How to get research experience even though I’m in a unique situation?

  • #1
Theonefrom1994
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I received a bachelors degree in physics in 2018 . Due to circumstances out of my control , I did not learn as much physics and math as I should have. My grades were very mediocre , but I realized later that I was being pushed through the system because I was a first generation minority student . This hurt my future severely .

I enrolled in a physics bridge program for a year . I really struggled because I didn’t have a strong foundation . I’m back in my hometown , studying physics as a non degree student , by retaking all of my math and physics classes I need more work in and better grades to attend graduate school . I had some research experience in undergrad, in fact one resulted in a co-authored paper for AiP scientific instruments .

However how do I gain research experience now to improve my graduate application in a couple of years? I’m primarily interested in neutrino experiments. However the local university I’m taking courses at has no experimental particle physics groups. What can I do?

I already have a bachelors degree and I think this disqualified me from summer REUs and internships at FermiLab which is near my hometown . The university does have research in other areas . Will it hurt my graduate school application ? Any advice ?. Thanks !
 
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  • #2
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Until you can find a program, you could work of some Data Science projects to build up your statistical analysis capabilities. A skill like that could help you land a grad school position.

One thing working against you is being out of school for a bit as grad programs want students that are on top of their game. They know they'll need to train them and that they have to do well in grad level courses but someone who's been out for a couple of years will have lost some or possibly all of their edge.

Getting a good score on the GRE will help get past the out of school for a while issue and the Data Science could help if you're interested in actual experimental work. Khan Academy could get your Freshman level basics n Physics, Calculus, Linear Algebra, Differential Equations and Statistics. Other online sources could help you recover higher level physics while you search for some research position. I took a computational physics grad course between jobs and it helped me a lot with my current one.

Getting a research position, check with your old profs to see if they have any ideas. Also check the APS job postings here:

https://www.aps.org/careers/employment/index.cfm

@Dr. Courtney may have some more to say here. He's got a lot more experience in teaching and placing students.
 
  • #3
Dr. Courtney
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Being a co-author on one published paper already, it is unlikely that research is the area in need of most attention on your grad school application.

Most decent grad schools have a firm 3.0 undergraduate GPA requirement. You need to know what the GPA requirements are on your short list of graduate schools and how they calculate it. If they simply take the GPA listed on the transcript from the school you completed your degree in, then you may be learning more physics by re-taking coursework from a different school, but you may not be improving your odds of admission for your short list of grad programs. You may do better earning a second Physics BS from your current school, since that transcript (and the GPA you earn) could become the one considered.

Then there is the GRE and the PGRE. These scores can be improved over time, and most grad schools consider your highest scores. These also can make your application appear more favorable in light of bad grades or a sub-optimal GPA. Even a GPA in the low 3.x range can be weak for a lot of schools. But a PGRE score in the 80th percentile or close to it puts your actual abilities in physics in a much different perspective.

But back to your specific research question - there simply are very few research opportunities for students who have graduated and are not in degree programs. Talk to some professors in your current department. Ask them for honest feedback on whether you would be a stronger candidate for their research programs if you enrolled as a degree-seeking student with a declared physics major. You may not be at first, but start earning As in the undergraduate physics courses, and your reputation will improve. Also, learn a programming language or two and begin completing some substantial programming projects relating to some kind of number crunching. You will be a more attractive candidate.

Finally, given your existing challenges, don't focus on a specific area of research to gain experience in right now. You need to seek and accept whatever research opportunity you can get and a focus on nutrino experiments overly narrows your possibilities.
 
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  • #4
Choppy
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Just to add to/reinforce what Dr. Courtney said, research experience in a different area from what you really want to study in graduate school will not hurt you. Admissions committees are usually well aware of the struggles facing undergraduates. Not everyone has the opportunity to get involved in research in their field of choice as an undergrad. Not all undergrads even know what their field of choice is from day one either. Sometimes the field changes fast enough that what you end up doing as a grad student doesn't even exist when you're an undergrad.

Take the best opportunity that presents itself.
 
  • #5
Theonefrom1994
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Being a co-author on one published paper already, it is unlikely that research is the area in need of most attention on your grad school application.

Most decent grad schools have a firm 3.0 undergraduate GPA requirement. You need to know what the GPA requirements are on your short list of graduate schools and how they calculate it. If they simply take the GPA listed on the transcript from the school you completed your degree in, then you may be learning more physics by re-taking coursework from a different school, but you may not be improving your odds of admission for your short list of grad programs. You may do better earning a second Physics BS from your current school, since that transcript (and the GPA you earn) could become the one considered.

