1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Attend an average PhD program or wait a year to retake the GRE?

  1. May 23, 2017 #1
    Hi all,
    I got accepted to 2 Astrophysics phd programs ( University of Connecticut and the University of Cincinnati). To be honest, I am not thrilled by the prospect of attending either school but my only other option is to retake the GREs again and wait another year to attend graduate. Ideally I want to either stay in NYC for graduate school, which is where I currently live, or go to somewhere warmer like California.

    A little about me: I graduated from Binghamton University (State University of New York) with a Physics BA and a 3.6 GPA last year. My main research interests lie in Dark Matter/Energy research, seconded by pretty much any interesting topic in astrophysics/cosmology. My ethnic background is male, African- American. I know my background isn't exactly glamorous but my most desired graduate programs (reach schools) are UCBerkeley, Columbia, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, NYU and UCLA). My greatest weakness is my PGRE score which I hardly devoted enough time to study for due to other pressing matters.

    My main question is: should I attend the one of the two programs that have accepted me or should I hold off for another year and retake the GREs? Also, I have applied to quite a few physics research assistantships positions but have not had any successes. So even If I decide to take another year off, I probably won't be able to strengthen my future graduate school application via research assistantships.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2017 #2

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Why do you think your reach schools will be within your...um... reach next year? What will be different about your application?
     
  4. May 23, 2017 #3
    Why not just try to get a research internship with one of these unis, do a good job and prepare for this "GRE" on the side? This way you'll improve both your physics CV and get a chance to fix your GRE score. I'd guess this would significantly increase your reach,,, and if you can't get Berkely, shouldn't you be able to get into one of the other unis in the UC system?

    (And especially if they use these affirmative action quotas? Or is this just for undergrad )
     
  5. May 23, 2017 #4
    I will be retaking the GREs (PGRE and the general) both to improve my score. Also, if possible get a research internship.
     
  6. May 23, 2017 #5
    I have been trying to find research internship but it is been pretty tough so far. And yeah, I am definitely also applying to the other California schools. By the way, I don't care much for affirmative action. I know I am smart enough to compete toe-to-toe with anyone else. So what do you think? Should I take the additional year?
     
  7. May 23, 2017 #6

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Which is it?

    You don't say how you did, so it's hard to guess how much you can improve, but in general expecting huge improvements is not very realistic.
     
  8. May 23, 2017 #7
    Take my opinion with a grain of salt as I don't know you personally, but I'd say if you can get into a decent research internship where you get the opportunity to do good work then take the additional year. It will improve your chances for grad school, and so will a better GRE. If you can't get an internship, then it gets complicated... But remember, if you're dead-set at doing cosmology then the advisor & his group matter much more than the university.

    But surely you know some professor, like the ones you used as references? Reach out to them and sell yourself - For example, if you're contacting them cold thru email, then tell them you like their research, that you're motivated and hardworking (and present GPA/references as proof) and that you're trying to figure out if the path of a scientist is right for you and thus you're looking for an internship. Did you make a good impression on any professors during grad school applications? If so, reach out to them! Explain your situation and goals, and then sell yourself.
    Now take what I say with a grain of salt as I don't know exactly how difficult it is to get an internship in the US as I'm not American, but I'm sure there are professors out there who can afford to spend $20k/year on an ambitious and motivated undergrad.

    Also, yes these "affirmative action" programs for minorities and women are offensive and useless, but that doesn't mean you can't use them for your advantage.
     
  9. May 23, 2017 #8

    Choppy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I would vote for attending one of the schools that you got in to, and here's my reasoning.

    You decided to apply to these schools in the first place. I would assume that means you looked into their programs and felt they were a good fit for you. So the question then is what has changed? Are your cold feet due to the fact that they just aren't ranked as high as those other schools you were hoping to get into, or have you learned some specific things about the programs that are causing you to hesitate? Can you point to something specific that's changing your mind (i.e. you've talked to current graduate students and none of them are happy with the program, or the faculty member you were hoping to work with has just left for another school, etc.)? I understand the desire to maximize the prestige value to a graduate school, but the question you really need to answer for yourself is whether these programs are going to give you the education and opportunities that you desire. Someone else's list of important factors may not all relate directly to this for you individually.

    As is already being discussed there is also the question of how much of a change you can expect over the next year. You could do better on the PGRE. You could do worse. What if the reason you didn't get into the astro groups at the other schools has nothing to do with your application and it was just that no one in those groups was really looking for new students this year? Or what if they tend to strongly favour undergrads who've already done research successfully with them? You attribute your PGRE performance to not devoting the time necessary to study for it, but what if other even more important stuff comes up this time around? I guess my point is that next year is another roll of the dice, sure, but there's risk associated with it. The dice could come up worse than they did this time too, and then where will you be?
     
  10. May 23, 2017 #9

    StatGuy2000

    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    Out of curiosity, could you clarify why that is? At least theoretically, one could assume that all else being equal, people who have had greater practice with any test (including the GRE) will have a greater probability of doing better on those tests.
     
  11. May 23, 2017 #10

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    It's empirical. Look how many people here say "I am going to do better on the GRE", and look at how many report huge changes here. I know one person who did go up about 30 or 35 percentiles. She devoted between 1000 and 2000 hours to studying. I think it may be that most people don't do that much work, so they don't see as much of a change.

