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Odd applicant wondering about chances


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Hey all,

Here's the copy/paste profile, to get it out of the way:

Undergrad Institution: Caltech
Major(s): Physics
Minor(s): (we didn't have minors, but I almost finished the math major)
GPA in Major: 3.88
Overall GPA: 3.86
Position in Class: top-ish
Type of Student: dwm

GRE Scores (revised):
Q: 170
V: 170
W: 6
Physics: 990 (I don't know who would care, but it was free to report it alongside the general GRE so I did)
How important are GRE scores for earth science programs? For physics, the pGRE was a nice boost but I don't think my general scores would ever tip the scales in my favor. Does doing really well help at all?

Research ExperienceOne year of research at a national lab after graduation, in computational soft matter physics. Paper under review, not close to first author. 

Special Bonus Points: I took a bunch of graduate classes in physics and grad/UG cross-listed classes in physics and math. One of my recommendations comes from a very famous planetary scientist, and I think it will be very strong.

Applying to where:

MIT EAPS - PAOS
Caltech Planetary Scence
Columbia EESC 
UWashington - ESS, and also Atmos Sci

So, obviously this list is incredibly stupid, but to put it in proper context, I just finished applying to 9 schools for physics, and at many of them I was forced to choose between earth sciences and physics. Now, I didn't even think about applying to earth science schools until really late in the process, so I have communicated with nobody at any of these places in advance. I have no coursework in the earth sciences, and no research experience in the earth sciences, but I do think I would go to at least a couple of these schools before the majority of the physics programs I applied to. 

Mostly, I'm just wondering if there's any way to tell what my chances are. I am very qualified for physics programs, but I have no idea how that translates to the admission committees in the earth sciences. How important are statements of purpose? Mine are not very in-depth, but I tried hard to find people who do work that's compatible with my background, and to tell a cohesive story about what I want to do. I also don't even have hyper-specific interests in the earth sciences, having minimal exposure to them outside from reading a few papers here and there in my spare time. I think I am a good candidate for the Caltech PS department because one of my recommenders is a professor there, but I really like these other three-ish programs and I would like some input about what to expect. Also, I'm still writing my Columbia and UWashington ESS SoPs, so if anyone has general advice about what to say it would be much appreciated.
 

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Hello!

I think you are fine to apply anywhere and everywhere. I would assume that for most people when switching from physics or some other field to earth science the statement of purpose probably would matter, but with your GRE and high GPA I wouldn't worry. People also know that the PGRE is a hard test so I think you made the right choice by sending it. From reading this forum for the past week or so, it seems like GRE does matter in Earth Science. The feeling I get is that high GRE may not get you in, but it will for sure make you a good candidate everywhere. What I mean by this is that it seems that GRE scores are used as a preliminary threshold to cut out students. The most selective programs may only look seriously at people with a combined score of 330 or higher. Because of this, I think you would be seriously considered everywhere and with your good GPA, you will likely get into all the schools you apply.

 

I would be interested to know what schools accept/reject you because of your different background and GRE. It would be a good gauge for other users on this forum to see what certain programs are looking for. 

 

As far as the SOPs, just be truthful to why you are trying to make the switch from physics to earth science. Speaking to this will give the admissions committee security in your commitment to the program more so that just applying for fun.

If your still curious about more admission stats and finding other students who are similar to you and where they have gotten in, here is the link to the 2018 profiles:

 

Good luck with the rest of application season and be sure to check in with the forum to let people know how it turns out for you!

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3 hours ago, help_needed said:

Hello!

I think you are fine to apply anywhere and everywhere. I would assume that for most people when switching from physics or some other field to earth science the statement of purpose probably would matter, but with your GRE and high GPA I wouldn't worry. People also know that the PGRE is a hard test so I think you made the right choice by sending it. From reading this forum for the past week or so, it seems like GRE does matter in Earth Science. The feeling I get is that high GRE may not get you in, but it will for sure make you a good candidate everywhere. What I mean by this is that it seems that GRE scores are used as a preliminary threshold to cut out students. The most selective programs may only look seriously at people with a combined score of 330 or higher. Because of this, I think you would be seriously considered everywhere and with your good GPA, you will likely get into all the schools you apply.

 

I would be interested to know what schools accept/reject you because of your different background and GRE. It would be a good gauge for other users on this forum to see what certain programs are looking for. 

 

As far as the SOPs, just be truthful to why you are trying to make the switch from physics to earth science. Speaking to this will give the admissions committee security in your commitment to the program more so that just applying for fun.

If your still curious about more admission stats and finding other students who are similar to you and where they have gotten in, here is the link to the 2018 profiles:

 

Good luck with the rest of application season and be sure to check in with the forum to let people know how it turns out for you!

