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Plasma Physics - Grad School Questions

  1. Apr 11, 2010 #1
    I've been agonizing over what to study in graduate school. I'm most interested in Astrophysics (which is what my undergraduate degree will be in), but the job prospects have scared me off of Astrophysics and even general Physics, and I'm not interested in academia anyhow. In an attempt to compromise interests and some sort of a shot at a relevant job, I decided it might be a good idea to get a degree in Plasma Physics. I hope that, with fusion being a promising source of energy, there being an energy crisis in the U.S., and the Dept. of Energy funding research, it might be easier (although not much easier, I realize) to find a job with such a specialty. Does this sound like a good plan? I'd like to read about anyone's experiences with plasma physics (school- and/or career-wise), as well.

    Another thing I am really worried about are recommendations. It's been two years since I left my university, and I didn't really connect with many of the professors. There were two professors I've had write me recommendations for an internship (about a year and a half ago)...is it ok to ask them again? I don't really understand the recommendations etiquette.

    The Physics GRE is also on my mind. I've been working and haven't had much time/energy/peace of mind to study much for it, but I'd like to have it done so I can apply to grad school this fall. Does 4-6 months study time seem realistic for doing well? This is coming from some one who was about a low B student. Does anyone know of any California test prep centers that tutor for it? Kaplan has nothing.

    I'm in need of a mentor. I looked into MentorNet but I don't qualify. Can anyone recommend another service/website?

    My last question is about financing. I REALLY do not want to be in a teacher assistanceship position where I have to explain stuff to undergrads. I know having to explain things helps me to understand them myself, but I already have several years tutoring experience (during which I was quite successful and in demand) at the college level, so I know that I'm capable of explaining things when necessary. The experience I had also made me want to avoid anything like tutoring in the future, though. I'm an introvert and having to deal with people on a regular basis like that will just drain me, and I see it affecting my studies. I could deal with something like being a grader. To those of you who've financed physics grad school this way, were you given a choice of what you did? I have a really good internship lined up for this summer (at a National Lab), and I've had some computational research experience at my undergrad university. How much would this, along with being fairly certain about my research interests, help me get a research assistanceship instead, early in my graduate career rather than later?

    Thanks for reading.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 11, 2010 #2
    @recommendations: do you have some from employers, etc? they don't always need to be from professors. if you did undergraduate research with one, they'll probably remember you.

    @physics GRE: take a practice. depending on how well you do dictates how much time you should study.

    @TA/RA ship: first, look for a graduate fellowship (NSF does a bunch) if you can. if you get one of those, it'll really boast your graduate application [friend of mine got one as a graduating senior; within 48 hours of notifying all his schools he got it, he got into each school. plus some schools he go rejected from. and some schools he didnt apply to...]

    typically, there is some kind of teaching requirement for graduate students (minimum a year or so). you can always teach upper division undergrads or even graduate classes (lower div under grads... ew). and being a TA drains everyone. what ive seen a lot of TAs do is just schedule to TA a bunch of labs on one day. no reserach gets done on that day, but professors understand.

    and about getting an RA: you need two things- an adviser with money and be good enough to justify an RA.
  4. Apr 11, 2010 #3
    I haven't had much steady/impressive/well-supervised employment. The best I could do would be something from the director of the university program I tutored at for a year, but he had very little direct contact with me and never saw me work. I've recently tutored online for a few months, but the supervision was remote (the guy would read the tutoring transcripts and give email feedback a couple of times a month). I have a little over a month of temp work with the U.S. Census Bureau lined up for next month, but, again, very little supervision, and not a lot of time on the job, even if I do well enough to earn a recommendation. The guy I did research with...his program was disorganized, so, although I learned some good skills, I didn't accomplish much, and I worked from home so I don't think he'd have much to say about me. The employer angle does not look good :(

    Holy crap!
  5. May 1, 2010 #4
    bump for any advice/experience with Plasma Physics
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