Going into theoretical physics with a screw-up undergrad deg

In summary: I had to fight very hard to get through the tough situation and finally passed the degree with low marks. Now that I have recovered from that difficult experience, I am more determined and realistic in my thoughts. I know that I am not strong enough to achieve anything in physics by myself. I am grateful to my family and friends for their continuous support and understanding during those tough years. They never give up on me and always remind me that I am capable of doing much more than what I think I am capable of.In summary, The author was born and raised in Hong Kong, specialized in biology in school, and decided to pursue a physics bachelor degree. When
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Hello every one I am from Hong Kong. I am in my mid-twenties and I have a very bad result in my undergraduate degree in physics and it hinders me a lot in applying for a graduate degree. Theoretical physics (gravitation, quantum field, strings) is the field that I want to do research in for my future academic career. Being sure that I have recovered from all the problems I had in my undergrad days is responsibility of my own so I do not intend to discuss here.

I am considering two possible routes to achieve my goal. I can either study for a second degree and prove myself, or I can proceed to pursuit a theoretical physics MSc in the Europe.

For the first choice is good because I will have the advantage of time, and been given a good quality education (which I didn't have before), to catch up and fill holes in my incomplete physics background. Also I will be given a second chance where I can achieve the best of myself academically. It will be easier to achieve future career goal with a good undergrad record.

The advantage of the second choice is obvious: time. I get to save three years of time but I will be building my knowledge and research with a shaky foundation.

I am aware that this field is tough and with a low employability, yet it is my biggest passion I have ever had in my life. So I guess if I were to achieve most in life I have no other choice of field. What is the best thing I can do to maximize my chance of pursuing an academic career (probably being a research professor) in this field? Given the low supply of academic job in this field, how should I approach the idea that I am not expected to further study and research in this field beyond grad school? What else should I consider?

Financial concerns are not so important cause I am able to secure a funding for both choices.

Thanks for taking time to help me solve my problem. Is there any pros and cons that I am missing in analyzing my two choices? Are there any aspect that I should have taken into account in making the choice? Please do not hesitate to point out any point of stupidity and ignorance from my arguments. Any opinion will be much appreciated :)
 
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darockymn said:
I am considering two possible routes to achieve my goal. I can either study for a second degree and prove myself, or I can proceed to pursuit a theoretical physics MSc in the Europe.
Considering that you want to go into grad school in physics, but already have a physics degree, what major would you choose for your degree this time around? Obviously, no school is going to accept you if you indicate that you wish to major in an area in which you already have a degree. Nonetheless, your second degree will have to look like physics (some flavor of engineering?) if you are to get accepted into a graduate physics program.

Getting accepted into a theoretical physics MSc is not easy, either, as you yourself admit that you had problems on the undergraduate level. Why should graduate schools assume that you will magically do well once you get in.

darockymn said:
Financial concerns are not so important cause I am able to secure a funding for both choices.
This is only obvious if you are funding it with your own resources.

darockymn said:
Any opinion will be much appreciated :)
Without more details of the problems you encountered while in school I cannot offer more specific advice. However, I might well consider taking a few years off to work, build up a network and do lots of self-studying.
 
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Thanks for the reply.
I did not include my background and future plan in my post so please allow me to elaborate it here. Univ days:
I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I was specialized in Biology in my secondary school and was doing quite well, but I felt that my passion in physics is much more intense so that justify my entering to physics bachelor. When I was first admitted to the BSc in physics I have insufficient background training in both physics and mathematics. At that time I was naive and unprepared. I did not realize the magnitude of the challenge ahead by going into physics with such background, neither did I had the mentality and determination to complete the study.

So I failed many introductory courses in physics and mathematics in my junior years of study. I was lost and can't follow the teachings, and neither did the teachers give much useful consultation for me because either they don't care or they hate weak student. I go through most part of my study on my own and doing self-study.
It was tough and it drained me mentally and physically. I became more and more depressed, also compounded with procrastination I have destroyed my junior year GPA completely.

Things get better in the later years. By the senior years my ability in physics had been improved to a point that I can catch up with the teaching from my teachers. Now I can past all the courses. To put things into perspective, by the senior years I can follow Griffith's quantum mechanics textbook, also I can fully understand and have finished most of the exercise in the book. Nevertheless, I had not yet been able to pick up my broken lifestyle together with bad health status, This accounts for the bad grades.

