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Steps to take after PhD rejections?

  1. May 13, 2015 #1
    Hi all, thank you for your attention

    I graduated with a B.S. in Physics just 2 months ago. I went to an American public school with good reputation in Physics. I sent in my applications for the Fall, 2015 Ph.D application cycle last fall. However, I failed to get into any PhD programs, mainly because the schools I applied were too competitive and clearly I wasn't competitive enough to get into any of them. This is heartbreaking but I take it as a great lesson. I think I've discovered more about myself from this experience. In a retrospective, I probably had applied to programs that were not a good fit for me; I deserved the rejections.

    I have a 3.55 Major GPA with 165 90% percentile on GRE Quant and 880 83% percentile on Physics GRE. My overall statistics aren't stellar. My primary interests in physics are material science and solid state physics. I did research on superconductivity and soft matter. I did internship and worked as a part time employee for a material science company. For my undergraduate research, I failed to produce meaningful results. Although I was passionate in the subject, I failed to engage myself in the projects intellectually. I am desperately seeking a new chance to correct the wrongs I had done.

    Honestly, I don't want to give up pursuing graduate studies in Physics. The physics of electrons in material always excite me. It's something I want to know more about. I wish to put that understanding into applications.

    I have talked to my professors and recommenders for advice. Many told me to find more research opportunities and make sure they align precisely with my interest.

    So currently I seem to have a plan for the near future but it's somewhat vague and filled with uncertainties.
    My initial plan was to find a part time job to support my living expense while volunteer in lab at my university. I wait until the Fall, 2016 and apply again for PhD program. However, I am not sure if that will improve my odds for PhD application.

    Should I pursue a Master? I feel that I am lacking many technical skills in the field. My undergraduate education had been focusing mainly on theories, Mechanics, QM, EM, StatMech, solid state theories and etc... I don't really have any practical skill for research and application beside programming. My interest in materials hasn't changed but I wish to gain more practical skill to prepare myself as a better researcher.

    I am open to all sort of advice. At this point of my life, I really need to hear more perspective from different people. I appreciate your time and effort to answer my question.

    Thank you
    Last edited: May 13, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. May 13, 2015 #2


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    Gold Member

    Have you explored Material Science Departments? Many of them have groups that work on solid state physics.

    Perhaps you might find a good match there?

    One thing I've seen help is to focus on Professors than Departments. Find groups that match your interests & past experience, email the Professors, visit them to have one-on-one meetings. Attend a few group meetings if you can. Interact with the lab members. Perhaps you can tag along with a senior grad student for a week or two.

    Then, if you like the environment, ask the Professor if you could work on a PhD with them. After that you can go through the formal Grad School / Departmental application process. You can judge from the interaction if you have a good chance of getting accepted into the Program on not.

    I find this improves your chances of success. And you are not wasting money / effort on schools you are likely to not get into.

    Additionally, if a Professor really likes you he often has a good chance of getting you admitted into the PhD Program. Provided you satisfy the minimums.
  4. May 13, 2015 #3

    Why's that? It seems like you aimed a little too high, but waiting a year then applying again to maybe some lower-ranked schools can't hurt... can it? (I honestly don't know)
  5. May 13, 2015 #4
    Shortly after I graduated from my undergrad institution, I had a major surgery that would take up to 6 months for complete recovery. Basically I had to go home and do nothing for 2 months (I was on heavy dose of narcotics.) Although now I am pretty much recovered (it has been 2 months,) I still have few minor issues with pain. I feel I have done nothing that contributes to my application this year (Jan. 2015 ~ Sep. 2015) If I were to submit application again, I afraid I will get the similar result. This is why I feel I should apply again in 2016 but not 2015.

    What would be some good options for lower-ranked schools you'd say? I applied for Condensed Matter but most CM schools are very competitive. The worst part is, the most interesting topics are typically found in the most prestigious schools... I may be ill-informed but it wasn't my intention to go for rankings. I just want to work on topics that appeal to me. I think I was limiting myself too much to Condensed Matter. I've started to look into other areas that may provide a similar study to traditional solid state physics programs.
  6. May 14, 2015 #5
    I agree. I aimed high for a PhD program and failed as you did, but later learned I would have been admitted to a number 20-ish school (they offered money). Go travel, you are young ;-)
  7. May 15, 2015 #6
    Basically I applied to top 20 schools. My undergrad institution is within the top 20 list so at first I thought to myself, maybe it's do-able to reach for the same tier of school as my undergrad institution.
    For Condensed Matter programs, the US News ranking only has 17 schools for Condensed Matter.
    If Condensed Matter doesn't work for me, I will have to look into material science... I wonder if you have any good suggestions if I were to apply again?
    Traditional condensed matter route typically deals with many-body problems and quantum correlations in emergent phenomena. I love this body of knowledge but I am more interested in the application side. UCSB does quantum computing using superconducting arrays but UCSB is now one of the most difficult schools to get into.

    Right now I am deciding whether if I should pursue a Master first to enrich my experience and expertise in the field first before I try again to apply for PhD?
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