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Change of Career Path Between Undergrad and Grad School

  1. Aug 26, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I have a question on applying to graduate school to study a different field than one studied for their undergrad degree.

    Specifically, I am due to graduate from a Boston area school with a combined electrical engineering / physics degree. I have an A/A- average, solid GRE scores, and rather diverse research experience (well, for a EE anyway...). The last time I took a chemistry class was high school AP chem. I can be more specific with my details if it helps.

    I would like to study in the area of applied nuclear physics in grad school. In most places, this topic of study does not fall under physics, but under nuclear science or nuclear engineering. For example, at MIT, this field falls within the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. At UC Berkeley, it is mostly covered by the nuclear engineering department, with the addition of a few researchers in their Department of Chemistry.

    Is it feasible for me to make the jump from an EE/physics background to nuke eng. or chem? I feel like I would have better luck applying to a nuclear engineering department... Or do I need to look for something I find interesting, but is closer to home?

    Thank you for any insight you may have into my conundrum.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2012 #2


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    I think your best bet would be to contact the graduate departments you're really interested in at this point, tell them what courses you're enrolled in and see what they say. In general it doesn't seem like the kind of improbable jump from say a BA in psychology to a PhD in astrophysics. Depending on the department and your qualifications, they may have you take one or two extra courses to catch up, once you're admitted.
  4. Aug 27, 2012 #3
    Hey Choppy,

    Thanks for the advice. I'll definitely start asking around, and I am somewhat relieved to know I'm not the only one making such jumps.

  5. Aug 27, 2012 #4
    Take this with a grain of salt, but this and this would suggest that a background in the physical sciences and/or engineering is suitable for graduate studies in nuclear engineering, which corresponds to my anecdotal observations (my undergrad alma mater had a nuclear engineering program, and my impression is that Nuc. Eng. programs aren't *that* common relative to other engineering areas, and the graduate programs will generally take qualified applicants with backgrounds in physical sciences or other areas in engineering).

    Of course, contacting the departments is certainly the best idea.
  6. Aug 28, 2012 #5
    Jumping between fields is super common. People do it all the time, because most people don't have a lot of visibility of the world or experience when they make their first choice.

    Given that you can get the target department to accept you, the only consequence is you will probably need some remedial coursework that will take some time.

    Good luck!
  7. Aug 29, 2012 #6
    Mike H and carlgrace, thank you for your replies. What I am hearing from the departments I have asked is in agreement with your observations. Unfortunately, my institution does not have a Nuc. Eng. department. Otherwise the thing to do would be to start the catching up now...

    In any case, thanks again for sharing your experiences.
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