All things being equal how would a good US graduate physics admissions weigh these paths.

Scenario 1: 4 year Bachelor of Science. And then direct application to graduate school.

Scenario 2: 4 year Bachelor of Science. 2-3 years work at a government department doing mathematics (not research). And then application to graduate school.

Scenario 3: 4 year Bachelor of Science. 2-3 years work at a government department doing mathematics (not research), whilst doing a part-time 1 year Masters spread over 2 years. And then application to graduate school.

Assume scenario 1 & 2 have same number of published papers, and scenario 3 adds one more paper of higher quality.

  • It seems like you are suggesting the applicant published during undergrad. The quality of this publication is going to matter a lot in determining which situation is better.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 10, 2014 at 19:26
  • Lets say 2 ok co-authored papers where the personal input wasn't that significant to be honest (from a summer research placement at a top US school). And maybe one first authored paper of low standard (supervisor thinks its publishable but I am not proud of it). Its actually turned me off a bit, which is why I want to take a few years off to get work experience. I just don't want to hurt future prospects of admission.
    – User
    Oct 10, 2014 at 19:34
  • Sigh. All this emphasis on publications, from people who don't even have grad degrees. :(
    – 299792458
    Oct 11, 2014 at 13:58
  • I only add it as a consideration. The crux of the question is whether a gap from physics will be harmful to an application and whether a MSc makes much of a difference.
    – User
    Oct 11, 2014 at 14:02
  • "supervisor thinks its publishable but I am not proud of it" You should be warned: scientists always think their work is inadequate. So relax. Also, learn about "imposter syndrome." Oct 11, 2014 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


I'll offer several opinions.

  1. Work experience does not help you get in to physics PhD programs. It probably does not hurt either, but you should explain in your application why you did it and how it made you a better student. Use a better explanation than the one you gave in the comments.

  2. I actually view an MS as a black mark. In the US, if you have an MS in Physics it implies you either a. Could not get in to a real PhD program. b. Failed out of the PhD program. c. Dropped out of the PhD program. An MS in physics will cost money and essentially duplicate the first part of the physics PhD. A PhD makes more financial sense than an MS. This is not true in other countries or disciplines.

  3. Publishing more will definitely help your application. If you have lots of publications the rest of your background will be ignored.

Though you did not ask, I would like to point out that delaying the start of your PhD will delay the end of it, and the benefits that come from having completed it. On the whole I recommend you start your PhD now, assuming you really want to get one.

  • Thanks for the reply. Yes MSc being a black mark is an interesting one, in Europe it seems almost compulsory. For what it is worth I did a project in the US but I am not from the US nor do I study there. The attraction of the job is that I won't end up being in my late 20's without good work experience, I'll also have a good pool of savings to supplement the PhD pay. And the attraction of the MSc is that the government will pay for it.
    – User
    Oct 11, 2014 at 16:52

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