Do I have a shot at top HEP-th programs?

  • Admissions
  • Thread starter Laoki
  • Start date
  • #1
Laoki
2
1
I'm in my second year of undergrad at a top school and am seriously worried about my chances at grad school for HEP-th or HEP-ph.

I had pretty average/bad grades in my first year. I took classes lower than my actual level but got bored and unmotivated. I got mostly B's, a couple of A-'s, one A, and one C+. Not great.

I started this year taking graduate classical mechanics and managed to get an A (along with an A- in an honors real analysis course). Last trimester, I continued in analysis and took undergrad quantum in addition to graduate electrodynamics and math methods (group theory for physics, also grad). I got an A in grad math methods and quantum... but a B in E&M and an A- in analysis. I'm not feeling great about myself, but am determined to get an A in electrodynamics this trimester since I find the material much more interesting. I'm also taking a graduate particle physics course and hope to do well in that as well. Right now, my GPA is pretty bad compared to what I expect top programs in HEP to accept. My CGPA is 3.62, my math GPA is 3.63, and my physics GPA is 3.67. On top of that, I had to take a year-long leave of absence in the middle of my very first term for medical reasons. So I have three withdrawals on my transcript from that.

Ideally, I can get my GPA up to the 3.8s. I'm set on taking grad courses in QFT, GR, and algebraic topology (and many other maths and physics courses, ofc). I'm working with a HEP theorist at my uni and will hopefully publish at least one cool and meaningful theory paper in addition to my bachelor's thesis. I'll also take string theory and CFT from big names in my last two trimesters, but those are after applications are due. I should have around 10 graduate courses by the time I apply.

There are a handful of profs at my school with strong connections to Princeton, Caltech, and Harvard. Ideally, I'd like to go there and study HEP theory. But everyone I see who gets accepted to those programs has near-perfect grades in all of their physics classes and at least two papers to their names. I know I'm clever enough. But due to arrogance and laziness, I'm off to a pretty bad start.

Do you think I have a shot at top HEP-th programs or should I look into HEP-ph and/or other schools?
 
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
As I'm sure you know that while admission to top programs is certainly predicated on having a strong academic and research profile it's not exclusively so. Just as important is fit with institutional and departmental needs. Whether your profile will be good enough is hard to judge. Many top students don't get admitted even with 3.9-4.0 GPAs. The most you can do is to maximize your chances, and to that end, why the obsession with taking grad level courses? You'd be better off taking undergraduate classes and getting solid marks in them. The chances of you getting transfer credit for grad courses you've taken is not high and you're risking your GPA by taking unnecessarily advanced coursework. You do not need to have taken graduate level courses to get admitted to top programs, even for HEP.
 
  • Like
Likes Vanadium 50
  • #3
Have you talked to the HEP theorist you work under about this? They know more about you than we do and they probably know more about the specific areas you want to work in. I'd also caution you against conflating coarse-grained prestige of institutions with the actual strength of research programs.
 
  • Like
Likes DaveE and Vanadium 50
  • #4
I have to say your message rubbed me the wrong way. Humblebragging is never a good look, nor is recoiling in horror at the possibility of a PhD from some Moo U. like Chicago or Michigan. Or even worse...phenomenology.

These people have accomplished what you have not. Feel free to look down on them...but after you have your own accomplishments.

There are some things you need to understand.

(1) Odds are, even if you get your shiny new PhD from Caltech, you will find yourself working outside of physics. Being smart and talented helps, but lots of smart and talented people end up using their smarts and talents for other things.

(2) Getting good grades in tough classes helps, but being able to solve textbook problems does not always carry over into being a good researcher.

(3) If you take a pile of graduate classes and do not get predominantly A's in them, this may be viewed as evidence that you cannot handle graduate work. Further, it will probably not count towards your PhD. Even a Moo U. will want you to take their classes before giving you one of their degrees.

(4) There will come a time in graduate school when you need the help of oither people. You want people to want to help you. Otherwise they will simply wave bye-bye as you go down for the third time.

(5) You're a sophomore. Worry about what's on your plate now, not what you might have on your plate in the future.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz, DaveE, hutchphd and 1 other person
  • #5
Laoki said:
took undergrad quantum in addition to graduate electrodynamics

gwnorth said:
why the obsession with taking grad level courses? You'd be better off taking undergraduate classes and getting solid marks in them.

Vanadium 50 said:
If you take a pile of graduate classes and do not get predominantly A's in them, this may be viewed as evidence that you cannot handle graduate work.

@Laoki I hope you're getting the message. Classes like EM are hard enough at the undergraduate level.
 
