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Programs A couple of questions about applied physics Ph.Ds

  1. Aug 1, 2016 #1
    I hope this isn't too much for one thread, but I have a couple of questions regarding applied physics Ph.D programs.

    1. Are there a lot of schools that offer degrees in applied physics, and what are some of them? I've found programs at places like Cornell, Stanford, Harvard, etc. but these are all high-caliber schools, and I'd like to also apply to lower ranked places in case, for reasons revealed in the next question.

    2. Will I have a strong enough background with a degree in electrical engineering? I'm a rising senior in EE with a 4.0, 3 years of research experience in computing, and the relevant courses I've taken are: obviously first year calculus based general physics (mechanics and EM), engineering electromagnetics (almost at the level of a first course using Griffiths), modern physics (special relativity, old QM like black body radiation and the photoelectric effect, and Schroedinger equation with simple potentials), a solid state devices course (sort of an intro to solid state physics with a focus on semiconductor devices), and of course, all my signals and electronics EE courses that may be useful in some areas. I've also taken the typical Calc 1-3, ODEs, and linear algebra.

    This fall, I will certainly be taking an introductory quantum mechanics course. I can also see to it that I am able to take one classical mechanics course OR a second semester of Griffiths, and I can also take a second semester of QM, an optics course, and a thermodynamics course. That is, I could, in addition to those courses I've taken, also take QM 2, EM 2, thermo, and optics, or QM 2, EM 2, and classical mechanics 1, and optics.

    So, my issue is that I don't feel this background is sufficient for a true physics program, but would it work for an applied physics program, given their interdisciplinary nature?

    3. How are applied physics degrees viewed in academic circles? What about in industry or government? If I wanted to try to stay in academia, would I be limited to physics departments, or would it depend exactly on the nature of research I do? Can applied physics Ph.Ds compete against both regular physics Ph.Ds and electrical engineers in industry and government, or would I be viewed as "too much of a physicist for EE work but too much of an EE for physics work"?

    Thanks for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2016 #2
    Have you tried googling "applied physics graduate programs" ?. You could also check our engineering physics .

    As far as what additional physics courses you should take visit physics grad school websites to check their minimum required undergraduate courses. If will be short a course or two they may let you make it up, check what their policy is.
  4. Aug 1, 2016 #3
    Yes, I've been looking through the various schools. Unfortunately only a few, it seems, have dedicated applied physics programs, with many having an applied physics concentration within the physics department. I don't know if the learning would be different, but I suspect it's more difficult for someone in an engineering degree to be admitted to the physics department.
  5. Aug 1, 2016 #4


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    At my school, grad students in physics and applied physics departments took the same core courses together. If this is the still case, then I would expect you to need additional physics classes to make the grade. You can find out at the schools you are considering by looking at their online degree requirements lists, and at the prereqs listed for those classes in the course catalog.
  6. Aug 2, 2016 #5
    Along with the above poster, I have the same experience. There is virtually no difference at my school between applied physics and "normal" physics except that their qualifier and preliminary exams are different. My research group is split about 50/50 for applied physics and "normal" physics.
  7. Aug 2, 2016 #6
    Thank you for the replies. Are your applied physics programs a specialization within the physics department, or is it a separate department?
  8. Aug 2, 2016 #7


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    Separate department.
  9. Aug 2, 2016 #8
    Also a separate department here. Two different applications for graduate school. The AP program here only has about 15 students per year, whereas physics has ~30-40.
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