Then there is the GRE and the PGRE. These scores can be improved over time, and most grad schools consider your highest scores. These also can make your application appear more favorable in light of bad grades or a sub-optimal GPA. Even a GPA in the low 3.x range can be weak for a lot of schools. But a PGRE score in the 80th percentile or close to it puts your actual abilities in physics in a much different perspective.

But back to your specific research question - there simply are very few research opportunities for students who have graduated and are not in degree programs. Talk to some professors in your current department. Ask them for honest feedback on whether you would be a stronger candidate for their research programs if you enrolled as a degree-seeking student with a declared physics major. You may not be at first, but start earning As in the undergraduate physics courses, and your reputation will improve. Also, learn a programming language or two and begin completing some substantial programming projects relating to some kind of number crunching. You will be a more attractive candidate.

Finally, given your existing challenges, don't focus on a specific area of research to gain experience in right now. You need to seek and accept whatever research opportunity you can get and a focus on nutrino experiments overly narrows your possibilities.
Wait I can get a second bachelors degree in the same field ??
 
  • #6
Dr. Courtney
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Wait I can get a second bachelors degree in the same field ??

That will depend on the institution. If the school you are taking courses from now allows it, why not?
 
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  • #7
Theonefrom1994
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That will depend on the institution. If the school you are taking courses from now allows it, why not?
I never knew that schools do that . I’m looking into it now . If so this would be great , as it qualifies me for financial aid and I know I can do better !
 
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  • #8
Theonefrom1994
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That will depend on the institution. If the school you are taking courses from now allows it, why not?
It turns out I’m not allowed to do that . Is it still worthwhile to continue taking courses as a non degree student ?
 
  • #9
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I think you need to back up. You're trying to set out on a course of action before you have a clear view of where you need to be.

What is your GPA?
What did you get on the PGRE?
How do you feel about your Letters of Recommendation?
 
  • #10
Theonefrom1994
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I think you need to back up. You're trying to set out on a course of action before you have a clear view of where you need to be.

What is your GPA?
What did you get on the PGRE?
How do you feel about your Letters of Recommendation?
My undergraduate GPA was very low . (2.4). I know for a fact I can do much better than this. When I entered undergrad it was my first time getting away from the abusive relationship with my foster parents . I was struggling a lot with no family , money , and I was homeless for awhile in undegrad. The point is my GPA is not a reflection of my physics and Math capabilities .

I didn’t take the PGRE yet.

I could definitely get some good letters of recommendations from a few people , provided I can improve my performance .
 
  • #11
Dr. Courtney
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My undergraduate GPA was very low . (2.4). I know for a fact I can do much better than this. When I entered undergrad it was my first time getting away from the abusive relationship with my foster parents . I was struggling a lot with no family , money , and I was homeless for awhile in undegrad. The point is my GPA is not a reflection of my physics and Math capabilities .

I didn’t take the PGRE yet.

I could definitely get some good letters of recommendations from a few people , provided I can improve my performance .

You need to understand how the grad schools on your short list compute the GPA for their admissions purposes. If they simply use the GPA listed on your BS transcript, there may not be a way forward unless you can get into some Masters program. If they will somehow include physics courses taken after completing your BS as a non-degree student, there may be a way forward.

But your GRE scores will also be very important to grad admissions when evaluating your potential for success. With the GPA mentioned above, a PGRE score below the 50th percentile is unlikely to open any doors.
 
  • #12
Theonefrom1994
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You need to understand how the grad schools on your short list compute the GPA for their admissions purposes. If they simply use the GPA listed on your BS transcript, there may not be a way forward unless you can get into some Masters program. If they will somehow include physics courses taken after completing your BS as a non-degree student, there may be a way forward.

But your GRE scores will also be very important to grad admissions when evaluating your potential for success. With the GPA mentioned above, a PGRE score below the 50th percentile is unlikely to open any doors.
I see . This program I was in during undergrad really screwed my over by pushing me through and giving me this degree . I should have just left school when I could have . Things are much better now in my life but I’m so pissed at this .
 
  • #13
Dr. Courtney
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I see . This program I was in during undergrad really screwed my over by pushing me through and giving me this degree . I should have just left school when I could have . Things are much better now in my life but I’m so pissed at this .

Perhaps there is another path. Would your current school allow you to seek a BS in Mathematics? With a Math degree with a GPA north of 3.0 and a good PGRE score, you might be an appealing candidate for some grad physics programs.
 
  • #14
Theonefrom1994
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Perhaps there is another path. Would your current school allow you to seek a BS in Mathematics? With a Math degree with a GPA north of 3.0 and a good PGRE score, you might be an appealing candidate for some grad physics programs.
They would let me do that I believe , it just can’t be the same degree .
 
