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Do I have A Chance of Getting Into Grad School?

  1. Jul 31, 2008 #1
    Hi all, I am a senior this year getting ready to take the PGRE and apply to grad schools but I must confess I am a bit nervous. Up until about 6 months ago I wasn't even sure I wanted to pursue physics as a career, I have been studying it mainly because I enjoy the subject & figured I could get a good job with a physics and a math degree. However, things do change and I am working on applying to grad schools.

    I am most concerned about my absolute lack of research experience (I do have a 'real life' and since I hadn't ever planned on going to grad school I never carved out summer time to do REU kinds of things :uhh:), but I intend to be a theorist so maybe that won't hurt as much as I think? Anyhow, here's a brief profile... I am wondering (given a decent PGRE score) what kind of schools I might be able to get into.

    - Overall GPA of 3.99, 4.0 in Physics, 4.0 in Math. Top of class alone in Physics, but a small program.
    - Working this year on an undergraduate thesis in Quantum Optics that will hopefully turn into something that can be published (working on this one w/supervising prof)
    - No research or publications so far.
    - Various physics scholarships, math scholarships, and Honors scholarships.

    With a decent (700-800 at least, I hope) PGRE do I have a good chance of getting into a decent grad school? I am at least hoping to have a chance to get into NC State or Duke here in NC, but would like to aim even higher. Is this realistic?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2008 #2
    Research experience is absolutely not a requirement for any program I've heard of. It's just one of those things people like to load up on (and it's fun). Since grad students are basically research trainees and the grunts of science, it's extremely relevant and tends to be viewed positively - but again, not required.

    I don't see anything hurting you. The high rankings and such might not be given quite the weight they would from a different program, but it's still a large point in your favor. Assuming your subject GRE scores and your letters of recommendation are equally good, I don't see anything at all to worry about.

    Don't take that as an excuse to only apply to your first choice, though. No matter how good your application looks, that would just be foolish.
  4. Jul 31, 2008 #3
    thanks... i plan on applying to a bunch of places, but first i'm trying to narrow down a bit what i would want to do. i've only recently decided i even -wanted- to go to grad school, so i'm still forming what i want to do. i'm doing a UG thesis in quantum optics, but i think i might be more interested in particle physics theory or mathematical physics or even cosmology so we'll see... i like a lot of different subjects and have deeply studied none of them. what would be 'good' schools for those kinds of things (particle theory, math physics)? or where might one look for that information? i am clueless so far.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2008
  5. Jul 31, 2008 #4

    Ben Niehoff

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    I had no research experience, no publications, a weaker GPA (3.5), and a BS in computer engineering, rather than physics. I got accepted to USC's physics PhD program. Granted, I got rejected from 9 other places. :)
  6. Jul 31, 2008 #5


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    Lack of research experience would definitely hurt you a lot if you were trying to go to a top5 or top10 school, but by no means would it prevent you from going to a good grad school, especially if you have good grades and can get good recommendations.

    You could always go to http://www.physicsgre.com/ and compare yourself to other applicant profiles and see where they managed to get accepted.
  7. Jul 31, 2008 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    I disagree. I think lack of research experience would hurt a lot if you are coming from a top 5 or to 10 school.

    If you want to do research for a living, and if you were at a place where undergraduate research is encouraged, and yet chose not to do any (or not to admit doing any, lest someone check to see how well they did) that would raise eyebrows. If instead you came from some place out in the sticks and never had the opportunity, that's another matter entirely.
  8. Jul 31, 2008 #7


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    Anyone with a 4.0 GPA can get research experience regardless of the University they go to. He can't use the lack of opportunity to reason it, and besides, he should just be honest and say that he doesn't have experience because he didn't think he would go to grad school, and then changed his mind.

    And yes, places like Harvard or MIT will definitely frown upon a student having no research experience, and no experience with graduate coursework (as many students going there have taking some, and sometimes many, grad courses while in undergrad). Not that his file looks bad; he's got a 4.0 in math and physics and should get a good letter from his supervisor, so I'm sure he won't have trouble finding a good grad school to go to.
  9. Aug 1, 2008 #8
    I have been on physicsgre.com, not because I'm a physics major, but I was curious to see what kind of students get accepted to what kind of programs.

    I will say, there are some outstanding students on physicsgre.com, so try not to get too discouraged. I mean, a lot of the kids getting into Caltech, MIT have multiple publications and are just undergrad studs (for whatever reason, maybe they got started earlier than you, maybe they studied 50 hours a week, who knows).

    Try to find a program that fits you.
  10. Aug 1, 2008 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    But what if they were not at a university? There are excellent four year colleges out there, but research is not their focus. Neither, obviously, graduate education.

    Have you been involved with grad student admissions? I have - and in the deliberarions, I have not heard anything like what you've said. Does it look better to come from MIT and have a bunch of grad classes and a research program under your belt? Sure. But that doesn't mean we'd reject someone from Bryn Mawr or Vassar because they didn't take grad classes or conduct research.
  11. Aug 1, 2008 #10


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    No, but if you're on the MIT admission committee, and have the choice between admitting a student with a 4.0, 3 years research experience, 2 lead-author publications and a few grad courses, over someone with a 4.0, no research, no publications, and no grad courses, who are you gonna pick?
  12. Aug 1, 2008 #11
    Actually that's kind of a ******** comparison (apples to oranges, etc.)

    It's not like MIT fills every single incoming grad position with someone who had a 5.0 GPA, 4 single author Nature pubs and an already written dissertation. Yes, they accept the monsters, but there's only a few of them out there.

    You're going to accept a few kids with great GPAs but no research or graduate experience, and you're going to compare them to the other students who had excellent undergraduate prep with little-to-no research and graduate experience.
  13. Aug 1, 2008 #12


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    Which is why I said that lack of experience would hurt him, not that it would completely prevent him from being admitted.
  14. Aug 1, 2008 #13
    3.99? What kind of prissy school do you go to? I bet they teach calculus out of Stewart.

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