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How perfect does one have to be to become a theorist?

  1. Dec 3, 2008 #1
    So, I am wondering:

    Do admissions committees for physics grad programs take into account the courseload of a given semester? So, if I had straight A's my junior year for a normal/average courseload, but then had to take a ridiculous courseload the following semester (5 upper level/graduate classes) and got, say, straight B's and C's, am I doomed?

    Everyone on these forums makes it sound like you have to be perfect to do theory - perfect GRE scores, 4.0, etc. I am a good student, but even I am struggling with 5 hard classes at the same time as studying for the physics gre, etc. Is there still hope or do I have to go into something else now? I'm not aiming for Ivy league schools, I just want to get in somewhere with research in my field...
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2008 #2
    I don't think you have to be perfect... but I do think it is a bit field-dependent.... in some fields you may have to be more perfect than in other fields. It might help, therefore, if you'd list your interest (does it have to do with quasars?)... as well as where you might be interested in going to grad school. :biggrin:
  4. Dec 3, 2008 #3
    My senior thesis is in gravitational physics and I LOVE it. I am really passionate about it. I think I would really enjoy mathematical physics (I'm a double math/physics major) as well, or even astrophysics (if I could use nice math in it). I am thinking I want to pursue gravitational wave physics at the moment. I'm applying to a few different places, the most competitive of which are Penn State, UC Santa Barbara and Maryland; I'll also apply to UW Milwaukee and maybe University of Washington. My back up plan is to stay here and do a Master's, but I really, really want to do gravitation and am worried now...
  5. Dec 3, 2008 #4


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    It'll depend on the field and on where you apply, but straight Cs will look terrible on your application. If you get a C in a grad course now, maybe you'll get a C on your future grad courses two years later (which is a failing grade).

    Universities won't want to let you in if they're scared you might fail the quals a few years down the road, so you'll need to convince them you can handle that. Either by having a lot of upper-year As, or acing the GRE and having great letters of recommendation.
  6. Dec 3, 2008 #5
    I think I am just worrying too much. Too much stress. I aced all the midterms in my graduate course and it's the one I'll probably get an A in, but the final IS worth 40% of my grade, and the last few weeks have been awful... now that I am not just panicking, I guess it will be more likely to be B's than C's, and in Real Analysis or Optics... but I think maybe I am just freaking out too much. I guess I shouldn't worry until the final exams are over.
  7. Dec 3, 2008 #6
    Whatever courseload you had will be nothing compared to what you have to do at university.
  8. Dec 3, 2008 #7
    You're preaching to the choir here. I think the only reason I "hang around" this board is to occasionally post on the absurdity of some of the claims these jokers make...

    The reason I think you've noticed this is because half of them are just straight up full of it and don't know what they are talking about....and the rest have some kind of superiority complex and blow out of proportion the importance of certain things in order to compensate for their own averageness.

    Either way, don't let that dissuade you, there are some grounded people here that have been there and done that and might actually have something worthwhile to say.

    Oh yeah....and don't worry or stress too much..that only makes things worse overall..
  9. Dec 3, 2008 #8


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    Getting a C in optics when you want to study gravitational physics doesn't really mean much, especially if you get an A in your graduate course (which I assume is more related to gravity stuff or QM). If you had a good enough GPA in junior year, you could easily make it through with a few Bs or Cs, as long as it's just a few and not in courses which are too important for what you want to do.

    Till then, study your *** off and do whatever you can to get good grades.
  10. Dec 3, 2008 #9
    As someone who had a decent Physics GRE score (~70%), a near perfect general GRE score, a 3.7 GPA, undergraduate research experience and strong letters of recommendation, I only got accepted to one of the 5 graduate programs I applied for (top 40 state universities - no Harvard, no Caltech, no MIT).

    I know he says he's not aiming for the Ivies, but let's be realistic still. It's not blowing things out of proportion to say that a semester of Bs and Cs will ultimately have a negative impact on your prospects. Of course, the original poster isn't finished with the semester yet, it seems.

    If you came here looking for someone to tell you that it's okay to relax and let the average grades come, I think you should think twice. If you really expected someone to tell you that you should change fields, you should think twice about that too.

    As tmc said, study your *** off and do whatever it takes to make the grade. If it seems impossible, then you aren't trying hard enough. :)
  11. Dec 3, 2008 #10
    I'm hoping not TOO perfect... I got a miserable PGRE score (650), but have an 800 Quant and a 4.0 in Physics and 4.0 in math. I'm hoping GPA and good recommendation letters get me into a good state school. Trying not to worry too much, it's out of my hands now (outside of keeping my GPA and finishing my UG thesis :) ).

  12. Dec 4, 2008 #11

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    Both excellent comments.

    I would also say that dropping a class and getting 4 A's (or even 4 A's and a W) will look far better than a bunch of B's and C's. Trends are important - if you're going to get C's, it's much better to get them as a freshman than as a senior.
  13. Dec 31, 2008 #12
    phew, well, thanks for the advice, everyone. I actually aced all of my final exams except real analysis, and still did okay, so almost had straight A's. It actually brought my cumulative GPA up, which is good since I seriously bombed the GREs. Now I just have to pray that good grades + great recommendations might help to cancel out my abysmal GRE scores.
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