  • #15
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Let me start by sating I will be saying some things you don't want to hear.

Your immediate problem is not that you need to do more research. It's your GPA. 2.4 is disqualifyingly low. At most or all programs, a 3.0 is the minimum you need to stay in the program,, and your transcript provides evidence that you can't achieve that even with easier undergraduate courses. In 2011-2014, 99.6% of accepted students got higher grades. In that period, there were six students accepted - or 1.5 per year - with GPAs this low or low. So you're shooting for a single slot, perhaps two.

If you take a year's worth of courses with a 4.0 on every single class, that gets you to 2.7. That doubles your chances. But it only doubles your chances. Two years of straight A's? Gets you to 2.9. At two years, some places - but far from all -will be thinking "he finally got his act together". If you couple that with a high PGRE (and I am thinking 90-th percentiles, not 80th) and strong letters (strong does not mean "pretty good if I improve") and you have a chance. A single B can ruin this strategy. One B and then the committee will of necessity start averaging, and figuring out how to weight the 2.4, and the application looks riskier and riskier, and it's going to be easier to just pull another application from the pile. This is a competitive process. "Let's give the little bear a chance" is not what's being asked. What;s being asked is "A or B? Which one do we take?"

If at all possible, re-take as many of the physics classes as you can. That will help mitigate the poor earlier scores, it will help you with the PGRE and it will help you in grad school. Frankly, if I had to bet on it, I would bet that you look underprepared because you are underprepared.
 
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  • #16
Theonefrom1994
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Let me start by sating I will be saying some things you don't want to here.

Your immediate problem is not that you need to do more research. It's your GPA. 2.4 is disqualifyingly low. At most or all programs, a 3.0 is the minimum you need to stay in the program,, and your transcript provides evidence that you can't achieve that even with easier undergraduate courses. In 2011-2014, 99.6% of accepted students got higher grades. In that period, there were six students accepted - or 1.5 per year - with GPAs this low or low. So you're shooting for a single slot, perhaps two.

If you take a year's worth of courses with a 4.0 on every single class, that gets you to 2.7. That doubles your chances. But it only doubles your chances. Two years of straight A's? Gets you to 2.9. At two years, some places - but far from all -will be thinking "he finally got his act together". If you couple that with a high PGRE (and I am thinking 90-th percentiles, not 80th) and strong letters (strong does not mean "pretty good if I improve") and you have a chance. A single B can ruin this strategy. One B and then the committee will of necessity start averaging, and figuring out how to weight the 2.4, and the application looks riskier and riskier, and it's going to be easier to just pull another application from the pile. This is a competitive process. "Let's give the little bear a chance" is not what's being asked. What;s being asked is "A or B? Which one do we take?"

If at all possible, re-take as many of the physics classes as you can. That will help mitigate the poor earlier scores, it will help you with the PGRE and it will help you in grad school. Frankly, if I had to bet on it, I would bet that you look underprepared because you are underprepared.
Hi,
Thanks for responding . I am in complete agreement with you , I am underprepared. Should I retake everything including Math courses (The entire calculus sequence and beyond )?, I will be starting over completely from the introductory physics courses . My personal situation has improved significantly, and I am working my ass off to learn physics . The courses starting in the fall (that’s when I’m enrolled as a non degree student ). I shouldn’t not have this bachelors degree , I did not earn it . This is frustrating , but I’m willing to do the work necessary . I’ll be using this forum as much as possible , hopefully I can find assistance with topics in coursework that I find difficult .
 
  • #17
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You should retake things starting from the first class you got less than a B in or feel that you didn't understand whichever is earlier.
 
  • #18
StatGuy2000
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You should retake things starting from the first class you got less than a B in or feel that you didn't understand whichever is earlier.

I'm confused. Didn't the OP just state that he/she is not allowed to retake the physics courses that was completed in their previous BS degree?

If that is the case, the only option for the OP to even be eligible for graduate programs of any sort is to pursue a second degree at a completely different college/university.
 
  • #19
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Since he asked if he should retake it, I assumed he knew what he was talking about.
 
  • #20
Theonefrom1994
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I'm confused. Didn't the OP just state that he/she is not allowed to retake the physics courses that was completed in their previous BS degree?

If that is the case, the only option for the OP to even be eligible for graduate programs of any sort is to pursue a second degree at a completely different college/university.
I'm not allowed to get a 2nd bachelors degree in the same field but I can retake courses. The reason I wanted to be enrolled in the degree program is for financial aid. I can retake classes but I have to pay out of pocket .
 

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