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Eng undergrad and Physics grad

  1. Dec 27, 2007 #1
    Hi all, new guy here. I am an electrical engineering major but I have really falling in love with physics, astrophysics specifically. I would like to change my major to physics but I am really too far along in my current degree so I decided to just minor in it. I am curious what kind of chances I would have of getting into graduate school for physics with an engineering undergraduate degree. Does anybody here have any first hand experience to pass along? Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2007 #2
    Nobody? I'm just curious if this is even possible or realistic.
  4. Dec 30, 2007 #3
    I have no authentic comment on this becuse I am just an undergrad in mechanical engineering.
    But it sounds NOT impossible for me as long as you demonstrate your interest as well as ability in physics. It will be great if you could participate in some physics research during your undergraduate? This is to convince the admission committee of the physiics department that you do have the ability to do research in physics.
    I think this is the most important thing the admission committee will care.
    Say, if someone with an undergrad in Translation just found a way to prove that Einstein's theory is wrong, I do think he/she will get admitted by the best grad schools still. But perhaps he/she will be required to take some advanced undergrad courses during his/her graduate studies.
    Again, these are just my personal comments, not authentic at all. Hope someone else could give better replies.
  5. Dec 31, 2007 #4
    Well...I'm an astrophysics grad student, so I can provide some linear superposition of first and second hand experience.

    I personally majored in physics, I never took a single astronomy course in undergrad (most of my astro knowledge prior to this Fall semester came from Star Trek), and I applied to grad school in physics. Yet somehow I accidentally got involved in an astrophysics research group last summer, and more or less stumbled into an astro major. I did fine in my summer research and my first semester of classes. So if you're asking whether or not you can handle astrophysics without actually having any undergrad astronomy, the answer is a definite yes.

    Now about the transition from EE to physics. One of the astro students in my department actually got her degree in math. From what she's told me, she took a lot of astronomy courses, but not all that much physics. So yes, it's possible to transition from a non-physics major to a graduate program in physics. At one of the other schools I applied to, there was also a EE undergrad who was doing his MS in physics. As long as you know enough physics to do well on the GRE (which is easily doable with your physics minor), and as long as you have some technical research experience in physics or EE, I would think that you'd be a strong grad school candidate. Your first semester of grad school, they'll probably ask you to take two or three undergrad classes to fill in the gaps in your education, but otherwise, you should be just fine.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2007
  6. Dec 31, 2007 #5
    Thanks for the replies. Basically what I am gathering is that getting into some research during undergrad would probably be the most beneficial thing to do? For my minor I also have to take modern physics and two classes of my choosing. What classes would best prepare me for graduate studies in physics?

    Like I said I am interested in astrophysics, I like reading about it and everything, but I have been wondering if there is an area of physics that my EE experience would be more applicable to?
  7. Dec 31, 2007 #6
    EE would probably be most applicable in condensed matter physics, but the intersection between that and astrophysics is quite small. If you're absolutely set on astrophysics, though, you're in good company. In my own experience, most schools offer, at best, an astronomy track in the physics major. I've never met someone with an undergrad degree specifically in astrophysics, yet I've met plenty of grad students who intend to be astrophysicists; while you'd do well to take in some physics classes, course-wise you aren't too far behind the curve. You might want to stick a couple advanced astronomy classes in your schedule to round out your minor, show your commitment to the field, and get a feel for the way calculation and analytical math is done in physics (which is significantly different from engineering)

    Now, you'll have to prove that you can do physics! Getting involved in physics research is a great way to do that. You'll also have to perform well on the physics GRE, in fact, probably better than other applicants coming from a physics degree. Once you're in though, you're in. Just be sure to check and see what the Q.E.s are like. ;)
  8. Dec 31, 2007 #7


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    One might wish to take some physics courses specifically in astronomy or astrophysics, as well as EM and QM. Perhaps in the EE program, one touched upon Maxwell's equations and EM?

    What comes to mind with a EE degree is perhaps a grad program involved with X-ray or gamma-ray astronomy, and instrumentation.

    As arunma and will.c mentioned, one has to know the physics.
  9. Dec 31, 2007 #8
    I'd recommend electricity and magnetism, as well as quantum mechanics, as Astronuc has suggested. My guess is that he suggested this because most departments have their graduate students start their coursework by taking grauate E&M and quantum. If you've already taken the undergraduate version of these two courses, you can get started on the graduate classes right away. Plus, these classes are somewhat "self-contained." If you've already taken modern physics, then neither course has any other prerequisites besides introductory physics. So it'll probably get you ahead in your graduate career.
  10. Dec 31, 2007 #9
    Thank you very much guys. I believe I will go talk to my physics professor when the Spring semester starts. Also, I have to take electromagnetics for my EE degree, I wonder if that is anything like electricity and magnetism from the physics department?
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2007
  11. Dec 31, 2007 #10

    Ben Niehoff

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    I am in your exact situation, almost. I majored in computer engineering, decided that I liked physics, and minored in physics because I was too far along to justify switching. I'm currently in the process of applying to grad schools...so I guess I'll let you know how I fare in March.

    The sort of Electromagnetics that EE majors take is good, but it's not quite the same perspective that Physics majors take. Engineering focuses much more on application than theory. However, you can use that to your advantage: You have a practical view on such things that most physics majors probably lack. For example, having taken several courses on circuits and amplifiers, I seem to have a much better handle on circuit problems than my Physics co-students. In fact, I'd say that most circuit problems the Physics majors do are pretty basic in comparison to what any EE/CompE studies. But of course, there are other areas where a EE will be lacking; but that's why you added the Physics minor.

    Have confidence that you can very likely get accepted to a Physics program somewhere; the question is where. If your eventual goal is to become a professor at a research institution, then you will have to do a lot of hard work and strategizing. But I think it should be within the realm of possibility.
  12. Dec 31, 2007 #11

    Yea, definitely let me know how it works out for you. Being a professor would be nice, but I think I would rather work in industry. At least if I can't find a job immediately I will have an engineering degree to fall back on. But I think having an engineering degree and physics degree would have to look good to some employer. Plus I also have an associates degree in civil engineering, that can't hurt either I guess.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2007
  13. Dec 31, 2007 #12


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    Visit the physics department or go online and find out what textbook is being used to teach the undergrad and/or grad courses. Look at the table of contents and compare to one's EE textbook.

    In the thread Revisiting Physics after 7 years -
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=206666 - I posted some texts in EM and the mathematics thereof, and the TOC to one book on EM theory. That should give one an idea of what one should know for grad school.
  14. Dec 31, 2007 #13
    Having engineering and science degrees is a plus for working in industry and it will help you be able to do more interesting work - i say this based on my own experiences.
  15. Dec 31, 2007 #14

    Dr Transport

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    The best experimental physicist I ever knew was a EE who took a years worth of Modern Physics as an undergrad then earned a PhD in physics.
  16. Dec 31, 2007 #15
    Haha I read your subject as "English undergrad and Physics grad"
  17. Jan 1, 2008 #16
    Actually one of my dad's friends from work double majored in physics and English. Ended up as an engineer.
  18. Jan 1, 2008 #17
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