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The Grad School Issue: Start Here

SPS Observer, Fall 2003 cover

SPS Observer, Fall 2003 cover

Originally published in The SPS Observer, Fall 2023

Thinking about what comes after your bachelor’s degree can be a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Graduate school is a common next step and might be an ideal step toward launching your dream career or even saving the world. Then again, it might not be. Going right into the workforce is a common next step too, and might launch you into your world-saving, dream career. Physics and astronomy set the stage for so many exciting career paths. But exploring the breadth of options and deciding whether to go to grad school can feel overwhelming.

Should I go to grad school? For what? Where? How?

This issue of the SPS Observer, created in collaboration with, will help you select some boundary conditions and turn these questions into solvable problems that optimize your needs and future career goals. You’ll learn about many of the career pathways that open up to students like you through grad programs. You’ll read about who pays for grad school and the wide variety of program options. You’ll find out what admissions committees look for in applicants and how to demonstrate those qualities in your application package. And you’ll get excellent advice on how to find programs that are a good fit for you.

One of the best ways to learn about your options is to hear from those who’ve been in your shoes. You’ll find many such stories in this issue, from Div Chamria’s application advice (p. 55) to Paul McKinley’s reflection on doing an energy technology engineering grad program abroad (p. 47). One of the stories in this issue may be the spark that helps you envision your future.

One panel comic from XKCD of two stick figures speaking. One is seated behind a desk and the other is speaking, "It would start with five minutes of peeling lint from dryer traps, followed by an hour of pressing a lightsaber handle against things and switching it on. Then I'd retire to a life of luxury." The caption reads, "When people ask me to describe my dream job, I'm never sure how realistic to be."



If you decide to go to grad school, know that there isn’t just one “right” program for you—there are probably dozens that could help you reach your career goals. As a physics or astronomy major, the most important skill you learn is how to solve problems without a known solution. This allows you to work in diverse teams, conquer unknown technical problems, and use first principles to simplify complex problems. Physicists and astronomers plug into a diverse and exciting set of grad programs across all of STEM.

Careers are not destinations but journeys with twists and turns and surprises. As you choose your adventure, do some soul-searching about what makes you happy and how your career can make the world a better place. Break down the process into small, digestible chunks.

If you read through this issue and decide that grad school isn’t for you, that’s time well spent. Turn your attention to exploring the many career options that don’t require a grad degree. To learn more about them, check out the SPS Careers Toolbox at and SPS Jobs at

Figuring out your next step isn’t easy, but a little planning can go a long way. Feeling overwhelmed? You don’t have to have it all figured out today! The Society of Physics Students, Sigma Pi Sigma, and are rooting for you and are here to help you along the way.

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