• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products via PF Here!

Admissions Going BACK to graduate school after failing... How hard will it be?

Hi everyone.

In 2017, I received a bachelors degree in physics. I liked the subject and wanted to go to graduate school for something more practical, so I did. A year ago, I failed out of a PhD program in engineering. I was the worst student at that point. I was too shy to ask questions in class, sometimes unable to even think of questions. I had a hard time pushing myself to meet new people because I'm extremely shy. I also felt like I didn't belong in the program, like my being accepted was a glitch in the universe. I started to wish I had taken a longer break before starting grad school. I was so bogged down and was going to therapy for unrelated reasons that caused me to become an alcoholic. (I'm recovering, btw). I didn't go to my teachers' office hours. I thought they would "figure me out" and see I didn't belong there. I also didn't know how to code, which made up a lot of my homework problems.

I also had a teacher in undergrad that told me I wouldn't make it in graduate school. He said it angrily (from my perspective) and walked away. I was one of his three students. None of us understood anything in that class and we were all just as confused as the next, but I guess he saw something in me that wasn't grad school material. He didn't explain why he thought that and I should have asked but he seemed so annoyed by me. I really just couldn't get that class. I even volunteered to teach in my other classes, but THIS class -- it was so hard. ANYWAY, I wasn't in a wreck when I failed out of school. I gave up mentally mid-semester, and was worn out.

When I left school, I started teaching geometry, pre-calc & AP Stat in Marlyand. I plan on teaching physics next school year in D.C. while going to school part time. I've also been doing things I really like like writing and playing piano. It's helped me to find more peace with myself.

Now, a year after failing, I've decided to go back to school for a Masters in Physics (or Mathematics, but more likely physics). I'm worried about how much more difficult it will be with me having a job. I never had to work while in college so I won't have the same amount of study time or time to collaborate with other students. I'm also worried about having enough reference letters. Do you guys think the professors who wrote a letter the first time around will write them again? I guess I feel ashamed about having to go back and explain the situation. They were all (except the professor I mentioned before) so proud. I would get stopped so many times in the halls by professors who were rooting for me and by the dean of the college who wrote a glowing rec letter for me. I'm fearful of the disappointment -- or the expected disappointment that is.

I know I'll ask them anyway. I'm just looking for a little mental preparation before asking.

How hard will it be to get back into grad school and find scholarships? It feels like fellowship days are over and I will most likely be paying from my pocket. It's worth it, though. Is teaching while going to grad school for physics doable? Would you turn down an offer to teach at a charter school that requires one more hour of work per day than an average school? Is it a bad idea to start back school as a recovering alcoholic?

I'm not sure if I asked all the questions I initially had in mind. Hopefully this post wasn't too all over the place.
 

Choppy

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,477
1,552
You've got an uphill battle for sure. But I suspect what you really want to know is not how hard will it be (if I told you on a scale of 1 - 10 it would be a 7 that probably wouldn't help much), rather how to make the best of the circumstances you're in.

I can't speak to the recovery process for alcoholism, and would recommend this might be something to speak to a professional about - someone who is in a position to objectively assess where you're at in the recovery process. What I can say is that graduate school in physics is extremely challenging for most people, even when they are completely healthy. So it's a good idea to make sure that you're in the healthiest position you can be going in. If that means waiting another year or two, so be it.

With regard to the issue of the reference letters - you'll have to take your pick among the options you have available. Sure, it might be a tough pill to swallow to ask for another reference letter, but that's really your best option for moving forward with grad school. Remember you probably don't have to go into detail when requesting another reference letter. Graduate school doesn't always work out, and for a large number of reasons. You won't be the first student who comes back for a second set of references. But you might want to be ready to answer some questions about why you're going to be successful this time around.

With regard to working while in graduate school - details on this are going to be specific to your program. Some programs won't consider you a full-time student if you're working full-time outside of school and this can have implications for stipends, scholarships, etc. Once you have specific schools and programs identified, contact them to find out what their policy is on outside work. On top of that, there's an issue of time commitment. Graduate school is a full-time commitment for most people. While others have successfully balanced jobs with graduate school you'll have to limit just about all other commitments in your life while you focus on this. And particularly if you're struggling with alcoholism, having the time for self-care will be important.
 
