MIT PhysGAAP: Here to help with your physics graduate school application

Are you thinking of applying to a graduate physics program this year? We are here to help! 

Some questions about applying to a PhD program are best answered in real-time, by graduate students who have already been through the application process. This is especially true because graduate school application requirements and expectations change often and vary from school to school

So, it is really useful for potential PhD applicants to be able to (1) ask current graduate students their most pressing application-related questions (that are specific to the graduate school they are trying to apply to) and (2) get personalized advice and guidance about their application.

But not everyone applying to graduate school has access to this.

We are a group of current physics graduate students at MIT (called the Grads Advising Graduate Admissions or GAGA team) trying to close this gap and provide these resources to anyone who thinks they could benefit from it! Therefore, we launched a new initiative last year: the Physics Graduate Application Assistance Program (PhysGAAP), which is designed to help potential applicants with their applications to the MIT Physics PhD program. 

PhysGAAP: Our motivation

Some people applying to graduate school have institutional resources and social networks to draw on and help them with their application. For instance, they can ask for help from friends who have previously applied, use graduate school application resources provided by their university, or organize study sessions with peers to prepare for the GRE or graduate school interviews. However, there are many potential graduate school applicants who do not have access to these things.

The motivation behind PhysGAAP is to reduce the barriers for application to the MIT Physics PhD program and also address the underrepresentation of students from historically excluded communities. In order to do this, we have launched three student-led initiatives that provide application guidance for students considering our program: (1) the PhysGAAP Mentorship Program, (2) PhysGAAP Webinars, and (3) a Q&A service. From the beginning, we have been supported by MIT Physics leadership as well as staff from the Academic Programs Office.

These programs are all underway this year in advance of the MIT Physics PhD application deadline on December 15

PhysGAAP Mentorship Program

This program pairs a current graduate student mentor with a prospective applicant mentee to guide them through the graduate program application process. The graduate student mentors provide feedback on the mentee’s application and insight into the graduate school experience, as well as the MIT Physics Department. 

  1. ​​The PhysGAAP Mentorship Program seeks prospective applicants who demonstrate that they are a good fit for mentoring; for example, if prospective applicants feel like they lack other resources to navigate the graduate school application process. Guidelines for when the program may be a good fit for you can be found here.
  2. Applications are open until November 6.

The first year of this program was very successful – we had over 80 mentee applications! Of these students, we were able to support 37 mentees (because we had limited capacity with 26 grad student mentors). We are encouraged by the high demand and hope to scale up this year in order to accommodate as many mentees as possible. If you are interested in the mentorship program, please apply here!

PhysGAAP Webinars 

Starting this year, we are holding two 2-hour application webinars for prospective applicants. These Zoom webinars are hosted by current MIT graduate students, including at least one graduate student representative on the Admissions Committee. The purpose of the webinars is to help applicants who have a few questions about the application process and would like to hear general tips on how to apply from current students. The webinars are an alternative to the mentorship program, providing broad guidance to many prospective applicants at once, in contrast to the more tailored experience of the PhysGAAP Mentorship Program.

While the first webinar has already happened, you can register for the second webinar here! We record and share all webinars on the department website, so do not worry if you have a timezone/scheduling conflict! All registered participants will receive the Zoom link and a Slido link to submit questions for the interactive Q&A portion of the webinar a few days beforehand.

  • The first webinar (on September 29, 10.00am – 12.00pm EDT) included a brief ~15-minute presentation about what the Admissions Committee is looking for.
  • The second webinar will be on December 1, 10.00am – 12.00pm EST. Register here

Q&A Service

Another resource that the department provides is a Q&A service – current graduate students collaborate with staff members to answer questions about department culture, life as a graduate student, and coursework/research. This student email resource is designed for individual basic questions. More in-depth guidance, especially about the application itself, will be available through the PhysGAAP Webinars and/or PhysGAAP Mentorship Program described above.

We welcome you to reach out to [email protected] and clearly indicate in the subject line or in the first sentence that you’d like a current graduate student to reply to your question. An example subject line is: “Question for Current Grad Student about Student Life at MIT”. While current students may not be available to respond to questions sent after November 15, staff will continue to field questions throughout the application season at [email protected]

History of MIT-Wide GAAP Initiatives

Prior to the existence of PhysGAAP, there were similar GAAP initiatives throughout MIT. The effort has since grown significantly – the list of department GAAPs can be found here. For more details on the status of GAAP initiatives throughout the Institute, check out this information booklet.

More helpful resources

Here are some more online resources to help you out with your application!

Firstly, there are some fantastic guides for applying to graduate school in astronomy and physics here on Astrobites. Check out this bite for an overall timeline for graduate school applications in the US and look here and here for a detailed outline of what to do to apply for graduate school. If you are trying to figure out which type of program you should be applying to (physics or astronomy?), this bite is a great place to start! All of these bites have also been compiled into a mega-guide, which you can find here

Beyond Astrobites, there are also plenty of useful resources to check out. To list a few:

Feel free to reach out and get in touch with us at [email protected] if you have any questions! We hope we can encourage as many physics graduate schools as possible to introduce similar programs to MIT PhysGAAP.

Edited by Sasha Warren

About Lisa Drummond

I am an astrophysics PhD student with interests in compact objects and gravitational waves. I studied neutron star interiors for my Masters thesis at the University of Melbourne, Australia and now I am doing my PhD at MIT.

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