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Graduate now or later?

  1. Nov 26, 2006 #1


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    I'm a third year physics student, and I need help with a decision. I have the core physics classes done, and some math (calc, 2 semesters of analysis, linear algebra, group theory, topology), as well as 4 months of research experience and a publication (of which I'm not the main author). My goal here is to be able to enter a top PhD program in mathematical physics.

    Option 1 - Graduate this winter. I'd graduate with the core classes you'd expect from any 4-year physics degree; 2 courses in quantum mechanics, subatomic physics, E&M, thermo, etc, without much extra stuff. On top of the math mentioned above, I'd also have a bit more algebra, as well as a class on Lie groups. I would then work during the Summer doing research in algebra, and enter a masters program in mathematics, in Lie theory and mathematical physics next Fall. I would then enter a PhD program somewhere else, again in mathematical physics.

    Option 2 - Graduate in 2 years. On top of everything from option 1, I would have an extra 16 months of research experience, as well as about 12 extra courses, in topics such as nuclear physics, more advanced QM, as well as manifold analysis, measure theory, more algebra (linear, abstract, lie), differential geometry/topology. Enter a masters/phd program after that, in mathematical physics.

    So basically, I'm wondering if it's worth it to do those extra years of undergrad courses, getting more experience and taking a few extra classes, or if it's better to enter grad school now, and take those extra classes there. In option 1, would the university where I would apply for a PhD care about my undergrad coursework (beyond the GPA and other general details) if I already have a masters? Would they care about having an extra 16 months of undergrad research on top of a masters, as opposed to someone with just a masters?

    Any help would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2006 #2
    Why not in 1 year?
  4. Nov 27, 2006 #3


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    the way the program is setup, waiting 1 year would allow me only to take 12 extra months of research (ie, no extra classes), and if I'm gonna take a year off to do research, I could just as well do it after a masters.
  5. Nov 27, 2006 #4
    Which will cost more:

    Catching up on the topics you could have learned as an undergrad or taking them as an undergrad and still getting some research in?

    That's how I would look at this one, but what do I know I am just an undergrad myself.

    My only note would be: Could you drag it out until spring quater? If so, why not take a course in differential geometry and/or the more advanced quantum? It would give you a chance to see if you are comfortable with the material...and if you are sure with the material then graduate, and if not...well I would stay.

    But then again I am just an undergrad, what do I know?
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2006
  6. Nov 27, 2006 #5
    I agree here. Why graduate in winter of year three unless finances are EXTREMELY tight and you can get paid to do research for 1.5 years until the next application process swings around? Otherwise, you ned to be applying to graduate programs NOW.

    And take this to mind: Graduate admissions committees will be comparing your application to that of other students -- and most applicants have a standard four-year undergrad degree. If, in a fourth year, you can double major in math, do more research (and get another publication), etc., THEN I think you'll look like an outstanding candidate. An application coming from someone finishing early MAY get some credit, but probably not as much as extra classes and research. Also -- if things are good for your degree at your home institution, can you go collaborate at another university doing research there? THAT makes for a strong application.
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