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Grad programs in observational vs. theoretical astrophysics

  1. Jan 22, 2010 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I'm a 2nd year astrophysics and math student and considering the possibility of pursuing a phd in astrophysics. I'm more interested in theory rather than the observational side of astrophysics. I've heard that grad programs tend to see research experience as much more important than maintaining a high gpa. It seems to me, though, that this might not be true in the theoretical astrophysics world. From your experience, is my assumption correct?

    I'm not sure my question is entirely clear, so feel free to ask me to clarify.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2010 #2


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    You'd be applying to a PhD program to get a PhD, which is a research degree. They want to see you can pass the classes (and a high GPA can tell them that) but most importantly they want to see that you're interested in research and capable of doing it, so some research experience (even if it's not in theory and you're interested in theory) is really essential for top grad programs. However, no amount of research can make up for poor grades - you need to pass the masters classes (and often a qualifying exam) before starting the PhD research. So both research and good grades are necessary. Just because you might not be capable of making contributions to theory yet doesn't mean you should ignore research opportunities altogether.
  4. Jan 23, 2010 #3
    Thanks for the reply. Anybody else have a different view?
  5. Jan 24, 2010 #4
    It's not. Research experience is more important for theoretical astrophysics than GPA is. Also theory and observations aren't as different as they might first seem. In both of them you spend a lot of time looking in front of a computer. There's very little theory that is done nowadays that isn't spent looking in front of a computer, so computer skills are useful for getting into grad school

    One problem with the standard undergraduate physics curriculum was that it was basically formulated in the 1960's which means that computer skills get a lot less emphasis than they should. If you are doing an undergraduate research project you'll likely be in front of a computer for long periods of time, which makes up for some of the deficiencies in the curriculum.
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