I suffered seriously from both bipolar disorder and major depression during my undergraduate*. It took me 7.5 years to graduate (including 1.5 year suspended from school due to bipolar disorder), with GPA near 2.0. (Furthermore, I do not fully understand the material in the core courses - approximately 15% of them, mostly last chapters.)

From the day I left school with a bachelor in physics, I have given it carefully thought for literally half year, and determined to pursue a career in physics science. I understand it well what it takes, and what I will face.

Right now, I am studying statistical physics on my own from John Perskill's open courses on Youtube, I work the problem set and do the reading (and ask questions on Stackexchange), as well as teaching myself a few minor things (such as Mathematica)

So far, my recent priority is building a solid understanding of physics (at least the cores courses in undergrad; ideally even includes quantum field theory.), as well as equipping myself with programming skills, before being fluent in a specific field, then I will be looking for a position of research assistant, and publish research result in 2 or 3 years, such that I have a shot when I apply to American graduate schools (along with maintaining my health).

My question is: what is the best point to start, given my current situation?

*Information: I studied in Asia. and would like to do graduate studies in Physics in the States, Japan or Europe.

  • How is your relationship with your previous university/professors? Would you be able to get references or some small research internship ? I think your best next step might be a taught masters degree (so you have an officially verifiable better grade) - is that something you'd be able to do? Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 15:45
  • @Rosemary7391 thanks for the comment. I know two or three professors well, but I am not sure if they are willing to write me reference letters. (although one of them told me that I am among top 10% students he has advised) On the other hand, does taught masters degree program have a GPA cutoff? And given I will do no research work in a taught master program, won't A.) my chance getting into a good PhD program still nearly impossible. B.) I have no way to tell a research career is really for me?
    – Shing
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 17:20
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    I recommend you audit some courses and in general build up a support system with some mentors and some study partners. It's easier to build up one's knowledge and skills when one doesn't work in a vacuum. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 4:10
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    Your chances will be better with a better grade to back up your application. I'm not overly familiar with entry requirements for taught masters courses, but it is possible that a good recommendation would help. If your current grade reflects your understanding then you will struggle with research, so picking up more study is a good direction to go in. A career in research isn't for everyone; you could try and get a summer project to test the water (and get a reference) - try your old professors if they remember you kindly. Research careers are very competitive Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 8:41

1 Answer 1


You might want to take a few courses (at first) as a special student, a non-degree seeking student.

However, the standards for admission are not less than regular admission invariably.

This is especially true at Ivy League universities

See my comments regarding being admitted as a graduate special student at Harvard University I posted on this forum:


  • 1
    Thanks for your answer, I managed to study on my own (even on some grad level physics), and then wrote what I learned from both physics and fight my bipolar disorder (and what impressed me) on my personal statement, and some professors willing to write some strong reference letters to support me, and eventually I have just been enrolled into a research-based master program in Physics (kind of like a Master of Philosophy in Physics from the UK) in Physics from an renowned university!
    – Shing
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 11:22
  • btw, I can't see your comment regarding being admitted as a graduate special student at Harvard University?
    – Shing
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 11:24

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