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Programs EE/Physics Undergrad to Medical Physics Grad?

  1. Jul 13, 2016 #1
    Good morning all,

    I’m about to enter my sophomore year of college, and after doing a significant amount of job research, a career in medical physics appears very interesting to me. The idea of using applied physics to have a direct, positive impact upon people’s lives sounds pretty neat. That being said, I have a few questions about the route I’d need to take to get there academically that I hope someone can help me with.

    I’m currently an Electrical Engineering student. As I’ve only completed my freshman year, I haven’t gotten too far in to this program—still, I enjoy math and the physical sciences (and I especially enjoyed the introductory calculus-based EM physics course I took during my second semester), as well as applying them in the real world. My university offers a program where, with the addition of relatively few classes, one can obtain both a B.S. in EE and also a B.A. in Physics, and I’m strongly considering taking that route (here’s a pdf link to a sample schedule for that program: http://www.stthomas.edu/media/engin...pdfs/PhysicsBAElectricalEngineeringBS2015.pdf )

    From looking at different medical physics graduate programs online, it seems that the majority of them require either a degree in physics, or a degree in engineering or another hard science with the equivalent of at least a physics minor. This course of study would seem to at least satisfy the second requirement, and perhaps the first as well depending upon the school.

    The reason the double major appeals to me requires a bit of explanation with regards to my personal circumstances. I was in the Marines for about five years prior to attending college, so although I’m a sophomore, I’m 24 years old and married. We’re currently making ends meet through my use of the GI Bill and my wife’s career as a registered nurse. Without going into too much detail, we’ve more or less figured out that we aren’t going to be reasonably able to move anywhere else in the country until 2-4 years after I’ve completed my undergraduate degree. This limits some of my options, because there is only one MP program within driving distance for me at the moment (the University of Minnesota’s), and their admission statistics are not encouraging to say the least (unless I’m misinterpreting something, for the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 53 applicants and 4 admittances). Realistically, then, there is an excellent chance that I’ll need to spend 2-4 years working, using whichever undergraduate degree I obtain before we could relocate for me to attend grad school elsewhere. Given that, my current thinking is that it may be prudent to stay the course with the EE degree so that I’d have a more marketable skill for those years.

    I know this is getting rather long, so if you’re still with me now, thanks. Here are my real questions: first, would successful completion of the dual-degree program that I linked to above actually make me competitive for admission into a medical physics program? While I understand that GPA, research experience, letters of recommendation, GRE scores and other stuff will also go into the decision, I’m unsure if not having a bachelor of science in physics would put me at a disadvantage. Would it be better to just bite the proverbial bullet and study only physics? Second, what are the best things to do now that would increase my chances of admission? I keep on hearing that research is a big factor, and I’m planning on trying to get involved with something through my University this next year. I’m also planning on applying to AAPM’s Undergraduate fellowship program for next summer, but I’m not exactly holding my breath (this summer it seems they only admitted 13 people nationally?). Are there other programs/internships/fellowships that I should be looking in to? Finally, is waiting 2-4 years between undergrad and graduate school going to be detrimental to my probability of admission?

    Thank you so much for your time, and sorry that this got so long!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2016 #2


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    1. That combined major program looks like the best of both worlds for you. You would be at no disadvantage against physics applicants with that program as far as I can see. I would probably opt for the experimental methods course in your options.
    2. Yes, getting involved in research is very good. Beyond formal internships, this is the kind of thing you can often get involved in just by asking around. Other things that would help would be getting involved in some kind of collaborative student engineering project or competition. Projects that involve things like image processing, motion tracking, or even just general programming can be seen as an advantage. But in my experience GPA is the first priority.
    3. 2 years - probably not. 4 years - maybe. I think a lot depends on what you're doing in between. If you have a job that has some direct relevance to the field then time off is unlikely to hurt. But if you're flipping burgers for 4 years, you're going to forget a lot.
    I don't know if this is relevant to your situation or not, but when looking at medical physics programs many of them will allow/encourage students to work QA jobs as they study and this acts as a kind of informal financial support. They can't guarantee these positions the same way that a university can guarantee a teaching assistanceship, because ultimately it involves another party (ie. a hospital), and they aren't an option in all programs. But this might be something to look out for or ask about if your reason for holding off is financial.
  4. Jul 14, 2016 #3
    Thank you very much for the reply! It's very good to hear that the program I'm considering at least appears to be a good option. Also, the reason that we're thinking about holding off on moving is indeed partially financial, so the possible QA job opportunities that you mention definitely warrant further investigation on my part.

    I have a question regarding your answer to #3: my plan would be to get a job as an electrical engineer for the years between undergrad and grad school. While this certainly wouldn't be flipping burgers, I honestly don't have enough experience in either Medical Physics or EE to know how relevant the average EE job would be to my planned future studies. I'm sure it depends heavily on the specific job that I'll (hopefully) find, but I was wondering if you had any incite into whether a few years working as an electrical engineer would likely yield any skills transferable to medical physics. I've read that much of clinical medical physics involves keeping LINACs running and properly calibrated, which seems like a task that would benefit from engineering experience, but I simply don't know enough to know if I'm on the right track there.
  5. Jul 14, 2016 #4


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    You're right in that it's going to be position specific, but I think there's potential for a lot of overlap. Personally I feel like a lot of medical physics work is a closer to engineering than what people would typically think of as physics. Experience that's likely to be useful/applicable to a career in medical physics would include:
    - any time involved in a quality management program - setting up and/or performing quality control testing
    - any kind of image processing
    - experience with detection systems (radiation, optical, RF, ultrasound...)
    - projects that involve biometric measurements
    - programming experience
    - project management experience
  6. Jul 15, 2016 #5
    Thank you very much for all of the information! I'll definitely keep those areas in mind once I graduate. You've been extremely helpful, and I feel quite a bit better about my future plans after this discussion.
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