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You might consider a graduate
program in physics if…
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You enjoy doing research
You enjoy teaching
You want to be a professor
You want a research job in industry or a
national lab
• You want to learn more physics
• You don’t mind being poor for 5+ years
• You want to be a specialist in your field
How to apply to grad school
• Make a list of schools to apply to. Consider:
– Geographic location
– Interests of the faculty (if you know what yours are)
• Make sure it’s not just one person!
– Quality of the department
– Going to a different school than for your
undergraduate degree
– Application deadlines!
• Explore these things online:
– At the webpages of schools
– At gradschoolshopper.com (run by AIP)
– AIP website (aip.org)
Recommendations
• Ask for recommendations EARLY
– And be organized: give each referee a folder
containing forms, pre-addressed envelopes, & a
to-do list
• Customize referees to institutions, when
possible (e.g. if you know someone who
attended or worked there)
• Stay within parameters of applications (if they
say 3-5 letters, don’t send 7 or 2!)
Tests
• Register for the GRE (General & Physics)
sufficiently early
– Physics GRE in October & November: later date
may be too late for some deadlines
– General GRE (computer-based) has rolling
administration
• Give plenty of prep time for Physics;
– seek out study groups or review sessions for
practice
– Look for patterns in sample questions (e.g.
positronium)!
The essay
• DO
– Reflect your research
experience, style, and
preferences
– Be confident: this is an
advertisement!
– Introduce relevant
material that makes you
stand out (not
necessarily physics, but
transferable)
• DON’T
– Lie or exaggerate
– State things about
yourself without data
(“peacock terms” in
Wikipedia)
– Be arrogant or egotistical
– Discuss unrelated topics
– Be emotionally loaded
Once you get in, how do you
decide?
• Visiting weekend
– Talk to both professors and students (and
postdocs if you might work with them)
– Realize that they’re being way nice to you &
calibrate
– Consider the campus & surroundings (you have to
live there 5+ years)
– Get contacts for further questions
– Get a “feel” for how people interact in the
department: is it collegial? Antagonistic?
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Ask about (in no particular
order)
Housing,
health care,
transportation,
athletic facilities,
student life,
departmental resources,
qualifying exams,
course requirements,
Your special needs (family, childcare,
spouse/partner support, disabilities, etc.)
• AAAH!!!
Moral:
Graduate school involves your
whole life for a significant fraction
of its duration (~20%). Choose a
school and environment that fit
your entire life, not just your
professional life!
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