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Physics Graduate School Research/Admission

  1. Jun 12, 2004 #1
    Hi everyone,
    I am currently a double major in electrical engineering and physics, and trying to decide which area of physics I want to go in to for graduate school. I'll be a junior next year in EE and I have thus far only taken the physics classes needed by EE's. Will someone tell me, or point me in the right direction, where I could find a list of all the general fields of physics? At my school now, optics is the major area of research in the physics dept.

    I would also like to know if anyone has suggestions that would help to get into one of the top schools in physics (when ever I find out which field I want to go into). I know GPA and GRE subject test are very important. But if I, say, have a 3.75 GPA and a fairly good GRE score, then what will guarantee me admission into one of the top schools? I am currently only at a state university (no ivy league). Would I essentially have to be involved in ground breaking research to have a chance at the (very) top school?

    Thanks a lot in advance, and sorry if this is not in the right forum.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2004 #2
    There are no guarantees. Good letters of references will probably make or break you as far as the top schools are concerned. The fact that you currently attend a state school will probably not be a factor.

    Pick your top school and in your letter of intent tell them that if accepted you will almost certainly accept their invitation to study at their school. (But don't do this if you are unwilling to follow through with your word.) Selection committees tend to like sure things.

    Another issue to consider is your choice of research when applying. Point out your interest in some of the research taking place, but do not zero in too heavily on any particular one. You want them to think you researched their school before applying, but you don't want to alienate members of the selection committee by focusing on the research of only one faculty member. Make sure that you project the image of someone who understands what they do at (say) Brown University, is excited by that research, but is open to alternatives.
     
  4. Jun 13, 2004 #3
    Thanks JohnDubYa, all of that makes sense.

    So it sounds like I really need to get involved in research with a professor at my school to really get that edge with the reference letter (and of course because the research will be interesting). Are professors generally open to undergrads helping them with their research, or do they feel undergrads don't know enough? Also, since my school is big in optics, if I get involved in research with optics but then decide I want to go to graduate school in nuclear physics, then will not being involved in the particular research area I am applying for graduate school hurt me?

    Aside, I still have not been able to find a list of the general research areas of physics. Google only brings up Universites. Can someone point me to a list of all the braches of physics? Thanks.
     
  5. Jun 13, 2004 #4

    ZapperZ

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    You will never find a "complete" list of ALL the branches of physics. Even if there is one, this will be misleading, because some branches, like condensed matter, is so big, that it is almost insulting to attach just one name to it.

    You will have to do a bit more of a leg work beyond just "googling" if you want to get a flavor of the various areas. Go to your school library and get several issues of Phys. Rev. Lett, Phys. Rev. A, B, C, D, and E, and look at the various topics and articles. After that, grab several issues of J. of Appl. Physics, and again, do the same thing. All these journals should contain a huge coverage of the various areas of physics.

    Zz.
     
  6. Jun 13, 2004 #5
    Thanks Zz, I'll check those out.

    I would also like to hear from people who have made it into some of the big name graduate schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley..etc). What was your GPA, GRE, and achievements that you think got you into those schools. I ask becasue I want to get an idea of where I stand and what realistically I need to do to get into one of these schools. (I know what type of research I am doing depends on which school I go to, but I'd still like to know what it takes to get in one of the big name schools.)
     
  7. Jun 13, 2004 #6
    RE: "So it sounds like I really need to get involved in research with a professor at my school to really get that edge with the reference letter (and of course because the research will be interesting). Are professors generally open to undergrads helping them with their research..."

    Some are. Some are not. You probably don't want to mess with those that aren't anyway, so you could use that as a criteria for picking advisors.

    RE: "Also, since my school is big in optics, if I get involved in research with optics but then decide I want to go to graduate school in nuclear physics, then will not being involved in the particular research area I am applying for graduate school hurt me?"

    No, probably not.

    RE: "Aside, I still have not been able to find a list of the general research areas of physics. Google only brings up Universites. Can someone point me to a list of all the braches of physics? Thanks."

    There is a book called Graduate Programs in Physics. Anyone applying for graduate school who doesn't have a copy of that book handy is nuts. (Among many things, it tells you what each department's requirements for GRE and GPAs are, although they tend to be overinflated.) Most physics departments and SPS chapters get free copies.
     
  8. Jun 13, 2004 #7

    robphy

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    I would definitely take some of the advanced undergraduate courses in physics, especially electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. Otherwise, you're at a disadvantage compared to a physics-only major and may be a year-or-so behind the entering class.



    Look for a summer research opportunity, possibly at one of the schools you are interested in.
    Apply for a graduate fellowship in your senior year.
     
