1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Grad School/PhD hopeful?

  1. Feb 26, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone, I was just wanting some opinions, and advice would be even better.

    I'm a physics major, at a good university.
    GPA 3.3 and will be raised after this semester.
    my LOR will be average, I have one professor I took for several classes that knows me well.
    haven't taken GRE yet, I am just about to finish my junior year, and will take it later this year.

    My problem is, I haven't been able to get any research experience. I have tried to get into research at my university, but every spot is already filled up, and are always full. The REU's isn't an option for me, as I am 25 years old, and have obligations, I cant just up and leave for a summer. Will my years in the work force be something that can help, as it shows I have at least experience in "real" life with strong work ethic?

    Is a Phd program out of the question for me?
    Someone mentioned apply for smaller and less known grad schools, but do anyone know of any of these less known grad school in Florida?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2014 #2
    How are you for recommendations? Do you have any decent relationships with professors? I know that admissions departments probably want to hear from professors with whom you have worked on research, but since you don't have that, you've got to work with what you have.

    Also if you can start a personal relationship with a professor at a school where you are applying that can help you be accepted especially if they are on the admissions committee. However this may be hard since you may not be a realistic candidate for the "good school" where you presently attend.

    Another thing that may help is taking graduate level courses to prove that you are capable of the work. However you really ought to graduate with a GPA over 3.5, so this may be a risk.

    How serious are your obligations? Can you really not find a way to make an REU happen? It can make a huge difference.
  4. Feb 27, 2014 #3
    Well it might not get you into Harvard, but there is some good in your situation if you just make a few small changes.

    Generally, 3.5 is the minimum GPA most grad school admissions committees are looking for. Before anything else, focus on bringing your GPA up to above 3.5 between now and when you graduate. Especially focus on doing well in physics, math, and engineering (if you're taking any) classes, which are topics relevant to a graduate program in physics. Your GPA and rank in your physics/sciences department will matter much more than your overall GPA as well.

    Was your time in the work force relevant to physics? If you had an internship at a lab or engineering firm, it MIGHT have a small bearing on your chances of acceptance. Having a bit of real world experience could make a small difference if you're applying for a graduate engineering program, but work experience isn't really a key thing that admissions will be looking for. That being said, you never know: maybe a professor on the committee will have worked at the same place you worked at, and though unlikely (but NOT unheard of!), it would make a huge difference if you have a good reference from a department or employee that said professor knows. Absolutely put it on your application, but don't put a huge amount of weight behind it. Leave it as a potential talking point for your interview.

    If you want to go to graduate school, you need to have research experience. It is not an option. You may just have to re-evaluate those obligations you say you have or find a way to work around them. Florida is a well populated state with plenty of universities and laboratories: I'm sure there's SOMETHING you can make work. I live in Peoria and the only research I was able to find the summer after Freshman year was all the way in Chicago, so I commuted. A bus and a train, 4 hours each way, every day of the week. I needed it so I made it work. Thankfully there were openings in some of my own school's labs this year so now I don't have to do that, but not only did I have the research experience I like to think that showing how committed I was made a huge difference when I applied for research at my own university.

    If you know a professor well, start working on building a professional relationship. Go to his office hours. See if his department has any positions for students. You want to have a few really strong references, and this is a good starting point for that.

    See if your school has an undergraduate thesis/dissertation program. I'm pretty sure that's common these days, I know my own school has such a program. How better to demonstrate that you're capable of preparing a thesis than by actually doing it?

    Finally, see if you can get permission to audit graduate-level courses. You probably won't be able to take them for credit (again, unusual but not unheard of) and you'll basically be taking it pass/fail (and you'll likely be paying graduate tuition for it), but if you can pass a graduate level physics class that will make a massive difference when someone reads your transcript.

    I wouldn't say that a PhD is out of the question at all, but you just need to do a little work if that's your goal.
  5. Feb 27, 2014 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Without knowing anything else about you I wouldn't say that graduate school is out of the question. A GPA of 3.0 is generally the threshold for where you are considered or not considered for gradaute school. The process becomes competitive from there.

    With respect to research experience - do you have an option for a senior year thesis project? This generally counts as research experience. Contrary to what you may have been told you don't actually *need* to have research experience to get into graduate school. It can help of course. But it's not necessary. What committees will look for though is that you have some kind of basis for your decision to go to graduate school and that basis is pretty solid when you can say - I was really successful in the summer project I worked on between third and fourth year. Other ways to demonstrate it might include visiting the school and speaking with potential supervisors and graduate students prior to applying.

    I've never been a fan of the "aim for a smaller or less known" school approach. I think what works a lot more is to really investigate the programs offered in the facilities you're interested in. Research potential projects and supervisors. Make sure that your primary reason for applying is "this is my first choice of project because it complements my strengths, coincides with my interests and goals etc..." rather than "I think I can get into this school with my marks."
  6. Feb 27, 2014 #5

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Choppy makes a number of very good points.

    First, it is absolutely not necessary to have conducted research. Is it desirable? Of course - it gives you letter writers something specific to write about and it decreases the chance you will get there and decided it's not for for you. Of course, if you are at a major research institution and chose not to do research, it's likely the admissions committee will be puzzled and may look askance at your application.

    Second, "less known" (by the public) does not mean "less competitive". If you are interested in experimental nuclear physics, Harvard and Chicago would be worse choices than Michigan State and Stony Brook - and that means it's not particularly easy to get into MSU, even though the man on the street might be more impressed by the Harvard name. To first order, the schools that are highly ranked are simply bigger.
  7. Mar 2, 2014 #6
    Thanks Jack476, MisterX, Choppy, and Vanadium 50, you guys really gave some great advice and tips on what to do, I appreciate it very much, and I will still try to get into research here at my own school first, but I guess I'm going to have to get some things in order so that I can apply to a lot of research and REU's for next summer and be able to go.
  8. Mar 2, 2014 #7
    Any helpful advice when it comes to preparing for the physics GRE?
  9. Mar 2, 2014 #8
    Head over to physicsgreforums and http://grephysics.net/
    Do every single published practice test (4 or 5( at least once, especially the more recent ones. Then get additional practice by picking problems on topics you find yourself weak in with a book like REA's "Physics Problem Solver" (without looking at the solution of course) and try to build up as much speed as you can.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook