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  1. Jul 15, 2009 #1
    From EE to Applied Physics...grad school app, undergraduate courses, no research


    I'm a senior undergraduate majoring in Electrical Engineering with a CGPA of 3.84/4.0 (normalized to a scale of 4 -- at my college its on a scale of 10). I'll be entering my final year in a few weeks from now. Apart from the core and professional EE courses, I have taken two courses in Quantum Mechanics from the Physics department, and am presently registered to take Quantum Field Theory and Relativity as electives next semester. I have the necessary background (more or less) in classical mechanics and electrodynamics, PDEs, tensor manipulations, Fourier Transforms, etc.

    Unfortunately, I don't have "A" specific area interest. I am interested in several things, most notably electronic circuits, device physics, and high energy physics. I know all these are very different areas and people usually get to work in one of these fields. I intend to pursue a PhD in Physics (or Applied Physics or even EE) with some hopes of working in one of these fields. My interest in physics is not a passing interest, but I apart from courses and self-reading I haven't had any "research" exposure. I do not have an REU exposure in physics and my summer projects have been very basic.

    I have several questions, but for the time being, I want to know

    (a) How much do REUs influence grad school admissions?
    (b) Are there areas which would benefit from academic preparations in both experimental circuit design and measurement as well as theoretical areas such as quantum mechanics and quantum field theory in particular?
    (For instance, in grad school, can I work on something which is quite experimental involving circuit design, device physics as well as analytical/theoretical quantum field theory?)

    I am proficient in C/C++, Java, MATLAB, Mathematica, and am familiar with general computational techniques for solving physical/mathematical problems, finite element methods, etc. But as I have not worked in an REU or an "official" summer project, I do not have any publications in journals or conference proceedings to highlight.

    I am yet to the GRE..will probably do so in a few months. I would appreciate any advice or suggestions which might help me choose my courses wisely. Since I have only 4-5 months before I apply to grad school, I want to be sure of what I can and cannot do with my present level of academic preparation, so I do not end up chasing a wild dream.

    Last edited: Jul 15, 2009
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  3. Jul 15, 2009 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: From EE to Applied Physics...grad school app, undergraduate courses, no research

    They are helpful, but many people are accepted without them. It is important to do research, as it puts some meat on your recommendations, and it exposes you to what you'll be doing in a career in physics. If you decide that's not what you want to do

    Probably not.
  4. Jul 15, 2009 #3
    Could you get into the design of particle accelerators? There's a lot of electrical engineering involved there! If you do that you would be expected to have some understanding of particle physics without having to do cutting edge theory. You seem to have more interest & experience in QFT than the average EE student. Get hold of some experimental particle physicists and ask them if your EE experience could advance you in that direction. Your desire to do serious theoretical work *as well* as experimental design smacks of hubris. I've never heard of anyone doing that since Enrico Fermi. If you ask a serious experimentalist if you can do both he might look at you as if you are daft. I would choose one route, and EE circuit design for experimental particle physics would surely be what your CV equips you for... (Also, you could do "theory" as a hobby, while building a particle accelerator in your back room might get you arrested & blow your bank balance...)
  5. Jul 15, 2009 #4
    Having done an REU or similar experience certaintly helps, but it won't keep you out. It seems to me that you are taking some classes that most don't take until graduate school, so that is a benefit to you. Continue to try and do what you want to do, as there are always programs out there to support you. I just did a quick Google search for applied physics. Check out http://www.stanford.edu/dept/app-physics/" and see if there is anything there that interests you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  6. Jul 15, 2009 #5
    Hi everyone, thank you for replying..

    Don't take this personally, but don't you think this is rather strong. I was merely asking if there are problems which could be tackled (not right now!) which involve experimental work with an aim to verify field theoretic predictions-- e.g. in small channel devices, or nanoelectronic devices. I believed that this would require a decent understanding of both circuit design/instrumentation/measurement on one hand and some appreciation of basic field theory (please point out my mistake in thinking so). For instance, I came across some papers on microchips used as quantum electrodynamic probes where the Casimir effect was predicted to set in at sub-10 nm range in existing microchips and mems devices. This was way back in '87 I think. I was just asking if such work could be pursued with a cross-exposure to EE and physics courses.

    In my post, I merely stated the courses and exposure I have had to indicate my interests. I was not being proud in any way. At my school, the courses I listed are all taken by undergraduates and so I am in no way jumping the gun to take graduate courses, nor do I claim to have any experience in experimental physics. I am just keen to learn and keep up my interests, and I probably have a problem because I am not focused in one area. I don't know how your comment about Fermi came in frankly, because I really wanted to project my background so as to give you folks a better idea so that you could advise me better.

    Anyway, thank you for your comments. When I was researching for a presentation I had to give for an in-college summer research "project", I chose the topic on investigating Casimir effect in solid state devices. As you can appreciate, it was mostly a review of what work had been done without going into the gory details since I did not know field theory or the mathematical treatment of the Casimir effect. At the time, I came across papers like the one I referred to above and I thought there might be related areas where experimental investigations can be carried out and perhaps I could try and take up something like that in future -- thereby allowing me to keep up my serious interest in QFT while also letting me do experiments.

    Once again, my apologies if I sounded rude or proud, but I really see nothing wrong in having a serious interest or desire to do theory and experiment :confused:. I didn't say I can do both (or either). But if I must make a choice, I need much more time to figure out...until then, I need to expose myself to both...what is wrong with that?

    Well, I'll just accept that as \sarcasm\.

    (No offense mal4mac, but I hope you see the point I'm trying to make.)

    n!kofeyn, thanks for the info about the Applied Physics program at Stanford and the encouragement. I'll keep it in mind. Also, the particular field theory course I was referring to is a basic introductory course aimed at undergraduates, and so are the two quantum mechanics courses I took -- purely out of interest. So I really haven't taken any graduate courses.

    I had a shot at an REU, but somehow it did not work out. So the whole purpose of these questions was to get some idea of how much the lack of an REU would matter. As I said, I have no "formal" research exposure. I have worked on simple problems under advisors, but nothing which would qualify as a proper/long-term REU.

    Seems like a good idea. I thought about this early on in my sophomore year, but there is no experimental particle physicist in my university and I reckoned it would be something that would work out only during or after PhD. But now that you say, I'll think about this again. Thanks.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2009
  7. Jul 15, 2009 #6
    Whether or not it is a graduate course, I think being exposed to QFT at the undergraduate level is good. I'm curious, what book will be used?

    Don't worry about not having an REU at this point. It sounds like you have one year left, correct? If so, try to line up a senior thesis or year long project with a professor. Even if you don't complete it before your applications will be complete, it will show that you are interested in doing independent work and a professor thinks enough of you to participate.

    I also think mal4mac was being rude. I don't think it is a good idea to discourage someone from doing what they want to do, especially just because it appears ambitious. God forbid somebody not do what everyone else thinks is accomplishable. Just look at the biography of any successful scientific figure, and at some point they were told they couldn't do what they ended up accomplishing (the figures in my mind are Nikola Tesla and Richard Feynman).
  8. Jul 15, 2009 #7
    From what I gather, Peskin & Schroeder, https://www.amazon.com/First-Quantum-Field-Theory-Second/dp/0849338972", Itzykson & Zuber will be the textbooks that will be used. I was told that the course will not have a single textbook. But since it is an introductory course, it will be up to Chapter 4 (Interacting Fields and Feynman Diagrams) or Chapter 5 (Elementary Processes of Quantum Electrodynamics) of Peskin & Schroeder.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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