Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Programs Physics: MS to PhD or just PhD

  1. Jul 25, 2012 #1
    I know for a fact this question has been asked on here before and I searched for a long time to find it but couldn't so... here we go!

    I'll be graduating in 2014 at UIC in Physics with a lower than ideal GPA (3.4-3.5 if I get all A's from now on). I will have had one research experience which would be working extensively with a professor and post-doc on interfacial physics which includes preparing samples in a lab, collecting and analyzing data, traveling to the APS at Argonne National Lab to observe data collection there.

    I'm looking at going into Astrophysics now and the research I'm doing doesn't really give me any experience in that subject so applying to an Astrophysics program would be hard.

    Here's the big question: Would it be easier for me to get into a better PhD program if I got my Master's somewhere with a higher GPA and did research/internships in Astrophysics or just straight apply to an Astrophysics PhD program?

    I know one of the disadvantages of getting a Master's first is that taking those classes at one institution means you aren't taking classes at the PhD institution which they might not like.

    Any insight into this would be greatly appreciated.
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    What are the application requirements for the astrophysics PhD programs that you're interested in? I ask that because in most US universities, you will apply to a physics and/or astronomy department. A physics department usually isn't going to restrict graduate admission based on whether or not you've studied astrophysics. They care that you have an acceptable undergraduate education in physics and have taken the Physics GRE. Most astronomy departments will admit well-qualified physics undergrads whether they've taken courses in astronomy or not. Your area of undergraduate research experience is also less important than the amount of it, the recommendation letter from your mentor, publications, etc. Sometimes prospective theory students might be held to slightly higher standards if there are too many of them along with a particularly large demand for experimentalists.

    Unless you have some programs in mind which you have a reason to believe are an exception to the above, your goal now is to get the best grades and research experience to look like a better applicant than other physics and astronomy applicants. You want to be admitted to good programs with faculty doing astrophysics research.

    In any case, do some more research into the admissions criteria at the programs you are interested in. It seems like it's too early to begin planning around getting a masters because of your undergraduate (in)experience so far.
  4. Jul 25, 2012 #3
    In the United States, no. (Note that this applies specifically to astrophysics and the US.)

    Astrophysics Ph.D. programs in the US are joint Masters-Ph.D. programs. If you have taken a physics Masters, the odds are that it's going to be ignored in admissions decisions, and assuming that you are going in with an "average" set of credentials, it's likely to leave you worse off.

    Also graduate school GPA's are usually meaningless. As long as you aren't failing, no one cares what your grades are.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook