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How can I stand out from other PhD applicants?

  1. Sep 22, 2014 #1
    Im presuming top programs are going to be loaded with applications from 3.9+ GPA, high GRE scoring students. outside of these two factors and other generic things like letters of recommendation and personal statements, how else can one separate themselves and stand out?

    thanks :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2014 #2


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    Hopefully one publishes one's Master's research, preferably in a journal and/or conference.

    Based on one's research interest, one should be familiar with the research (state of the art) in one's area of interest.

    One can contact faculty members about research opportunities that align with one's experience and/or research interests.
  4. Sep 22, 2014 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    My advice: don't let your LORs be generic.
  5. Sep 22, 2014 #4
    I'm only an undergrad

    are undergrads expected to have a significant amount of research under their belts?
  6. Sep 22, 2014 #5
    gotcha. But what I meant by that was that everyone will have a LOR and that I am looking for ideas that are more outside the box to stand out as well
  7. Sep 23, 2014 #6


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    The title of one's thread mentions PhD, which is usually preceded by a Master's degree. In an MS, one is usually expected to do research. It is possible, and encouraged to start some kind of research during one's undergrad program.

    At the very least, one should start becoming familiar with various journals in one's area of interest or in one's discipline, and become familiar with the nature of research and state of the art.
  8. Sep 23, 2014 #7
    Really? The programs I'm looking at only mention a bachelors.

    Will do the second part though.
  9. Sep 23, 2014 #8
    Yeah, research has got to be far and away the most important thing to do. Not only is it good to have your name on a paper or two, but doing research with professors is what gets you good letters of recommendation, which is probably the biggest factor in admissions.
  10. Sep 23, 2014 #9


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    There's no magic back door I'm afraid.

    In my experience GPA is the top priority - although not so high that you should attempt to take an "easier" course load in the hopes of boosting it. That backfires too often.

    Letters of reference count too, but there's a very high correlation between outstanding reference letters and outstanding GPA. This is because (a) your referees will know what your GPA is and be influenced by a concrete number, and (b) in most (but not all) cases, the high GPA comes as a result of depth of understanding, hard work and diligence.

    All of that said, one important tip that can help is spending some time researching the programs that you're applying to - do more than just browse the web page. Visit the school. Talk with graduate students and professors that are there. Not only will this put a face to the name on your application, but it will give you some intelligent things to talk about when you have to address the question of why chose to apply to THAT program. It will also help you to identify the best fit for you. Remember applying to graduate school isn't about getting into the best program (as rank by someone else) that will take you. It's about getting into the program that you're going to get the most out of.
  11. Sep 23, 2014 #10


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    This is true in most countries, but not in the US. Here, one typically enters a physics Ph.D. program directly after finishing a bachelor's degree. Therefore, it is pretty much essential to have some kind of research experience during the undergraduate year. It does not have to be in your eventual Ph.D. field. Its main purpose is to show to graduate schools that you know what research is really like, and have some aptitude for it, so they don't waste money supporting you if you don't; and to help you yourself decide whether you really enjoy research, so you don't waste time on a Ph.D. program if you don't.
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