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Chemistry undergrad wants to go to grad school for Physics

  1. Aug 13, 2010 #1
    I'm going into my last year of my BS in Chemistry and I love physical chemistry (Quantum Mechanics, Thermo, Kinetics). I'm currently doing spectroscopy research at my university. I'm now realizing that I should have been a Physics major from the beginning. Don't get my wrong, I love Chemistry, but I wish I would have started off in Physics and approached the problems I want to research in the future from the point of view of Physics. Basically I want to try and fix this by going to grad school and getting my PhD in Physics. I'm going to start preparing for the Physics GRE and teach myself the areas that I've never had any experience in (mainly Relativity) and hope for the best. Basically I want to know if it's possible for me to get into a respectable Physics program even with my Chemistry program, or am I shooting too high?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 13, 2010 #2
    Doesn't that mean you have to do another 3 or 4 fours in college?
  4. Aug 13, 2010 #3
    Why would I have to go to school 3 or 4 more years, the only area I don't have either experience from classes or research is Relativity.
  5. Aug 13, 2010 #4
    How much E&M do you cover in a chemistry degree?
  6. Aug 13, 2010 #5
    In the actual degree not much, but all my research is based around building NMR/EPR and other kinds of spectrometers. I have to deal with Junior level undergrad EM and have have given lots of talks about gaussian beams, wave propagation in a spectrometer apparatus, etc. I've had to self teach it from Griffith's and I'm competent enough that I teach new members that join our group every year.
  7. Aug 14, 2010 #6


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    Well, I did pretty much just that. Started out as a chemistry/C.E. undergrad, got an M.S. in Phys Chem, moved over to chemical physics and got another M.S. and PhD in quantum chemistry, which at the university in question was part of the physics faculty, but there are plenty doing the same stuff we were doing under the banner of chemistry. Physical chemistry, chemical physics, quantum chemistry, atomic/molecular physics and theoretical chemistry is pretty much all the same general area. If you're qualified for one you should be more-or-less qualified for all of 'em. And every field mentioned has a substantial portion of people from a chemistry background. I don't think the field could function properly without folks from both backgrounds, since they supplement each other.

    So a chemistry background doesn't disqualify you from doing phys chem/chem phys at all. The main hurdle we have with recruiting chemistry undergrads is the math, since depending on the program they followed, and their own choices they may not have studied much.

    Special relativity isn't too hard (it's basically just understanding the Lorentz transformation), but if it's your Achilles heel, you better study up on it. It is actually relevant to atomic/molecular stuff. (GR, not so much - I barely know any.)
  8. Aug 14, 2010 #7
    Thank you so much!! Any advice for the Physics GRE?
  9. Aug 14, 2010 #8


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    Well, not really. I can't really know what it is you know and don't. Personally I'd taken basic physics and mechanics and such, and all the math that I could. I've always had a pretty good ability with physics (as long as I knew the math involved).

    I wouldn't be too fixated on it being 'physics' though. I suspect you've got a bit of 'physics envy'. I know I did; most physical chemists who started as chemists probably start thinking like that. It certainly sounds neat to have degrees both in chemistry and physics, as well. But in practice, you'll be doing essentially the same stuff whether or not it's at a chemistry department or physics department.

    They're just labels. I've got a colleague doing quantum chemistry at an organic chemistry department, so his grad students are (on paper) organic chemists. My PhD advisor studied QC back in the 1960's, at a theoretical physics department! So he's a theoretical physicist on paper. And when he retires, they're not going to replace him, as his university is moving the QC groups from physics to chemistry. So in 50 years the label went from theoretical physics to chemical physics to chemistry without changing subject!
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2010
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