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How do you begin the graduate school search as a physics major?

I am a current junior in college planning to graduate next year, and am looking for advice on how to begin the search for schools. #career-path #physics #graduateschool #gradschool #application #school #college #astronomy #junior

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Baxter’s Answer

Hi Alex!

I'm not a physics major, but did study STEM, go through the grad school admissions process, and for what it's worth have two best friends who are Physics PhD students (1 in Ohio and 1 in Arizona).
Of course, the exams, physical applications, and resume are going to be the things that get you into a graduate program, but like your question suggests, that's not where I would recommend starting. To get started, think about the areas of physics that excite you. Is there a specific course you loved? A lab? A professor you had whose research was intriguing? Once you have that understanding, you'll want to look for individuals currently doing research in those fields! In a made up example, perhaps you're excited by classical mechanics, and after googling about classical mechanics research, you find that Arizona State University was given a huge grant to work on classical mechanics problems and questions, and have some of the most foremost faculty on the subject... Well ASU might be a good school to look into!

Long story short. Identify your passions, research those passions, and find who is making those passions come to life!

GOOD LUCK :)
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Roger’s Answer

A,

I have a Ph.D. in physics.

Graduate work in physics is more about what professor or group you might work with, whether their areas of research interest match yours, their national/international reputation/funding/publication rate, and how graduate students who work with them have fared including how long it took to get the degree and what jobs they landed after graduate work. Will there be research openings for you with the professor(s) or group(s) of interest?

I would ask about the graduate student burnout rate in the department, as some physics departments just take on graduate students to be cheap Teaching Assistants.

Chat with graduate students and others in the department: How well are graduate students treated in the department? How well are secretaries and custodians treated because you can judge the character of an organization by how they treat people with little power. Who in the department is known to be a jerk, and who is kind and professional? (Secretaries have all the gossip and often have a surprisingly accurate understanding of who is doing great work and is easy to work with, and who is not).

Choose a school with a location where it would be pleasant to live for a number of years, not some nightmarish, grim, crime-ridden wasteland.

Apply to a mix of hard to get in Physics Departments and easier to get in.

Once accepted, consider any financial support and visit the top 1 or 2 schools/departments.

Hope this helps!



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Andrew’s Answer

I was a junior in physics back in 1974, and there was no internet yet. Most of my information was from word of mouth from fellow students, professors, or direct inquires to the perspective graduate schools. At that time, my primary concern was the graduate teaching assistantship, with which my tuition would be totally waived together with a stipend to support myself as a student. I picked the university that granted me the most handsome stipend. I picked Arizona State University also because I really got tired of the perfect weather in Hawaii. It was perfect every day for four years and I could not take that anymore.

Now, you have the advantage of abundance of information at the tip of your finger. The key questions should be:

1. What is the specific field in physics you would like to specialize in?

2. Which university houses the physics department in the field of your interest?

3. What is the reputation of the department in that specific field?

4. If you need financial support, would you be granted a graduate assistantship in the perspective university?

5. What is your geographical preference in the choice of universities?
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Joseph’s Answer

I'm in the UK, so it's a slightly different system here, but for me, I found choosing my postgraduate physics study was less about which school, and more about the programs on offer. By the time I'd completed my undergraduate degree, I'd realised the astrophysics I'd focused on at undergraduate was getting a bit much for me, but there were other areas I'd enjoyed and done well at. Between the areas I enjoyed and thought I could take forward, only a couple of universities offered a good-sounding MSc program, so that limitation very much guided my choice; and has resulted in a rewarding career.
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Kiran’s Answer

To search for a graduate school, start with the US School Ranking. Understand & identify your preference for the location, program and schools. Then narrow down to a list of 5-6 (more or less depending upon your preference). Visit school website for the short listed schools and see what do they offer that align with your career goal. Good Luck!
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