Should I delay my PhD an additional year?

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A350XWB
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07 Mar 2015, 7:17 pm

Here's the situation: because I feel that graduating from the "biggest-possible-name" schools (both school-wide and in-field) would grant me an edge on the job market, both research and non-research, I feel unsatisfied with the offers I currently have, while losing hope for UPenn and Columbia. If I'm rejected at UPenn and Columbia (as I already am at UChicago and Princeton) I wonder whether I will be able to feel happiness again, unless, in some rather distant future, I would get a job that will allow me to redeem from this horrendous, catastrophic even, failure (it would probably mean the employer paying for a MBA at Brown Prime, Columbia, Cornell, even HBS, Yale SOM or UPenn Wharton, that sort of thing). Here are all the data I feel is relevant to understand my neurosis as an international student:

Undergraduate GPA: 3.67
Graduate GPA: 3.80
General GRE: V162/Q167/AW4.0
Physics GRE: 910
TOEFL iBT: 110
1.5 years on a theoretical particle cosmology project, no papers at present
TA in intermediate EM, applied abstract algebra (implemented 2D grading)

The apps still pending:

UPenn
Columbia
Vanderbilt

The acceptances:

Minnesota ($24,440/year)
Notre Dame ($21,000/9 months, 2 months of summer funding at the same monthly rate)

The waitlists:

WUSTL
Carnegie Mellon

The rejections:

UChicago
Princeton
Michigan
Tufts
Dartmouth

What I would do differently next time:

- I would axe the following: Michigan, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Tufts, WUSTL replaced by Brown and Duke respectively
- I would wait until I have a paper that is at least submitted, or better still, accepted

Perhaps I am going the wrong way about this, but I feel I would be unhappy at Minnesota or Notre Dame knowing that it is far from a given that I will get to continue doing research after graduation and that my options, especially non-research, would be a little limited. Here my concern is not about the ability to stay in research after graduation (I know that staying in research requires producing a few good papers during a PhD, a talk or two at international conferences, and a poster presentation as well, just to get a postdoc, and one needs multiple postdocs to make it, but Minnesota and Notre Dame will allow me to get to this point)

That said, I have an idea of the skillset my subfield will provide. I would even predict that the job market for physics PhDs would become more elitist in the long term, if only because of outsourcing. Sometimes I have the impression that, with a given skillset, the more "elite" your PhD, the smoother the transition out of research on the job market.

Anything I could possibly do during a gap year? Or I should transfer out of some PhD school, knowing that doing so would likely raise a red flag on an application?


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Beau
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08 Mar 2015, 2:22 am

Hey A350XWB.

A350XWB wrote:
Here's the situation: because I feel that graduating from the "biggest-possible-name" schools (both school-wide and in-field) would grant me an edge on the job market, both research and non-research, I feel unsatisfied with the offers I currently have, while losing hope for UPenn and Columbia.


True, there is an edge with the university's name attached to your diploma, but knowing people aka networking, good grades, and published papers are also important; these things will help get your foot in the door...but you know what's more important? Interpersonal communication skills and a decent personality are what interviews are for. An equally qualified or possibly less qualified candidate may get offered a position or spot in the class over you if the interviewer got along better or received better responses from the other candidate. What I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of factors involved in the job/school application process, and your decision to hone in on the most prestigious name may hinder you in the long run. Learn more about the prospective schools, look at the educational environment, and figure out which school can help you to improve yourself educationally and personally. Does that make sense?

Aren't PhD programs fully funded? Meaning you wouldn't have to worry about paying for tuition, books, etc as long as you fulfill the requirements and be a TA? So why are you concerned about the yearly tuition?

Do you really want to take a gap year? You've already been accepted, and there is no guarantee that you will get an acceptance to your dream schools next year. Plus, you'll be "losing" a year when you could be out working.

A350XWB wrote:
If I'm rejected at UPenn and Columbia (as I already am at UChicago and Princeton) I wonder whether I will be able to feel happiness again, unless, in some rather distant future, I would get a job that will allow me to redeem from this horrendous, catastrophic even, failure (it would probably mean the employer paying for a MBA at Brown Prime, Columbia, Cornell, even HBS, Yale SOM or UPenn Wharton, that sort of thing).


You've put a lot of pressure on yourself. You've been accepted to at least two schools...this is not a failure. If your ultimate desire is to get a diploma from an Ivy League, then be considerate to the other applicants and withdraw your acceptances to the 2 schools.

Regarding the MBA, is this what your graduate GPA came from or are you thinking of doing a 1 year MBA program? Is this a special accelerated program because I thought these were 2 year programs?

A350XWB wrote:
Here are all the data I feel is relevant to understand my neurosis as an international student:

Undergraduate GPA: 3.67
Graduate GPA: 3.80
General GRE: V162/Q167/AW4.0
Physics GRE: 910
TOEFL iBT: 110
1.5 years on a theoretical particle cosmology project, no papers at present
TA in intermediate EM, applied abstract algebra (implemented 2D grading)


You have good stats on paper, but do you know why you were waitlisted/rejected from the other schools? Did you interview at any of the rejected schools? How did you feel about the interview? Were you able to convey your answers across effectively or did you stumble? Again, there are a lot of factors that play into the admissions process, so work on your interview skills if there were any issues.

Don't be so hard on yourself. You've gotten into 2 schools, so take a breather and be proud of it. :)



A350XWB
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08 Mar 2015, 10:53 am

Quote:
Aren't PhD programs fully funded? Meaning you wouldn't have to worry about paying for tuition, books, etc as long as you fulfill the requirements and be a TA? So why are you concerned about the yearly tuition?


When I said Minnesota at $24,440/year, or Notre Dame at $21,000 for 9 months (pro-rated for 11 months once I get to RA) that is actually the stipend associated with each offer.

Beau wrote:
You've put a lot of pressure on yourself. You've been accepted to at least two schools...this is not a failure. If your ultimate desire is to get a diploma from an Ivy League, then be considerate to the other applicants and withdraw your acceptances to the 2 schools.


I withdrew from Notre Dame because I found its placement record questionable in my subfield. However, I chose not to withdraw from Minnesota at this point (if only because my professors would recommend to keep one offer active).

Quote:
Regarding the MBA, is this what your graduate GPA came from or are you thinking of doing a 1 year MBA program? Is this a special accelerated program because I thought these were 2 year programs?


I mentioned the MBA as a long-term contingency plan (10+ years) to be activated only if professional circumstances would then call for it (say, to get advancement at work).

And no, the graduate GPA did not come from a MBA either... rather, since in my home country, professors recommend one to do a MSc first before going for a PhD abroad (unless one has had stellar summer internships in undergrad)

Quote:
You have good stats on paper, but do you know why you were waitlisted/rejected from the other schools? Did you interview at any of the rejected schools? How did you feel about the interview? Were you able to convey your answers across effectively or did you stumble? Again, there are a lot of factors that play into the admissions process, so work on your interview skills if there were any issues.


No, I did not interview at any of the rejected schools, and complete radio silence about their reasons for rejecting me.

For Princeton, UChicago and Michigan, I understand that being rejected by them is not an indictment of my lack of ability to succeed in a PhD program on my part (and I think neither does it hold true at Minnesota).

And, despite the school-wide prestige associated with any of them, Tufts and Dartmouth are low-tier programs in physics, in which case some of the following may be at play:

- Inability of professors of interest to take an additional student
- Small department size hurt
- Their assessment of likelihood of attendance upon admission was not favorable

At home, though, Tufts is best known as a dental school, Notre Dame for either football or Catholic ministry...


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btbnnyr
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09 Mar 2015, 12:33 am

I think the factors are consider are whether you can become happy to go to Minnesota before the decision deadline, and if you can add to your credentials during the period before the next application cycle, such as by doing more physics research and getting a paper pending or doing a conference poster. Is there any research that is really interesting to you at Minnesota that might make up for the non-big-nameness?


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A350XWB
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09 Mar 2015, 10:54 pm

btbnnyr wrote:
I think the factors are consider are whether you can become happy to go to Minnesota before the decision deadline, and if you can add to your credentials during the period before the next application cycle, such as by doing more physics research and getting a paper pending or doing a conference poster. Is there any research that is really interesting to you at Minnesota that might make up for the non-big-nameness?


As for why I initially put Minnesota on my application list: it's primarily about the cosmological implications of particle physics processes (early and very early universe). And why I am still holding out for UPenn (and Columbia to a lesser extent) despite the comparatively smaller program size. :D

Quote:
True, there is an edge with the university's name attached to your diploma, but knowing people aka networking, good grades, and published papers are also important; these things will help get your foot in the door...


Perhaps my assumption is wrong but the more prestigious universities afford better networking opportunities, and more resources for research, acquiring skills (and, in turn, affecting the ability to publish papers)... the brand name is then only part of the equation.


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Jasnah
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30 Mar 2015, 8:01 pm

I was in a somewhat similar situation this year, too (I got into one of the schools that I wanted to, but I had a few anxiety-filled weeks...), though our fields are completely different (I'm a historian by trade, or at least plan to be...)

Anyways, one of my advisers (who happens to be a business historian...) told me that perhaps the best thing to do if you don't get in your ideal field is to wait a year. While you can try to get published in your field, it might not be you at all. Due to the Great Recession (or Slowdown, whichever one you like), a lot of colleges have had to cut funding and are still recovering. This year, I was told, is just a bad year to enter due to economic factors outside of anyone's control...

And gosh, your GRE scores and other criteria are fantastic! So, I don't think it's actually your fault. Another thing you could do is email the associated graduate department (or whoever sent you the denial letters) at your university of choice to explain why you weren't chosen so you can fix your application or even apply next year (especially if it's just due to lack of funding...) Anyways, I hope this helps...:)