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Interested in Experimental Physics, but no background what to do?

  • Thread starter bluechic92
  • Start date
Hey Everyone,
I know that I enjoy physics and I enjoy research. My past research experiences have been in high energy theory and I worked on two different projects, and loved them! These experiences motivated me to pursue graduate studies in physics.

I graduated from undergrad and I am unwillingly taking a year off. I did not do so well on the physicsgre last year and did not have positive results with admissions. I took the physicsgre again, this past September, and I am hoping that my scores are better. Before studying for physics gres/taking them, I sort of gave up on physics for a while. I explored/looked for jobs other areas ( from administrative assistant positions to banking to quality assurance engineer). In the end, I am back to physics. Currently, I am still looking for jobs, but I am also auditing a QFT course at a nearby University. I love QFT!

The thing is, I am not quite sure I am interested in pursuing HEP-TH anymore. I loved doing research in physics and I want to go to graduate school. I just want to expand my research horizon and acquire more skills.

I started working on fellowships and applications, but I am feeling so lost now. I am realizing that although I can always google and further research various topics in experimental work to understand it, I feel lost when I am trying to understand how various instruments are used. The papers are much more difficult to understand in a different way.

I was wondering how general can one be in statements of purpose for research? One Professor told me that it is okay to be general and say that I am interested in exploring Condensed Matter Experiment and learning about topic X or Y, and developing my experimental skills. However, I am afraid that my application (SOP at least) will be weak because of my lack of background :/.

I was not very successful in obtaining internships and research experience for experimental physics, and I am so afraid my grad apps will go the same way.


Science Advisor
Education Advisor
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Incoming graduate students are not expected to have relevant experience in the given subfield they want to work in. Generally speaking, the people on admissions committees are well aware that everyone has different opportunities and they will allow you to have explored other areas. What they look for in statements of purpose is that you have reason and purpose behind your choice to apply to their program. They want to see that you have taken advantage of opportunities that you've had and that you've been successful in your pursuits in a manner that suggests you be successful in their program.

One thing that can really help is to visit the schools you're applying to and arrange time to talk with some of the people (proffs, post-docs, grad students) working in the area you're interested in.
Thank you for the reply! I definitely feel a whole lot better now. Some of the schools I am applying to are very far, but I'll definitely try to visit.
Hopefully people are fine with email communications.

Andy Resnick

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
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Choppy gave you lots of good advice. Here's a bit more- as opposed to undergraduate admissions, applications to graduate programs are approved ((or not) at the program/department level. Again, this is why it's so important to tailor each application carefully.
Thank you for the advice too Andy! I just started working on statements. I forgot how much I endure writer's block :/

Should I mention anything about me taking a year off? I didn't intend to do this so I never had anything planned or lined up. I am just auditing a class and tutoring on the side.

Andy Resnick

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Since you didn't use the time to 'further your career' I would spend no more than a sentence or two on it; basically just to point out you weren't in jail, deployed overseas, etc. If you spent the year studying/improving (evidenced by the increased GRE score), say that and move on.
Thank you again so much! I guess I'll just have to figure out when to weave that in.

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