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Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.?

  1. Apr 13, 2012 #1
    Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Hey all, first post here... Just thought I'd see if you guys know the answer.

    I'm a sophomore at a super small liberal arts college, so small in fact that we don't even have a physics major (I went here cause of financial reasons and got a full ride for track and field and the honors program).

    However, I am majoring in math and chemistry. I've had 2 summers of research experience in physical chemistry/biophysics and optics/imaging related projects (at Princeton University and a research institute in the Czech Republic - both of these experiences influenced my passion for physics, as well as auditing a physical chemistry class) and I'm currently starting a physical chemistry project for my senior thesis. I will expect to have a summer or two of more research in physical related fields as well.

    I've taken calc based physics at my school, and I have to resort to a nearby university to take modern physics, classical mechanics, optics, and possibly QM. My math background is alright so far - Calc I-III, linear algebra, and vector analysis. I'll have ODE, PDE, complex variables, abstract algebra, probability theory, and more by the time I graduate with my math degree. I also have a 4.0 right now and I plan on graduating with a 4.0 if I stay where I am.

    My question is - given that I will not have a degree in physics, will I be able to get into a masters program for physics? I'll at least have SOME physics classes (I will not be able to take E&M at the local university due to the rarity in which it is offered). I also do a lot of self studying -I started with Taylor's Classical Mechanics which I've finished and digested I've had Griffith's introduction to quantum mechanics and electrodynamics for almost a year and I practice regularly.

    I would like to get a masters in physics so I can go on to a graduate program in chemical physics or physical chemistry and have a sufficient physics background. I realize I could get a good background just by self study, which I've been doing. However, I think the masters degree would help me get into chemical physics/physical chemistry programs like MIT or Stanford (and I would love furthering my knowledge on the subject anyway).


    So is it possible to get into a masters program for physics, given my relatively weak physics background? I'm considering transferring to a school where the math and physics are supreme, but I don't want to make any drastic decisions yet.



    EDIT: Just to clarify future goals, I want to do physical chemistry/chemical physics research (in case it wasn't obvious). Hopefully I would do this as a professor in academia, as I simply love the subject and I love working with it even more. However, research in industry or any other avenue would also be appealing. I've also considered applying to MD/PhD programs in biophysics but I'm not sure because it doesn't seem as interesting as pure physical chemistry/chemical physics research, and I could not see myself as a practicing physician not doing research.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
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  3. Apr 13, 2012 #2

    lisab

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    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    You may find some helpful information here:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=64966

    Do you plan on applying directly to any chemistry grad schools for p-chem, right after your undergrad? If I understand your post, you say you want to do a physics master's first to be a better candidate to study p-chem in grad school. But it sounds to me like you're going to be a strong candidate right out of undergrad.
     
  4. Apr 13, 2012 #3

    lisab

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    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Oh, and welcome to PF :smile:!
     
  5. Apr 13, 2012 #4
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Thanks! Yes I'd like to get a master's in physics just so I could take some advanced physics courses before I start studying p-chem at a graduate level. The reason is only because my goals for graduate school are high - MIT, Standford and other top math/physics schools criteria for students looking to go into quantum/physical chemistry include a strong background in physics as well. In fact, most of the students that work in a physical chemistry lab are physics majors.

    I'm aware I could take physics classes at the graduate school I go to (and I'd be required to for p-chem), but I really think a masters in physics will help me catch up in what I'm currently missing at my college.

    I was just wondering if math or chemistry majors can get into masters programs in physics
     
  6. Apr 13, 2012 #5
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    How come all these people want to do physics grad chool but never physics undergrad?
     
  7. Apr 13, 2012 #6
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Here's an obvious question - why not just apply to a graduate program in chemical physics to start? They're likely going to mandate that you take graduate classical mechanics and electrodynamics (at the level of Goldstein and Jackson, respectively), and your year of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics can be either in the chemistry or physics departments. This, at least, is how it worked at my graduate alma mater, and my impression is that this sort of curriculum is fairly typical.

    Most of the physical chemists I know were (bio)chemistry majors as undergraduates. Maybe a physics and/or math minor, a few double majors of some sort - of which you have the most common pairing among my close long-time friends & acquaintances (chem & math) - but not the majority. I am a dirty irreverent biophysicist/biochemist who ended up as a biophysical chemist, in fact. :cool:
     
  8. Apr 13, 2012 #7
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    why don't you read my first post
     
  9. Apr 13, 2012 #8
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Biophysical chemistry seems like such an interesting field :cool: what did you study in undergrad??? I could TRY to go straight into a chemical physics program, but I was worried about not getting in because of my lack of physics at my school and the programs seem competitive in regards to PROOF of success in those areas.
     
  10. Apr 14, 2012 #9
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    You certainly could get into a physics masters program with your qualifications. You could, if you like, also jump straight to a PhD in chemistry and get a masters along side your chemistry PhD. Generally, you can get a masters in physics if you are accepted to any PhD program in a school.
     
  11. Apr 14, 2012 #10
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    :bugeye: I wasn't aware that you could do that... I guess I don't know how grad school works. Well that's a good idea then thanks!
     
