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Changing fields between undergrad and postgrad

  1. May 21, 2010 #1
    Hello everyone. I have a few questions about postgraduate study. At the moment I'm studying chemical and biological engineering in my third year in a dual degree program, and I have one more year of study after this one before I graduate with honours. I've been doing mostly chemical and biological engineering courses up intil now, as well as some extra courses so that I can select my dual degree in my final year (if I end up doing a dual degree I will have two more years after this one instead of one)

    The extra courses mean that I can get a dual degree in chemical and biological engineering and either physics or mathematics just by specialising my courses in the last year.

    I want to commence study in a physics PhD program after I graduate, but am unsure exactly what undergrad degree(s) to stick out. I can graduate a year earlier if I just finish my chemical and biological engineering degree, but am unsure if I would be able to go straight into a physics PhD program. Or I can study undergrad for an extra year and graduate with a phys/math degree plus my engineering degree.

    I'd really like to get out of undegrad as quickly as possible, but am unsure if I could get into physics with just a chem and biol engineering degree.

    Does anyone have any advice for me about my options?

    P.S. I am mostly interested in studying physics from an information-theory point of view. I have a few years experience in a software development job related to chemical engineering and when I graduate I will have a few more years experience. My job has taught me a great deal about engineering and forms of information, and given my study in biology, chemical engineering, mathematics, physics and software development I think I'm getting a broad education.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2010 #2
    Yes, you can certainly switch. Make sure you do well on the Physics GRE, and -- if you can still control this aspect of your application -- have good recommendations from at least 1 or 2 professors of physics.

    You didn't specify which area of physics you are interested in. I think it does matter to some extent, when you write it in your SOP. If there's an overlap with your current major, then there are greater chances of getting a favorable response from an admissions committee. I reckon biophysics and/or chemical physics will be 'easier' to get into, and possibly even condensed matter. But there is no 'formula' for getting into a grad school, so don't feign interest in something you don't want to pursue. If your interest is in high energy physics, no matter how far away it may seem from your current major, I think you should still go for it rather than claiming fascination for biophysics.

    Nanotechnology is another upcoming area practiced in many physics departments, and people doing such work will definitely welcome someone with your background.

    By information theory, do you mean the kind of information theory we study in EE/computer science? You might want to look at fields such as quantum computation and statistical physics in that case, in particular.
  4. May 22, 2010 #3
    I'm in Australia so I don't know if we have a GRE or something equivalent. I don't know any of my professors since I don't really go to class, but I have good marks. References have always been a problem for me, but I guess I can ask my supervisors at work.

    I'm very interested in statistical physics - statistical mechanics is a large component of chemical engineering and I'm very interested in the idea of gravity as an entropic force. I think I'd like to do research in a field along those lines.

    I've taken a few nanotech courses, as I started uni wanting to do chemical and biological engineering and nanotechnology as my second degree to go into prosthetic organs research, but I don't think I want to do that any more.

    I'm mostly concerned about whether or not I can get a physics PhD scholarship with just the chem and biol eng degree. I'll have some research experience (probably in biological or nanotech) by the time I graduate but I'm not sure how relevant that is.
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