So I began the Fall quarter at Dartmouth in September, signed up for three real classes and two faux ones. 10 weeks of grueling problem sets and killer exams later, I can proudly say that I came out of the experience invigorated by the material, excruciatingly tired, 15 pounds lighter, and sporting three high passes on my transcript. My goal here is to give those entering grad school an idea about how I survived and thrived during this rigorous first term. What will follow is broken up into five aspects of grad school life that I feel we need to have more than a modicum of mastery over: the qualification exam, organization, coursework, your social life, and research. If anyone has anything to add to this sparse guide, I’m sure the advice will be greatly appreciated.
So you’ve made it into a graduate school, eh? Congrats! So have I… and I keep thinking about my upcoming visit to the campus I’ll be attending. What’s it going to be like? Are the other graduate students and post docs going to be interesting? Will one of the professors whose work I find fascinating be available to be my advisor? What should I ask everyone while I’m there?
Well duh… to research of course. Research is by far the most important factor in whether or not YOU get into graduate school in Physics. Yeah, the GPA and the GRE scores are important, but a solid history of research and, if possible, a published paper will cause your application to reach the next level of awesomeness. Without research, your application is just mediocrity incarnate, even with that perfect 4.00 and 990.
Graduate school admissions committees are currently in the heat of figuring out who to send acceptance letters to. A flurry of admission and rejection letters are now sitting in hopeful candidate email accounts, waiting to spring upon candidates the first chance they get. A rejection letter is always hard to deal with; the feelings of inadequacy that come with one can get you into a state of total depression for days on end. There is nothing as awesome, though, as seeing that first acceptance letter; the validation of the community of cognoscenti comes with it a serotonin and dopamine rush which leaves you with a smile on your face that, no matter how hard you try, will NOT go away. What steps do you need to take to give yourself the best chance of achieving that cloud-9 feeling?