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I need a grad school reality check

  1. Oct 26, 2007 #1
    First, a little background. I am a senior double major in electrical engineering and physics (with minor in chem, with 2 semesters of ochem and ochem lab) at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI. I have a modest overall GPA of 3.45, but a physics GPA of 3.92, an engineering GPA of 3.72, and a Jr/Sr GPA of ~3.7. I have to admit my GPA is rather weak. I took the physics GRE and I expect somewhere in between 50th percentile and 70th percentile, since I attempted 60/100 questions and perhaps got 50 of those right. Not great but not terrible. I am not sure what my general GRE scores look like but I plan to take the test next Saturday. Hopefully I will get 770 or above on quantitative...I may reschedule the exam for another weekend to give myself more time to prepare. I have some research experience at Wayne State University's smart sensors and integrated microsystems lab (I was full time for 3.5 months and part time for about 4 months). I didn't get any publications though. However, the experience gave me some good background in UHV systems/tech and plasma source molecular beam epitaxial growth of AlN thin films. I have some industry experience (about 5 months) at an automotive safety system engineering firm. I have also been a staff chemistry/physics tutor at my university's tutoring center, for what it's worth. I am involved in some organizations, such as SPS, sigma pi sigma (physics honor society), eta kappa nu (EE honor society), and IEEE student group. Hopefully, I will have good letters of recommendation: one from my solid state devices directed study advisor, one from my research advisor, and another from my faculty physics degree advisor. I may get additional letters later.

    Now, I will discuss my goals. I want to enter a PhD program to do organic electronics/photonics research. Depending on the school, this would mean I would be applying to the material science PhD, EECS PhD, physics or applied physics PhD. Below are some of the American schools/professors that have good active research in this area.

    MIT - Baldo/Bulovic group - EECS department
    Cornell - Malliaras group - ChE/MSE department
    Berkeley - Subramanian group - EECS department
    U. Michigan - Kanicki group - EECS department
    Arizona State University - Jabbour group - MSE department (He used to be at University of Arizona's optical science department)
    U Texas - Dodabalapur group - EECS
    UCSC - Carter group - Physics
    UCLA - Yang group - MSE
    Penn State - Jackson Group - EECS
    GaTech - Center for organic photonics and electronics - EECS/MSE/Physics/etc.

    These are schools I have an interest in going to for grad school. It seems these people are the big players in the organic electronics field right now. The schools/groups are not ranked in any particular order above. The schools/groups I am thinking about applying to are MIT, Cornell, Michigan, ASU, Texas, Penn State, and maybe UCSC. Which schools do you think I have a reasonable shot at? Are MIT, Cornell, and Michigan completely out of the question? Do I have a solid chance at Penn State, Texas, ASU, and UCSC? I would probably be happy at most of these places given I could get funding and tuition coverage through RA/TA positions and make a reasonable living (for a grad student).

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 27, 2007 #2
    Nobody can give me any assistance?
  4. Oct 27, 2007 #3
    I can offer what little insight I have. Your G.P.A is solid, having a 3.92 Physics is impressive. You have some industry/research experience. Being a tutor is a good thing too, that may help if they consider giving you a TA position. I can't say specifically what your chances are at the schools you listed, I can say you should email or contact some of the the group leaders you listed. See what sorts of people they are looking for, ask if they know more about the school's grad admissions than the school website says.
  5. Oct 27, 2007 #4
    Thanks mgiddy. I emailed all of the people on the list on Thrursday and asked them if they are hiring TAs or RAs for the fall 08 term and I asked them if they could give me a clue whether or not I have a chance. I only received 3 emails back....one said I have a good chance and if I apply to the material science PhD he would argue that I get admitted, another told me to get my GPA up and apply to Berkeley or Stanford if I want to get into academia (which I said I did in my email, but I would probably be happy in industry also), and another said he doesn't make admissions decisions so he couldn't comment.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2007
  6. Oct 27, 2007 #5
    Nobody? I am also considering UIUC, U Washington, U of Wisconsin, U of Minnesota, Northwestern, John Hopkins, UCSB, and USC.
  7. Oct 27, 2007 #6
    Ha ha, my office is literally on the same floor as one of the groups you listed.

    As for advice, make sure you play up your research/career goals, the background you have to support it (e.g., research experience and classes), and why you have those goals. I am of the opinion that especially in engineering departments, it helps to appear focused. From the looks of your post, that shouldn't be too hard.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2007
  8. Oct 27, 2007 #7
    Which group, just out of curiosity?
  9. Oct 28, 2007 #8
    All the schools you have listed are great. With your GPA and background, I think you will end up doing fine, even if you don't get your first or second choice. Your whole list is full of great opportunities. I wouldn't expect a prompt answer from everyone you emailed, if they choose to answer at all. And the one answer you got, though blunt, is correct. That individual may feel that he can't try and tell students their chances simply because it really is not his decision, he wouldn't want to get anyone's hopes up if for some reason Admissions thinks they aren't cut out for it.

