I am 22 years old, about to graduate (delayed by one semester because I failed in two courses) with a dual major (one of which is an integrated Master's degree in a Physics, and the other a Bachelor's degree in stem) by the end of next year with very poor grades (between 5 and 6 on a 10 point scale, certainly below average at my uni, and very bad overall.)

I have no research projects, no LoRs, and quite frankly, I am not skilled enough in the subject I would like to pursue research in. I don't even have a concrete idea of what I want to do research in at this point. I came in to university with a fondness for Physics and a dream to conduct research and get into academia (though I was equally excited about being a lecturer, or doing a mix of research and teaching). Then 2020 happened, and I did not/could not study well, and my mental health worsened. Unfortunately, this still rings true as 2023 is about to end. My mental health was bad before 2020 as well, but things just got worse. I wasn't able to study well, I wasn't able to meet deadlines, and professors who took me under their wing for research projects end up leaving me because I was not working and ghosting them. Eventually I ended up essentially not studying Physics at all, even though I wanted to. (Mental illness, etc). I am terrible at the subject, and have no skills as such.

Today, I have two semesters before I graduate. For the next semester, a professor (senior prof. with administrative posts too, not an active researcher, but a kind human nonetheless.) at my university has agreed to supervise my master's thesis. I will have additional mentorship from one of his grad students working on the same topic. I hope to do good work in the thesis, so that I may get a good LoR from the prof. and also to confirm my interest in the subject and my wish to continue with research (which I assume is still there, it does feel like that). Maybe also publish and in general build a good work relationship for once at university. In the next year, I will also have to prepare for and give PhD/Master's entrance and fellowship exams (some are in Febuary itself), that are in essence like GRE but way more important for PhD admissions in India. I will also be giving the GRE and TOEFL, etc for grad school applications abroad. And prepare some more industry relevant skills for the very likely outcome of me not getting a PhD or second Master's offer anywhere. That is a lot to do, but I hopeful about doing it.

I have never e-mailed any professor outside asking for work or research projects before, and I have essentially no contacts in academia now (like work contacts), no publications and a very precarious situation.

Is my hope of getting into a good PhD or (second) Master's program, in say the next one-two years, justified ? Or am I being irrational about this. I often fear that I am way too behind for it to be possible, but I don't know.

In general, what can someone do to make themselves a competitive grad school candidate if they had a very poor undergraduate education ?

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    ‘Is my hope of getting into a good PhD or (second) Master's program …’ What is your personal motivation for doing this? Dec 5, 2023 at 0:38
  • a kind of liking for the subject and a general 'interest' in studying and research. i would like to get into academia, that is my ideal. at this point i have no back up career other than something like becoming a high school teacher, though that is not a good backup. my interest in this field may have something to do with it being on the intersection of both my degrees, but i have not taken many courses in it, and definitely have no completed research projects, no experience.
    – Prakash
    Dec 13, 2023 at 10:22
  • and at this point i also don't know who to apply to, or ask for working on a project because i am about to graduate and so am busy with my thesis and no one will pay me because i am not that competent yet.
    – Prakash
    Dec 13, 2023 at 10:23
  • my interest is very immature. but to be honest then i have no interest in anything else either. i tried studying for a different kind of job but something makes me want to come back to studying things related to these subjects, i ended up leaving studying for the other job, and trying to get back to studying the subject and preparing for GRE and my thesis that begins formally in jan, etc
    – Prakash
    Dec 13, 2023 at 10:44
  • for my thesis, which is not directly in this field but that i am doing just to do some good work and earn a genuine recommendation letter from this supervisor who is a nice person and then use their referral and even connections to apply for other positions
    – Prakash
    Dec 13, 2023 at 10:57

1 Answer 1


I have no research projects, no LoRs, and quite frankly, I am not skilled enough in the subject I would like to pursue research in. I don't even have a concrete idea of what I want to do research in at this point.

Then you aren't really ready to begin thinking about grad school. If you want to stay in research, you find a paid position as a research assistant in one of these areas. Moving to a different university will likely be necessary, and probably even a good idea if you've had a bad time at this one.

After a few years of doing good work, you might be ready.

Is my hope of getting into a good PhD or (second) Master's program, in say the next one-two years, justified?

I would suggest this is overly optimistic. But - and I'm not in anything close to your field - plenty of people go to grad school after 2-7 years working. So a four-year break is not crazy.

  • To be honest, it can be said that I am not ready to begin thinking about anything at alI But I agree with you, it may take me more than a year to be ready to confidently apply anywhere. How do I find a position as a paid research assistant though ? Do I simply cold mail to research groups and professors and ask for work ? If they are unable to fund me, would it be worthwhile to work unpaid also..
    – Prakash
    Dec 3, 2023 at 8:48
  • @Priya You look for job postings, just like any other job. Like I said, you may have to move for a good fit. Cold emails are not a good way of finding these positions (unless they are in engineering, I could be wrong). Absolutely never work unpaid, especially once you have graduated. Dec 3, 2023 at 18:08
  • Ahai why do you say so ? Initially, it may be difficult for me convince anyone to pay me to work for them.
    – Prakash
    Dec 3, 2023 at 18:57
  • @Priya What do you mean? The university is benefiting from your labor, so you should get paid. You would never volunteer to work for a company for free, so why would you volunteer to work for a university for free. Besides, you need a job to live. You will not do a good job at your RA job if you also have another full-time job. Plus, it teaches professors they can get people to do things for free that should be paid. Dec 3, 2023 at 19:19
  • i guess this could be taken to chat, but as someone who just could not get enough contacts and do good work in their undergrad, how do i convince anyone to hire me / i get the ethics here. but then should i simply leave the field because it is unlikely that anyone will hire me
    – Prakash
    Dec 4, 2023 at 7:34

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