UCSD Hosts 2016 SoCal Physics Graduate Admissions Bootcamp

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UCSD hosted the 2016 SoCal Physics Graduate Admissions Bootcamp this year at on August 13-14, 2016. The two-day intensive workshop, developed by members of the California Professoriate for Access to Physics Careers (CPAPC) and organized this year by Adam Burgasser and members of the Cool Star Lab,  is designed to help students, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups, plan for application to Physics graduate programs. This includes strategies for choosing programs, how to produce the best application, and how to succeed in the Physics GRE Subject Exam. Bootcamps are held in Southern and Northern California each year.

Over 50 students, most from regional CSUs and community colleges, attended the bootcamp this year. The camp started right off with a practice Physics GRE exam so that students could get a baseline on their preparation for the test (this is a focus of the bootcamp because the Physics GRE is required for most – but not all – Physics and Astronomy graduate programs). Following lunch, students were presented with GRE test-taking strategies by Cool Star Lab graduate student Caleb Choban, who discussed how to eliminate choices through various methods (order of magnitude, dimensional analysis, symmetry, etc.) to the point where a guess was worth making. Students then worked together in teams on various problems, facilitated by UCSD Physics graduate students.  At the conclusion of the first day, students heard from UCSD Dean of Graduate Division Kim Barrett on the graduate application process, and from representatives from UCSD, UCSB and Caltech (Cool Star Lab alumna Ivanna Escala!) about their graduate programs.

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(Left) Angela Berti and (right) Christian Aganze help students working out solutions to Physics GRE problems.

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Ivanna Escala represented Caltech at the Graduate programs panel.

Day two started off like day one, with a second practice exam to check for short-term improvement (basically making use of testing strategies). After lunch, UCSD graduate students (including Caleb Choban and Christian Aganze) hosted a Q&A panel to talk about graduate student life and what the went through in terms of applications. That was followed by a second group work session and exit surveys.

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Graduate Student panel (from left to right): I-da Chiang, Caleb Choban, Christian Aganze, Robin Heinonen, Angela Berti and Jung Tsung.

Overall the bootcamp was highly rated by the attendees, 98% of whom said they would recommend it to their friends and classmates (one person was unsure), while 84% of attendees reported that the camp increased their interest in pursing an advanced degree “somewhat” or “very much”. One student’s comment:

For me at least, a graduate program can seem very intimidating and at times unattainable, but programs such as these that encourage students so much make it seem possible.

Students also suggested ways we could improve the bootcamp, including less time testing and more time workshopping applications (e.g., statement of purpose), and a longer camp overall (having A/C in the classrooms was also a big request).

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Past and present Cool Star Lab members at the Bootcamp; from left to right: Adam Burgasser, Elizabeth Moreno Hilario, Ivanna Escala, Caleb Choban and Aishwarya Iyer.

This year’s camp was made possible with funding support from the UC San Diego Department of Physics, the UC San Diego Division of Physical Science, the UC San Diego Graduate Division, the UC San Diego Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the APS Bridge Program, UC Davis and individual donors.


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