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Programs Best route to a physics phd

  1. May 16, 2004 #1
    I would like to get a higher degree in physics, but am currently a finance / math major. My performance in my physics classes is less than stellar (poor study habits soph. year), which is clearly a liability. I am wondering if I would be ahead to get a m.s. in math, and then move on to a phd in physics?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2004 #2

    ZapperZ

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    May I ask what makes you think that getting an M.Sc in Mathematics, but skipping all the undergraduate physics courses, makes you a better candidate for a Ph.D program in physics?

    Zz.
     
  4. May 18, 2004 #3
    I am planning to go the following way.
    Physics, Maths, Further maths A-Levels
    MPhys degree (4 year fulltime)
    PhD
     
  5. May 19, 2004 #4
    pt:
    I think in order to be accepted for a PhD program in physics you need to pass (with good score) the GRE in physics besides the general GRE.
    Many people who don't qualify for the PhD program go for a masters in physics to improve their grades and prepare for the GRE.
    Math as studied by a mathematician is a little different than the math you see in physics. There may be problems on which you spend a lot of time while studying pure math that are no very interesting to a physicist. On the other hand there may be aspects of math that mathematicians don't normally study in much detail but which are very important in physics.
    I would get a master's in physics. It is easier to get accepted (no GRE required) and you'll get all the math you need for physics, but at the same time, you'll also study physics. (you'll have some catch-up to do).
    You'll study mainly Mathematical Physics, Classical Mechanics, Electrodynamics and Quantum Mechanics.
    --Alex--
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2004
  6. May 19, 2004 #5
    Oh! by the way, your accent sounds British. If you are in the U.K., some of what I said may not apply (GRE, etc.). I am in the USA.
    Did you see my reply on the other thread? (Jobs for physics...)
    --Alex--
     
  7. May 19, 2004 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Actually, the GRE is the EASIEST part of the whole admission process. Every physics department offering a Ph.D program in the US has their own qualifying/preliminary exams in which the incomming Ph.D candidates MUST pass, typically within the first two year. The difficulty and length of the exams depends highly on each dept. I've seen one that runs over two days, covering 4 different subjects, to one that's on 5 consecutive days. The subject matter covers all the undergraduate level physics areas, and sometime may even include 1st year graduate classes. All candidates have to pass this exam or they can't continue.

    For most of us who have gone through the ringer, this is the WORST part of the many requirements of getting a Ph.D. Thus, even if one gets accepted into a Ph.D program, if one is weak or lacking in the undergraduate knowledge of physics, one would certainly has this very big obstacle to over come. There are many graduate students who spend the 1st year of their graduate program re-taking advanced undergraduate classes simply to study and pass the qualifier. It is why I asked the originator on why he would think a M.Sc in math would improve his chances for a physics Ph.D.

    Zz.
     
  8. May 19, 2004 #7

    NSX

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    What is this GRE?
     
  9. May 19, 2004 #8

    jcsd

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    rattis, that is exactly what I did (except I took a Chemistry A-level as well as the other 3, whichj I don't recommend as I spent almost as much time on Chemistry as the other 3 combined as you'll find that the workload can be pretty variable across A-levels), unfortunately I didn't finish my MPhys.
     
  10. May 19, 2004 #9
    A masters in math wouldn't prepare me for a ph.d. program in physics, but I am unable to get a degree in physics, and I figured I could take some undergrad classes while working toward a masters in math.
     
  11. May 19, 2004 #10
    Well, I really think we should make some changes to GRE the way it is. I am not boasting, but I had always won the highest score in the all the English exams when I was a college student. However, I only got the score of 1960 while full score is 2400 in GRE. My classmates, I believe whose English is no better than me, always score more than 2200 in GRE. But I did well in TOEFL. I can get more than 630 easily. The reason is that GRE demands energy too much. I had to sit before the computer for more than 3 hours to finish the test. It is awful. Do we have to eat the whole egg in order to know that if the egg is bad or not? Actually I just wonder if we can test someone's IQ with a few questions, then why should we ask him with so many?
     
