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If you can't succeed the normal way, try something else

  1. May 19, 2013 #1
    So, I'm wondering,

    Suppose a couple years from now, I've applied to physics graduate schools, but I can't get in anywhere due to GPA issues. My physics GPA is decent, if not outstanding(mostly B+'s and B's so far. I'm hoping I can change those into A's next year, when I'm dealing mainly with physics and not with gen eds/math. I've got all summer, and I've finally realized that in order to learn physics, you need to do it and not just read it-I learn by doing, this I've recently learned-so, I'm going to take the books and practice), and I show a upward trend(partially based in reality as this year has gone better than last, partially hypothetical because I have yet to do junior year and it still needs to do better), but that just isn't enough. It isn't helped by the fact that I've gotten some bad grades in math courses, including a D+ in one this semester(I didn't see that coming... I've done better this semester than in previous ones, but then that one came. Stupid study skills, stupid proofy course... it sent me into a depressed, near suicidal funk yesterday. I thought I was done with that.) I've only recently gone on medication in the past month or two for those that have read my previous posts due to mistakes with dosage.

    In case anyone is interested: I do have research experience-and if I get lucky, a publication next year-but I do not see how that will help me if they throw out the application immediately. Have no idea how I'll do on the PGRE-I plan on getting a copy tommorow and seeing how I do. If I do badly, but start now(I don't take the test for nearly a year), I should be able to get a good score, as my guess is tests like that are more about practice than skill.

    What then? Should I try and see if I can get into a master's program somewhere? Try some backdoor routes? I know one guy who had below a 3.0 who was an undergrad here, but had a lot of research and managed to get into grad school here-and he was going out for general relativity of all things. But that being said, he stressed that he was an exception, and I know from experience that you should never count on getting lucky. Or figure out an alternative plan for my life? I'm working at a nanofabrication center over the summer for my research, and the guy I'm working says that with the skills that I already have/am picking up, it's possible to get hired there with a bachelor's.

    If I isn't happening, it isn't happening, I deserve it, and that's that. I'm not going to complain about it. But I'm not going to curl up and go away. Not yet.

    And regardless of what happens, I've made a vow... no matter if it is too late or not. I've progressed, but not enough. I turn 20 this summer, and I want to be a completely different person. Person before, person after. Call it stupid, but I have something of an obsession with age, and I'm trying to make this a milestone. Have no idea why I'm posting this part, maybe if I post it, I can remind myself that I'm going to do it.
    Last edited: May 19, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. May 19, 2013 #2


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    You are hoping that your core subjects are going to be easier than those general subjects?
  4. May 19, 2013 #3
    Um... No? I am hoping the changes I've made/making will come into effect.
  5. May 19, 2013 #4
    It can be done but it will be hard route, I've known people who've done it and am currently doing it myself. I know a guy who had a 2.4 overall gpa in undergrad EE, but got into a masters program (and got a 3.5 there). He got in because he had a lot of research and alot of completed projects under his belt that led to publications and recognition from professors and industry, and he had a lot of professors vouching for him. Something similar happened to me in that I got into the McNair scholars program with a gpa below the 3.0 cutoff (my overall the same as my friend I mentioned above), but I had jobs in my field, projects and research, plus professors and past scholars vouching for me which the program respected. If you don't have the gpa you need something of near equivalent value to make up for it. Upward trend and high grades in your major classes will also look good (I've got A's in quantum mechanics and plasma physics, B's in e&m, expecting A's in mechanics, thermodynamics, and senior laboratory and am hoping with a good enough pgre score will count for something for graduate schools for at least masters degrees or perhaps get into bridge programs). It's definitely not the efficient way but you do what you gotta do. If you're a minority, something I'm going to apply is the APS bridge program which are sort of post-bac/masters degrees that are aimed to prepare people for phd programs, their gpa requirements are less than 3.0 if my information serves me correctly, it's the long way but it's something:

  6. May 19, 2013 #5
    Generic white male here, sorry. :)

    So, it looks like it is possible, but you've got to push it.

    I should clarify: I hope my GPA will be over 3.0 by the time applications come around, but even if it is, that is still liable to be thrown away.

    I got mechanics, thermo+stat mech, and quantum III(here, you have to do quantum II and III, it doesn't matter what order) coming up next semester. And after that, a bunch of other physics courses. So I do have chances with my physics courses to impress. The key is that I do, and that involves starting early.
  7. May 19, 2013 #6
    But going off your title, you're making the impression that simply reading a physics text is the "normal way" to learn physics; that's not true at all. Learning physics is always about doing the problems, because if you don't know the material, then you certainly won't be able to do the problems.
  8. May 19, 2013 #7
    Nah, by normal, I meant applying to graduate school and getting in. Different topic.

    I know it is stupid, but I did not realize what you said until this semester. I mean, I did homework, but that was it. I realize that might be part of the solution. Not all of it, but a vital part of it.

    I still want to say that I don't regret doing physics at all. The Quantum Mechanics course I took this semester is literally the most fun, if intellectually demanding(our professor taught our course akin to the graduate version he teaches with Sakurai and everything), course I've ever taken. It'd be a shame if I couldn't do physics research afterwards because of non-physics grades-so I'm trying to figure out alternatives should everything not work out.

    And logically if it is fun... than I should be doing more problems. Today I sat down and started doing some problems for Classical Mechanics(nothing fancy, but this is a first outside homework) and afterwards, I feel like I understand the material well in advance. So, hopefully, between this and other factors(activating the rest of special services, meds finally kicking in under increased dosage, focusing in class more, and of course research/GRE/upward trend/letters/personal statement), I get into graduate school somewhere. But I want to prepare for the worst as well-I've learned not to count on luck.
    Last edited: May 19, 2013
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