# Directions for failed physicist

Rach3
It seems I've lost my chance at going into physics theory. In summary: I enrolled into a middle-sized liberal arts school before finishing high school, thinking there would be more opportunities available, and that classes would be challenging and motivating. That was a mistake; things came by too slowly, so I became bored, and so I stopped doing the work, and that's how I've ruined my physics career. I didn't explicitly fail - actually my exams remained top throughout - but the net effect the strongly depressed grades (C's and D's in some critical courses) quite effectively keeps me out of grad school.

And now I'm entering the third and last year, with no further physics courses offered (no chance to raise physics gpa), nor any research opportunities open. (I've already done too much here to be admitted as a transfer student anywhere else). As far as I can tell there is no possibility of getting into a graduate program at this point, let a lone a good theory group.

So then; who's been through this, and what choices do I have? Should I try switching into a different science and pursuing that into grad school, or take my current degrees (math and physics), finish the year of general distributions, and use that for some unrelated job?

2nd degree at a school or just take a 1-2 years to boost your grades..i have a friend in a smiilar position.

jtbell
Mentor
Rach3 said:
And now I'm entering the third and last year, with no further physics courses offered (no chance to raise physics gpa),
Doesn't your school let you re-take courses to raise your GPA? Here, if you re-take a course, the new grade replaces the previous one in GPA calculations. The first "taking" stays on your transcript, but if you show a consistent pattern of "reforming", backed up by recommendations from your professors, I think most grad schools would take that into account.

Rach3
jtbell said:
Doesn't your school let you re-take courses to raise your GPA? ...
I've already finished the physics courses through the highest level - this is an across-the-board problem unfortunately, not "one or two courses". The worst ones won't even be offered again for two more years. Besides, I'd be miserably bored anyway - that was the whole problem the first time around. For instance, I self-taught myself QM some time before actually studying it officially; the course was a mind-numbing confirmation of all things I already knew, and absolutely necessary for graduation. Exceptionally, I did enough work there to scrape by with a 'B' (all 'A's for tests). Elsewhere there was more apathy.

In short, I was doomed the minute it was too late to transfer.

This is in combination with other factors, such as the fact that the courses I took are significantly less comprehensive than comparable ones at other schools (caltech, mit); correspondingly everything is less meaningful. And again, without undergrad research there's nothing much to differentiate me save recommendations.

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Rach3
I'm not looking for advice about how to save my chances for anything - it's too late for that. I'm looking for advice for how an ex-physics student can bail out into something else, meaningfully, in a single year of college (or possibly a bit more time if needed). Maybe something scientific. Either way I would have two extra degrees - physics, math - which would look distinctive on any resume. Pity they're only that.

why is it too late to transfer somewhere else? Assuming your GPA is high enough overall to get in, there are a lot of schools who would like your tuition \$ :)

Rach3 said:
In summary: I enrolled into a middle-sized liberal arts school before finishing high school, thinking there would be more opportu
How did you do that?
Everybody I asked about that said to stay in high school, because no place would consider admission without a diploma.

Pengwuino
Gold Member
Teegvin said:
How did you do that?
Everybody I asked about that said to stay in high school, because no place would consider admission without a diploma.
No self-respecting place would consider admission without a diploma unless the student was an exceptional student otherwise. Rach probably just had very high scores that overshadowed the lack of a diploma. Am i right?

Teegvin said:
How did you do that?
Everybody I asked about that said to stay in high school, because no place would consider admission without a diploma.
I don't know about that, it happens all the time (certainly with me). They only admit exceptional students, true, but it's not like they never do it. My university even has a special program which admits some two dozen would-be high school seniors every year.

J77
Rach3 said:
Should I try switching into a different science and pursuing that into grad school, or take my current degrees (math and physics), finish the year of general distributions, and use that for some unrelated job?
Why don't you think about studying for a PhD further afield?

I didn't quite follow your situation - the US schooling system seems extremely complicated - have you the equivalent of, say, a UK Bachelors degree?

If you have, and show enthusiasm, you may be able to get on European PhD courses, where it doesn't matter what your GPA (though I don't know what this is...) is.

If not, take a bit of time out - chill for a while - look at your situation - and make the decision then.

Gokul43201
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Rach3 said:
I'm not looking for advice about how to save my chances for anything - it's too late for that.
It's not! Ace the Physics GRE. Score over 95% and most decent schools will show interest in your application. Start today...it's your best chance.

Rach3
jbusc said:
why is it too late to transfer somewhere else?
Colleges have various requirements about this, so that the degrees they award are to people who actually did a significant amount of studying at their school. In some places they exclude anyone with the equivalent of two or more years of credits elsewhere; in other places, it's that at least one-half of courses in field of study are taken at their school.

