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Grad school w/out research experience

  1. Jul 3, 2008 #1

    I am going into my senior year and am wondering if I can get into grad school... I know Im not getting into a top 10 school, I would like to go somewhere like U. of Colorado.

    I have a 3.6 GPA, and from pretests I expect to get between 650-750 on the GRE. However, I have not been able to do any undergraduate research. I have tried like hell, applied to 10 REUs and asked all the physics professors, but I got nothing. (I will be asking around the engineering dept. next semester, but I dont think anything will come of it)

    I get varying opinions on how important under grad research is from professors I ask, so I want to know what is Physics Forums' opinion on how necessary it is?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2008 #2
    How well known is the college where you are doing undergrad in terms of physics?

    Also, do you have a specific subfield you are interested in (solid state, particle, etc), and do you want to do theory or experiment?
  4. Jul 3, 2008 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    Necessary? No. But it will raise some eyebrows, as people will wonder what the heck you were doing during your undergraduate days. Not getting an REU is not a black mark, but they will surely wonder why of all the professors who know you the best, none of them wanted to take you on.
  5. Jul 3, 2008 #4
    My current college in not great when it comes to physics, its ranked at about 50 or 60. I would like to do condensed matter. Something exotic like condensate would be awesome, but something more traditional would be fine too. I am probably best suited for experiment, but as I have no research experience Im not quite sure.

    I wonder the same thing! However, most of my teachers that do know me best dont do research, they are just lecturers. What have I been doing during my undergraduate days besides studying? Paying my bills by tutoring and TA'ing classes. I hope thats good enough for them.

    Another thing I wonder about is kind of a touchy subject, and that is the role of race and gender in admissions. I used to think that it didnt really make a difference and all the affirmative action talk was exaggerated. But after applying to many REUs, I saw some of my classmates who are minorities with worse grades than me get into REUs sites that I got denied from. They attributed it to their race and I am inclined to believe them. Every college website I look at seems to have more written about how they want minorities than about the research. This is a little scary to me as I am not of the preferred demographic. I guess there is nothing I can do about my race, so I just have to excel in other areas to compensate.

    Thanks for your thoughts so far. I dont really know what I want to hear by posting... I guess Im just a little frustrated by my lack of oppurtunities and am afraid Im not going to achieve my current goals.
  6. Jul 3, 2008 #5
    Why didn't you get taken on to the group by your professors? Did someone beat you to it or what? It would seem like if you kept asking every quarter/semester, they'd finally have an opening somewhere. I mean, the seniors have to leave and the freshmen aren't ready yet.
  7. Jul 3, 2008 #6
    When you say that you asked all the physics professors, do you mean that you asked in person, or did you just e-mail them all?
  8. Jul 3, 2008 #7
    I have only pursued research opportunities in earnest for the last year or so (my junior year). They give varying reasons... they dont do research, they dont have anything a undergrad could do, they already have undergrads, they are going on sabbatical (seems like a quarter of the prof. are going on sabbatical next year :uhh:)

    About half and half. I asked the ones I knew and the ones who are actually in their office in person. Others, I email asking if I could meet them in person to discuss it because they are never in their office.

    Have most grad students done research in their undergrad? Many in my class have not, but then most of them arnt going to physics grad school.
  9. Jul 3, 2008 #8
    Fanaticus, it isn't too late to get started on research. Although I did a little bit of research earlier in my college career (mostly classes that had large reseach components), I only got involved in a major project in my senior year of college, and they let me into grad school. If you send in your applications in early December, you'll have a whole semester of research to tell them about. Moreover, you can get the professor you're working for to write one of your letters. I'd start emailing professors you know right away and see if they let you do something for them.
  10. Jul 4, 2008 #9
    Does your program have some sort of independent research project as part of the senior year? Even if you're working on your own, you could make some presentations at conferences--such as your regional AAPT conference this fall.

    I know of several colleges and universities where undergraduate students doing "real" (professor's research group, targeting publication) research is the exception and not the norm. Make the best of the program you're in, and address your concerns with an advisor or trusted professor to see if there is anything you can do.

    Did the REUs you applied to actually ask for race/gender?
  11. Jul 4, 2008 #10
    Well thats kind of what I figured, that it is pretty important. I will try the engineers next week, read up on them and hit up their office.

    Did the REUs you applied to actually ask for race/gender? Not all of them, Id say maybe half. If it was optional I elected not to say, but some were actually required.
  12. Jul 4, 2008 #11
    Not having done research will give you 3 basic disadvantages.
    1) In a PhD program, the university will be basically paying you to do your research, and your advisor is laying his/her reputation on the line to take advise you in research. So a record of previous research experience can be a big help.
    2) Without research experience who will write your recommendations? There's no way a prof who taught you for a couple classes will know you as well as someone you've done research with.
    3) A PhD is a big investment, and research is a big part of a PhD program - how will you know you like research if you haven't done any before?

    It's not all bad though. The fact that you want to do experimental condensed matter as opposed to, say, string theory, is a plus since there's more money and positions available. Your grades and GRE score are alright as well.

    Anyways if you really want to go to grad school (seriously think about this), then try hard to find a prof to do research under for your last year. One way to sneak in is, instead of saying "hey can I do research with you" outright, is to go to a prof's office and just ask them about their research. After you talk for a while, it will be easier and more natural to ask about research opportunities.
  13. Jul 4, 2008 #12
    Race and gender does play a big factor in REU admissions because it's funded by the NSF, and one of their main goals right now is promoting diversity in science. If a university doesn't accept enough minorities or females, then they risk losing their funding for the REU. From what I've read, though, most grad schools don't care about race or gender very much, since there is no funding tied to it.
  14. Jul 4, 2008 #13


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    I was lucky when getting to do research at KU. When I was a senior, I signed up for the physics course Special Problems under a professor I really liked. Now I was suspose to have permission from him prior to enrollment so I was taking a chance. And he let me know I should have talked to him first, but he had some work on research he was doing with the particle accelerator on an NSF grant.

    Well it turned out that he really liked my work and after the second semester he asked me to present a paper at a regional Student Physicis Society meeting. I didn't go to grad school but it helped me later in life in the job market.

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