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Transfering during masters or doctorate program

  1. Oct 25, 2009 #1
    Here is the short background. I am a senior graduating May 2010 (BS Physics) and planning to go on to graduate school. I am interested in Condensed Matter Experiment. I have a 3.5 GPA, no research experience (will start in spring semester which will be after grad school applications) and will have just good recomend. letters (assuming since I am very shy and rarely speak up and even though I have good grades, professors don't know me well, exept as student with an A grade)

    My low gpa is due to C+ and C- grades I got first semester after transfer from community college. After this I have aced each class but I guess it was a transition thing. I also have a hard time meeting professors currently during office hours due to family obligations.

    Well I want to go to good graduate program, in the top 25-30. I am not even considering first 10, but I am realistic that I will not get into this programs with my background, so I planned to stay at my university for a year or two of grad school and then transfer with better recomend letters and research experience.

    I was wondering would it be better to transfer from Masters or Phd program into Phd program somewhere else? I considered to apply only to my school, however I may apply to some other ones as well, but I didn't want to waste time applying to average schools, when I can stay at my school when I know that I want to transfer to a better one eventually.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2009 #2

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    Count on very little of your work at University X carrying over to University Y.
  4. Oct 25, 2009 #3
    The only reason I wanted to have started graduate school at least and not have taken a year off just doing research with professor at my university voluntarily since that way I will lose a year of classwork as well.

    I was looking at Ohio State University which is like 25 or 26th ranking and they actually have rolling admission which as I understood means they admit people during spring semester as well. So I wandered if I could transfer maybe after one semester there but then how do I explain wish to move in my personal statement after I have been at current university for only one or two semesters of grad school?

    I don't know much about Ohio S.U. but the professor I'll be doing research with went there and got his Phd in Condensed matter which is my interest.
  5. Oct 25, 2009 #4

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    Like I said, expect very little work to carry over. Partly because of university requirements, partly because of curriculum differences, and partly because of the faculty attitude "if he wants to get a degree from us, by gum, he should be taking our courses."
  6. Oct 25, 2009 #5
    I understand that, and don't mind taking courses since either way I will lose a year regardless of weather I take classes or do research. But, what is the best thing as looked at by admission comitee: taking year off to just do research at my university voluntarily, transfering after being in masters program for a year, or transfering after phd program for a year. I just thought that if I take classes for a year I can at least show that I can keep a good gpa in grad school. Otherwise I can't think of other option. Only other thing would be to stay fully for masters at my current institution and then transfer for doctorate somewhere else. But wouldn't this be just a waste of time, since I know I want to go on to Phd? What would be the best option in my case?
  7. Oct 25, 2009 #6

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    It's hard to look into the minds of the admissions committees. Also, it depends a lot on what you manage to accomplish when taking these various paths.

    I can tell you that it is conventional wisdom here that getting a MS helps one get into graduate school. I can also tell you that this conventional wisdom comes largely but not exclusively from people who are not yet in grad school. If it were true, I'd also expect to see a lot of 1st year grad students who already have MS degrees and I don't. YMMV.
  8. Oct 25, 2009 #7
    I think the best thing to do is to work as a researcher voluntarily for a year and then apply to Ph.D. programs. I know someone who had immigration problems so he was moonlighting as a taxicab driver while being an undergraduate physics major to support his parents. After he got his families immigration in order, he took a few years off to be a lab assistant, and ended up going to a very, very good graduate school on the strength of recommendations he got while being a lab assistant.

    If your recent GPA has been good, then taking extra classes to improve your GPA isn't going to help very much. GPA matters a little, but it's probably the least important factor that the committee looks at. Also, if you take courses specifically to improve your GPA, that is pretty obvious from the transcript, and that will hurt you more than it will help. You might want to take classes in the extra year, but these should be 1) really, really hard theory and math courses or 2) courses that are specifically geared to your research interests.

    As far as getting admitted to physics grad schools....

    One problem with getting a masters and then transferring is that physics departments are not set up for admissions of Ph.D. only people, so if you get admitted, you are looking at basically redoing your coursework anyway.

    Physics is very different from other fields. In a lot of fields (education or business), it's very common for people to get masters in one school, and then (sometimes with a gap of work) transfer for a Ph.D. at another school. That tends not to happen in physics where most programs are intended to be full Ph.D. programs, and there are relatively few places that will admit you they know that you plan to drop out after you get your masters.

    I think the reason for this is funding. When you are in a physics Ph.D. program you pull in money for the school as a result of bringing in tuition and grant money, but the school has to pay for you when you take classes. What this means is that to break even, the school wants you to be around for a few years so that you can make up for the cost of instruction in the early years. Fields in which people tend to leave after the masters are those in which students pay tuition for the masters degree.

    Also, the difference between the "top physics graduate schools" and the "average physics graduate schools" isn't huge, and it's not like MBA's where there is a huge difference between top and middle schools. The reasons for this again boil down to money. A lot of physics is paid for by Congress, and Congress really doesn't want a few graduate schools getting all of the money, so they intentionally try to spread grant money around the country.

