thinking about the U.S. or Britain, but I can only comment about Canada.

    Here, it's not necessary to have research experience to get accepted into grad school (e.g., my wife). When I was in grad school (quite some time ago), all physics students received RA's for their thesis research, and (I think) all physics grad students received also TA's, if they so wanted. Most Canadian universites guarantee a mimimum amount of financial support (about $17,000 per year) to all physics (post)grad students.

    I don't know about eligibility for fellowships.

    Poke around some university websites.

    PS In a couple of weeks, a Pakistani-Canadian friend of mine is having his shadi in Islamabad.
  4. Jul 6, 2007 #3
    I'm considering grad school in the US. I don't think US universities require research experience, but most people who get in good universities have some kind of research background.
    I will look at a few Canadian university websites. Thanks.

    ps: One of my Pakistani-Canadian friends also had his wedding recently in Karachi :wink:
  5. Jul 8, 2007 #4
    I would imagine it's an unspoken rule by now.
  6. Jul 9, 2007 #5
    That's what I'm afraid of. I was wondering if there's any way I could show off my eagerness for research.

    Like, for example, I have given a seminar in my department, nothing original, just a little technical seminar on Quantum Mechanics discussing some common misconceptions, and ending with a 2-3 slide discussion of the interpretation problem and where it stands. I intend to give more seminars this fall. Will it count?
    I should mention that it was the first time that an undergrad student gave a seminar - at least that's what some faculty members tell me. It was my initiative altogether!

    Also, can I write up some report on a paper or group of papers and submit it with my grad application to show that I'm interested in research? Will it count as 'research experience'?

    I need more replies.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2007
  7. Jul 9, 2007 #6
    Seminar teaching experance, and showing that you put these things together yourself, I think would be quite useful when applying for graduate work. I think the purpose of the research experance for undergrads as an unspoken requisit for graduate work is to demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to do well as a grad student; however, I believe that teaching experance would also demonstrate this as many universities have grad students teaching lower division classes.

    I wouldn't call the work you doing necessarily research experance, but I would definatly write my application in a manner that demonstrates your willingness to adapt to research and your drive to preform research.

    Best of luck
  8. Jul 12, 2007 #7
    I have read some statements of purpose from people who got in some of the most selected gradschools. The way they show they are interested in research is by talking about the research experience they've had. I just wonder how convincing one can be without research experience.

    Thanks for your suggestion, physicist. I'm surely going to talk about my seminar!
  9. Jul 12, 2007 #8
    I wouldn't worry too much about not having research experience. Are there other students from your university who have gone on to graduate work in other countries that you can ask for advice?

    Have you had a chance to work on a project for one of your courses? Perhaps you've fixed (or built!) a piece of lab equipment or written some software to model a problem. Or maybe you've just played around with a really simple (but interesting!) mechanics problem. You can build your statement around anything that interests you - the point is to show you've worked on something and thought about it deeply and carefully.

    Maybe you can ask the professors who write your referee's reports to mention that students at your university don't have opportunities to do research as undergrads. That should cover all your bases as best as possible.

    Have fun with the talk!
  10. Jul 12, 2007 #9


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    Research experience is not necessary for admission to graduate school, but certainly if one has some experience, it will increase the probability of being accepted in a competitive situation.

    One of my undergrad colleagues started doing some research (numerical methods) in his 3rd year (junior). He went on doing research in numerical methods for solving the advection-diffusion equation in his MS and PhD programs.
  11. Jul 13, 2007 #10
    Yes, I have talked to a couple of them. They didn't have any research experience, but they didn't manage to get into very competitive schools!

    I didn't think about it before. I'll ask my professors to mention in their recommendation letter to clearly mention that the university doesn't have a thesis option.

    I have done some research in a couple of topics that interest me but I don't have evidence for it. I didn't write a paper, neither did I write a report. I just did it because I was curious. I hope I can convince the admissions committee that even though I don't have any research experience, I am very keen to do so.

    Thanks for your replies, astronuc and oedipa maas. :smile:
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2007
  12. Jul 13, 2007 #11
    It is also surely possible to volunteer for a professor? Pick someone whose research seems interesting and see if they have a few problems slotted away that an undergrad could work on.
  13. Jul 15, 2007 #12
    There is only one faculty member, in my university, whose research area is theoretical high energy physics. How much he helps students in research can be seen from the statistics - reportedly he hasn't supervised a single PhD student in his 30+ years as a professor.

    I asked a few professors with different research interests, which also intrigued me, like Quantum Information and Condensed Matter Theory, but they already have 4-5 grad students to deal with.

    I hope I can write a decent Statement of Purpose where I can explain how I was willing to do research but I couldn't find a supervisor.
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