  12. Apr 14, 2012 #11
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    I don't know if thats how all schools are, but the ones I was considering all allowed one to do that. It was important to me because I too want to get a masters in physics while on route to a PhD in chemistry.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  13. Apr 14, 2012 #12
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    I was a biochemistry major with a minor in chemistry (and a few credits shy of a minor in physics). My graduate work was in physical chemistry, albeit on a large, ill-behaved biological macromolecule and its ligands.

    If you get a masters' degree in physics, then my suggestion for a chemical physics graduate program becomes a bit redundant, in a manner of speaking. You will take classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum, and stat mech, and whatever else is required for a master's degree in physics.
     
  14. Apr 14, 2012 #13
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    So did you get your PhD in chemistry or physical chemistry? Also, how much research experience did you have as an undergrad?
     
  15. Apr 14, 2012 #14
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    At most US schools with which I am passingly or intimately familiar, there is no separate program in physical chemistry (although certainly separate programs for chemical physics, as I've noted earlier, which are typically joint affairs between the chemistry and physics departments). I have a PhD in chemistry, and list it as such on my CV. I once wrote a resume where I mentioned something like "Emphasis in physical and biophysical chemistry" so as to get those keywords in, but that's just marketing.

    I had about two solid years of research experience prior to starting graduate school, of which about a third was as a research tech after graduation in my undergraduate lab (I graduated a term late compared to others in my starting cohort). They let me play with lasers and liquid helium for all that time. It was glorious. :!!)
     
  16. Apr 14, 2012 #15
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    That is glorious :!!) Another question - do you know if getting into a p-chem lab requires a STRONG background in physics as an undergrad?
     
  17. Apr 14, 2012 #16
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    So you still want to get a masters in physics even though you can just take those classes in grad school?
     
  18. Apr 15, 2012 #17
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Sorry if I wasn't clear. I am going to a PhD program in chemistry come Fall, but while I am doing the chemistry thing I want to take a lot of physics courses - E&M, mechanics, quantum, qft, stat mech and atomic physics - which is more than enough to get a masters, so why not get the masters? It's not so much that I want the degree as much as the courses though.
     
  19. Apr 15, 2012 #18
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    I see. That sounds like exactly something I would like to do. Do you wanna do p-chem research?
     
  20. Apr 15, 2012 #19
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Not especially, at least in my observations. You should have a solid understanding of elementary physics (by which I mean the typical calculus-based intro sequence every aspiring scientist and engineer experiences) and physical chemistry. Clearly, research experience in physical chemistry is helpful, but not essential. I lost track of how many p. chemists I've known who were originally plotting on doing synthesis or something rather non-physical a long time ago.

    Admittedly, there might be certain labs that tend towards being a refuge for physicists, but I don't think it's quite as common as you seem to suspect, based on your posts here. I've mentioned this on here before - undergraduate degrees are fairly "undifferentiated" in general. As someone with a chemistry degree, in principle, you could pursue anything from natural product synthesis to ultrafast chemical dynamics.
     
  21. Apr 15, 2012 #20
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Yup, probably theory.
     
  22. Apr 15, 2012 #21
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    how much physics preparation did you have as an undergrad? I mean what classes did you miss out on (E&M, QM, etc.)
     
  23. Apr 15, 2012 #22
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Another question - sorry... But did your senior thesis have anything to do with p-chem? I would like to do something like that at my school, but the only senior projects available are synthesis. Would doing a non-p-chem related senior thesis hurt my chances of getting into a p-chem lab?
     
  24. Apr 15, 2012 #23
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    I didn't do a senior thesis, I literally had one summer of research (in some theory project) where I had literally no results because I spent the entire summer going over background leading to the project.

    I couldnt see non p chem research hurting you. The point of undergraduate research is to get a taste for what research is like, not to actually prep yourself to become a physical chemist.

    In the physics department, I didn't take quantum, E&M, 2nd quarter of mechanics or thermal physics, but I took several graduate classes in the chemistry department on stat mech, quantum, molecular spectroscopy as well as the graduate mathematical methods for physicists and lie algebras, which covered a lot of physics. Based on my coursework, if I went to a PhD in physics Id have ENORMOUS gaps in E&M but the chemistry department covered most everything else I would of done in physics that I missed.

    I would not feel adequately prepared for a PhD in physics but it'd be manageable with a very rough first quarter.
     
  25. Apr 15, 2012 #24
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Dang my school doesn't offer graduate classes, but I will have a major in math. Do you think I could get accepted into a theoretical/physical lab with classes like ODE, PDE, linear algebra, complex variables, vector calculus, probability theory, etc. etc. and classical mechanics? My school just doesn't offer anything more advanced :(
     
  26. Apr 15, 2012 #25
    Re: Can I go from Chemistry/Math B.S. to Physics M.A./M.S.???????

    Probably. That's what I did too, complex, PDE's, etc, etc and I imagine it helped but maybe not a lot.

    Other people can tell you more accurately what admission committees like, but I wouldn't worry too much about your courses - just take what you can. You want to show them you have the potential to be a good researcher and most of that comes from letters of rec and research. So do good in your classes, get involved in research and get to know your professors so they can writ good letters - not just he was in my class and did well.
     
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