  12. May 19, 2004 #11
    Concern yourself with actual learning. "One must try"
     
  13. May 20, 2004 #12
    NSX:
    GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. This is an exam that you have to take in the US before you apply for admission to PhD programs.
    Physics students have to take two exams, the general one and the physics GRE.
    I don't know if they got something similar in the UK.
    According to Zapper, the qualification exams are much harder than the physics GRE, but I guess it must help to study for the GRE to later take the qualifying exam.

    pt17:
    If you want to study math but take some physics courses, I think any university will let you take some electives. You can not take "Physics" as a course because it doesn't exist at this level. But you can take classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, statistical/thermal physics, electrodynamics, relativity, atomic theory, etc. If you are not into physics, these courses may turn out to be kind of hard. I would find out what books they use and look at them at the library, (or at the bookstore) to get an idea of what you are getting into.
     
  14. May 20, 2004 #13

    ZapperZ

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    Actually, there are many physics dept. that only RECOMMEND that you take the GRE General and Subject tests. So there are many cases where it isn't even required. When it is required though is usually if you are applying for any kind of assistantship. Then both the General and the Subject tests are typically required.

    Zz.
     
  15. May 20, 2004 #14

    TeV

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    What sort of questions is GRE consisted of (for a Ph.D. candidate in US)?Relating just Physics/science or something ?
    Thanks
     
  16. May 21, 2004 #15

    ZapperZ

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    The GRE is like the SAT but for students applying for graduate school. In the US, a "graduate school" is any post-baccalaureate degree, such as Masters and Doctoral degrees.

    The GRE has many different areas. Almost everyone takes the GRE General test. This test evaluates basic comprehension, math (VERY basic for any science/engineering/math students since this test is also taken by non-science/engineering/math majors), logic (is this still in there?), etc. I think this is used loosely by most physics to see if the candidate has the ability to "read, write, and count" (very crude, I know). My personal opinion here is that they use this in the case where the student is on the borderline, especially when there are very many applicants. I also think they use this an additional evaluation of international students to see if they are able to comprehend slightly more advanced communication ability beyond the TOEFL test.

    The GRE subject test is a different test. You take the test in the subject area that you want to major in. So if you want to go to graduate school majoring in physics, you take the physics subject test. My guess is that this is more useful than the General test as far as helping your admission application. Note that both tests (General and Subject) are multiple choice. The major difference being (at least when I took it eons ago), was that you can blindly guess at the answer in the general test without penalty, whereas in the subject test, you get penalized (1/3 of a point?) for each wrong answer. So sometime, if you have no clue on the answer to a question, it's better not to answer. :)

    If you receive your B.Sc degree from a good school, and you have excellent grades and letter of recommendations, there's a good chance that your GRE scores will not play a major part in your acceptance into a physics graduate program (unless, of course, you're applying to Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UofC, etc. that routinely gets hundreds to thousands of applications each year). However, if you're in the middle of the pack, I think a strong GRE scores can enhance your application. Unfortunately, it's a double-edge sword. A weak score can also bring it down.

    Zz.
     
  17. May 21, 2004 #16

    TeV

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    Thanks for the infos Zapper
     
  18. May 21, 2004 #17

    Haelfix

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    Or if you are like somepeople I know :wink: , you might think the physics GRE is the worst thing in the world. Completely trivial problems with an absurd time limit.. I did ok (after months of study) but it wasn't stellar, only average in the department. I aced the physics competency test without even studying for it though.

    Fortunately, I managed to get into all the good schools b/c of the research I did as an undergrad, but the GRE does help considerably.

    Some people are precisely the opposite, and find the physics GRE to be cake walk, like the SAT. I personally despise those tests, as im not a good test taker in general.
     
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