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Theory -->Experiment for Graduate application.

  1. Dec 5, 2014 #1
    I want to apologize if this topics already exists somewhere on the forum. Most google/forum searches usually have people asking about experiment to theory , or switching fields after PhD.

    I recently submitted a grad application and I still have a lot more to do. My research background in physics is in theory ( paper and pen kind), but I am applying for experiment.

    I have doubts about my application though.

    My research recommendations will be the strongest, but it is in theory. I have a rec letter from a prof I took a course in, and he is an experimentalist. However, I don't think he can comment that much on my research abilities :/ I did take a lab class with him and he thought I was a good student!

    I do not have much experience in experimental at all, other than courses! The problem is, it has been over 3 years since I stepped foot in a lab that involved me working in it. Obviously this will show on my app because they will simply look at my transcript and see that. Is there ANYTHING i can do to make myself appear a stronger candidate for experiment? Obviously I am competing with people with crazy amount of experience.

    First of all, I loved theory ( paper and pen kind), but I am looking into more computational stuff. That's on my app too. Reason I want to switch is because of my career goals ( I asked for advice on this part in the career guidance part). My letter writers know this, and I know they will write strong letters. I just hope that it is enough.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2014 #2


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    Honestly, I really don't think that this is a significant issue. When you pass your qualifier and choose an advisor and an area of research, no one will look back at your application and remind you of the area of study that you "applied" for.

    You make your application strong by (i) having good grades (ii) having strong and not generic letter of recommendations, and (iii) by showing extra work done such as research and other activities. The area and type of research doesn't carry that big of an impact as you might think.

  4. Dec 5, 2014 #3

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    I'm with Zz here. You're really overthinking this. Nobody is going to think that because you've done theory in the past that you are forever doomed to do theory. People move around. I'm an experimenter, with 500+ publications. I also have two theory papers.
  5. Dec 5, 2014 #4


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    One thing you can do is spend time investigating the programs you're interested in. Talk with professors. Talk with graduate students. Make sure in your application you have and state good reasons for why you want to do graduate studies at the particular program you're applying to, not just generic "I've always been interested in physics" stuff.
  6. Dec 5, 2014 #5
    Thank you for the replies everyone! I guess what I originally posted and what i am actually worried about more is sort of different. My mind is way too scattered these days.

    The reason I am worried is because I have not had much luck finding experimental work during undergrad.I have seen soo many threads on "what it takes to become a theoretical physicist", but I do not know what one needs to be an experimentalist. I know graduate schools offer ( and some require) experimental lab courses. I have friends who were able to start working right when they entered, but obviously I wouldn't be able to. I would need to re-learn\learn many many things. I have met some professors in theory who said I can start research right away ( this does not mean I would get an RA), but they were confident with my skills. I just want to know what I would need to really work on in graduate school to build skills for experiment.

    I was told that I was not good enough for experiment by a prof once. Another prof ,I met, told me that he had a graduate student who started off in experiment but had to switch to theory because he[the student] wasn't very good in the lab (this was in engineering). But, what can I do to make myself become good enough?

    This is soo important for me because of my career goals. Experimental physics or theory with more computation stuff is what I need to do! The problem is, I wasn't very good with either of those things. No matter how hard I spent time with computer stuff or in the lab, I somehow messed up something bigtime! That's why I really enjoyed pen and paper theory, because although it is tough ( in a different way) it was fun and less stressful for me. I'll do whatever it takes to become a better experimentalist or a better with computational stuff.

    I may have an irrational fear of working in a lab because of my experiences in undergrad, and I want to get rid of it*.

    I think my SOP is very good. At least my advisor and my peers who have read it think so. =) I did get lucky and got responses from 3/4 potential advisors that I emailed! However, one is from a top 10 institution and after I got my pgre score I am not going to apply there haha. I also sought advice from a professor who is in EE (close enough to experimental physics), and he gave me some good tips too. I got some advice from graduate students too.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2014
  7. Dec 8, 2014 #6
    Any tips on becoming better at experiment? Would appreciate anything !
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