I (Dr. Ray) had several very strong mentors when I was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. These professors (Thompson, Mueller, and Hillier) made a major difference in my life and my chosen career path. I don’t feel we interact enough with our undergraduates in a way that allows us to truly get to know who they are and what might be the best path for them to follow. To that end, for the past several years I’ve been an undergraduate advisor for our physics majors.
I have very strong opinions, and would offer this advice to any undergraduate physics major:
- Find an undergraduate physics advisor and meet with them at least twice a year. Make sure they know what you’re interested in, how you’re doing in your classes – not just the grade but how comfortable you are with the material and what your plan is for the coming semester. It’s a good idea to do this before you schedule classes.
- If you’re going to grad school take the physics GRE twice. Take it once in April of your junior year as a dry-run. Most American students do not so well on the physics GRE. It is a very good idea to find out your strengths and weaknesses before you take the exam for real, in the fall of your senior semester. This also gives you the summer to focus on your weaker topics.
- If you are taking the physics GRE, research which topics are covered most strongly and schedule your physics classes in such a way that you will have completed those topics before the early April test run. The physics GRE website does list what percent of the topics come from each area.