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Realistically, where can I go from here?

  1. Dec 28, 2008 #1
    Applied Phys Undergrad to Phys Ph. D.-- Where can I go from here?

    I am a student in Columbia's SEAS, majoring in Applied Physics. My GPA is pretty bad (2.47, with 2 semesters left to go, so it could potentially go up to 2.9) and I am doing research with a physics professor, but no publications as of yet. I have never failed or withdrawn from a class, but have a couple of D's in classes not directly for my major. I am also a girl, and a US citizen (I've been given the impression these things and my school affect my chances, but I don't know). What should I shoot for graduate-school-wise? I'd like to get into a Ph. D. program in physics or applied physics, probably focusing on HEP or astrophysics.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2008 #2


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    Is that your physics GPA or your overall GPA?
  4. Dec 29, 2008 #3
    My physics GPA is almost exactly that as well. As I go along, though, my semester GPAs have been improving, my most recent was 2.93. I know this sounds bad, but I am required by my program to take 4-5 technical courses every semester. I love science and math, but that much technical material at once causes me to burn out somewhere in the middle of the semester, and then rally for finals. I'm not proud of my methods thus far and hope to turn things around in coming semesters. Could I be saved possibly by a high score on the PGRE? Is it that bad?
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
  5. Dec 29, 2008 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    Why exactly do you want to go to grad school? "That much technical material at once" is pretty much the definition of the first couple years in grad school.
  6. Dec 29, 2008 #5
    Fair point, I give up then. I don't know why I bothered asking when people on this board seem more intent on picking apart hopefuls and steering them away instead of just answering their questions.
  7. Dec 29, 2008 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    Would it be better if we were to tell everyone with a C+ average that Princeton is the place for them?

    "Why do you want to go to grad school?" is a question anyone going to grad school should expect to be asked. It becomes especially important, though, when one states she didn't like and didn't do well in the closest thing to grad school in her experience. You don't have to answer me - I'm just a mean old ogre who gets his jollies "picking apart hopefuls". But you will have to answer an admissions committee.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
  8. Dec 29, 2008 #7
    I'm not asking for you to validate my "dreams" of Princeton (suspiciously not substantiated here). I'm asking what would be an appropriate course of action for someone in my position. I'm also not asking for someone to make sure my motives and heart are pure as the driven snow. You can't just rest assured that they are, and give me some advice?
  9. Dec 29, 2008 #8
    Well you said yourself that you’re struggling to cope with the demands of your workload so if it’s too much to bear than it would be wiser to not pursue graduate studies. No one here extracts any kind of joy from "crushing people's dreams" but it’s better to be honest then to give false hope, especially when there is time, money and futures at stake.

    However if your very serious about going to grad school then you will probably need to stay back a year or so to increase your marks and do some serious thinking about pursuing this because it will be hard and will involve long hours in the lab and at the desk.
  10. Dec 29, 2008 #9


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    I think Vanadium asked a fair question, and I don't think he or she meant it in a derogitory manner.

    The most appropriate course of action, in my opinion, would be to first determine a specific goal. Investigate graduate programs that catch your interest, talk to potential supervisors, academic advisors, professors and graduate students and make an educated decision on what programs to apply for. Then you need to do a self-assessment and figure out what you need to do to (a) qualify and (b) be competative for those specific positions.
  11. Dec 29, 2008 #10
    get a 3.0 or near it (might have to stay a bit longer.) CCNY is right in the neighborhood. Apply for the masters program. There is no subject GRE required for the masters program and you would probably have a good recomendation or two since you're involved in research. Other than that its just best to stick to masters programs. I specifically mention CCNY because its very accessible and there is some great faculty there.
  12. Dec 29, 2008 #11
    "My GPA is well below the posted minimum of many low-tier graduate programs. I have an unsubstantial research record, and haven't shared my GRE scores. Give me advice!"

    You want an appropriate course of action, but you've hardly given us anything to work with while shrugging off the best advice that's been given in this thread so far.
  13. Dec 30, 2008 #12
    Of course you still have some years left, and the GRE's (both general and physics). This could change things, but note that good graduate schools pretty much require a 3.5 (or better, depending on the number of applicants).

    I tend to agree that without stellar improvement (including possibly some publications) with ytoruno's analysis that it would be best to apply for master's level programs (but I would add that you should apply to several). You may still need to take at least the general GRE, and possibly the subject. After successful completion of a master's program, you may be asked to stay (if the program offers Ph.D.'s)... and there may still be funding for a master's program (depending of course on the program). A master's degree (even in a related field like engineering) would boost a later application for a Ph.D. program.

