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Statistical Mechanics - Chemistry or Physics PhD

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Nov23-07, 01:27 AM
P: 145
Hi everyone,

I'm finishing up my undergrad with a double major in chemistry and physics. My interests are right at the cusp of the two, in chemical/statistical physics. I've been doing research for over a year in molecular dynamics with a well-known prof in the chemistry department, resulting in a first author publication (and hopefully more to come by the time I graduate).

In short, I'm debating whether to attend graduate school in Physics or Chemistry. I feel I'm stronger as a chemistry applicant (courses taken, activities, letters of rec, etc) and there are some great programs for what I want to do, e.g. the groups at UC Berkeley. At the same time, I really like physics, I do very well in my classes, and feel I might get a more rigorous education in proper statistical mechanics from a physics department (in addition to other important related subjects like classical and quantum mechanics), but I might have to settle for a less prestigious university.

Any advice on (a) whether the subject is best pursued through physics or chemistry and (b) how much I should take into consideration my more substantial chemistry background?

Thanks very much.
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Chris Hillman
Nov23-07, 01:31 AM
Sci Advisor
P: 2,340
I doubt the chemistry department at UCB would forbid you from taking physics courses! But it couldn't hurt to ask the admissions committee. If they are receptive, it sounds like you have a slight preference for chemistry, so...
Nov24-07, 04:31 AM
P: 2
Well if you do chemistry at UCB, you can take any course in any department that you'd like. So you could do chemistry, but take the physics courses for your own edification. However, I would advise against using chemistry to get your foot in the door if your heart is really set on physics (this is what I did, and I've actually decided to leave). This wouldn't be a problem the other way around, but physics departments are very rigid and won't higher someone without a degree in physics proper. If your career prospects are not in academia, then go for it. As a chemistry student, you can ideally take any class and work with any group.

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