  • Like
Likes Vanadium 50
  • #6
@Laoki . How were you able to leap into grad courses without first satisfying undergrad prerequisites? Did your university assign you a faculty advisor? If so, did you discuss your course selection with them?
 
  • Like
Likes gwnorth and Frabjous
  • #7
Laoki said:
I know I'm clever enough. But due to arrogance and laziness, I'm off to a pretty bad start.
Arrogance and laziness aren't irrelevant in grad school or out in the real world. Everyone has to work on things that they don't find captivating, sometimes for years. Clever often isn't enough.

You might not actually want to be at those institutions if you did get in. Find a good fit, there are many, many places where you can get a good education.
 
  • Like
Likes Haborix
  • #8
DaveE said:
Arrogance and laziness aren't irrelevant in grad school or out in the real world. Everyone has to work on things that they don't find captivating, sometimes for years. Clever often isn't enough.

You might not actually want to be at those institutions if you did get in. Find a good fit, there are many, many places where you can get a good education.
So, what grad schools would you recommend as a good fit for clever, arrogant, and lazy students? 🤣
 
  • Haha
Likes DaveE and berkeman
  • #9
CrysPhys said:
So, what grad schools would you recommend as a good fit for clever, arrogant, and lazy students? 🤣
Well, here in California, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Humbolt State have reputations of being party schools. Not sure about the arrogant part though, and whether they have grad schools...
 
  • #10
CrysPhys said:
So, what grad schools would you recommend as a good fit for clever, arrogant, and lazy students?
If I mentioned a place in Pasadena, I'd probably get in trouble.

The problem I see isn't arrogance in the past. It's that it appears to continue on into the present. Someone truly clever would say to themselves "this is not working for me; I need to change".

We had a student asking similar questions some time back, and that student proceeded to argue with all the advice he got - mostly from people who had already achieved what they aspired to. Not clever. I hope things are different this time.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz
  • #11
berkeman said:
Well, here in California, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Humbolt State have reputations of being party schools.
Cal Poly SLO has an excellent engineering program. So a two 'fer I guess. I kind of wish I gone to more of a party school! Maybe you meant Chico State?
 
  • Like
Likes berkeman
  • #12
Vanadium 50 said:
I have to say your message rubbed me the wrong way. Humblebragging is never a good look, nor is recoiling in horror at the possibility of a PhD from some Moo U. like Chicago or Michigan. Or even worse...phenomenology.

These people have accomplished what you have not. Feel free to look down on them...but after you have your own accomplishments.

There are some things you need to understand.

(1) Odds are, even if you get your shiny new PhD from Caltech, you will find yourself working outside of physics. Being smart and talented helps, but lots of smart and talented people end up using their smarts and talents for other things.

(2) Getting good grades in tough classes helps, but being able to solve textbook problems does not always carry over into being a good researcher.

(3) If you take a pile of graduate classes and do not get predominantly A's in them, this may be viewed as evidence that you cannot handle graduate work. Further, it will probably not count towards your PhD. Even a Moo U. will want you to take their classes before giving you one of their degrees.

(4) There will come a time in graduate school when you need the help of oither people. You want people to want to help you. Otherwise they will simply wave bye-bye as you go down for the third time.

(5) You're a sophomore. Worry about what's on your plate now, not what you might have on your plate in the future.
I had to Google what moo u. meant but I would hardly call Chicago or Michigan second-rate institutions. That was probably your point, but I definitely definitely wouldn't recoil at either. I've put a lot of thought into Chicago's department and I may even favor them over Princeton or Caltech. The work I'm doing is also closely related to Nima Arkani-Hamed's work, and he (to my knowledge) is big on phenomenology. I can totally see that a question like this fits into a whole batch of humble-brag questions, but this was a genuine "cry for help" if you want to call it that.

As for why grad classes, I just think they're fun. No other reason honestly. I find it much easier to stay motivated when taking graduate classes... and it really ends there. I don't think I would be performing any differently in undergrad classes simply because I'd be less interested and wouldn't want to put in as much effort. That's my sense of it, at least. I'm not really planning on transferring credits later on, I just enjoy the classes more. The impressed looks help too of course lol. But I really do find myself more driven in the classes I'm in.

Thanks for the words of wisdom, I'm sure I'll recall them down the line
 

Similar threads

  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
5
Views
395
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
3
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
4
Views
362
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
5
Views
189
  • STEM Academic Advising
2
Replies
50
Views
4K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
5
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
26
Views
1K
Replies
37
Views
4K
  • STEM Academic Advising
2
Replies
63
Views
5K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
8
Views
2K
Back
Top