    Also there is an entire generation of physicists that were educated at the best physics graduate schools (chiefly Harvard) in the 1970's and then got jobs in midwestern physics departments where they built departments to very, very high standards.
  9. Oct 25, 2009 #8
    To be blunt, I think that applying to physics graduate schools with a Masters in physics carries with it something of a stigma. The problem is that since most physics programs are intended to be straight master/Ph.d. programs, so if you have a masters in physics without a Ph.D., the assumption is that you dropped out of a Ph.D. program which looks bad. (Again this is field dependent. It's not true in education or business schools.)

    It was a while ago, but I remember a lot of discussions about trying to deal with the overproduction of physics Ph.D.'s by offering terminal masters degrees, but this never really went very far because it was unclear what the masters degrees would be good for.

    Also, to the original poster. You probably already know this but ......

    1) do *NOT* get a physics Ph.D. mainly for career reasons. The analogy I use is that getting a Ph.D. is like joining the marines or becoming a priest. Yes it will help your career, but you aren't going to do well if that's your main reason for joining.

    2) do *NOT* expect a job as a tenure-track professor once you get out. You need to go into the Ph.D. program with the attitude that you will *not* come out at the other end with any professor job offers. Right now there is such an overproduction of Ph.D.'s with respect to academic jobs available, that the best assumption is that you won't get one. The good news is that there are tons of alternative career paths, but you should look at those alternatives as the "standard" outcome.
  10. Oct 25, 2009 #9
    Thanks for the reply. I'll try to figure out something hopefully soon since application time is about to run out soon.

    Thanks again
  11. Oct 25, 2009 #10
    Thanks for reply twofish-quant, I will probably then try to apply to some grad schools I would be interested for Phd and then if I don't get accepted will just stay and volunteer for about a year and research.

    The funding was my bigest worry, since I know that a lot of students in Ms program don't get funding easily, and I really don't want any more loans since I already have some from undergrad.

    Also since I transfered from community college I had some extra classes I needed to take at university so it took me longer to get bachelors and that is the main reason I didn't want to take a break and just wanted to continue into grad school. I also live with my parents, since culturally its almost a norm in my birth country and I don't want them to have that feeling that I am taking a break to go on to another university further away, bc they anyhow just want me to stay here with them regardless of how good of a program my university has.

    As far as career goes, I am pretty much open to different fields weather its teaching, or trying to get a job in research, or industry as long as I can use my physics knowledge. I am also from Europe and moved here about seven years ago, so option to even move back there is not something I want to completely exclude.

    Well, thanks for reply again
  12. Oct 25, 2009 #11
    you constantly repeat this. you do understand that theres a selection bias here. yes most people who want phds simply don´t consider getting a master´s first. i know of one student who applied to a master´s program instead of a phd out of last year´s physics class in my school. i don´t think it´s that people aren´t using master´s degrees as stepping stones - i think it´s that people don´t even consider master´s degrees.

    now the argument for master´s degrees being advantageous. given two potential students - one with a sterling undergrad record and one with a mediocre undergrad record and a sterling master´s record ( maybe even a publication ) is it really likely an admissions committee will pick the undergrad? why would they? because the undergrad is slightly younger and therefore more ambitious? to support fledgling scientists? both unlikely

    we all know master´s courses are much harder than undergrad courses. we all know that undergrand research is mostly bs. do you have any argument for why a master´s degree wouldn´t be reflect a better student? do you have any argument whatsoever for why master´s degree aren´t more common other than that they´re not more common? have you ever been on an admission´s committee ?
  13. Oct 25, 2009 #12

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    Yes I do. Because that's what I observe.

    Yes I have. Have you?
  14. Oct 25, 2009 #13
    you didn´t address my point at all.
    and what did you as a committee decide about students who applied with master´s degrees? or did you not get any such applicants?
  15. Oct 25, 2009 #14

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    And you didn't answer my question. Have you been on an admissions committee? Or are you arguing based on how you think things should be?

    It is difficult to discuss specific cases, because the "all other things being equal" part seldom holds.
  16. Oct 25, 2009 #15
    i never claimed to be on an admissions committee. my argument comes from reasoning - i meant for you to confirm or deny. the point was not to consider that specific case. the point was to address the fact that a master´s degree represents a much more serious achievement than an a bachelor´s.
  17. Oct 25, 2009 #16
    I've generally been a supporter of getting an MS on your way to a Ph.D.... IF you need it!

    For two examples, if you generally screwed around as an undergrad and need to show you've straightened out, or if you are attempting a career change from a different field and need to show that you know some physics, I can believe that an MS is helpful. But only because you have a non-zero chance of admission with an MS, and zero without it.

    Other than that, I think you are probably wasting your time and should go directly for a Ph.D.
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