2nd BSc or MSc in physics for physics-PhD in top program in USA

  • #1
Spaceuser
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TL;DR Summary: In summary. I have BSc in Chemistry with honours and want to make research in more theoritical physics oriented field. I don't afraid the studies and the hours needed but I want opinions for the best possible option (MSc or 2nd BSc), in terms of usefulness for my PhD application.

Hello there!

I have been reading some answers in the forum lately and decided to write my question for anyone that believes that can help me, with his answer.

I have obtained a BSc in Chemistry with Honours, in my country's system (3.41/4 in GPA system) but during my BSc thesis which focused in Quantum & Computational Chemistry, I found that I love studying physics and the law behind every aspect of nature. It was something that I was thinking before ever choosing a BSc (between Chemistry and Physics) - in my country a student cannot make a double major unfortunately - and I have finally concluded that research in physics would be an ideal career path for my future. I have previous research experience and my BSc thesis is going to be published as a paper soon, so I think that might be helpful too for any application.

My main question is this: should I make a 2nd BSc in physics, find a research team while doing it and given that I have the grades and some research experience apply for PhD in USA or should I find a MSc program in Physics in order to cover any knowledge gaps and at the same time try to find some research group.

From my perspective, both require almost the same time period, but my only drawback for the MSc option may be that I will have to hurry things up in order to cover any pre-existing knowledge gaps and I don't know if this will be the optimal. On the other side maybe a MSc in Physics will give me better chances for my PhD application, due to its nature and level of course material. But I have to notice that I have seen students with only BSc in Physics (in my country) and excellent grades go instantly for PhD in top universities.

So any advice given by you would be useful and will be seriously taken into consideration.
Maybe someone else has been in the same position in the past and has made it. Maybe not. Or someone may be in the same situation in me.

Thanks in advance for any response.
 
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  • #2
Quantum chemistry can be physics. Are you sure that you want to take what will be at best a lateral step to pursue vague desire for a “more theoritical physics oriented field”?
 
  • #3
Hello Frabjous thanks for the answer.

To clarify it, the desire for theoritical physics is not so abstract. I mean I have some subfields in my mind because theoritical physics can be done in every branch of physics.
My desires mostly meet the Quantum Mechanics/High Energy Theory field. In general the theories that describe particle behavior as far as I know.

Please define to me which option you consider lateral step, the MSc or the 2nd BSc one?

Thanks
 
  • #4
You'll need to figure out how much of a knowledge gap you actually have, and that will depend on the details of your education so far. Some physical chemistry programs are pretty close to physics programs, plus or minus a few courses, while a more general chemistry degree may have more differences. Do you have advanced courses in classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, and electrodynamics, i.e. the necessary foundation to be successful when taking courses in these core subjects at the graduate level? Do you also have the level of math that you need - a mathematical methods course, advanced calculus, differential equations, etc.? Can you program comfortably (numerical methods) in at least one language? The point here is that with an MSc, you'd be jumping into advanced courses with a high degree of assumed knowledge, and you don't want to be stuck playing catch-up from day one if you can avoid it.

At the same time you have to figure out what options are actually on the table for you. Can you find a school that will allow you to enrol in a second BSc degree? Can you afford it? Or looking at it from the other direction, do you actually qualify for an MSc in physics? There's no point in pursuing that option if that door isn't open.
 
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  • #5
I would try extending your current degree by year and taking the physics classes (qm, cm, em and sm) that you are lacking. Your GPa is not impressive, so you will need to figure out the schools that will accept you.
 
  • #6
Choppy said:
You'll need to figure out how much of a knowledge gap you actually have, and that will depend on the details of your education so far. Some physical chemistry programs are pretty close to physics programs, plus or minus a few courses, while a more general chemistry degree may have more differences. Do you have advanced courses in classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, and electrodynamics, i.e. the necessary foundation to be successful when taking courses in these core subjects at the graduate level? Do you also have the level of math that you need - a mathematical methods course, advanced calculus, differential equations, etc.? Can you program comfortably (numerical methods) in at least one language? The point here is that with an MSc, you'd be jumping into advanced courses with a high degree of assumed knowledge, and you don't want to be stuck playing catch-up from day one if you can avoid it.

At the same time you have to figure out what options are actually on the table for you. Can you find a school that will allow you to enrol in a second BSc degree? Can you afford it? Or looking at it from the other direction, do you actually qualify for an MSc in physics? There's no point in pursuing that option if that door isn't open.
Thank you for your answer Choppy. In my country they don't have any problem with a 2nd BSc you just give some intro exams in Physics I & II and Math analysis. Also to notice that it will take 3 years for the 2nd BSc because I already have a BSc in physical sciences, as the department rules.

Now to the level of courses. Whatever extra I have been taught is by myself and sure this cannot be proved easily without any credit system. I think I have a strong foundation mostly in Quantum Mechanics and mostly lacking some math methods necessary for the graduate studies, but I love maths and I don't believe it will be any problem with that.