    The added addition is that a master's degree would give you perhaps a better resume with which to seeks jobs, even immediately after. Honestly, if you're looking at seeking a Ph.D. to enter the academic market (which it seems MOST students of physics first imagine), job possibilities aren't that great. Some schools, like University of Washington, are starting to eliminate entry-level tenure-track positions in favor of cheaper five year lectureships (depending on load, sometimes these types of positions may not even offer health benefits). Institutions are especially seeking to reduce faculty due to the present budget crunches (our institution recently stopped several searches midway).

    You could also consider a master's in science education, along with teaching certification/licensure. Quite honestly, I think even though the pay isn't great, the benefits are good, and I think that this is where the jobs will be in the future (demand might also mean some major changes in how teachers are paid, currently being experimented at some select districts). The recent NASULGC meeting (NASUGLC being the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges) focused for quite some times on SMTI (the Science and Math Teacher Imperative)... some stuff that is all associated with the "Rising above the Gathering Storm" National Academies report.
  14. Dec 30, 2008 #13
    thats some great advice from physics girl, but i want to add one more concern: funding. You will more than likely have to pay for a masters program out of your own pocket. Because of this, you should probably focus on non-private schools. If you want to stay in NY(thus evading out of state charges and other nonsense,) you've got CUNY, SUNY systems to work with.
  15. Dec 30, 2008 #14
    You can (with WORK) find funding for terminal master's programs. I got an MS in electro-optical engineering, which was funded by the US Air Force. There are fellowships for teacher education programs... I got tuition (but not living expenses) funded through the university I attended, but more recently there are state and national fellowship for this, because the national seeing even more need than when I completed my program. Just note that you should look around and not necessarily be satisfied with entry into a program that doesn't pay you.

    Quite honestly, I wish I'd stayed at the terminal master's level in one or another of these the jobs I had during or just after my terminal master's programs (I have an MS in optics and an M.Ed. in classroom teaching). While getting my Ph.D. (in physics) was personally edifying, it hasn't improved my pocket-book (in a large part due to family location, family issues, and the current economy, I'm in a non-tenured lecturer position). Staying at the Air Force Research Labs (in a civilian R&D job) would have probably been best. I was only receiving half-salary because they were funding my education, and after I completed the program if I'd stayed I would have moved up in pay scale and gone full-time, but I was sick of the town (that's when I left to pursue my Ph.D.).

    Truly, I think that academic physics programs need to be offering more advice to students than pushing all their students towards Ph.D. programs (especially into physics Ph.D. programs). I all too often see that students aren't given other guidance. Even University of Maryland (a top school for physics education research) doesn't produce but about 3 physics certified physics teachers per year (via info from the university president or the A/S dean at the NASULGC meeting... I forget who). A Ph.D. does not equal job-satisfaction.... and I fear that especially for those who want to be academic-track, that will become more and more true as many universities tighten their belts on hiring (note: U of Washington was doing the aforementioned form of hiring BEFORE the economic crisis).
  16. Jan 1, 2009 #15
    Re: Applied Phys Undergrad to Phys Ph. D.-- Where can I go from here?

    If you can I'd suggest you take an extra year as a post-bac to learn whatever material you may have struggled on and to boost up your grades. I'm vaguely familiar with SEAS and suspect you've probably already amassed a pretty high number of credits. If that's the case it'll be somewhat difficult to raise your gpa to a 2.9 in 2 semesters (a .4-.45 gpa lift upon 90+ credits isn't a trivial matter). 4 semesters would give you much more margin for error and the second year would allow you more freedom to choose the classes you feel you'd be strongest at. I know Columbia isn't exactly cheap so you could also try to do some of the courses at another local new york university (the SUNY and CUNY schools are good suggestions).

    From what I've seen, most master's programs which do place a couple of their students in ok-decent phd programs require a minimum gpa of 2.75. If you can reach a number around that then I'd apply to master's programs for the most part (you could try some lower tier phd programs though the chances are admission are probably bleak even with a good pgre) and then try to perform very well there (and try to work with a professor on research). This might mean that you have 4 years of material before you take quals but it will have been worth it and is probably necessary. Either way, you'd have to start getting recommendations and gre scores together whether you're applying to a master's (though I"m not sure if most of these require a subject gre) or phd program. If you haven't started already you should also begin prepping for the physics gre. When you eventually apply to a phd program you'll want something >800 for the areas you're looking at with a score >700 being a lower bound. There's a lot of advice on this site, on university websites and on www.physicsgre.com about preparing for that exam.