Rach3
J77 said:
I didn't quite follow your situation - the US schooling system seems extremely complicated - have you the equivalent of, say, a UK Bachelors degree?
To clarify - I'm a year short of the equivalent of that degree (actually two of them). However, I've finished the requirements within my fields of study - physics and math; in fact there's nothing left for me to enroll in next year in either department.

Rach3
Gokul43201 said:
It's not! Ace the Physics GRE. Score over 95% and most decent schools will show interest in your application. Start today...it's your best chance.
That's not much of a chance, GRE's versus everything else. Frankly, I'd be better off playing the slots in Vegas.

What about becoming a high school physics and/or math teacher? I don't know the requirements for secondary school teaching in your state (if you are in the U.S.), but you might be able to satisify them in one years time, or maybe 2.

Gokul43201
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Rach3 said:
That's not much of a chance, GRE's versus everything else. Frankly, I'd be better off playing the slots in Vegas.
Oh, of course you know better.

Stop being a sorry excuse for a jerk-off and move your freaking ass. I've seen folks in grad school that don't know a whit of physics - it's a travesty. They wouldn't get in here anymore because the grad admissions committee finally decided that the Physics GRE test is a more objective determination of an applicant's physics knowledge than their grades or recommendations.

But what the heck to I know? I guess you should go hit the slots...'cause studying for the GRE - that could be incredibly boring!

Rach3,

Listen to what you've been told about the Physics GRE. Study your arse off and get a high score....if you actually want to continue studying physics. You defeatist attitude is getting in the way of us actually knowing. Score in the 90%'s on the test, make sure you ace your few remaining classes, even if they aren't in Physics, take some hard Math classes, get a few of your professors to witness your new work ethic and write LOR's, and you'll have a fighting chance of being admitted. Maybe not to MIT or CalTech, but there are some good mid-level schools who'll jump at the chance to admit someone who gets >900 on the Physics GRE.

Things came too slowly and you became bored? It sounds like you're rationalizing. I don't see how anyone with real passion--not the flimsy kind, the put-the-book-down-and-read kind--can fail to do well in school.

Just go take the GRE. Don't give up yet. If you know your stuff, you should be able to prove it.

Depending on your location and your school, it is conceivable that you might be able to take courses for credit at another nearby university.

I would talk to your professors at your school and see if you can find some research opportunities. At the very least, you should ask for their advice.

Rach3 said:
Colleges have various requirements about this, so that the degrees they award are to people who actually did a significant amount of studying at their school. In some places they exclude anyone with the equivalent of two or more years of credits elsewhere; in other places, it's that at least one-half of courses in field of study are taken at their school.
I know people who transferred senior year. Sure your new school may require you to take an extra few semesters of courses on top, so you have enough courses at that school to graduate, but it's not impossible.

Unless you desparately need to graduate (because you're running out of money and need a job, for example) there are lots of options.

What about staying at the same school for a Master's degree?

I wouldn't rule out trying the GRE or anything, but an easy science that goes well with physics is geology, if you're at all into cosmology or oil or anything. ALso, how many grad schools have you looked at? You might not have a chance at CalTech or something but there are lots of other programs, and I know Univ. of Arizona gives you the option of writing them a letter when you apply if your grades aren't great, to convince them or give an excuse (medical, personal). I don't see why it would hurt to try.

Rach3
oksanav said:
but an easy science that goes well with physics is geology, if you're at all into cosmology or oil or anything.
Wow, I never knew cosmology was a subfield of geology. Guess you learn something every day.

have you exhausted all of the physics courses at your school, or just the ones needed for your degree? if the latter than you should take a few extra ones to help boost your grades. If you try to get to know your professors a bit more you may also be able to get some letters of recommendation to some internships.

There are a bunch of interesting internships at sandia national labs (they build nuclear bombs) and I'm sure there are a bunch at other institutes.

robphy
Homework Helper
Gold Member
Is there a nearby university with a graduate physics program?
You might try to take courses there.... or try to get into the program there. (When I exhausted the physics course offerings at my first college [which no longer had a physics major], I found courses at nearby schools.)

By the way, what were those "critical courses"?
Can a course with a "D" be applied to your degree?

What were the course offereings? Few small colleges offer the range of courses available at a larger university. So, messing up (say) junior level E&M I, with no II to take, might not be so bad.

In your graduate school application (e.g. the essay), you do have a chance to address the reasons for your grades. If a reading of your exam is (for lack of a better phrase) "a joy to read", you might want to include a copy of that.

(You can also search for research opportunities at http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.cfm )