    But regardless, I'm sure you'll find a position somewhere. Keep in contact with the people that do respond, make them know you are interested (though not to the point of annoyance) and take heed to any advice they give, likewise for any advice given here.
    It can't hurt to try your best to pull up your GPA, but I understand there's not too much time for that.
    If possible look for some more research opps here and there. Ask your dept. if there's any projects that need help. Check into the possibility of graduating with honors. Try for an internship this summer.
    Best of luck to you then.
  10. Oct 28, 2007 #9
    Thank you for your encouraging words. I think I would be happy if I got offers from at least 3 of those schools. But you're right, I would probably be happy at any of those schools.
  11. Oct 28, 2007 #10

    Chris Hillman

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    You can name some groups you'd like to work with, which is more than many who drift into graduate school for lack of a better plan ca do! And it sounds like you have been very organized and thorough (heh--- that bodes well for scientific work!). Perhaps the best advice we can offer is that not to stress out while you await further developments. I bet you will be handed at least one good opportunity :smile:
  12. Oct 28, 2007 #11
    Thanks Chris. I hope you're right.
  13. Oct 28, 2007 #12
    I just need to make sure I get at least a 770 Q on the GRE. I will find out how I did on the physics GRE next week, hopefully. I'm crossing my fingers for a ~70th percentile.
  14. Oct 29, 2007 #13
    I think you still have a shot at getting into Michigan (they admitted me, so anyone has a shot), and I would give you even odds or better of getting into ASU. Jerzy Kanicki graduated a PhD recently, so he may have an opening. I think UCSB is also quite good at organic electronics, but graduate admissions there might be even more competitive than MIT/Cornell/Michigan because they have several Nobel laureates in the field (Heeger, Kroemer, etc.) on their faculty.

    Random trivia: When I was an undergraduate at University of Arizona, I worked in an office/lab next to Ghassan Jabbour's office.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2007
  15. Oct 29, 2007 #14
    I would have guessed I had a good shot at ASU also. I would say I have a much better shot at ASU than Michigan.

    Yeah, UCSB is pretty good, especially since alan heegar is there.

    What about Texas? I assume if I had a chance at Michigan I have a chance at Texas, I suppose...but I am an out of state student with Texas, whereas I am an in state student for Michigan.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2007
  16. Dec 2, 2007 #15
    Well, I have some bad news. I got a 40th percentile on the physics GRE. This isn't a big deal since I am not really applying to any physics programs. However, I got a 660Q and 420V on the GRE. WTF? I was getting much better scores on the practice tests...at least 720Q (which is still rather low, I know...). Does this completely destroy any chance I had? That is just way below the averages for the engineering programs at these schools...I am devastated.

    On the quantitative part of the GRE, I know got to problem 15 and I had to guess randomly on all of the others. However, I am pretty sure I got all of the first 15 right, but I guess I just worked too slow...

    Can anyone give me advice? The deadlines for most of the schools I am applying to are Dec 15th. Cornell's deadline is Jan 17 and Arizona's deadline is Jan 31. I suppose I should take it again on January 1st (that's the earliest I can take it), but at that point I would have missed the deadlines.
  17. Dec 2, 2007 #16
    I would suggest re-take the GRE again. Someone with that high of a physics/EE GPA should be able to obtain a perfect score on the quantitative part. My overall GPA (physics major) isn't all that stellar (2.44, don't laugh) but I got a 800Q 450V on my gre.

    It still wouldn't hurt you if you apply. Who knows, a good recommendation/personal essay may save you. I wouldn't aim too high at top tier schools like MIT or Berkeley.

    I've applied to quite a bit of grad schools, a majority rejected me, yet I still got accepted to one with a 2.44 GPA. (3.1 physics GPA)
  18. Dec 2, 2007 #17


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    I was going to suggest you look into Art Epstein's group at Ohio State but I suspect the Physics GRE score will kill your app to the Physics Dept. You could think about applying to Chemistry (Epstein is attached to both depts), if you're up to it. Also, I think Epstein has 2 students that are pretty close to leaving.

  19. Dec 2, 2007 #18
    Blah, I am going to send out all of my application tonight and I will have my GRE scores sent out. I will just make a note on my applications that I am retaking the GRE on January 1st. Hopefully the schools will consider the second score even past the deadline. That's about all I can do. MIT doesn't require the GRE so I am ok there, I guess.
  20. Dec 2, 2007 #19
    I was so mad when I saw my GRE score. I wanted to pick up that POS computer monitor and lunge it across the room.
  21. Dec 3, 2007 #20
    My god man. Relax before you **** diamonds.
  22. Dec 3, 2007 #21
    A 640 Cyrus....640!!!!! WTFWTFWTF???
  23. Dec 3, 2007 #22
    Man o man, you like to worry. Let me tell you this, I applied to grad school and sent in my Transcript, my resume, 4 years of work experience, and a letter about myself. I never did a single honor society (even though I got letters to join), never joined any clubs, never did any tutoring, or any other such resume filler fluff. Never took the GRE either. It was optional, I opted not to (I would do really bad on it, I cant take those kinds of tests).

    If I got into grad school, then you (with more stuff on your resume) will get into grad school. In the mean time, stop worrying.

    You do realize there is a thing called a 'masters degree'. You can get that if you dont get into one of your dream schools and then apply for PhD afterwards.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2007
  24. Dec 3, 2007 #23
    Thanks Cyrus, I need people to slap me upside the head every once in a while. :)
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