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!

Graduate school MSc. - approaching a professor

  1. Nov 17, 2013 #1

    I have recently completed my undergraduate degree in Physics. While I have thoroughly enjoyed my last year, I feel like I am in quite a dilemma when approaching professors for graduate school.

    I have spent the final year doing research in theoretical particle physics, however my formal supervisor, due to work constraints, was not able to be present for 90% of my research, and as a result I am reluctant to say that our interactions regarding my work has been not only been 'extremely limited' but also quite 'unsure' to say the least. Thus I am hesitant to request a letter of recommendation from this supervisor. I was wondering about students who were in a similar situation as I am in, about how they dealt with obtaining letter of recommendation.

    Another question is related about presenting the academic transcript. My course is technically a undergraduate + Honours type. While the first 3 years of my undergraduate is enough for me to actually graduate with a Bachelor of Science with a major in Physics and Mathematics, with a perfect GPA. However, due to a very unfortunate mishap (my fault completely) in exam timetable memorization, I have almost missed an exam, and it is only by the good grace of my concerned friends that I am able to take the exam. Nonetheless, I arrived in a very bad state of mind and obtained a terrible score, to the point where I am ashamed to reveal my particular set of scores for my Honours year. Must I present all my scores to the potential supervisor, especially if the Honours year (while related) is not necessary for the enrollment of MSc? (EDIT: I should also mention that Honours year, my grades for other subjects have been subpar compared to my undergraduate, which is also a reason why I would not like to reveal it.)

    As some of you might know, it is often a prerequisite to get the permission of a potential supervisor before you apply, however as I feel that my knowledge is still 'lacking'. I really do not know how to approach the problems given in the list of potential projects. When discussing options with the supervisor, is it expected that you give a guideline to how you will tackle the project?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Any professor who takes an undergraduate student onto a project is going to be well aware that student is going to want a reference letter at some point. I would recommend contacting the professor as early as possible with the request and be specific with deadlines. It might help to summarize what you have accomplished, what you learned and how you feel you have performed on the project. If there was a post-doc or graduate student who had a more direct relationship with you on the project - point that out and cc that person on any correspondence. Tell him or her what your specific goals are an ask whether this person is comfortable writing a letter or several letters to support you.

    When applying to graduate school you don't get a choice in which marks to present. You are essentially required to present all transcripts from post-secondary school work you have done and the school you are applying to decides which grades are relevant. Failure to provide an accurate record of your marks is grounds for dismissal. Most applications will give you the opportunity to explain that one particular grade is an outlier though.

    This can vary from school to school, but generally no, you are not expected to have a research proposal at the ready before you even get in to graduate school. Most often this is developed as part of the graduate work and this becomes more important for a PhD (many schools will base at least a portion of the candidacy examination on the quality of a research proposal). That said, if you are applying for external scholarships, then, yes, you are likely to need something for the scholarship applications. This is something that you might discuss with potential advisors and they will often help you with it.
  4. Nov 22, 2013 #3
    Thanks for the advice!

    I am quite disappointed, but I guess there isn't really much I can do about my Honours marks at this time.

    Yep, I asked because on the scholarship applications, they usually have a section devoted to a research proposal. I got the impression that a research proposal was required before you approach a professor. Hearing this made me much more relieved :)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook