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I am a junior undergraduate student (will be starting senior year in July) pursuing electronics and communications engineering. However, my interest and most of the work done till now in college is in the field of astronomy/astrophysics, a subject I am very passionate about. In terms of experience, I have been selected for some good workshops, summer/winter schools in a variety of areas in astrophysics, am currently doing summer research in a reputed astronomy department abroad and will be working on an interdisciplinary project(involving my major and astrophysics) for my bachelor thesis. In terms of coursework, I don't have any physics courses to show except for Physics 1 and 2 from my freshman year, as my college is very inflexible when it comes to taking courses outside one's department. My GPA is 8.2 on a scale of 10. I'll be appearing for GRE General test and TOEFL in July and haven't started preparing for GRE Physics yet.

My problem is that I don't know how to go about applying to graduate school. From what I've gathered, there are 2 options for me:

1) Apply to a Masters program next semester that doesn't require GRE Physics score. I'm willing to consider a not so reputed graduate school. The primary aim is to get some coursework.

2) Taking a break for year after graduation. I plan to do the following in that period:

a) Prepare for GRE Physics. b) Build a stronger research profile by doing more projects. There are good research institutes in my country that offer upto 6 months project positions like research assistant-ship. c) This also gives me 2 more semesters at college to improve my GPA further.

So my questions are:

1) Which option is more suitable for my situation? 2) Will the second option increase my chances of getting selected for a direct PhD?

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    Please clarify, do you intend to apply to a graduate degree program in engineering or physics? – Ben Voigt May 18 '15 at 0:28
  • Have you tried taking a Physics GRE practice test? Is your main point of concern that having taken only two "physics" courses, you might not score well on that GRE? - - By the way, the weight given to the GRE varies quite a bit from school to school. – aparente001 May 18 '15 at 5:31
  • I need to apply to a graduate program in physics, specifically astrophysics or astronomy. And I'm not that worried about GRE physics, I have looked into the syllabus and there's not much I'll need to study more than my freshman courses. What concerns me is that whether not having sufficient undergrad physics courses will weigh down my application. – Ishan Mishra May 19 '15 at 1:37
  • @IshanMishra, Oh. Well, if you do well on the GRE physics, then you'll be fine -- they'll be satisfied that you acquired the knowledge and skills needed, somehow or other. They don't care much about how you acquired them, as long as you acquired them somehow. – aparente001 May 19 '15 at 4:28
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First and foremost you need to research specific graduate programs -- focus on the program and the specific research topics and opportunities. If and when you find one that really excites you, apply now. If you don't get accepted, or change your mind in the meantime, identify what would most interest you next. Maybe this will be your "Option 2". If so, and after a year there you still want to get in to the original graduate program, apply again. Frankly, if this is the way it works out, you'll be better off, as you'll have much more perspective.

Don't fixate on a higher degree in a specific field per se. Depending what country you are talking about, you could be working at the degree for several years. It better be something that you're obsessed about, in adepartment with a pleasant and helpful culture, in a liveable town/city. The odds are that the expectations you've build up in your mind will not resemble the reality for very long, so the reality better be workable.

I worked in industry for almost five years before going to graduate school, and during that time I flatly rejected suggestions that I should consider it. Ultimately I realized I did indeed want to go deeper, and applied. One bit of advice I got was "if the thought that you should be going to graduate school isn't the first thought on your mind when you wake up in the morning, don't go." By the time I applied, that was true. I had a fantastic time in the early years, but was very frustrated by an uncooperative advisor by the end. I finished, and tried to make academia work for another ~12 years. I quit a year and a half ago, as I realized the university was no place for somebody with my priorities and level of integrity. The PhD per se is of no consequence to me now; in fact it renders me overqualified for just about everything. My specific areas of study are of no consequence either. I'm not sorry I did it, but if I'm honest, there was fair bit of waste involved.

If I had to do it over again, I would (1) get myself organized and leave industry for graduate school after 3.7 years instead of 4.7 years, (2) switch labs when I first started thinking about it (after about 3 years into the degree), and (3) quit the academic charade when I first started doubting it, about 7 yrs post-PhD, rather than sticking it out for another 5. If I could redo things, I'd be in just about the same place I am now, but with 8 more years up my sleeve, and I'd be far less disaffected.

  • Thanks for the response. I understand your points and completely agree that I should first gain more perspective. This was the main reason that I wanted to work on projects in 2-3 different areas of interest within astrophysics during my year off, and then apply with sufficient information. Also, I've never considered working in industry as an option. It just doesn't feel right for me, doesn't excite me as much as the prospect of getting into a graduate school. So maybe, for now, I think its safe for me to go ahead with it. – Ishan Mishra May 19 '15 at 3:10

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