    As you might imagine, I'm leaning towards "bird in the hand" unless there's a good reason to think about ones in the bush.
     
  12. May 23, 2017 #11
    I hardly had time to study for the PGRE the summer before I sat for the exam. I underwent ACL surgery during that same month so yeah, there were a lot of things out of my control and things were very hectic.
     
  13. May 23, 2017 #12

    radium

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think an important piece of information is your actual score on the PGRE. If you are talking below 700-750, then this could have been a big issue. If you are talking about the 700- low 800s range, while these are not ideal scores they may not have impacted the decision as much as you may think. How do you consider your research experience and letters? These are the factors used to distinguish the top applicants to programs like Berkeley, Columbia, etc.
     
  14. May 23, 2017 #13
    Congratulations on your acceptances to Cincinnati and Connecticut. I think you will weigh these options very seriously. I was always excited whenever I got an acceptance.

    I took a look at the department of Physics graduate study at each one and I think you can get a good graduate education in Physics at either of these two universities. The university themselves may not have the rankings of UCLA, or NYU, but they have faculty from Universities that are at least as strong. Your thesis supervisor is likely to have contacts that may allow you to further your career, just as you would if you had been accepted in your first choice.

    Second, I have been examining the graduate acceptance forums for 2017. My impression is it has been an exceptionally hard year to apply for physics graduate school. It seems there are many qualified applicants that did not get into even their safe schools. There is always a chance next year will be even harder.

    I have looked at the forum for acceptance versus GPA and GRE. There were many rejections of applicants (to Berkeley, Columbia, UCLA, Chicago, NYU) with very high GPA above 3.6, even with near perfect GRE scores. Each of these schools accept fewer than 1/3 of their applicants. (By the way your Universities are also quite selective. Sixty percent of your fellow applicants were not accepted.) A near perfect GRE, the second time around, will not ensure your acceptance, where now you already have two in hand. In addition, you can always take the GRE again and reapply, after accepting the offer.

    Completing graduate courses at UConn or UCincinnati with good grades can only enhance your application, should you want to reapply to a "higher prestige" school.

    U Conn is closer to NYC than the school you currently attend, SUNY-Binghamton. You can always go back to NYC in a few hours.

    When I applied for later grad study, getting letters of recommendation from faculty after a year or two was a pain. You may consider this.
     
  15. May 24, 2017 #14
    I did pretty badly( PGRE: 580 or something ridiculous like that, General GRE Quant+Verbal: 311). In my defense, I was very busy with research that summer and I also had a knee surgery right after my summer research. It was generally a very bad summer- fall season for me. I am very confident I can significantly improve my scores in both tests this time around. So what do you think?
     
  16. May 24, 2017 #15
    Also, I am still hopeful for a research position for the meantime but all my efforts so far have yielded nothing. I have emailed professors in NYC with my research interests and my resume but nothing came of it.
     
  17. May 24, 2017 #16
    Yeah, I did try emailing all the professors at my university but that was a year ago. Most of them replied saying they didn't have a paid position for an undergrad. They said all the funding is reserved for graduate students only. Also, the reason why I didn't I apply to graduate school at my home institution is that my university doesn't have as astrophysics department. All their research is in applied physics. Besides, since graduating, I am now home which is quite far from my university.

    (By the way, I forgot to mention that I graduated last year, so I have already used a year off so far. I did some middle school teaching and then realized it wasn't for me, so that's why I want to go back to school).
     
  18. May 24, 2017 #17
    Extra information about myself:
    I graduated last year, so I have already used a year off so far. I did some middle school teaching and then realized it wasn't for me, so that's why I want to go back to school. I did pretty badly( PGRE: 580 or something ridiculous like that, General GRE Quant+Verbal: 311). In my defense, I was very busy with research that summer and I also had a knee surgery right after my summer research. It was generally a very bad summer- fall season for me. I am very confident I can significantly improve my scores in both tests this time around.
     
  19. May 24, 2017 #18

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    In that case, bird in the hand.
     
  20. May 24, 2017 #19
    OK that changes things. If you already took a year off and you're struggling to find research internships, you're not in a strong position. I think Vanadium might be right.

    The unis you have are maybe not elite, but they're respectable, right? Are there supervisors at the two unis who have a good reputation and whose research you find interesting? Remember, if you're dead-set on doings physics, all you need is to find a supervisor who will manage to push you to perform at your best. If you're good and from a respected group, I think this matters far more for academicians in your field than the brand value of your uni (and if it turns out that you're not hot ****, then well I'd recommend preparing an exit strategy for industry jobs after graduation).

    I'd say you should give everything you have at finding a decent physics research internship right now, and if you can't find anything within the deadline for accepting one of the offers, just accept one of them. Cold-send emails to all professors in your field that you think you might have a chance with. You don't need to have known them from before. If that doesn't work out however, you really don't wanna risk being out of the physics business for two years straight, especially with a GPA that is frankly very good, but not exceptional (3.6 is like top 20% of class right?). I think this way, you can at least say that you tried.
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted



Similar Discussions: Attend an average PhD program or wait a year to retake the GRE?
  1. Retake Physics GRE? (Replies: 5)

  2. Retake GRE? (Replies: 1)

Loading...