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Admissions Which grad schools would be a match for me?

  1. May 12, 2017 #1
    Well this is my first time posting here, but I was hoping this could be a helpful resource for me. I am trying to plan out which graduate schools to apply to in the fall and was wondering if anyone knew which graduate schools would be a good match for me and which ones would be too big of a reach. So here are my stats and ask any additional questions you need.

    Undergrad Institution: Big State School (R1)
    Major: Physics
    Minors: Mathematics and Chemistry
    GPA in Major: 3.98
    Overall GPA: 3.98
    GPA in Math Minor: 3.95
    GPA in Chem Minor: 4.0

    I will be taking the General GRE in early August, and the Physics GRE in both September and October (will be studying all summer long and am shooting for an 800 and up).

    Research Experience: I transferred from a community college for my sophomore year, so I began working in a research lab the Winter term of my sophomore year. Did a summer research internship in that lab that summer -> presented in a conference for it. Have been working in the same lab this past school year. I got accepted for an REU this summer at another university. I have also applied for a research grant at my university for next fall and winter which will culminate in a paper (I'll be first author) but it'll likely be published after I have applied. If I don't receive the grant I'll still do the project, just will be extra busy since I'll also have a separate job.
    - In summary: about 2 years of experience in a lab at my university (including a full summer) and one REU at another university this summer.

    Pertinent Activities or Jobs: I have worked as a peer advisor for the College of Science, a physics grader, and a physics proctor. I was the academic officer for a women in science organization (dealt with tutoring and helping the members be more successful academically) and I will be the Vice President of SPS and President of Sigma Pi Sigma next year.

    I will have two research professors write me letters of recommendation and then I am deciding between a math professor I had for a general relativity course or a physics professor that taught electromagnetism, quantum, and is the SPS advisor.

    I currently have a list of about 34 schools (I know it's super long and I need to narrow it down a lot, I'm planning on applying to 10-15 schools max), so here are the major ones that I am interested in and worry might be too much of a reach:

    University of Washington
    UC San Diego
    Boston University
    Ohio State University
    Carnegie Mellon

    And then some other schools (more of a match I think) like University of Oregon and University of Pittsburgh.

    Thanks :)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2017 #2
    Missing key pieces of info: (1) What specific fields are you interested in? (2) What are your career plans after your PhD?

    Also, you've listed some top flight schools, but notably absent is MIT. Any particular reason?
  4. May 12, 2017 #3
    (1) I am interested in biophysics and astrophysics research.
    (2) I would like to do research and work at a national lab or a university (though I know that's super competitive and not as likely, but I'm still going to try).

    MIT is on my list but I didn't want to put all 34 schools up so I just chose a variety.
  5. May 12, 2017 #4


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    I am a mathematician rather than a physicist, so cannot speak authoritatively as to which schools would be best. But as a former university professor, I think i can suggest to you confidently that you are asking the wrong people this question. We do not know you, and although your stats are excellent sounding, they do not tell me how strong and creative you really are, nor what departments would match best your interests. These things however should all be known to your closest academic advisors at your school, and you should thus ask them for recommendations. When I did this at my undergraduate school, I received a list of about 3 or 4 schools to apply to. When I interviewed at one of them I got further advice as to which of my choices was likely best suited to me. This process is not entirely precise, as that interviewer apologized to me many years later for not admitting me to his own school, apparently feeling he had underestimated me at the time. But it is far more accurate than just asking complete strangers to recommend based on such relatively meaningless data as a GPA from an unknown (to us) school. I say this as a 70+ year old retired college professor who has served on numerous admissions and hiring committees and been an advisor and consultant to NSF granting agencies, and a research grant recipient for many years, as well as research associate at top schools comparable to the best on your list. If for some reason you are somehow unknown to the professors at your school, then get to know them, now! good luck! and try not to waste time and money applying to dozens of schools. ask yourself which one you really want to go to, and then add some more based on knowledgable advice. and visit them, and interview. I think you'll be fine.
  6. May 13, 2017 #5
    Your target fields are not my fields, so I'm not in a position to make recommendations. Here is a general consideration, though, to help narrow your list. You didn't mention whether you want to pursue theoretical or experimental research. A PhD in experimental physics will typically run ~5-7 yrs. That's a good chunk of your life. To maintain your sanity, you also want to consider your life outside the lab (or office). The universities you're considering have a wide range of settings, from isolated university towns (such as Urbana-Champaign or Ithaca) to major metro areas (such as Boston/Cambridge, Chicago, or Seattle) to the beaches of CA. Think hard of the settings that offer you activities that make you happy.
  7. May 13, 2017 #6
    None of the "isolated universities" are that isolated There is a whole community built up around the university and the needs of its students in general. If for some reason you need a sea shore or a mountain range because of some avocation you have developed then it is easy to chose a university. Too much distraction can be a problem at times ( and sometime disastrous to your career) especially if your work become a bit too much for you to handle and metro areas have more problematic living environments think cost and crime. You might find information on the department website about the department culture and recourses available including outside activities.so check each department . Each scenario has benefits and risks and knowing yourself is especially important.to find a good match.
  8. May 13, 2017 #7
    I'm going to agree with CrysPhys, location is far more important than you'd think, especially if you're trying to narrow down your list of places to apply substantially. Some people are content anywhere, but some (like me) would wither away in a large city.
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