You've got an uphill battle for sure. But I suspect what you really want to know is not how hard will it be (if I told you on a scale of 1 - 10 it would be a 7 that probably wouldn't help much), rather how to make the best of the circumstances you're in.

I can't speak to the recovery process for alcoholism, and would recommend this might be something to speak to a professional about - someone who is in a position to objectively assess where you're at in the recovery process. What I can say is that graduate school in physics is extremely challenging for most people, even when they are completely healthy. So it's a good idea to make sure that you're in the healthiest position you can be going in. If that means waiting another year or two, so be it.

With regard to the issue of the reference letters - you'll have to take your pick among the options you have available. Sure, it might be a tough pill to swallow to ask for another reference letter, but that's really your best option for moving forward with grad school. Remember you probably don't have to go into detail when requesting another reference letter. Graduate school doesn't always work out, and for a large number of reasons. You won't be the first student who comes back for a second set of references. But you might want to be ready to answer some questions about why you're going to be successful this time around.

With regard to working while in graduate school - details on this are going to be specific to your program. Some programs won't consider you a full-time student if you're working full-time outside of school and this can have implications for stipends, scholarships, etc. Once you have specific schools and programs identified, contact them to find out what their policy is on outside work. On top of that, there's an issue of time commitment. Graduate school is a full-time commitment for most people. While others have successfully balanced jobs with graduate school you'll have to limit just about all other commitments in your life while you focus on this. And particularly if you're struggling with alcoholism, having the time for self-care will be important.
Thank you so much for your input. I appreciate your honesty and insight.
 
I'm here to ask, in the most friendly way, why? Why do you want to go to grad school?

Your recovery, self-care, and introspection are commendable. Seriously, good for you for finding work doing what you like and focusing on your interests. Please keep it up.

I also want to know how physics fits into your interests, you didn't mention it. For instance, do you delve into scientific articles or text books in your spare time, do you find pleasure in doing little physics problems or proofs, etc.? Where does your drive to pursue a graduate degree come from? What's your end game? Why?
 
While I love learning and doing problems for the sake of it, I also love to teach and would like to teach on the college level( at a small community college, perhaps). Also, I feel like getting a masters in anything STEM will help me have more options career-wise.
 

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,886
1,789
Grad school prognosis is hard to assess without the undergrad GPA and PGRE scores.
 
Grad school prognosis is hard to assess without the undergrad GPA and PGRE scores.
I had a 3.92 in undergrad, and internships at a national lab and a fiber optics company in NY. I didn't take the physics GRE since the engineering programs I applied to didn't require them. Regular GRE scores were just slightly above average.
 

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,886
1,789
I had a 3.92 in undergrad, and internships at a national lab and a fiber optics company in NY. I didn't take the physics GRE since the engineering programs I applied to didn't require them. Regular GRE scores were just slightly above average.
Average quantitative GRE scores indicate you may not be a good choice for grad school in Physics. But a PGRE score would be a lot more to work with. A 3.92 GPA is much more impressive from a top 50 school than one not even in the top 100. GRE scores close to average are going to take lots of luster off that GPA.
 

StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
1,611
689
Average quantitative GRE scores indicate you may not be a good choice for grad school in Physics. But a PGRE score would be a lot more to work with. A 3.92 GPA is much more impressive from a top 50 school than one not even in the top 100. GRE scores close to average are going to take lots of luster off that GPA.
Given the time that has elapsed from the OP's completion of their undergrad degree and their leaving grad school in engineering, presumably the OP is looking to rewrite the GRE (both general and the PGRE), and thus this would provide an opportunity for the OP to work hard to improve their GRE score.
 

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
2,886
1,789
Given the time that has elapsed from the OP's completion of their undergrad degree and their leaving grad school in engineering, presumably the OP is looking to rewrite the GRE (both general and the PGRE), and thus this would provide an opportunity for the OP to work hard to improve their GRE score.
Good point, and tending toward a path that I would recommend.
 

Want to reply to this thread?

"Going BACK to graduate school after failing... How hard will it be?" You must log in or register to reply here.

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving
Top