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Admissions Chances that a rising senior can make it into nuclear physics PhD programs?

  1. Apr 10, 2016 #1
    Hi PhysicsForums,
    I was hoping to get a little guidance on my chances for PhD programs. I am a second-semester junior. I feel like I'm going at this totally blind and am starting to get nervous, I'd mostly like to know how strong my credentials are so far, what kind of GRE score I might need, and basically if it's worth it to even put in the effort of applying to these programs or if I should just consider taking a year off, doing research or doing one of the Bridge programs or something of the sort.

    My GPA is 3.7, mostly B+s, A-s, and As in my astrophysics major coursework (one B and one C from my freshman year also...ugh,) I worked at Caltech the summer after my freshman year, did the Columbia REU last summer, will be doing SULI this summer. I am doing research this semester that I will continue as a senior honors thesis and I'll be presenting it at the APS meeting. I'm mostly interested in nuclear physics, or nuclear/particle astrophysics, not sure whether I'm more into theory or experiment yet.

    These are the schools I've been considering (mostly in order of preference):
    Stony Brook
    UC Berkeley/Santa Barbara/San Diego/LA
    Univ. of Indiana at Bloomington

    What else? Hmm...if it's relevant, I have good computer programming skills, I go to a fairly big name school which is also on the list of schools I'm thinking about applying to, I'm a California resident, so maybe that means something for my chances at the UC's? Like I said, going in blind. I'd really, really appreciate any advice! Be brutally honest.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 11, 2016 #2


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    I have a PhD in physics from UC Berkeley and did my dissertation there in the area of low energy nuclear physics. Please know that there are no true "nuclear physics" PhDs programs in the US, at least with that specific title, though there are many ways of skinning the cat, so to speak. You don't state what your research interests are, so it's impossible to recommend among the programs you propose.

    If you wish to pursue the dialog, feel free to shoot me an email at istvanasz@yahoo.com

  4. Apr 11, 2016 #3
    @DrSteve Hi! Thanks for your response. Sorry I wasn't specific enough, my general research interests are nuclear physics and nuclear astrophysics, within that I'm interested in Big Bang Nucleosynthesis, heavy ion collisions (such as what's done at RHIC,) supernovae, quark-gluon plasma/other early universe matter, neutron physics, neutrino physics, the like. I do understand there isn't a true nuclear physics PhD program, I just meant that's what I plan on researching while getting my PhD. My understanding is that most of the schools on my list are highly ranked for this type of research and I have liked what I've read about them so far.

    I'm curious if you agree if this is a good list/if I even have a chance at getting in to any of them, haha.
  5. Apr 11, 2016 #4


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    You didn't mention what school you're attending, so it's impossible to determine whether your 3.7 is competitive or not at the schools you list (most of which are appropriate for where your interests lie). Your research history is decent. What is the topic you'll be presenting on at the APS meeting? How long have you been working on the same topic? Are you on good terms with your research advisor? Is he/she well connected in the community?
  6. Apr 12, 2016 #5
    You say you are at one of the schools on that list, and all of them are quite good schools from what I know. So why "go into it blind"? Why not talk to your advisor?
  7. Apr 12, 2016 #6
    I attend Barnard College at Columbia University. My work for APS is on sources of astrophysical neutrinos and my research advisors are definitely well connected in the field, fortunately I am on very good terms with them and with all of the professors at Barnard so not worried about getting strong rec letters haha. I've been working on this project since last year. @Dishsoap I've certainly spoken with my advisor about this, as well as my research mentors. They've given me good advice and suggested a few schools on this list, however they all went through this process a long time ago, and I haven't really gotten a nuts-and-bolts analysis of whether or not I have a realistic shot at these. I figured on PhysicsForums there would be people who have been through this more recently who might be able to help.
  8. Apr 12, 2016 #7
    At some stage, you can only guess where you might get in. There is no such thing as a "sure shot" when it comes to graduate school admissions - "good suggestions" is about all you can get.
  9. Apr 12, 2016 #8


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    @ope211 I think you get the gist of the comments at this point. You're likely competitive at a majority of the schools on your list and being a female in a male-dominated field (especially heavy ion physics) ought to help you stand out. A higher GPA and really good GRE scores would obviously make you even more competitive. More specific statements/predictions are simply not possible, since grad admissions is not a deterministic science. However, as @Dishsoap alludes to, you are in a position to influence the process and it sounds like you are aware of this possibility. Now I would go out and do it. Make some calls, network at the APS meeting and work the system. That's what successful applicants do.
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