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Research Experience for Graduate School

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi,
I am a physics major in my second year . So far, i did not do any research and with the current coronavirus situation, getting into a research program in my university is unlikely (since most of them are experimental). I had some questions about the research experience of graduate school applicants (mainly for top US and Canadian schools).

In your experience, what level of research experience gives an applicant a reasonable chance of admission in graduate schools? or in other words, what would be the "acceptable" level of research work in undergrad?
Do most of the top graduate schools decline applicants with little to no research experience and work?

Should I get worried for not doing research in the summer of my sophomore year? What can I do to improve my chances in this situation?

Please share your experience I would appreciate it.
Stay safe everyone!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I think they really look at your GRE scores, your grades and your extra stuff like papers and research if any in that order. In a sense, applying to graduate school is like applying for a job. Admissions will see that you have the right scores in the GRE and pass your application on to the profs who will look at your grades and your statement of interest to decide if you are a good fit for their research programs.

I think @Dr. Courtney could provide some more insight here from his experience.
 
  • #3
Dr. Courtney
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Hi,
I am a physics major in my second year . So far, i did not do any research and with the current coronavirus situation, getting into a research program in my university is unlikely (since most of them are experimental). I had some questions about the research experience of graduate school applicants (mainly for top US and Canadian schools).

In your experience, what level of research experience gives an applicant a reasonable chance of admission in graduate schools? or in other words, what would be the "acceptable" level of research work in undergrad?
Do most of the top graduate schools decline applicants with little to no research experience and work?

Should I get worried for not doing research in the summer of my sophomore year? What can I do to improve my chances in this situation?

Please share your experience I would appreciate it.
Stay safe everyone!
Most of the top grad schools decline most applicants. Research and its importance in applications is hard to quantify. The most important thing from your research experience is winning a glowing letter of recommendation from your research supervisor. I've known students greatly exceed expectations in acceptances because of letters of recommendation saying they were their best research student ever.

But for now, you need to get the needle off of zero. Several students I know get research opportunities by blowing away their professors with performance in class. If you're the best classroom student a prof has seen in a couple years, you will have their full attention when you knock on their door or email them to ask about research opportunities. If you can't manage that, then you need tangible skills: programming, electronics, instrumentation, etc.

But an application is a whole package. Research is more important than a double major, but not worth sacrificing much in terms of your GPA. You won't know your GRE score until late in the game - late Junior or early Senior year. So you should be working hard toward research accomplishments in the meantime. Getting research opportunities tends to be easier in programs with only a few physics majors relative to the number of faculty. If you're not a good enough student to stand out and get a research opportunity, then it's unlikely you'll be a strong candidate for a top grad school.
 
  • #4
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The point of undergraduate research is not to tick, boxes. Nor is it to get better letters, although it can certainly do that. It's so that you can learn if you even like doing research before going off to grad school to face six or seven years of it.
 
  • #5
Choppy
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I wouldn't stress about not having research experience in your second year of university. It's great if you can get it, but there are many reasons why a student wouldn't get it. Circumstances as they are right now, I'm not sure many students anywhere are going to be gaining much in the way of research experience this spring/summer. But even current pandemic aside, there are a lot of students who need to work while going through school or who have family responsibilities that prevent them from pouncing on research opportunities as they come up.

That said, it's important to get *some* research experience at some point during your undergrad years. Often this comes as a senior or honours thesis project. But that's not the only way. Lots of professors will hire undergraduates to work for them over the summer. The experience does not need to come through any formal program. Bonus points come if you can do it by bringing in external funding.
 

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