Advice:No prior graduate experience

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Advice for students with no prior graduate coursework experience

  • Don't take more than three courses at once.
  • Don't try to take all of the core courses immediately.
  • Evaluate your preparation for the core courses with the comprehensive exams and our diagnostic test.
  • Find other people to help with homework and studying - people can be hard to get a hold of, but doing everything alone is next to impossible and will make life miserable.

Suggested Timeline: PhD students

See Also: PhD Requirements

First year:

  • Take one or two core courses per semester, and take the comprehensive exams for each after passing the course
  • Take the two seminar courses separately, sooner rather than later
  • Fill the rest of your schedule with breadth courses: these often (though not always) require less work than core courses and can help keep your schedule balanced
  • Don't worry about the graduate lab course, you can put it off if you want to
  • Don't worry too much about joining a research group
    • Do be on the lookout for Summer research, even if it isn't the field you want to join
    • Do talk to professors and see about going to their group meetings to see what kinds of things they do and if you are interested. Expressing interest sometime in the second semester is a good idea, either towards the beginning if you think you might have time to start a little something that semester or towards the middle/end if you won't have time until the summer.
    • Don't worry about becoming a candidate (passing the oral exam), this can wait until the very end of your second year at least

First summer:

  • Find someone who does interesting research and try to do some work for them. If they can't pay you, try to find another source of funding for the summer (e.g. Summer TA). Use this time to either try and explore a research area or to start building a relationship with a potential advisor.
  • Take a vacation: you'll have worked very hard the first year, definitely take some time to recharge.

Second year:

  • Take one or two core courses, you should be done by the end of year two
  • Take all three breadth courses by the end of your second year
  • Take the PHY or AST graduate lab
  • Definitely have Summer research for your second Summer
  • Make an effort to establish Research Assistant (RA) pay from some professor
    • You will not be supported as a TA for the third year
    • You do have to find a professor yourself, there is almost no support from anywhere else in the university to help you with this, though talking to other grad students can be helpful
    • You should not hesitate to make yourself known and available for professors, even if they do not immediately offer you RA support
    • If you can get a professor to work with you, then you can get recommended by them to work with someone else, and if you make yourself irreplaceable for their research program then they will be much more likely to hire you

Third year and beyond:

  • You should have finished the comprehensive exams by now (its best to try them one or two at a time, after taking the respective course, to increase the chances of passing)
  • You should be in a research group and being payed as an RA
  • Whatever it takes to succeed from here should be defined by your advisor and research group
  • Make sure your advisor doesn't take advantage of you, and be sure to utilize your thesis committee as a balance if needed, so that you can graduate and get a better job as soon as possible
  • Some people get hired as post-docs by their advisors, but this is often not a preferable outcome for the student

Suggested Timeline: Masters Students

Generally a MA in Physics will take 2 years, and there is no requirement to take the core courses. The only requirements are to take the two seminar courses and to write a MA thesis or to pass the comprehensive exams at the MA level.

For Master's students with no prior graduate experience it is advised that one focus primarily on research, and not worry too much about coursework.

  • If it is desired to join an experimental research group to do a PhD (at SBU or anywhere else) then getting solid letters of recommendation from faculty at SBU should be your main goal, especially if you can make yourself an indispensable part of your advisor's research group so that they recommend you to be accepted into the PhD program at SBU.
  • If you want to join a theory group then proving yourself in the courses can work, but taking too many courses will prevent you from doing as well in all of them and it will make you have less time to read papers and do research with any professor you may want to work with. It is advised that you find a professor in any field possible and get them to work with you, even if that means just reading papers and reproducing results - it is important that you prove to someone that you can perform research at a high level, even if your coursework background is not sufficient to pursue a PhD thesis level of work yet.

Main Article: Terminal Masters Advice

  • If you want to get a MA degree and not pursue a PhD (at SBU or anywhere) then taking classes may not be the best use of your time and money, since the courses are generally designed to get you to pass the comprehensive exams and be ready to perform PhD level research. It is advised to take experimental or numerical physics courses with professors doing the kind of work you are interested in. There are other resources, not necessarily in the physics department (like in the Career Center), that can help you obtain the skills necessary to formulate a good application to further jobs outside of academia.