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Chemistry undergrad attempting to go to graduate school in physics

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Summary: Chemistry undergrad attempting to go to graduate school in physics. Would appreciate advice.

Hello, I am in my fourth of five years at a solid school studying chemistry. I changed my major at the start of my third year from economics to chemistry after being inspired by a course in astronomy. I initially wanted to go into physics but the physics curriculum required an extra 1.5 years (5.5 years total) and at the time I was only willing to spend an extra 1 year. Therefore I chose to go into chemistry.
Of course now I am absolutely desperate to study more physics and have decided in order to do that, I should finish my chemistry degree but include as much math and physics as possible to position myself to be admitted to a grad school in physics.

By the time I graduate, I will have taken multi-d calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra for math and general physics I and II and classical mechanics I and II on top of the chemistry.
Also potentially relevant chemistry courses that I will have taken are Physical chemistry I, II, and III (thermo, kinetics, quantum chemistry).
I could really use some advice and/or encouragement as to things I could do in order to get into a mid-range grad school for a terminal MS in physics and then later move to a better school for a PhD.

Thanks in advance.
 
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Here is a list of what is on the physics GRE. Not only will you likely have to take this exam (if you're applying to schools in the US), but it's also a good guideline for topics that should be familiar to anyone entering graduate school in physics. How many of them are you familiar with?
physicsGRE.png


Moreover, if you're applying to mid-range schools you have to ask yourself... why would the admissions committee admit you as a physics student instead of another person who has a higher chance of making it past the qualifying exam?
 

Dr. Courtney

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Have you taken the Physics GRE yet? What was your score?

It's hard to talk meaningfully about grad school with physics majors who have not taken the PGRE, much less Chemistry majors. Post a score in the 80th percentile or higher and you have a chance.
 
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Have you taken the Physics GRE yet? What was your score?

It's hard to talk meaningfully about grad school with physics majors who have not taken the PGRE, much less Chemistry majors. Post a score in the 80th percentile or higher and you have a chance.
Hello, thanks for the response.
I have not taken the GRE yet. I plan to take it next summer which will be the summer before my fifth and last year of undergrad. I have precisely zero knowledge of electricity and magnetism so next summer I will study all areas of physics where I have deficiencies before I take the GRE.
I have all the physics textbooks of my brother (who has a graduate degree in physics) and am confident in my ability to self teach.
 
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Here is a list of what is on the physics GRE. Not only will you likely have to take this exam (if you're applying to schools in the US), but it's also a good guideline for topics that should be familiar to anyone entering graduate school in physics. How many of them are you familiar with?
View attachment 250083

Moreover, if you're applying to mid-range schools you have to ask yourself... why would the admissions committee admit you as a physics student instead of another person who has a higher chance of making it past the qualifying exam?
Hello, thanks for the response.
By the time I graduate, I will have had a full year of classical mechanics, two semesters of quantum chemistry, one semester of thermodynamics. I will have significant deficiencies in all others (except laboratory methods of course).
 

jtbell

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As far as course material is concerned, the "biggies" that most graduate admissions committees look for (as I understand it) are (1) classical mechanics, (2) electromagnetism, (3) quantum mechanics and (4) thermodynammics + statistical mechanics, above the first-year introductory level. You have (1). Your physical chemistry courses probably more or less cover (3) and (4). You're still missing (2).
 

CrysPhys

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Summary:
....
Hello, I am in my fourth of five years at a solid school studying chemistry. I changed my major at the start of my third year from economics to chemistry after being inspired by a course in astronomy. I initially wanted to go into physics but the physics curriculum required an extra 1.5 years (5.5 years total) and at the time I was only willing to spend an extra 1 year. Therefore I chose to go into chemistry.
....
I could really use some advice and/or encouragement as to things I could do in order to get into a mid-range grad school for a terminal MS in physics and then later move to a better school for a PhD.
....
Time for you to hit the pause button, and rethink your strategy. Summary of your strategy so far:

* Started out as an economics major
* Got inspired by a course in astronomy
* In your third year, switched major to chemistry. Not because you really were interested in chemistry. But you were inspired by the course in astronomy to pursue physics. However, switching to physics would have added 1.5 yrs, but chemistry would only add 1 yr, so you chose chemistry. As Mr. Spock would say, "That is not logical." Also, why weren't you inspired by the astronomy course to pursue an astronomy major (is it offered at your school?)?
* Now you want to go to a mid-range school for a terminal MS and then move to a better school for a PhD. Are we talking about grad school in the US, or elsewhere? In the US, the terminal MS does not necessarily shorten your PhD program (depending on the school for the PhD program).

