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Best community service for physics majors?

  1. Jan 5, 2013 #1
    In short, I am in my first year of college with a major in high-energy physics. I am looking to do all I can to have the best chances of getting into the top grad schools in my field (MIT or Caltech preferably). One thing I am not sure about at this point is community service. I have been involved in charitable programs in the past, but have moved since then and they are not offered in my area. Also, those community services were completely unrelated to the field (they were in the health and fitness industry).

    I am trying to figure out something that is relatively easy to find in most areas that would be a great type of community service to become involved in? What I mean by "great" is optimal for my college resume. I have always loved helping others, so I am open to just about anything.

    My biggest obstacle at this point is my time is very limited. I am an adult with a family, so I need to continue working at least part-time. Plus, I am involved with the nuclear physics and radiology departments at a local hospital (they were the closest I could get to internships in my field in the area). I am also going to college full-time, since I want to get my doctorate as quickly as possible. So, the maximum amount of time I can commit to a community service would be about 1-2hrs per week. From what I understand, the main thing the top grad schools look at is regular involvement in community service, not necessarily a huge amount of hours, so hopefully this will suffice. Anyway, I am open to any and all suggestions any of you might have?

    One thing to add, I did have a community fan page on FB that I have been working on from time to time. I am wondering if something like that could be a community service if the fan page is intended to help others? It is a page related to my previous industry (health and fitness), but not sure if something like that could be labeled a "community service"? You can take a look to give some feedback if you'd like here: https://www.facebook.com/BodyworksbyAnthony [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2013 #2


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    To be honest, I don't think community service is worth the effort if all you want is another star on your application. Graduate schools vary vastly on how they rate students. Before I applied, I sent out an email asking how much they cared about non-academic activities. Slightly over half replied with all they wanted to know were the basic: How well I did in school, research i've done, and my Math GRE. Anything else was nice, but not a deciding factor. The other slightly under half said, they like to see a well rounded student, but even then, it's more important that a student show dedication to a certain field.
  4. Jan 6, 2013 #3
    I have to say, I am extremely surprised at that. Though I don't have links directly to it on-hand, I have spent months researching what the top grad schools look for, oftentimes directly from the admissions representatives themselves. Every piece of information I have gathered said that community service is a vital piece of information they want to see in your college resume as well as your admissions essay.

    The most common response as to why the admissions reps wanted to see community service is because they want to see individuals who are actively engaged with their community. Anyway, maybe the information I looked into overrated it, but I'd rather at least do something here and there that I can add to my resume, even if it's only a couple hours a month, than to risk doing nothing and get turned down by a college because they felt I wasn't involved with my community.
  5. Jan 6, 2013 #4


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    Just probably not as vital as your general GPA, physics GPA, your GRE scores, your PGRE, your research experience, extra classes (math, comp sci, chem, etc) beyond required, letters of rec, and probably your gender/race.

    Personally, I don't think community service matters one bit. I think the admissions committee, more than anything, wants to see an application that indicates to them the applicant they are seeing will be the most promising researcher. IMHO, community service does very little to show that.

    But, my opinion DOESN'T matter on this, and I have limited data to back up my above statements. This post was entirely based on opinions of mine, not facts.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  6. Jan 6, 2013 #5


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    Don't forget that the admissions committee has seen thousands of applications apart from yours.

    It's not hard to tell the difference between somebody who is really providing a service to the community (because that's what they really want to do) and somebody who just wants to "tick a box".
  7. Jan 6, 2013 #6


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    Point I'm trying to make is do Community Service if it's what you enjoy doing. I help inner city kids at science and math once a week and once a month I do an experiment to show them how 'cool' science can be. I enjoy doing it, and if you enjoy helping out people, then do it because of that reason not for another tick on the application.

    I say this because in reality, community service, is really one of those "if A and B are equal students but A did community service and B didn't, then let's go for A!" But want to know what matters more? Is your GPA better? How about your research? How about your internships? How do your professors feel about your ability to be a researcher? How well will you fit their program? Do some colleges want to see a well rounded individual sure, but would they take a well rounded individual over someone who obviously has a better GPA and research potential? I'm sure many top schools would say no. So with that said, if you're already on a time crunch (which by your post it seems like you will be). you'll already be struggling to find time to study, so why burden the load more than you have too, unless you just want too?

    Edit: I would also like to note a personal story of mine. When I was a graduate student, and it was assumed I was going to go on for my PhD, many of my peers were so surprised that I 'wasted' my time doing such crazy things like run 10k's, coach a little league team, and take cooking classes. One of my professors even sat me down and told me felt that if I was to continue on to my PhD that it these hobbies of mine would only harm my research. From various other people I've talked to, it seems like there is a good number of people who feel that if your life isn't math/science during graduate school, you just are not dedicated to the field! Once people figured out I was just a masters student, they looked at me like 'ooo that's why he has hobbies!" So with that said, I got the feeling a lot of schools were mostly looking for people who appear to have a narrow focus.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  8. Jan 10, 2013 #7
    Well thanks for all the feedback guys. I definitely do want to be involved in some type of community service, but I think I'm just going to let it happen how it happens. I would like to tutor, as I like to teach, but since our college has a Math and English lab that always has teachers in it to help, I just don't see it as an option right now. I will keep looking around and figure something out, but I won't stress myself out about it.
  9. Jan 10, 2013 #8
    Just an observation, I doubt you'll have much time for appreciable community service as a graduate student in high energy physics at MIT or Caltech...As others have said, if your community service appears to be something you do because it is who you are (which, perhaps it is) then the admissions board might see that as a quality that puts you above the rest of the applicants. But I can't believe that they would require box-ticked community service a requisite, all things considered.
  10. Jan 10, 2013 #9
    My advice to the OP: try to relax more. You're a freshman and you seem to be obsessed with getting into grad school. This is not good because you are going to burn out really fast that way.

    Make sure you study well, make sure to do internships and research. But most of all: try to enjoy yourself. If you really hate to do something, then don't do it, it doesn't matter how good it looks on your application.
  11. Jan 10, 2013 #10
    Check to see if your school/department does any science outreach. The Society of Physics Students at my school does science events for local elementary school kids a few times per semester. I don't know if that counts as community service, but it's fun. But based on what I have heard, community service is not important for grad school admission like it was for undergrad.
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