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Diverse or concentrated research experience for grad school?

  1. Mar 24, 2015 #1
    Hey there, I'm a junior in undergrad and I'll be applying to grad school next fall. I have a 4.0 and very good letters of recommendation, but other than a sub-par GRE score, my main dilemma is research experience. Here is the research experience I have:

    3 years, 3 papers in AMO/QFT (pair creation, will be 4 years/4 papers by the time I graduate)
    1 internship in particle astrophysics
    1 internship in computational biophysics

    I really enjoy doing research in AMO, however if I went to grad school it would be for theory, which is highly competitive. I also am a Goldwater Scholar, which means that I need to pay back the scholarship if I don't go to graduate school, so I just need to get in somewhere.

    Will it hurt me that I didn't just focus on ONE thing during undergrad? Should I consider switching research groups my senior year to biophysics or something?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2015 #2


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    No, it sounds like you have had several different experiences and for now it would be better to focus on your intended field. For example, when I applied to grad school I had done a summer in CMex before switching to my group in CMT. At first I did more computational things and then the summer before my senior year I did an REU where I did an analytical project. I worked in my group at my home institution for four semesters and one and a third summers (I stayed for a bit before I started the REU). From these experiences I got a first author publication and am finishing another first author paper. I also got exposure to experimental work which I think it important for a theorist to have.

    I was in a similar position as you in that I had done well in several grad courses, had outstanding letters and research experience, but not a great PGRE. It all worked out fine for me. I got into five top ten schools, two being top 4-5 (there's really no difference at that point). The schools I was not accepted to were for the most part the ones that cared a lot about the PGRE.
  4. Mar 24, 2015 #3
    I agree, however I don't know what I want to go to graduate school for.
  5. Mar 24, 2015 #4


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    There's advantages and disadvantages. I'm not sure one is really that much better than the other.

    As an undergrad, this is your chance to explore. If you don't know what you want to do yet, perhaps trying something different could help you decide. The down side is that you're likely to be less productive. And getting your name on a paper is a major point to give up. (Not that you won't get another publication if you try something else, but it's perhaps less certain.)

    One of things about being in a good position like yours is that you're already in a good spot. So you have the opportunity to shop around. Look for an opportunity that might be as good or better than what you've already got. I realize this may burn some bridges - it's hard to shop around when people in the faculty talk. To avoid that, I might bring up the question with your current professor so you're up front about it. Tell him or her that your very thankful for the opportunities that you've been given and want to continue in some respect, but you're trying to figure out what direction you want to go in for graduate school.
  6. Mar 24, 2015 #5
    If you don't know what you want to go to grad school for, then do lots of reading on the candidate topics. I would suggest you find a topic first, then start doing research on your chosen grad school field. Having directly related experience is better for you since you already have pretty diverse, good research, even if you don't get to publish a big paper on it because of time spent reading and selecting.

    Keep in mind that grad school isn't your only option too.
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