Looks like you're taking an extended route; yet, you weren't willing to spend an extra 0.5 yr to set things up more efficiently.
 
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Time for you to hit the pause button, and rethink your strategy. Summary of your strategy so far:

* Started out as an economics major
* Got inspired by a course in astronomy
* In your third year, switched major to chemistry. Not because you really were interested in chemistry. But you were inspired by the course in astronomy to pursue physics. However, switching to physics would have added 1.5 yrs, but chemistry would only add 1 yr, so you chose chemistry. As Mr. Spock would say, "That is not logical." Also, why weren't you inspired by the astronomy course to pursue an astronomy major (is it offered at your school?)?
* Now you want to go to a mid-range school for a terminal MS and then move to a better school for a PhD. Are we talking about grad school in the US, or elsewhere? In the US, the terminal MS does not necessarily shorten your PhD program (depending on the school for the PhD program).

Looks like you're taking an extended route; yet, you weren't willing to spend an extra 0.5 yr to set things up more efficiently.
I suppose I could have gave more background in my initial post but I did not want it to be too long.
The reason I did not pursue physics although it was only 0.5 years longer was because at the time, I had no college calculus, and no college physics courses under my belt whatsoever. I was a truly terrible student in high school - I failed pre calc, took summer school, and got a C- in calc 1. This really destroyed my confidence in my ability to do well in math ever and therefore thought that I could never do well in college math and physics classes.
Now I am much more confident in math and have gotten A's in my calc I, II and diff. eq.
My reason for getting a terminal MS is that a good school would never admit me to a PhD program in physics with the minimal physics experience that I have. I could get an MS at a school that would admit me and then try to get into a truly excellent school for PhD.
 
Some graduate physics programs will have all students apply for their PhD program. If they are unwilling to offer you admission to the PhD program, they may offer to take you on for an M.S. In this case, or if you applied directly for an M.S., you would generally have to pay to attend. Considering the initial focus you'd probably have to make on remedial coursework as a graduate student, I'm not sure if this route would really be worth it over extending your time in undergrad to cover all your bases, especially since you'd still be paying either way.

As CrysPhys mentioned, entering a PhD program with an M.S. under your belt doesn't necessarily do you much good in the United States. Graduate courses do not transfer nearly as well as undergraduate ones (I've seen cases of graduate students moving even within the UC system who have had to retake all of their previous courses at their new institution), and there isn't much (if any) prestige associated with a Physics M.S. vs. a B.S. in the United States. The greatest benefits would be the understanding from the additional years of coursework, and relevant research experience done while obtaining your M.S.

However, at the level that you're looking at (starting with quite a bit of remedial coursework and experience doing research in physics), it may be easier to achieve those as an undergraduate, since grad courses would likely need to be retaken anyways, were you get into a PhD program at a significantly "better" institution after obtaining a Masters at a "mid-range" program.

A strong ability to self-study physics is always great, but it's very difficult to demonstrate your knowledge without certification. In principle, a non-physics major's application to a physics program could have special attention paid towards the standardized test in physics (the PGRE), to see if they have the basic introductory understanding. However, the Physics GRE is generally accepted as not being particularly useful for predicting success in graduate school (especially as a research assistant) and it's easier for a very poor score to be seen as a red flag than for a very high score to be seen as proof of any deep understanding. Naturally, "certification" in the form of individual course grades has its own flaws (nonstandard grading systems), but it does supplement the physics GRE, which is broad and barely scrapes the surface of topics of most upper-division courses, but is standardized.
 

Dr. Courtney

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... there isn't much (if any) prestige associated with a Physics M.S. vs. a B.S. in the United States. The greatest benefits would be the understanding from the additional years of coursework, and relevant research experience done while obtaining your M.S.
There may not be in most industry jobs, but a MS in addition to a BS is an important distinction when applying for most teaching jobs as well as in one's salary as a teacher. It is also a big deal when qualifying to give expert testimony in court - so it also matters in consulting jobs where courtroom testimony is part of the job.
 

CrysPhys

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It is also a big deal when qualifying to give expert testimony in court - so it also matters in consulting jobs where courtroom testimony is part of the job.
If a physicist is required as an expert witness in court, the legal teams would most likely hire a PhD, not a BS or an MS.
 
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