After Graduation:
Very luckily I meet a professor in another University who does physics theory and computer simulations in nuclear materials. I managed to work as an research assistant for him. During my stay I have the luxury to re-study some of the materials that I am not so good at in my undergrad education. Also I studied, under his guidance, specialized physics (math) theory useful for the field, like non-equilibrium statistical physics and mathematics like stochastic differential equation. I found it hard, mainly due to the lack of math background, to follow and study mathematics topics. Yet I don't find much difficulty to understand these physics theories and put them to use in my research topic. It was an enjoyable experience to work with someone with the know-how and patience to teach you, and the research experience motivates me to further study theory. Plus I have taken time to rebuild my living habits, and solve psychological problems that I was faced with, through exercising and positive thinking .

Future plan:
Right now I am preparing for a GRE physics subject test in September. I do not have any scientific publication. The GRE is generally not required for the application of MSc in the EU but I intent to use the test result and give the admission committee at least some confidence on my academic ability and determination. There are theoretical physics MSc program in the EU, especially abundant in Sweden, that do not explicitly require GPA (at least I have a chance to fight for admission). I am confident that I can handle the study part of the program but I have no idea how far I can achieve in the theory research part as I had no experience. I think the only way I can guarantee my performance in theory research is to get a better physics/mathematics undergrad background education, which I did not have. This explains my choice of taking second degree.
DrSteve said:
"Considering that you want to go into grad school in physics, but already have a physics degree, what major would you choose for your degree this time around? Obviously, no school is going to accept you if you indicate that you wish to major in an area in which you already have a degree. Nonetheless, your second degree will have to look like physics (some flavor of engineering?) if you are to get accepted into a graduate physics program."

A mathematics second degree seems legit? Would it be even harder to get in than grad school?

"Getting accepted into a theoretical physics MSc is not easy, either, as you yourself admit that you had problems on the undergraduate level. Why should graduate schools assume that you will magically do well once you get in."

I think my only choice is to fight for it.

"This is only obvious if you are funding it with your own resources."

I must admit that, despite that I have accumulated a small fund, I have to rely on funding from my parents, tobe able to study aboard.
 

1. Can I still pursue a career in theoretical physics with a "screw-up" undergraduate degree?

Yes, it is possible to pursue a career in theoretical physics with a less-than-ideal undergraduate degree. While having a strong academic background can certainly make the journey easier, it is not the only factor that determines success in the field of theoretical physics. It is important to focus on gaining relevant research experience, building a strong network, and continuously learning and improving your skills.

2. Will my "screw-up" undergraduate degree affect my chances of getting into a reputable graduate program in theoretical physics?

It is possible that your undergraduate degree may affect your chances of getting into a reputable graduate program in theoretical physics. However, this is not always the case. Admissions committees will also consider other factors, such as your research experience, letters of recommendation, and personal statement. It is important to highlight your strengths and address any weaknesses in your application.

3. What steps can I take to improve my chances of success in theoretical physics with a "screw-up" undergraduate degree?

There are several steps you can take to improve your chances of success in theoretical physics with a less-than-ideal undergraduate degree. These include gaining research experience through internships or independent projects, networking with professors and researchers in the field, taking relevant courses or online classes to strengthen your knowledge, and continuously learning and improving your skills. Additionally, it may be helpful to address any weaknesses in your undergraduate degree in your graduate school application.

4. Are there any specific graduate programs or institutions that are more accepting of students with "screw-up" undergraduate degrees in theoretical physics?

While there may be some graduate programs or institutions that are more accepting of students with less-than-ideal undergraduate degrees in theoretical physics, it is important to note that every program and institution has their own unique admissions criteria. It is important to research and apply to programs and institutions that align with your research interests and strengths, rather than solely focusing on their acceptance rates for students with "screw-up" undergraduate degrees.

5. Are there any successful theoretical physicists who have "screwed up" their undergraduate degrees?

Yes, there are many successful theoretical physicists who have faced challenges in their undergraduate degrees. For example, Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman was rejected from multiple graduate programs due to his "lack of scientific preparation" in his undergraduate degree. However, he went on to become one of the most influential theoretical physicists of the 20th century. While having a strong undergraduate degree can certainly make the journey easier, it is not the only factor that determines success in theoretical physics.

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