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Have I screwed up my chances?

  1. Mar 26, 2009 #1
    Hello to everyone,

    I know there is a barrage of these sort of threads at this time of year, so please bear with me. I am from the UK, and planning to do a PhD in HEP-th. This is a long story, so might aswell start at the beginning....I got straight A's at A-level (highest in my college for Math/Phys) and think I would have had a good shot getting into Cambridge/Oxford, however I didn't apply because my gf at the time was going somewhere else and we applied to exactly the same unis (I know, what an idiotic thing to do). Anyway, we at least both applied to Durham, I got accepted, she however didn't, and I turned Durham down and went to Univ of Manchester to stay with her (rolls eyes).

    I've never really regretted it (Manchester is a good uni, and in terms of what I learnt I don't think I would have learnt anymore if I had been in Cambridge) until now , when I've come to apply for a PhD. Despite getting First class degree and being in the top 3 of my year/having a HEP-phenom publication I'm struggling like hell to get a PhD place in stringy things or QG. I'm not sure if it's Manchester's reputation that is the issue, or if it's just that it's more of a phenom place, than string etc.

    Anyway I've almost universally been rejected by various string theory/QG groups, Nottingham (Despite what I thought was a great interview :( ), Imperial (Rejection without even an interview invite), Oxford Maths Inst (Rejection without interview again), Oxford Physics (admittedly this was my fault, I wasnt prepared and interview went badly). I also applied to some places in the US: Stanford/UCLA/UCSD all rejected (My PGRE was around 840, so maybe this was just too low for an international I don't know).
    All I was accepted to was USC (ranked 48th in the US), and I am waiting on Edinburgh Math Phys group (this could easily be another rejection given Nottingham was).

    I'm really ****** with myself, because I can't help but feel if I had gone to Cambridge/Oxford or even Durham, I would have had no trouble. If Cambridge I could have naturally led onto part III->DAMTP/Imperial/Top 10 US. If Durham/Oxford then similarly this could have led to string PhD's at either of those or high ranked US perhaps. Not just because of their reputations but because they have strong String groups, so my recommenders would be well known string theorists, and I would have string research instead of phenom research to back me up etc.

    I now wonder what my prospects are if I end up going to USC for gradschool, I can't find any alumni stats to find out if they go postdocs and where at etc. But just looking at department webpages and faculty profiles, seems to imply that the ones who "made it", that finally got tenure after multiple post doc near enough all went to top 20 US schools, or Imperial/Oxbridge/Durham or some prestigious European university. Ulitmatley my connections are going to come from who my advisor knows, how much respect he has in the community, and I fear that I may have no chance beating people from Caltech or somewhere to a very competitive postdoc shot, and going hear I am going to be the underdog from the start of my career.

    I want to study Physics, but can't help feel I've threw away my potential shot at a realistic chance to make it, and what if after 4-6years of PhD graft, I just end up spat back out looking for the same job I could get right now, but prob in debt and obviously 6 years older!
    I'm considering doing the Imperial MSc in Quant fields, and reapplying after that to try at somewhere more prestigious, and retake the PGRE to try and hit high 900's....but of course there's no guarantee that I will get in anywhere better even then, and no guarantee I wont mess up the PGRE.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 26, 2009 #2


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    I think you're placing far too much weight on a school's reputation. Personally, I think the only statement that may hold true about reputation is that in a different school you would likely have had the opportunity to meet different professors and possibly get different letters of reference. Would those have made a difference? Maybe. But maybe you wouldn't have gotten along with the "big names" and ended up without any reference. Maybe you would have been so heartbroken at going to a different school than your partner that you wouldn't have done well in your studies, or spent too much time travelling back and forth.

    Life is full of maybe scenarios. It's best to learn from the ones you're likely to face again and not to dwell on those that you really can't do anything about.

    The way I see it, the places you've chose have very competative programs. It sounds like you have an outstanding set of credentials, but that doesn't always guarantee you a place in your graduate school of choice. It's possible you were beat out by people who were just that much better (on paper) - and often these things can come down to splitting hairs.
  4. Mar 26, 2009 #3
    I think to be honest, it's not the reputation of my undergrad that has been the problem (although I think it wouldnt have helped a hell of a lot with the US apps, where everywhere but Imperial/Durham/Oxbridge is an unknown to them), it's been the fact that String theory is not big there, so I didnt work on String theory as a project and my advisors aren't known in that community etc. Someone from my course went onto to Cambridge Phenom, so obv reputation isnt that big of deal, just what you have had the opportunity to work on, and how well your advisors are known in that community. I don't care that much about a "big name" for the sake of a big name, I havent really been concerned at all, until now where I've experienced this mass rejection, which is making me question myself, and ask why is this happening.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 26, 2009
  5. Mar 26, 2009 #4
    Have you done an undergraduate or post graduate masters? That may have played a massive role in getting rejected.

    Manchester is a quality university, and is pushing hard to get respect as the research intensive uni it is, in terms of quality, I believe it's behind the big three, but no-one else. So i doubt that part of the application hurt you.
  6. Mar 26, 2009 #5
    Undergrad masters, I'm considering the possibility of doing the Imperial MSc in Quant fields, do you think that would be the issue?

    I really need to fire off some emails and get some feedback I guess.
  7. Mar 29, 2009 #6


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    I think that's a very good idea.

    You can always email a couple of people and ask if there was any advice they could give as to how to strengthen your application for next year.
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