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Mr. Gorbachev, build up that resume!

  1. Oct 8, 2012 #1
    Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

    I'm very interested in applying to grad school, in a yet-undecided subfield of theoretical physics. For one looking to build up a grad school resume, what can I do/learn while an undergrad (four semesters left)? I'm not looking for the stock (though still very helpful and important) answers, like letters of recommendation, research experience, killer GPA, etc, but rather: learn computer programming in (say) C. Become a president of the local student physics chapter. And so forth.

    Any ideas or recommendations?

    Thanks to you all in advance.
    – Daniel
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 8, 2012 #2
    So you want unconventional advice.

    Get your parents to donate 1 million dollars to a department of your choice.
  4. Oct 8, 2012 #3
    ...we might have to find a backup plan, chill_factor.
  5. Oct 8, 2012 #4
    The competition in physics is fierce. The acceptance rate is extremely low and they can pick and choose applicants at will. So you have to distinguish yourself in a good way.

    Learning how to program is useful for theoretical physics but it wouldn't hurt you to get the skills you really need. Taking a few technical writing classes is great for improving your communication abilities. Also, some statistics classes are probably going to be useful too, since you might find your interests changing to experiment and statistics can only hurt, never hurt, in experimental fields.
  6. Oct 8, 2012 #5
    The good/bad news is that there are no magic tricks. Just do the standard stuff.

    The one thing that I would focus on is to make totally sure that you really, really, really want to go to graduate school. Read up on the wail and anguish that physics Ph.D.'s are going through and make sure that this is really what you want to do with your life.

    Those are useful. They won't help you get in with graduate school, but they are still useful. One thing that I found out is that there are trade offs. I did some things as an undergraduate, that actually seriously hurt my graduate school application, but they paid off big time once I got out of graduate school, and I am deeply in debt to one particular professor that convinced me do do stuff that killed my graduate school applications.

    For example, if you become president of the local physics chapter and you start a program tutoring kids in physics, this will likely *hurt* your graduate school application, since you'll be "wasting" your time on something that graduate admissions committees don't care about.

    Whether they should or not is an irrelevant question, they don't, and figuring out when to do stuff because it's the "right thing to do" even if the admission committee hates you for it is something you have to figure out, because you'll run into this problem again and again.
  7. Oct 8, 2012 #6
    I don't think it's that bad. Graduate schools need academic serfs, and if you are willing to be a serf (and most people aren't), it's a good deal. Also, I think it probably a good idea not to get too "clever" or do anything original. You can take your credentials and then look at the outcomes for other people in the same situation, and that can give you a decent guess as to what is likely to happen.

    Don't try to be different. They are looking for academic serfs. Just convince them that you'll be a happy and productive academic serf.

    Or just buy books in Amazon.

    If we are talking here about "gaming the system" I'd actually recommend that you load up on hard math and physics classes. If you get an A+ in technical writing, the graduate committee isn't going to care, so if you want to look good, it would be better to get the A (or B) in something like algebraic topology. A probability and statistics class would be useful, if you make it clear that it's a "hard core" probability/statistics class (i.e. something where they mention sigma algebras and Lebesque integration).
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  8. Oct 8, 2012 #7
    Hey twofish, I laughed very hard when I read "academic serfs". The word itself is so uncommon that I find it piquantly (but grimly) humorous in this context.

    It gives me the impression that the graduate students are actually peasants from the Middle Ages. They are "tied to the land" working for a "pittance".

    Pertaining to the topic, unconventional things sometimes work in undergrad but mostly not. I applied not very long ago to undergrad, and the word "unconventional" itself is risky term, because if everyone does what's unconventional, then it becomes unconventional to be conventional.

    Instead try to learn more about your subject and find people who share the interest and expand your network of helpful people.

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