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Ding for lack of Research

  1. Feb 5, 2009 #1
    Hi I had a quick question on how I will be percieved come grad school app time

    I am a back to schooler with an aim of getting a PhD in applied physics. I got my first degree in finance and worked for in corporate finance for 5 years. I am back at school pursuing a double major in physics and math. I understand that undergrads should be involved in research but since I work 30 hours a week while taking 9 credits of math and phyiscs i do not have the time while trying to absorb the material and maintain a 3.7ish GPA.
    My hope is to get into a lab in the summer on a PT basis to at least log sometime. Since I need to continue to sustain myself a REU will not fit my situation since I will need a job when I return since I am paying for tuition and living expenses. How much of a black mark is this on my application. If I wanted to shoot for top tier does this kill my chance. Also does age play a role at all, I will be 31 by the time I finish (3 more years).

    If research is critical I will drop the math major but I feel its important since I do not want to be crushed in grad school in learning math concepts on the side while trying to learn the physics concepts.

    Is getting into applied physics programs less competive. I see a lot of people going for HEP theory and experiment or condensed matter etc... Any reason why applied phyiscs is less sought out?

    Lastly time investment. I feel the most I can handle and learn something is 9 credits. Since the course require a lot of studying. I am just wondering what type of hours others are putting in to do well. For my adv calc or my proof course I will find myself reading the same ten pages of proof 50 times. Am I slow or something?

    Any thoughts or comments much appreciated
    Great community btw

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2009 #2


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    Er.. condensed matter IS applied physics!

  4. Feb 5, 2009 #3
    Some schools treat the applied physics program as a branch of the engineering schools that is what I was referring too. So one applies to HEP in the school of physics or applied physics in the school of enineering etc....

    From the post below I stand corrected

    thanks ZZ
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2009
  5. Feb 5, 2009 #4


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    Look at Stanford. Condensed matter is in the Dept. of Applied Physics.

    Look in the Journal of Applied Physics or Applied Physics Letters. Condensed Matter papers are often published in there.

  6. Feb 5, 2009 #5
    Deciding where to apply will also depend quite a lot of your GPA and GRE scores, as well as your research experience. Some schools, however, will look at your work experience favorably. We had a guy in our program that worked in finance for several years (and after making his fortune, came back to grad school to do something he would love... theoretical quantum stuff). This was, of course, when the economy was going along nicely. :biggrin:

    Finishing by the time you are 31 is no big deal (I worked two jobs and got two terminal master's degrees in different fields before I applied for my Ph.D. program... and I finished my Ph.D. when I was 31). Many people get them even later...

    Conclusion -- look into the research done at various locations, and look into how competitive the programs are, and look at your CV realistically (but not too critically!). Depending on the GRE, where your undergraduate work was done, etc... you still might be quite competitive for top 25ish programs in the area you're interested in.

    Also -- DON'T modify your interests for the sake of "getting in"... you don't want to get in, then leave later because you can't get a spot in the labs that you're interested in (I've seen this happen).
  7. Feb 5, 2009 #6


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    I am not sure how much more work a math major is for a physics major but I would say for graduate school research experience is more important than your math curriculum or the fact that you have a math degree. Other than linear algebra and differential equations not taking or taking any specific math class has no apparent effect on your application
  8. Feb 5, 2009 #7
    that can't be possible. the number one complaint about national graduate students, versus international, is that they are not mathematically prepared for graduate course/work. a double major math+physics make you look like a somewhat better applicant than someone with a physics+trivial research, or at least comparable.
  9. Feb 5, 2009 #8


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    I think the "math vs. practical experience" debate really depends on what kind of work you intend on doing. Both have advantages.

    With respect to graduate school application, research experience certainly helps, but it's not absolutely necessary. Different schools place different weights on the factors considered in your application, but my experience has been that marks are always heavily favoured.
  10. Feb 5, 2009 #9
    You are worrying too much. As the previous poster said, your GPA and GRE scores are the most important factors. Doing well on the physics GRE will really set you apart. You would probably need to score well over 800 on the physics GRE to get into the elite schools.
  11. Feb 5, 2009 #10


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    People also complain that graduate students are not prepared to be TA's that doesnt mean being a tutor trumps research experience. The reason should be clear - graduate school centers around your thesis which is the product of .. drum roll.. research.

    Obviously grades and PGRE trump these factors but I dont think im blowing anyones mind by suggesting they work on their GPA and PGRE.

    Not really true. Obviously do the best possible but you shouldnt worry too much if you score above or about 800. Elite schools do not have an average PGRE above 900.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2009
  12. Feb 5, 2009 #11
    I seem to remember that the average PGRE for Caltech was in the high 800's. I'm sure schools like Harvard and MIT are similar.
  13. Feb 6, 2009 #12


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    I know but high 800's is not

    considering the exam goes up to 990.

    Does not disprove my statement that no school has an average above 900
  14. Feb 10, 2009 #13
    Thanks for the replies I am going to keep the math major and I will just try and wring out some hours in someones lab. I just hope they will be willing to take someone on a PT basis, though in the summers I could make maybe 20hrs a week

    I will need to study my *** off for the PGRE
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