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Applying to Graduate Programs: recommendations and courses

  1. Jan 25, 2015 #1
    I am currently looking to pursue a master's degree in physics - stand alone or integrated with a PhD program. I have a master's degree in mechanical engineering and want to make the switch to physics - with an interest in quantum mechanics, particle physics and string theory. As you can imagine, my academic background may not lend itself towards an ideal physics graduate application. I am trying to figure out how I can improve my chances.

    I have a few things in mind. I can look for a research project in mechanical engineering or applied physics with engineering application in an academic setting. This might help me with a recommendation towards my application although not in the field I am looking to get an MS in - I do not currently have a recommendation in relation to a research setting. If I choose this route, I can only apply to an MS or PhD (integrated MS + Phd) program that provides tuition waiver and financial support.

    The other option would be to work and save up as I am a little short on personal funds at the moment. This would open up the possibility of pursuing an MS program in a European country (not the UK) where the tuition fees are minimal and I would only have to take care of my living expenses. Another motivation to work would be that I can simultaneously take up physics courses at a local university and gain some academic background in physics before my applications.

    The two routes would enhance my application in different ways. Also, I assume that getting a funded education would be more difficult. I was wondering if someone could shed light on the relative importance of 1 good recommendation vs getting a few physics courses under my belt. I would appreciate any input on a pathway that I may have missed out and am not currently considering.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2015 #2
    Thanks for the post! This is an automated courtesy bump. Sorry you aren't generating responses at the moment. Do you have any further information, come to any new conclusions or is it possible to reword the post?
  4. Feb 3, 2015 #3
    Hey guys. Can you guide me a bit as to what I need to do here. I'll rewrite it more concisely.

    I want to apply to graduate programs in physics. I have a master's degree in mechanical engineering and am currently studying topics in fundamental physics on my own - I have very little physics credits apart from CM and TD. My interest areas lie in quantum mechanics, particle physics and string theory.

    I just left my engg job and am contemplating if I should:
    a) Resume work and save up - I'm short on funds. Meanwhile, attend part time / continuing education courses in physics for credit.
    By saving up, I can apply to non-funded MS programs in Europe (low tuition but I'd need to pay for living expenses). Also, the physics credits will boost my application.


    b) Join a research group in mechanical engg or applied physics (with an engg application) at a university.
    Here, I can get a recommendation letter, though not in core physics research - I currently do not have a recommendation letter in a research atmosphere. But I will be limited to applying for funded programs only - which I assume will be a little harder, all other variables kept constant.

    Any suggestions are welcome.
  5. Feb 3, 2015 #4


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    You need to decide where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. When your goal is clear, then work towards that.

    Google up schools that do what you want to do. Look on the preprint archive


    for people doing research you find interesting. Get magazines like Physics Today or such, or Google the same info, that tell you where grads from schools you are looking at wind up getting jobs. Your university library will be able to give you more suggestions in that regard. Google up the web pages of those schools and find contacts for the programs you find interesting, and find out what requirements they have for entry. If you can contact specific profs you might like to work with, ask them what they want to see in preparation for grad work. The school or the prof will be able to tell you about scholarships, teaching possibilities during your degree, possible grant money, etc.

    If you wind up having several possible schools and cannot apply to them all, then look at other factors. What degree of international reputation do the profs there have? How big is their library? How interesting does the research they do seem to you? Where are you more likely to get funding? Who has the best facilities like lab equipment? If it's a research subject that fits with industry, who has the best connections to companies you might like to work for? Where is the cost of living the lowest? Where is the weather the best? And so on. You will find much of this by using Google.
  6. Feb 8, 2015 #5
    Thanks DEvens. I will be contacting grad schools and professors to ask about admission requirement details. In the meantime, I am confused as to whether I should spend some time off, self-studying the fundamental courses - you know, QM, relativity, statistical mech, etc. - before I start work (or do a research project); just in case I do not get enough time when I'm working. During my masters program in engineering, I specialized in robotics. IMO, you could handle a lot of the graduate courses if you had a good background in mathematics. Knowledge of bachelor level engg subjects was helpful but not necessarily indispensable. I guess this was because it was an applied field. I'm guessing this might not be the case with theoretical physics.
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