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Programs Chemistry BS to Physics PhD

  1. May 20, 2011 #1
    Hello there-
    I graduated in May 2010 with a BS in Chemistry (from US) and various research experience/ publications in materials science (polymers and applications), neuroscience/neurochem. Toward the end of undergrad, I decided I wanted to switch fields but I was not sure what my specific academic interests were.

    I found a one year physics internship which I started in Aug, and a few months into it I decided I wanted to pursue lasers/optics/atomic physics. I did not take any GRE exams in fall because I was still exploring the field- was not ready to commit to graduate school. In Spring, I decided I wanted to start grad school in atomic physics in fall. I searched around and found some interesting research abroad at a top school (their deadlines are later). I sent out emails to three professors w/ a CV, and heard back from one. He said he had people in his group with Nuclear Engineering and Chemical Physics backgrounds, and told me to go ahead and apply based on my research background, and to take GRE- i took GRE and did fine (760q, couldn't sign up for pGRE in time). He then organized an in person interview with a local collaborator, who I got along with very well and found the research intriguing. This prof even said, let me know if you have any questions before you talk to PI and I will send a good rec on your behalf. I then had two skype interviews with the PI i contacted as well as another department prof. When I talked to the PI, he said he noticed my GPA is a bit low (3.3) but that it still fits the admission reqs and that he doesn't care as long as we go over my coursework. The other prof asked me some technical questions (surprisingly mostly chemistry) like to explain zeeman effect, what do spectroscopic emission lines indicate, what types of spectroscopy have i been exposed to and describe, what do you know about lasers and how they work. Overall, I felt that these interviews went well. After this, they said wait 2-3 weeks. I get a letter in the mail that says, rejected.

    I emailed the PI and asked for details regarding the decision and he said the committee decided not to accept me because of GPA (lower than for US admits) and because of minimal overlaps in coursework. He said they were impressed by my research background/ supporting recs and that I would be a strong candidate for a chem program.

    Here are my questions:

    -Why did he bother interviewing me if he knew GPA & coursework would affect the committee decision- what was he expecting for me to show him in the interviews?
    -Should I retake my GRE to get a better quant score?
    -Would a high score on the physics GRE show that I have the physics ability needed to succeed in a physics PhD? or do I need to go ahead and look for some masters program?
    -What are some possible PhD programs that may be within the chem department but really involve more time in experimental/applied/lasers physics areas? other than the obvious physical chemistry, I would like to know about specific programs if anyone here may know off the top of their heads.
    -How can I best set up this year once my job ends in August in order to be successful in applications for AMO physics or applied physics?

    Thank you very much.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2011 #2


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    Your GPA is going to be the limiting factor in where you get accepted to. 3.3 is low for pretty much every Physics PhD program I've ever heard of, and as a Chemistry B.S. you aren't qualified ni the first place.
  4. May 20, 2011 #3
    That may be true, but I was still considered (he saw my transcript before he set up all the interviews). I am more focused on what I can do to improve my app for physics PhD, I can't really change my undergrad GPA at this point.
  5. May 20, 2011 #4
    Man, the fact of the matter is that graduate school is very tough to get into right now, and has been for the past couple of years. I had a 3.8 GPA in physics, good GRE scores, and lots of research experience. I was rejected by most of the schools I applied to, and many of my friends who have applied throughout the past couple of years (with similar backgrounds) have had significant troubles. Most schools are accepting <5% of applicants, and remember that the US is a destination for many international students. You not only have to beat out the students you knew and studied with, but students from all over the world. Even if you're bright, and have been in research papers, you're certainly not the only one.

    * They won't care about your main GRE scores (above 750 is fine).
    * Take the pGRE and do well
    * Get some awesome recommendations
    * Explain why your GPA is bad, and what makes you more qualified than someone with a 3.8
    * Get lucky

    If you have trouble getting any of the above things done, you will need to look at some lower tier schools if you want to enter into grad school anytime soon. You could always wait.

    If you really want in, here's the a cheap trick: try and find a professor in physics with research you like, try to get into his lab (even offer free work), and do really good job.
  6. May 26, 2011 #5
    Thanks for your input. Do you think there are any essential courses that are necessary to fill in gaps?

    I have not taken PDE/Fourier series class, for example. Is that something I should seek out?
  7. May 26, 2011 #6
    The essential courses for a Physics Ph.D are:


    - Calculus I-III
    - Linear Algebra
    - Differential Equations
    - Partial Differential Equations
    - Useful: Complex Analysis, Differential Geometry, or Topology


    - Classical Mechanics
    - Quantum Mechanics
    - Electromagnetism
    - Relativity: Special and General
    - Useful: Particle Physics/QFT, Condensed Matter
  8. May 26, 2011 #7
    Just to add on to Kevin's list: for physics, thermodynamics is also a must, and optics is good to know as well. In math, probably a statistics or probability class could be useful, for data analysis and all of that.
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