    I can understand the disconnect between some of the posters who're earnestly trying to give advice to the original poster and her perspective. Clearly, if you choose to pursue physics further all the way through a phd you'll need to change study habits or make serious changes to start getting better marks but the reason why you're being asked about your motivations is because what you're planning is a pretty serious and time consuming affair (even more so than a typical physics phd track). From what I've heard (because it isn't my area) HEP or astrophysics from a physics grad school perspective is likely the most competitive in terms of admissions. Even getting into a lower tier program would require a lot of time and hard work (and all in a number of technical courses).

    Asking about your motivations isn't necessarily a personal attack on you, its ensures that those in a position to give you advice can get an unbiased view of how much you really want to pursue physics and whether its worthwhile to do so. If you're completely set on working in physics and are willing to devote the time and effort (and frankly the lifestyle) then its also worthwhile to hear what the path of least resistance will be (even if it still is very arduous), because you'll have to go through it in any event.

    Also talk to as many professors as you can in addition to your advisor. They'll also have a lot of good advice to give you.
  17. Jan 1, 2009 #16
    This thread seems to be following a common theme in this forum, which goes like this:

    "I don't have good grades and seem to lose focus and motivation easily. What are my chances of getting into a grad school/what can I expect from my graduate school applications?"

    -"Are you certain you want to go to grad school if you have trouble with focus and motivation?"

    "I don't know why I even asked, no one will tell me that I am great and grad school is looking for unmotivated students with poor grades, so everyone is a self-loathing pompous dream-crusher."

    Asking a self-proclaimed prone to losing interest student with poor grades if they're positive they want to devote their life to studying their current field of focus is a perfectly reasonable question. It is probably a question that should precede any long winded response on what your options are or what direction you should follow before graduate school.

    I was in a similar position as you. I have a degree in a field I "was interested in" with the intent of continuing on with a graduate degree.
    As I was completing that program, I realized I needed to take a hard look at where I wanted to go in that field.

    A little self-reflection helped me realize that I loved ASPECTS of that field, but loathed a great deal of the material in that field that wasn't part of the few aspects I enjoyed.

    I decided against grad school and took a job with my undergraduate degree. I started a business that focused on the areas I liked and developed it to the point where I could leave my regular job, and eventually to the point where it became the "regular job" of my employees.

    Looking back, I would have been miserable in graduate school. I would have continued on the path of enjoying a sections of a few classes.....and "dragging @$&" through the majority of my course work that I didn't enjoy.

    Oddly enough, that business has developed enough to allow me plenty of free time. Free time that eventually lead me back to school....in a different field where I love every aspect of my course work, and hope to attend graduate school.

    The difference this time is, my grades and 'resume' are at a level that won't cause anyone's first reaction to my grad school application to be "are you sure you grad school is the right choice....?" I also haven't had to worry about fading out, losing motivation, or any of the things that made me realize grad school wasn't the right choice before. (I only have to worry about getting asked if I should take a psych evaluation for shifting focus from a successful business to go back to school...starting from scratch...in a different field....where there's "no money in it," etc., etc. lol)

    I realize you will probably look at this as a long-winded soapbox rant from some blow-hard, and that's fine. I would have done the same thing.

    If you're certain grad school is the right choice, I'd recommend either going into a Master's program and earning a very respectable GPA before applying to a PhD program or biting the bullet and re-taking a few courses to boost your GPA and to show school's you're willing to put in the extra time and effort to prove you're worth their time and effort.

    There are people on this forum that have both "been there" as a student and as part of an application committee. I'm always surprised at how thin skinned the people asking for advice are when they receive that advice.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2009
  18. Jan 2, 2009 #17
    Really? Because the theme I see is:

    "I don't have good grades, but like to learn. Which grad schools do I have a reasonable shot at?"

    -"Jesus Christ you suck. Don't bother applying to Princeton or Berkeley."

    "I asked 'What can I do now', not 'Can I go to Harvard?'"

    -"Hey man, I'm just keeping it real. You suck at everything and you shouldn't apply to good schools. I don't know why you keep saying you will."


    Vanadium has a knack for telling you that you suck without actually answering the question in the title of the thread. Why is that?
  19. Jan 2, 2009 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    My signature and avatar have been changed appropriately.
  20. Jan 2, 2009 #19


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    What's that got to do with this thread? Please don't hijack threads with your own questions, especially when you have several threads of your own reserved for that.

    :rofl: At least people can't say they haven't been warned now!
  21. Jan 2, 2009 #20

    Yes, my question did fall on the "where can I go from here" side of the fence, as opposed to "please massage my ego and reassure me I still have a chance at a top 10." I appreciate the advice on masters' programs, and the tip on CUNY and SUNY schools. I accept that immediate entry to a Ph.D. program is not really a possibility for someone in my situation. Thanks, everyone.
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