For the financial part I will try to pay my bills with the job I'm doing now mainly in part time in order to invest most of the time for a good knowledge and GPA.

As for the option of MSc and if it is feasible there are some opportunities here that I would be eligible.

If the PhD admissions don't make any age discriminations I don't have any problem invest the time and money for proper education for my admission.
 
  • #7
Frabjous said:
I would try extending your current degree by year and taking the physics classes (qm, cm, em and sm) that you are lacking. Your GPa is not impressive, so you will need to figure out the schools that will accept you.
This is not an option because I have already been awarded my degree, and even if I did so the courses could not be recorded in my grade transcript. But given that I cover the classes in MSc level degree, which universities you think I would be eligible to join?
 
  • #8
Spaceuser said:
This is not an option because I have already been awarded my degree, and even if I did so the courses could not be recorded in my grade transcript. But given that I cover the classes in MSc level degree, which universities you think I would be eligible to join?
I do not know enough about you and what you are looking for in a grad school. All I know is that you are a B+ student. Do your recommendations and research tell a better story? While there are exceptions, past performance is generally a good indicator of future performance, so getting into a top school will be difficult.
 
  • #9
In general I had to work most of my uni years because of financial and other personal difficulties. I believe in myself, I know where I can stand or what I am capable to achieve, the only thing is to show it to a admission commitee too with the most optimized way. I had been accepted for a summer school for Gravitational Physics where I got to know professor Barry Barrish and other big colleagues and chat with him, so I believe my profile could support what I'm trying to achieve with some extra credited courses. I also have strong letters of recommendations from the research teams I have been working from the last 2 years and so.

I just know I have a little disadvantage because of the current situation of my course transcript.

(I didn't mention that I hold a 4.0 GPA MSc in quantum & computational chemistry because I don't think it will be recieved for any consideration in Physics PhD applications)

Do you know where can I find any academic counselor in order to give me some advice ?
 
  • #10
Spaceuser said:
I didn't mention that I hold a 4.0 GPA MSc in quantum & computational chemistry because I don't think it will be recieved for any consideration in Physics PhD applications
That would indeed have been important information to include.
 
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  • #11
@Spaceuser. Your goal is to enroll in a top physics PhD program in the US. Remember, in the US (unlike in many other countries), a master's is not required to enroll in the PhD program. Typically, a student enters the PhD program upon completion of a bachelor's. Depending on the school, you may or may not receive credit for grad courses taken elsewhere. Perhaps you may be able to waive out of some courses by passing placement exams, but likely not all. In which case, you may need to repeat courses you took for a master's elsewhere.

I don't know how the courses are structured at your school. But in top US schools, grad level courses typically are much more difficult than undergrad courses, and typically have undergrad courses as prerequisites. If you're convinced that your future lies in a PhD physics program, then you want a solid undergrad background to properly prepare you for it. Since you have the option of attaining a second bachelor's, I would recommend that you do that and achieve a stellar record. If you leap into grad courses without adequate preparation, your chances of achieving a stellar record are greatly diminished. The easier coursework will also allow you more time to get involved with research.
 
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  • #12
Thank you @CrysPhys for your respond!
Given these facts I would say this option is the best too. It will also allow me to develop more my coding skills and also maybe write some more relevant papers before get into it.

I hope my previous studies won't have any negative impact for the committee, because for me personally they helped me develop my interests and find my almost final academic path.
 
  • #13
If I understand correctly, you have spent

4 years BSc in Chemistry
2 years MSc in Quantum & Computational Chemistry

and now you want to spend

3 years BSc in Physics
6+ years PhD in Physics

Is this correct? Are you absolutely sure this is what you want to do?
 
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  • #14
Hello @gwnorth !

I'm sure that I want to follow the academic path since I was undergraduate so I knew that this may require some years.

Could you suggest me a faster way for the path? At least for the PhD one?
 
  • #15
Spaceuser said:
Could you suggest me a faster way for the path? At least for the PhD one?
Good grief.

A reality check is in order.

You do not have a degree in physics. You want to get a PhD, not just from any place, but from the very top universities in the US, and therefore the world. And you want to do it faster than everyone whose undergraduate degrees were from these same top universities. Does this sound realistic?
 
  • #16
Dear @Vanadium 50, I have observed that despite some exceptions like @CrysPhys, who answered me like a gentleman and gave me real advice, the majority of you people here try either to insult or mock anyone who has questions.
I will do you a favor and explain to you. Read carefully the dialogue. I'm not asking for a shorter way in general. I'm asking if he can suggest a shorter way because he points out the timeline factor.

