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Some general questions about grad school admission

  1. Apr 10, 2013 #1
    1. Do grad schools consider 5.5 years too long to finish undergrad (considering I am doing a double major and a long term internship)?

    2. Will research in a different major contribute to my chances of being accepted into a program in the other major?

    3. Does volunteering as a tutor look good on a resume or am I better off investing my time on other things?

    4. How to chose which professors to write a recommendation letter?

    5. If I do poorly in one major, will that affect my admission into a masters program in the other major?

    6. Anyone go to McGill University? :redface:
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 10, 2013 #2


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    Time spent is irrelevant. What matters is how good you are. volunteering as a tutor has little relevance to that. Graduate research stipends are not good citizenship awards. Choose a professor who says he thinks you should go to grad school and preferably that you belong at the school he is writing for.

    I have not been to McGill but everyone knows it is excellent.
  4. Apr 10, 2013 #3


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    1. Generally no. And if you've been doing something productive with that "extra" time (such as your internship) it looks all the better.

    2. Depends. Working on a biomedical engineering project will be helpful if your goal is to get into medical physics. A social science research project will be less helpful, but it certainly won't count in a negative manner.

    3. Depends on the resume is for, but generally teaching experience is a positive in academia. It's also worth thinking in terms of skill development rather than simple resume building. Tutoring helps to reinforce the basics and helps to foster communication skills. Learning the ropes early can help you later on when you have a position as a TA. It is certainly better (with respect to academia) than volunteering for something like your school's "safe walk" organization. As far a grad school application goes, it's not going to turn a 3.0 into a 3.5 GPA.

    4. Go for those who are in the best position to evaluate you as a potential graduate student. A good portion of the recommendation will essentially describe your relationship. So you want to aim for professors you've worked for doing research, or completed a thesis project under, or worked closely with to one extent or another such as in a reading course, or maybe had a summer job working for. It's okay to have one or two who have only taught you classes, but ideally you want at least one who has seen you work beyond the lecture hall.

    5. Overall GPA is a significant factor in admissions. How significant depends on the specific school.

    6. I took an exam there once.
  5. Apr 10, 2013 #4
    1. Great, gives me an excuse to stick around for that extra semester. I screwed around during my first 2 years mostly studying Japanese and getting a French minor, so I wasted a lot of time - but I don't want to rush to graduate.

    2. The majors are CS and physics. I am getting into distributed/cloud computing research for the former and want to do astrophysics research for the latter.

    3. I was thinking of asking my professor if I can make myself available as a tutor for his summer programming class. It's a big commitment since I'll be working full time, but if it it weren't for him, I wouldn't have the internship in the first place. I already have experience in tutoring that class.

    4. The professor in number 3 would be a good choice for a recommendation letter, so tutoring his class would reinforce our relationship.

    5. My GPA in physics is not too good :cry: A, A-, B, A, A-, B-, A, and most likely another B- for quantum.

    6. I want to get into McGill for no other reason than I love Quebec and want to live there. :smile:
  6. Apr 15, 2013 #5
    Instead of starting a new thread, I'll just ask this here: what is the value of becoming a member of organisations like Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Pi Sigma, Society of Physics students, ACM... can I put those things in my resume?
  7. Apr 15, 2013 #6


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    Membership with a particular organization usually doesn't mean too much as far as adding to your hiring potential, unless it's a professional college.

    I've never really understood the point of academic honours societies. To me it's always sounded like a group of people who simply met a set of somewhat arbitrary, albeit difficult to obtain, membership requirements.

    Groups like your undergraduate physics society on the other hand can provide invaluable networking opportunities. Being a member doesn't get you much. It's what you do with the membership that matters. In some places the group can lead you to volunteer opportunities that you may not have otherwise heard of. Or it can simply provide a venue for meeting like-minded people, or talking with more senior students who can give you the low down on next year's classes. It can also involve you with faculty activies such as an annual summer baseball game or the organization of weekly colloquia and these kinds of things can help you develop relationships with professors come time for reference letters.

    And finally there are national bodies. I'm familiar with the medical physics ones such as the AAPM or COMP. These memberships allow students to attend conferences (which is pretty big itself), participate in young-investigator competitions (that is definately something you want on your CV), and give you access to job boards and professional surveys. Some of them will also give you subscriptions to academic journals or review digests like Physics Today. Most of this is more important for graduate students than undergrad students, but may be worth if for some senior undergrads. In most cases you have to balance out the membership costs though. With multiple society memberships, the costs can add up.
  8. Apr 15, 2013 #7
    Okay. I keep hearing that I should put those organizations on my resume but I think that's silly - I haven't accomplished anything just by becoming a member. So I'm debating whether to spend the money on them.

    Anyways, I'm a little worried that I have very little chances of getting into a McGill master's program... I have a 3.6 < GPA < 3.7. I'll come back later and post a plan of what I hope to accomplish by the time I graduate, and I hope to get an idea of where I stand.

    Université de Montréal is fine, too. I speak French about 85% as good as I speak English, but it will be hard to study things in French that I have only ever studied in English.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2013
  9. Apr 15, 2013 #8


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    I'd at least mention Phi Beta Kappa. It's a well-known national thing, and just might come in handy somewhere down the line if not right now.

    The last time I was searching for a college-teaching job and ended up here, many years ago, I didn't mention it on my resume. It just didn't occur to me. After I got here, I started dating a faculty colleague from another department, who also happened to be in PBK. (We eventually got married, by the way.) While I was in her apartment, I browsed through a copy of the PBK magazine and mentioned that I was also PBK but somehow I had dropped off their mailing list. She got excited and said, "Oh, we have to tell ____ about this!!"

    It turned out that the college had started an effort to get a PBK chapter, and one of the requirements for admission was having a certain number of faculty members who were already in PBK. So my presence helped to boost our application. We never did get in, but it was for other reasons.

    It obviously didn't affect my application for a job there because I never mentioned it and I got the job anyway, but I can imagine if the competition had been closer and I had mentioned it...
  10. Apr 15, 2013 #9
    Okay, I'll think about joining PBK, but I always thought these things were silly (I declined to join Golden Key). They said I'll get an invitation letter in the mail soon.

    Anyways, I know this is a weird question but bear with me. I only have 3 semesters left and I have to cram it all in, so knowing where I stand will give me some motivation. By the time I graduate I will at best have:

    CS and Physics B.Sc., French minor
    3.6 GPA, Magna cum laude
    Two years of research experience on distributed systems at IBM
    One year of research experience in astrophysics with a professor
    One summer REU
    Great recommendation letters (I was chosen to intern at IBM by my professors)

    What are my chances of getting into McGill? I know they're very competitive and I am probably below average for them. U. de Montréal? They're less competitive but don't have anything related to computational physics.

    Is it silly that I want to go to a college in Québec just because I want to live there? Is that a bad factor in determining where to go for grad school?

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