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Physics Major: Good at theory, Terrible in the lab

  1. Mar 17, 2012 #1
    I am currently a Physics-Math B.S. Major in my junior year of my undergrad work. I had an internship last summer and based off of my supervisor's non-response to my e-mails requesting to return, I didn't do so hot. I am taking a modern physics lab class right now and I understand the theory and background of the experiments but the actually logbook keeping, report writing, and even the measurement taking, I am bad.

    However when it comes to the theoretical classes and math classes I feel strong and confident in my work. I am taking the GRE Physics this April and as it currently stands I plan on going to grad school for physics. I probably will have trouble getting good recommendations.

    To sum it up: I am pretty good at math and theoretical physics(~3.5 GPA) but I am bad/useless in the lab and don't have a much of any report with my professors.

    Can I get into grad school solely off of strong(-ish) grades and a good GRE score? or should I re-evaluate plan?

    A more abstract question: What is grad school? How does it compare to undergraduate studies. It seems to me that it is more technical higher level classes while conducting some sort of research.

    Sorry if there isn't much information or much of a question here.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2012 #2
    Sorry if I am telling you stuff you already know.

    1) The subject (Physics) GRE score will be much more important than your general GRE.
    2) Definitely keep that GPA up, especially in upper division math/phys classes. A strong upward trend in later semesters will reflect well on you, if you can bring it up from 3.5.
    3) Some kind of research/internship experience is crucial to your application. If you just have the one internship and aren't able to get a letter of rec from your supervisor that is a red flag for the adcoms. You might consider getting involved with some groups at your school ASAP.

    You wouldn't believe how busy/how many emails some of these people get. Try to get in touch again.

    The PhD is first and foremost a research degree. It is likely you will take classes your first year and maybe some your second year, but the main thrust is independent, original research. Maybe if you struggle with hardware you should try your hand at computational physics or some old-school theoretical physics?

    P.S. Technically you don't want to say you're good at "theoretical physics" when what you mean is you are good at your coursework :) But maybe you will be good at theory research, give it a go!
  4. Mar 18, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the response. Is the standard GRE also required or is just the subject test sufficient? Or is that dependent upon program?
  5. Mar 18, 2012 #4
    I'm sure there are exceptions, but I'd say the General GRE is required by most programs (the Graduate Schools often require it even if the Physics department doesn't care).
  6. Mar 19, 2012 #5
    I honestly never believe that people are bad in the lab. Yes, I understand it's probably not your strong point but it's also because I doubt you never practice hands-on type skills when you're outside of school. Logbook and report writing, aka documentation, in an industry type job is a very valuable skill and shouldn't be taken lightly. If you're bad at it then get good now because you'll be doing it one day. Unless, of course, you end up a tenured professor and then your grad students can take care of that. Although, I wouldn't count on it.
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