I know I have to work hard. I'm not afraid of that. I have worked hard so far and the people (professors) that need to know it, know it already. The whole point of my question is if the BSc is more preferable than the MSc in Physics admissions. And I receive opinions in general, from forums (like this one) to real life professors, that already work to the top universities.

Provide me with your point of view (if you wish) instead of just making these kind of questions.
 
  • #17
@Spaceuser you signed in here three days ago. I suggest you don't be too quick to judge others who have been here for many years. This is not an appeal to authority, rather an appeal to long experience and open honest realism.
 
  • #18
I don't judge anyone. These kind of answers just don't offer any point.

But let's assume that I lack realism and I live in my one utopia. What are your suggestions for the question.

PS: Ι was reading the forum years now before entering as a member don't worry.
 
  • #19
The issue is that you are an edge case and as an edge case, the odds are against you. One could make arguments for BSc or MSc or not proceeding at all, but it would depend on knowing MUCH MORE about you specifically. I would suggest listening to the people who can make an INFORMED judgement about your situation.

Most Ph.D’s do not end up in academia. The more abstract the subject, the greater the chance that they will be doing something different after graduation. Quantum chemists can actually get non-academic jobs doing quantum chemistry. Do you really want to change areas especially when you take into account the additional years of study? If the answer is yes, what is your plan if you do not make it into a top school?
 
  • #20
Thanks for the response @Frabjous.
Look to be clear again I don't mind about the extra years.
I just want the path that would give me the best chances for the PhD.
Is it the BSc one or the MSc one? Both of them require the same amount of years here in my country, because in the MSc one I will need to cover some gaps anyway.

So I'm looking for the strongest academic way, not the shortest one for the PhD.
Like, what the admissions would like to see, someone with MSc in physics and previous different BSc or someone with BSc in physics anyway ?
It's a multi-parameter question, but a little discussion and opinion exchange is always useful.
 
  • #21
Spaceuser said:
I don't mind about the extra years.
Spaceuser said:
Could you suggest me a faster way for the path?
Which is it?

Blame me if you want, but your two statements are polar opposites.

You can blame the messenger if you want, but there are some unpleasant facts out there. One is that many more people want to go to these universities than there is space for them. This is especially true for international students. Another is that many such people either overestimate their chances or think they will be the exception. This is also especially true for international students - being the bets student in Myanmar or Chad does not open as many doors as one might think.

In your case, your CV says "I spent a good chunk of a decade getting a graduate degree, Now I want to throw it away and spend the good chunk of a decade getting another graduate degree." Most schools will suspect, if not outright conclude, that you want to stay in school forever. Because that's what your actions say.

Does this make you unhappy? Sorry. That's how it is.

Then on top of that, you have said you want to finish a PhD faster than a typical student - someone who has a BS in physics from a strong undergraduate school. On what basis do you think you can do this? Certainly not physics experience - as you say, you have none. You mention "hard work". What makes you think other graduate students are not working hard? The idea that you will be able to finish faster is just not grounded in reality.

Does this make you unhappy? Sorry. That's how it is as well.

Finally, your insistence on "top" programs excludes half or more of the available slots, and to be honest, most of your best shots. Insisting on Harvard or Stanford over Kent State or Kentucky makes your odds of success much, much lower.

Does this make you unhappy? Sorry. That's how it is too.
 
  • #22
A faster way would be to find some common ground between the degrees you have and a Physics PhD and apply directly to that field. That would potentially mean that you would have to change your focus away from Quantum Mechanics/High Energy Theory. You might want to consider if there are fields within Chemistry for which you are currently qualified to apply to that would get you closer to your goal. Otherwise between your choice of a MSc or BSc in Physics, if you aren't qualified to apply to Physics PhD programs you may also likewise not be qualified to apply to Physics MSc programs leaving the BSc as your only option. That's what I would investigate first.
 
  • #23
Could one move to some sort of chemical physics without starting from scratch? Sure. Will a degree in chemistry be adequate preparation for a PhD in high energy theory? No. Will I be considered a bad person for saying so? Probably.
 
  • #24
Thanks @gwnorth this is a solid advice. That's closest to what the professors told me about too.

I just had meetings with professors & researchesrs from MIT and Princeton, they gave me really useful tips.
Thanks everyone for the answers!

@Vanadium 50 you have lost the whole point of my questions, so I won't bother explain again. The question "Could you suggest me a faster way for the path?" was a rhetorical one, meaning I already know the answer there isn't. Anyways, you are the example of people, that someone wants to prove wrong, because of his negativity and discouragement he gives when he advices. I had many like you through my years. Thank you for the motivation!
 
  • #25
Spaceuser said:
negativity
Why, you are the smartest and bestest bestest boy EVER!!

Is that better?
 
  • #26
Vanadium 50 said:
Why, you are the smartest and bestest bestest boy EVER!!

Is that better?
Thug Life!!!
 
