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Engineering Physics Undergrad to EE Grad School

  1. Jul 5, 2012 #1
    Hey guys, I was wondering if someone on the forums would be able to give me some advice on graduate school?

    I go to Berkeley and will be finishing up an undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics with a minor in Electrical Engineering. I was hoping to go to graduate school in Electrical Engineering and doing work in physical electronics.

    Ideally I would go to graduate school in California and was looking to apply to Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and Caltech.

    I have a 3.65 GPA and have not taken either GRE yet (will by the time apps are due though). I have been working in a thin-film materials lab for about a year or so now (no publications though) and this summer I am working full time with a device engineering internship. During the year, I also tutor tech classes and was put in charge of a introductory e&m and thermo study group at the beginning the last semester and will be teaching next year as well. And I think I have pretty good letters: my boss at the lab and internship, and along with an ee professor who has taught a few classes I have taken.

    I was wondering if you guys had any advice for me? Do I need to apply to more schools? Do I not stand a chance? Anything I can do to make myself more desirable (I am currently searching for grants to apply to, but that is all I know I can do to make me more desirable)? Should I go to other people for letters? etc.

    I heard that it is good to look into labs at schools you want to go to and contact the one you would like to do work with? Any suggestions/tips on how to go about this?

    I know this is a long post, so thank you all who made it to the end. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2012 #2
    From what you wrote it looks like you're in pretty good shape, but to be perfectly honest you are kind of on the bubble at most of those schools since, as you know, you've set your sights really high (you're only applying to top-shelf schools). Your GPA is good, but not great, and your research experience is a help. The letters will be good but again, most people have pretty good letters, but yours may be better than average. A lot depends on how good the letters are.

    My guess is, depending on your GRE, you will probably get into a couple of the schools you apply to, the easiest to get into of the ones you've listen is Stanford, but its quite likely they won't offer you funding the first year. Depending on your circumstances that may or may not be a deal breaker. My guess, based on what you've told us, is that you're a long shot for Berkeley or Caltech but you never know.

    Contacting a lab where you would like to work can be helpful, but be aware the PIs of these labs get literally hundreds of emails a year from hopeful students. It would be REALLY helpful if you could get a kind of introduction from the professor you do research for. Can he or she recommend you directly to a professor at a school you're interested in? That would be gold.

    So, to sum up, I think you're probably going to get into one of the schools you applied to but its not a done deal. If I were you I would look at applying to a couple of backup schools. The thing is, the crop of applicants is always different from year to year, so better safe than sorry.

    I wish you the best of luck! Physical electronics is a very interesting field!
  4. Jul 5, 2012 #3
    Thanks a lot for your reply. Any suggestions on where to apply to for back up schools?

    I do know of a profesor who used to work at UCLA but seeing how he has barely seen my face, I feel like it would be ask such a favor from him. The PI at my lab seems to forget who I am quite often, he is barely around the lab when I am. But I suppose I could ask the postdoc I work for.

    Oh, do you have any idea what kind of GRE score to shoot for? Obviously I should do what I can to get everything right, but I know mentally it would be hard for me to gather the motivation to study once I start getting scores I think would be great. I hate standardized tests.

    Thanks again for all your help!
  5. Jul 5, 2012 #4
    I'm happy to give you whatever info and advice I have. As far as getting a personal introduction to a lab, you're actually better off without an introduction than with a lukewarm introduction from a professor who doesn't really know you. You should ask where the postdoc you work with went to grad school.

    Can't really help you with the GRE, sorry. The scoring and scale was completely different when I took it in the previous century. ;-) Suffice it to say you should do as well as possible. Most people have GPAs in a pretty narrow band so GRE is your chance to differentiate yourself.

    As for schools, three that are worth looking into are: University of Texas at Austin, North Carolina State University, and UC Davis. I mention these because they have really good programs and are in places that won't feel too alien for someone who is from California.
  6. Jul 5, 2012 #5
    I have heard great things about UCSB's physics program. Granted I would be doing EE, but I would be doing the more physical aspect of it. Would you recommend Santa Barbara?
  7. Jul 5, 2012 #6
    UCSB is entirely focused on the III-V material system. As such, they are among the world leaders in GaN and in high-performance heterojunction devices (HBTs). If you want to do III-V device research, you honestly couldn't do better than UCSB.