Thank you for responding! This is definitely encouraging to hear. I also appreciate your advice about my SoP; I think I was a little too worried about it! I've rewritten the ones for MIT/Columbia/UWESS to focus more on why I am specifically interested in earth science research. I'll be sure to check in here again once I hear back!

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  • 2 months later...

Here are my final results, for posterity's sake:

MIT EAPS - PAOS - Mar. 21 WAITLISTED (apparently this is the Trump administration's fault - the department's climate funding went down)
Caltech - Planetary Scence - Feb. 22 REJECTED (my LoR writer said something like "we were doing you a favor" lol)
Columbia EESCMar. 19 WITHDREW 
UWashington - Atmos Sci - Jan. 28 ACCEPTED

Didn't end up applying to UWashington ESS.

I think it's hard for future applicants to take much away from this, given that I received one of each possible type of result, and got rejected from Caltech in large part because I went there for UG (not that I would have necessarily gotten in otherwise, but it's not generalizable information). However, in retrospect I think it was certainly possible to get accepted to any or all of these schools. A similar applicant with a quality research experience in the earth sciences would probably have their pick. I also applied to a bunch of physics programs, and fared better there, so I'm not too bummed about this outcome.

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2 hours ago, kronotsky said:

I am leaning toward one of MIT physics, Berkeley physics, UCSB physics, and Harvard applied physics. 

That's awesome. If I get into MIT for a business program, I'll see you there. Caltech is so cool. I remember emailing kip thorne years ago about his book and how it was my inspiration. I did a hackathon there in 2017 and met every one of my academic heroes in one day. The living ones.

Why the sudden urge for planetary science? Does that ever cross paths with JPL? 

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10 hours ago, thecodemachine said:

That's awesome. If I get into MIT for a business program, I'll see you there. Caltech is so cool. I remember emailing kip thorne years ago about his book and how it was my inspiration. I did a hackathon there in 2017 and met every one of my academic heroes in one day. The living ones.

Why the sudden urge for planetary science? Does that ever cross paths with JPL? 

Well, to some extent planetary science, (geophysical) fluid dynamics, etc. are conducted as fields of applied physics/math (in fact, research on them is frequently found in those departments). Speaking specifically about earth, I also really love the environment, from a conservationist perspective and a knowledge perspective, so it's really a natural point of confluence for my interests.

 

Which of Thorne's books? I'm reading through his recent collab with Blandford now; it's quite an achievement in pedagogy!

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23 hours ago, kronotsky said:

Well, to some extent planetary science, (geophysical) fluid dynamics, etc. are conducted as fields of applied physics/math (in fact, research on them is frequently found in those departments). Speaking specifically about earth, I also really love the environment, from a conservationist perspective and a knowledge perspective, so it's really a natural point of confluence for my interests.

 

Which of Thorne's books? I'm reading through his recent collab with Blandford now; it's quite an achievement in pedagogy!

Black Holes and Time Warps. I didn't know he was still writing! Modern Classical Physics. I'll put that on my reading list. Man, to be in that guy's class at Caltech. Or Feynman! I once interviewed an Actuary (that's my profession) who was a Putnam fellow and Caltech PhD. every time he would talk about math, his insights were so cutting and so genius I would leave the call in a state of utter shock because his perspective on things would disrupt how I thought about physics and math. I wish he had been my educator in high school. I've always been amazed by how people derive new systems of physics or how Hawkings was known to say 'just tell me that it's been done. I can derive it myself'. My education has been less derivation and more plug and chug which is a shame. I feel like the great innovators in math and physics can prove things from scratch.

When I was in high school, I was hellbent on accelerating through college math/physics so I could take grad relativity my first year in college. I wanted to see the derivation of black holes. Taught by Dr. Wolfgang Rindler. To this day, I am still puzzled that the indication of black holes came from the no negatives under a square root rule. You have all this tensor math and then boom, algebra.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 3/21/2019 at 12:10 PM, kronotsky said:

Here are my final results, for posterity's sake:

MIT EAPS - PAOS - Mar. 21 WAITLISTED (apparently this is the Trump administration's fault - the department's climate funding went down)
Caltech - Planetary Scence - Feb. 22 REJECTED (my LoR writer said something like "we were doing you a favor" lol)
Columbia EESCMar. 19 WITHDREW 
UWash - Atmos Sci - Jan. 28 ACCEPTED

Didn't end up applying to UWash ESS.

I think it's hard for future applicants to take much away from this, given that I received one of each possible type of result, and got rejected from Caltech in large part because I went there for UG (not that I would have necessarily gotten in otherwise, but it's not generalizable information). However, in retrospect I think it was certainly possible to get accepted to any or all of these schools. A similar applicant with a quality research experience in the earth sciences would probably have their pick. I also applied to a bunch of physics programs, and fared better there, so I'm not too bummed about this outcome.

Ended up getting an offer from MIT. The way my department contact put it (and the timing) makes me think it was likely that some funding came through rather than that another student declined, but not sure either way.

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