  • #27
MidgetDwarf said:
Thug Life!!!
Basically exposed.
He admits he was negative. But anyways he may have his way of presenting his view. I don't mind. But someone else may, in the future. The forums should be a healthy & safe place for questions not with judgemental style.

Love you all! Thanks for the support & advice!
 
  • #28
* @Spaceuser . OK. I'll avoid any discussion of "Should you pursue a PhD physics program in the US?" It's up to you to decide whether it's worthwhile, what risks you're willing to take, and what future it may (or may not) lead to.

As to additional tips addressing a strategy for optimizing "How?", I'll add the following to my previous response.

* Look at statistics gathered by the American Institutes of Physics (https://ww2.aip.org/statistics). Unfortunately their website is not well-indexed, and you may need to resort to a Google search. Here are two relevant reports entitled Trends in Physics PhDs. The first report (https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/graduate/trendsphds-p-12.2.pdf) is dated Feb 2014. The second report (https://ww2.aip.org/statistics/trends-in-physics-phds) is dated Feb 2021.

Fig. 2 in the 2014 report shows the distribution of the number of years to complete a PhD for the combined classes of 2010 and 2011. Most students took 5 - 7 yrs. Only a few completed it in 4; some took longer. Note the summary:

"The average length of time to earn a physics PhD for degree recipients in the combined classes of 2010 and 2011 was 6.3 years. For this report the number of years taken to earn a PhD is measured by a self-report of the full-time equivalent (FTE) number of years registered at a physics department. PhDs who were non-U.S. citizens and had been enrolled in a graduate physics program outside the U.S. reported a slightly shorter time to degree then the non-U.S. students who only studied in the U.S. Students who reported physics graduate study at a non-U.S. institution are not included in Figure 2. Some differences in FTE were seen by the primary research method of the doctorate recipient. Experimentalists reported an average FTE of 6.4 years where theorists averaged slightly less time with 6.1 years. There was little difference in FTE by gender and citizenship when controlled for primary research method." <<Emphasis added.>>

Fig. 5 in the 2021 report shows similar data for the combined classes of 2017 and 2018. Only minor changes. Note the summary:

"The average length of time to earn a physics PhD in the combined classes of 2017 and 2018 was 6.2 years. For this report, the number of years to earn a PhD is measured by a self-reported full-time equivalent (FTE) number of years registered at a physics department. The data is collected in half-year increments and rounded up to the next full year for display (see Figure 5). Although the median length of time to receive their degrees was 6 years, 16% of new PhDs indicated it took them 8 or more years.

The 40% of the non-US citizen PhD recipients who had been enrolled in a graduate physics program outside the US before coming to study physics in the United States did not report significantly fewer FTE years of physics study in the US than the non-US citizens who studied only in the US." <<Emphasis added.>>

Conclusion: If you spend X yrs getting a master's at a university outside of the US, it won't significantly shorten your PhD program at a university in the US. So my previous advice to you still stands. Given that you have no undergrad background in physics, I would advise you to achieve a stellar record in a physics bachelor's program than a less-than-stellar record in a physics master's program.

* If a US university really wants you, it will provide you full financial aid. The financial aid comes in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships. For incoming grad students, the bulk of aid is in the form of teaching assistantships. In some universities, research assistantships are not available to incoming students (e.g., you need to pass a qualifying exam first). Fellowships are reserved for the select few that the department really, really wants. A fellowship is the most desirable form of financial aid because there are no duties attached; hence, you can focus exclusively on your courses and exams and start research earlier. However, a fellowship is also the most competitive: in addition to having a stellar undergrad record, you also want to widen the candidate pool of US universities beyond the top tier. <<Caveat: I don't know whether citizenship is a criteria for fellowships.>>

* Look at the required graduate exams for each university (there is no consistent practice among US universities). At some universities, you will need to pass one or more exams based on grad-level courses. There's no way to expedite those. But UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) has a qualifying exam (qual) focussed primarily on advanced undergrad-level courses. Typically grad students there take the qual at the beginning of the first semester of their second year (they spend the summer after their first year prepping for it). If they don't pass, they get a second shot at the start of the second semester second year. If they don't pass the second time, they wash out. But if you excelled at a rigorous undergrad school program, you have the option of taking it at the start of your first semester after you enter (these days, a "free shot": if you pass, great; if you don't, no harm done, you still get the two regular shots). Passing the qual is a prerequisite for starting your thesis research: the sooner you pass it, the sooner you can start your research. So check out the policies of different candidate universities, and see which ones you can get a head start on before you enroll.

* Be careful in choosing your thesis advisor. A junior faculty member will have no track record you can lookup. With regard to senior faculty members, some tend to hang onto their grad students longer than others: grad students are relatively cheap labor.
 
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  • #29
A way of speeding things up is having and starting to develop a topic for your thesis and finding someone, some prof somewhere who's interested in it, in working on it with you.
 

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