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Grad school questions

  1. Mar 21, 2005 #1
    I'm interested in String Theory and its relations to Astrophysics. I am a junior in a western state university, (and for fear of stalkers, will not say the name) and was wondering what my chances are to go to get a Phd in Theoretical Physics (with research in the above fields) in these universities: Caltech, Princeton, Boston University, and Harvard. Suggestions and comments are welcome. Here is my info:

    Majors: Physics Honors, Math Honors, Economics
    Physics GRE: 920
    Mathematics GRE: 930
    Putnam Score: 8 (pathetic)
    GPA: 3.673
    Math GPA: 3.610
    Physics GPA: 3.711
    Economics GPA: 3.823
    Courses Taken (courses in blueare grad courses, only math and physics):
    -Freshman (fall):
    Light/Heat w/LAB
    Intermediate Mechanics w/ Adv. Lab
    Advanced Calculus 1
    Partial Differential Eqautions
    -Freshman (winter):
    Modern Physics w/LAB
    Methods of Theoretical Physics
    Advanced Calculus 2
    Abstract Algebra
    -Sophomore (fall)
    Quantum Mechanics 1
    Gravitational Physics
    Statistical and Thermal Physics w/ Adv. Lab
    Point-Set Topology
    Algebra
    -Sophomore (winter)
    Quantum Mechanics 2
    General Relativity
    Subatomic Physics
    Differential Geometry
    Lie Algebras
    -Junior (fall)
    Quantum Theory and Atomic Structure 1
    Advanced Quantum Mechanics 1

    Astrophysics
    Algebraic Topology
    Set Theory

    -Junior (winter)
    Quantum Theory and Atomic Structure 2
    Advanced Quantum Mechanics 2

    An Undergraduate Introduction to String Theory
    Cosmology
    General Topology
    Real Analysis

    -I'll probably take more astrophysics and string theory courses in my senior year (all 3 of the graduate ones, anyways :rofl: ), as well as 1 or 2 math courses, and take intro courses in particle physics and the intro courses in grad level E&M. I want to have a strong general base in physics.

    -My biggest concern is I have no research at all. Most of my time was spent taking 22 credit hours a semester, and in summer, I took many economic and statistic courses to help me get a degree in econ. Next year, I'm not sure I can do research because I'm taking a full load in physics already, and need to take 4 econ classes for the completion of this summer. I only have this summer to do research, and hopefully I can get to work at my school's UROP program. Tentatively, it is just helping a string theorist with mathematical calculations in his paper, so I'm not doing anything really physics. I'll probably have my name on the coautored part. This probably will continue on to next year, but I'm not doing any "experimental" research, simply because other fields don't interest me besides string theory and astrophysics, and they're hard for an undergrad to get into.

    -So, what are my chances? Comments?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2005 #2
    I'm not sure what grades you got in the class (although your overall GPA seems decent), but those will matter too, as well as any recommendations you get. Reputation of your school will matter too in putting your grades into context. You might want to consider applying "back door" - in other words, don't apply as a string theorist - however - this might not be easy considering your resume is probably going to scream "wannabe string theorist".

    I know at Caltech, at least with one of the string theory professors, there's more of a sink-or-swim attitude. I don't think anyone's going to hold your hand, or even meet you halfway. You'll probably end up talking to a prof and express your interest in working for him. He may give you a problem to work on, and how you do with that problem will probably determine whether or not he'll let you work for him. I know a few grad students (very smart ones, too) with fairly negative experiences in string theory. These profs have enough super brilliant grad students to choose from. That's my impression. The folks in the string theory forum probably have a better idea of things.
     
  4. Mar 23, 2005 #3
    Sorry, a Physics GPA of 3.911.
     
  5. Mar 23, 2005 #4
    A's
    Light/Heat w/LAB
    Advanced Calculus 1
    Partial Differential Eqautions
    Modern Physics w/LAB
    Methods of Theoretical Physics
    Advanced Calculus 2
    Intermediate Mechanics w/ Adv. Lab
    Quantum Mechanics 1
    Quantum Mechanics 2
    General Relativity
    Statistical and Thermal Physics w/ Adv. Lab
    Differential Geometry
    Astrophysics
    Advanced Quantum Mechanics 1
    Quantum Theory and Atomic Structure 2
    Advanced Quantum Mechanics 2
    An Undergraduate Introduction to String Theory
    Real Analysis


    A-'s
    Abstract Algebra
    Gravitational Physics
    Point-Set Topology
    Algebra
    Subatomic Physics
    Differential Geometry
    Algebraic Topology
    Quantum Theory and Atomic Structure 1
    General Topology


    B+'s
    Lie Algebras
    Set Theory
    Cosmology
    General Topology
    Real Analysis

    I also wrote a simple mathematics research paper: "Some notes on the Properties of the Cauchy-Reinman Equations", but most of it is basic, and only explores a thing or two new.
    Can I just apply to grad schools as a physics doctoral candidate, with not much emphasis on my interest?
    Should I work to get my Masters in math next year (only 4 extra courses)?
     
  6. Mar 23, 2005 #5

    jtbell

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    In fact, that's the normal procedure, or at least it was when I applied to grad schools thirty years ago. The first year or two, everybody takes pretty much the same courses (classical mechanics, E&M, quantum mechanics, thermo & stat mech). In the meantime, you talk to people and find out who's doing what kind of research, and if you do well enough in your coursework, one of the theorists will probably be receptive if you approach him/her. Of course, after you've been there a while and exposed yourself to a bunch of different fields, you may change your mind about what kind of research you want to do, just like a lot of people change their majors as an undergraduate.

    I was an experimentalist myself, in high-energy physics, so I don't have any direct experience with the way "theorist recruitment" works. But Juvenal's approach sounds reasonable.

    Once you get past the "'introductory level" (heh :rolleyes: ) in your coursework, you'll be able to take more advanced theory courses leading towards string theory, perhaps even a course or seminar in string theory. That would be the place to catch the attention of a prospective dissertation advisor, or at least someone who can recommend you to a prospective advisor.
     
  7. Mar 24, 2005 #6
    Wow, we like to show off.
     
  8. Mar 25, 2005 #7

    reilly

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    1029 -- As a onetime professor, and member of the physics gradute admission committe (Tufts) I find your record impressive. I don't, however, know how it stacks up against competing students. There are a lot of Summas out there.

    To reinforce juvenal, recommendations are very important -- particularly if any of your profs know profs at the schools to which you are applying. At your stage, specific research may be less important than showing the initative to do something and doing it.

    A lot of physics is doing computations; working with a research professor on the nitty-gritty is a very smart thing to do. In my view such work is indeed doing physics. My first job as a graduate student was to do lot's of integrals for a PhD student. You've got to pay your dues.

    Before you specialize, get as broad a physics background as possible at the graduate level. In so doing you will learn to think and operate as a physicist.

    Good luck,
    Reilly Atkinson
     
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