1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Brushing up on undergrad, preparing for Master's

  1. Oct 15, 2011 #1

    I currently have an undergraduate degree in physics, with a slightly subpar undergraduate GPA (didn't take it seriously enough, but the real world and bills due is a good motivator now). I want to make up for it by doing well on the physics GRE, and applying as a post graduate with aims for a Master's degree. To do so, over the next 6-8 months I will be going over ALL of my old undergraduate material (I now have a job that has much downtime, I can basically focus on it for 4-5 hours a night reliably, 4 days a week).

    To get ready, I want to know what areas if any I should specifically focus on. I decided that the first subject I'd go over is Math Methods in the Physical Sciences. Within this subject, we went over:
    • complex numbers
    • vector analysis
    • fourier series
    • ordinary differential equations
    • partial differential equations
    Would this cover everything I should know as an undergrad (I also have taken mathematics up to an undergrad degree, but never bothered to finish a senior project req for that major)? I don't question my undergraduate curriculum, but other chapters in the book cover other things that I could look at as well:
    • infinite and power series
    • linear equations and matrices
    • coordinate transformations and tensor analysis
    • calculus of variation
    • gamma, beta,error functions and asymptotic series
    • legendre polynomials and series solutions to diff eqs, bessel functions
    • complex variables
    • integral transforms, probability

    After I complete this I will focus on classical mechanics, qm, e&m, optics, thermodynamics, modern physics. I took other classes such as electronics, nonlinear dynamics, general physics, but will I need to focus on these subjects for GRE or graduate study?
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2011 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    From my experience of applying for Physics, finding a Master's program is actually not so easy. At least almost all the graduate schools I looked at required you to go for the Ph.D. and would offer a master's only if you didn't completely your Ph.D.

    As far as GRE goes, Classical Mech, QM, E&M, Thermo is a good base. It occasionally asks you questions on random other parts of physics like Astrophysics, or Nuclear physics, but these are rare and they don't expect you to know them all anyways. Non-linear dynamics is definitely not covered on the GRE, and electronic circuits would only be covered to a small degree (resistors, capacitors, and inductors are pretty much it). The most complicated circuit question you will find would be something like using Kirchoff's rules, or analyzing a LRC circuit.

    As far as math goes, I think you are fine.

    I took the GRE like 2 years ago though, so I've forgotten a little bit...

    The GRE website has a list of all the topics. You should go there to check.
  4. Oct 15, 2011 #3
    That's sort of unfortunate to hear. My occupation would cover some graduate course work costs, but I don't know if 7 years of PhD is for me. I just want to actually work in the field of physics at some point (well realistically engineering or computer stuff from what I've been reading).

    From undergraduate research I do know some of the professors at universities I'd apply at. I just hoped it was a matter of convincing them my grades don't reflect my abilities as they did upon graduation.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2011
  5. Oct 15, 2011 #4

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    There tend to be two kinds of physics graduate schools: those that offer a MS only, and those that offer a PhD but award the MS only en route (or to students who do not complete the program). The one program leading towards a terminal MS at a PhD-granting institution that I am aware of is from the University of Washington.
  6. Oct 15, 2011 #5
    Is M.S. only in physics a viable career path? I've changed my plans so many times one more time wouldn't matter. Would I be much more likely to get a job with an masters to warrant the effort and cost?

    The reason I'm attempting this route is because I do not have the money to go back to undergraduate to retake classes and boost my GPA. I just want to learn what I should of the first time on my own, then prove myself during a post grad. If you know offhand, is post-grad possible for PhD runs, or is that primarily for M.S.?
  7. Oct 16, 2011 #6

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    An MS in physics is a degree in an academic discipline. It's not a pre-professional degree, and it's certainly not a guarantee of a job. Like anyone else, you'll have to convince a prospective employer that it's more advantageous for him to employ you than to keep the salary in his pocket.

    If you don't have the money for more undergrad classes, how are you going to pay for an MS? The UW program I mentioned will cost about $21,000. That's probably on the inexpensive side.
  8. Oct 16, 2011 #7
    Maybe I should say I don't have the money for both. But honestly, two years of undergrad is close to two years of grad I'd assume.

    My job I work for now has a tuition reimbursement program for related fields--the real challenge is going to be explaining why a physics degree is beneficial to a document outsourcing company.

    Do I need to learn to program, would you say? My college only required two intro courses in Java for physics majors, which didn't seem to applicable. So besides that and basic Mathematica/LaTeX I might be behind the game in that regard?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook