I recently participated in a weekend program offering free advice to undergraduate students preparing to take the Physics GRE exam. In case you and not a physicist yourself, the Physics GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is one of those dreadful comprehensive exams that students must take before applying to most US Ph.D. programs. Personally, I have never been much of a fan of these tests. Probably because I was never very good at them… Nevertheless, they are a reality which all students must face.
The event was sponsored by the California Professoriate for Access to Physics Careers (CPAPC), and funded by the UC Davis Office of Graduate Studies. Attendance was surprisingly large, about 80 undergraduate students from many Universities in Northern and Southern California made the trip to Davis.
The workshop began with a practice GRE exam taken under realistic test conditions. The students then broke out into small groups to discuss the problems. Rooms were prepared by subject: Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Optics/Waves/Thermodynamics, and Special Relativity/Atomic Physics/Laboratory techniques. In each room a current graduate student served as the topic expert to assist the discussions. I was assigned to the room covering Special Relativity/Atomic Physics/Laboratory techniques. In some cases students have limited exposure to these fields and so I experienced a constant barrage of questions, which I suppose is better than having no questions at all.
Student responses after the weekend were very positive. In most cases the students appreciated the opportunity to begin studying for the exam, and to receive valuable advice from the graduate TAs and Faculty about the test and graduate school in general. Since the weekend, plans have already been put forth for the next bootcamp, and even possibilities of expanding the operation to include other Universities.