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The devaluation of my degree (free gold for everyone)

  1. Aug 27, 2012 #1
    In May of this year I received a First Class Honours degree in physics with astrophysics (UK system which is roughly equivelent to 4.0GPA).

    I thought this was not a bad acheivement - although I knew that there were 2 other members of the class who had done much better than me.

    Today my confidence took a pretty bad blow when I discovered that my overall degree mark placed me 8th out of 18 students or roughly in the top 45%! This is not as highly ranked as I was expecting to be - I had reasoned that the very lowest I would rank would be 5th!

    First class honours degrees are often regarded with respect - but the fact that at least 8 people in my class (out of only 18!) have received one makes me think that they are worth less then I had previously thought. That is to say, this degree can only be considered valuable if few other people possess one! I am now no longer able to see how I can point to this as a way of distinguishing my abilities from others when nearly 50% of people in my class have one.... .

    Any thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2012 #2
    science is not a race. forget about the ranking.
  4. Aug 27, 2012 #3
    I think it is a race. There are so many prospective scientists and so few viable positions for them. You have to compete with your peers to get ahead. I graduated with 'honors', some latin got scrawled under my major. No big deal though, over half my graduating class got them.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2012
  5. Aug 27, 2012 #4
    go into industry.
  6. Aug 27, 2012 #5
    I dont see the problem. You achieved enough to get an absolute score of above 70% average, giving you a first. It just so happens that 7 other people on your course did the same thing.

    Physics (in the UK at least) always has a high ratio of firsts. It isn't a new phenomenon or one specific to your institution. I'd hate to study somewhere that grades on a scale, where it isn't my labour but the labour of others that determines my mark. This makes it very difficult get consistency between years.

    Also, you can't really equate a British first to an American 4.0. They aren't compatible systems.
  7. Aug 28, 2012 #6
    Did you do worse than you expected or did other people do better? That's a big difference, the latter shouldn't bother you, the former should.

    A sample of size of 18 is far too small to worry about what ranking you were, you need much larger class sizes for that to be meaningful. In any case, your ranking within your University doesn't tell you a lot, as clearly being in the top X% at one place is not the same as being in the top X% at another.

    Your degree is very valuable. There are very few people who get Firsts in physics. Given that there are only a couple of thousand physics graduates per year in the UK, and say 20% of them get a first, that's only around 400 people. With the number of PhD vacancies in the UK being larger than this, and an even bigger number of physics related jobs in industry, the competition from first class degree holders shouldn't be a problem.

    Having said that, a degree alone is never enough to succeed, regardless of the classification. That has always been true.
  8. Aug 28, 2012 #7
    I don't live in the UK (at present) but to my understanding a 1st is always a very good mark regardless of class rank. 18 is a very small sample size too, so I don't think that's very significant.

    I'd go by what your university advisers/faculty secretaries consider "success", that definition can vary greatly from school to school. For example, graduating classes at my university are generally < or = 5, out of an entering class of 35-50. I'm expecting to graduate this year between 3rd-5th, but that's really meaningless at my institution if I'm only being compared to the only other 3-4 students that manage to graduate on time out of ~40. Taking 6-8 years to graduate is the norm, taking less than that is considered "ok", and graduating on time with a grade > or = 7/10 is extremely rare.

    If you manage to get a good job or phd position that you like, then who cares what "success" is?
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2012
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