  9. Jun 13, 2004 #8
    I'll check this out when I get back to school in the Fall, thanks. I'm very eager to know the average GPA & GRE of these big-name schools. What's the typical for, say, Yale or Berkeley?

    I am actually in a NSF-REU now, but it is at one of the lesser known Universities. I applied to 3 REUs and was only accepted to this one, but which I am very greatful for the opportunity. I think these REUs are pretty selective. I hope they don't have any regulations about being an REU twice (maybe I'll get into one of the other Universities next summer). I also plan on applying for a summer intern at DoE next summer--i'm sure these are pretty selective too. Maybe I'll call one of these big-name schools and ask if they have any oportunties for the summer, i suppose it is worth a shot. I am not aware of a "graduate fellowship," please explain.

    I just thought of an additional question. What sort of money/assistance can I expect from various sources (and what are the various sources?) in graduate school to help pay for my expenses? I know these big-name schools cost 25 to 30 thousand just for tuition every semester. What sort of debts will I have when I graduate from one of these Universities (assuming I only make money through University jobs and assitance)?
     
  10. Jun 13, 2004 #9
    Actually, they practically expect two REUs by now. The REU program was a nice idea that got prostituted out of control. Next they will want three REUs.

    I doubt the university at which you served your REU will have any bearing. More important is what you accomplish and the letter of recommendation you get out of your REU supervisor.

    The stated average GREs and GPAs are overinflated. If a school has a minimum GRE of 800, they'll take a 770, or even less if the student shows exceptional promise. It's mostly fluff, but a good resource for comparisons.
     
  11. Jun 14, 2004 #10

    ZapperZ

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    I highly recommend consultation with this book. The AIP produces this guide and it should be available at almost all college libraries, and/or your neighborhood physics department.

    Or, you can look up various pages of it on the relevant schools that you are interested in by going to the Gradshopper website at:

    http://www.gradschoolshopper.com/

    This will give you the relevant info for physical science graduate programs that are contained in the same AIP guide.

    Zz.
     
  12. Jun 14, 2004 #11

    robphy

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  13. Jun 14, 2004 #12
    Reading through them now. Thanks robphy.

    I was looking through some of the schools in the Programs in Physics (year 2000) book and looking at average GRE scores, and I noticed NYU had a average GRE of 950. Harvard only said 800. I didn't realize NYU was so elite. (Just something that caught my eye.)
     
  14. Jun 14, 2004 #13
    Since I am a double major in EE and physics I will most likely choose to apply to a applied physics/science school within the university. Anyone know of good schools for this, or am I still in too broad a classification for recommendations. In fact, does anyone have any suggestions for interesting topics inside the applied physics field. Thanks again for all the responses.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2004
  15. Jun 14, 2004 #14
    The top obtainable score on the physics GRE is 900 (at least it was when I took it). I suspect a typographical error, as NYU couldn't possibly attract enough students with such an unrealistic GRE score.

    Again, take the scores with a grain of salt. A lot of the GRE minimal requirements stated in the book are mere posturing for prestige.
     
  16. Jun 15, 2004 #15
    I looked it up, the GRE general highest obtainable score is 800, but the GRE subject is up to 990 (sort of an odd number).
    So are the schools lying when they post that their average GRE subject score is 800, like Harvard? (They use the word "average" in Graduate Programs in Physics.) If the GRE scores don't have much bearing, then does that mean the GPA, recommendations, and personal statement are significantly more important?
     
  17. Jun 15, 2004 #16

    ZapperZ

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    You need to keep in mind that the average GRE scores reported here is the CONSEQUENCE, not the CAUSE. In other words, AFTER a school accepted all these students, they THEN tally up the average GRE scores of all of them. They did not, right off the bat, select students based simply on GRE scores.

    The reason why this number is reported is so that you can use it as guide to see if you have roughly the same level of knowledge as the ones that have been accepted. However, I would say with confidence that GRE scores is one of the WEAKEST criteria a school uses to determine whether to accept a student or not. Your GPA, extra curricular activities, letters of recommendations, and publications if any, play a MUCH bigger role. So this apparent obsession with GRE scores is on the verge of becoming unhealthy.

    Zz.
     
  18. Jun 15, 2004 #17
    I'll keep that in mind. I just want to do everything I can to get in to the top school, thus I am trying to figure out what it takes and what they want.

    Also, do they look at the physics GPA or overall GPA in admissions, or is it a combination.
     
  19. Jun 15, 2004 #18
    Turns out the ETS, Gre: Practicing to Take the Physics Test is out of print. Anyone know of a place to download it at? (That would definitely be a nice link to add to the "Physics Napster".) If not, I guess I'll ask around my school.
     
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