    I went there initially but it didn't work out. It had a decidedly more "physics" orientation and I decided I wanted to go more in the direction of circuits. I'm not bad-mouthing UCSB at all, it just wasn't the right fit for me.

    This brings up another point. If you have an idea of what you want to study specifically, it makes it a lot easier. For example, if you want to study compound semiconductors, go to UCSB (or maybe UCLA).
  8. Jul 6, 2012 #7
    That's an issue. I still am not entirely sure what I want to focus in. As an undergrad, everything is just an introduction to basic theory. Not enough to gauge if it's something I would like to spend years devoted to researching. I definitely have some interests though. Mainly things I find exploit interesting physics, like optoelectronics, plasmonics, spintronics, etc. I do have an interest in materials and solid state as well. Lately I've also been pondering going into MEMS and sensors. I honestly doubt I will be able to decide before apps are due. I won't even get a chance to take classes related to a lot of things I have been considering before the spring.

    Would you think UCSB would be a good back up? I am not sure if I could call it one, I am sure with such a top physics program, it is pretty competitive. Know anything about UCI too?

    Seriously, thank you so much for all the help. You are really helping me out.
  9. Jul 6, 2012 #8
    No problem at all. I had people helping me when I was at your stage so I'm just paying it forward.

    As for UCSB being a back up, you're right that it is really competitive. It is probably as hard to get into as UCLA. Because the program is so specialized it attracts very good students from top schools.

    You're so right about not knowing what you want. I *thought* I wanted to study VCSELs at UCSB but after taking some classes I realized my heart was in analog circuits, which isn't strong at UCSB (except for exotic HBT circuits, which isn't really what I was looking for).

    I think you would serve yourself well by going to a school that is good all-around, that way you can put off making any kind of decision until you have some classes under your belt. Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, and UCSD all win in that way. UC Davis is comprehensive as well. Even though I lived in Irvine for several years I really don't know much about the EE program at UCI. It isn't as well known as many of the other UCs but that doesn't mean it isn't good.

    Since you're interested in staying in California (I can't blame you, I love it here!) I would also look into USC. They have a strong EE department and rumor has it they are more generous than most with the financial support but honestly I don't have any specific knowledge of that. It's worth your time though to have a look at their website.

    I really should have mentioned it before but Arizona State has a very good EE department and I would be surprised if you couldn't get in there.

    One other unsolicited piece of advice. When you write your statement of research (or whatever each school calls it) try to write a coherent plan that shows you know a thing or two about your field of interest and that shows you have an idea of how you want to contribute. No one reading it will actually expect you to follow through with it (everyone knows goals change while you're starting out) but it shows discipline and thought. That is one area where I think my own application was weak, and I'm sure I could have done a lot better.

    Finally, don't forget to look at the national fellowship programs. NSF, Batelle, and DOE have very good fellowship programs. It doesn't hurt to apply. I didn't win one of those, but several people I know with weaker applications than me (in my opinion, certainly lower GPA/GRE) did get them and they really did give them a lot of options.

    I hope everything works out really well for you!
  10. Jul 6, 2012 #9
    Thanks a lot for your help. I really appreciate it. Really great advice. I cannot thank you enough.
  11. Jul 11, 2012 #10
    Sorry to bug you again, but I was wondering if I could ask you one more thing? I have been notcing a lot of the schools I have been looking at offer an Applied Physics program as well. I was wondering if you thought there would be any down side to going that route? Would I still be able to go into the field I want? Would I have a better shot with this since my undergraduate degree is in Engineering Physics and I have done a little better in my physics classes than my EE?
  12. Jul 11, 2012 #11
    For the kinds of things you're interested in, I think you'd be best served in an Electrical Engineering program, but I'm not really an authority on that. It really depends who your advisor has contacts with. One idea is to ask where graduates of the Applied Physics programs work, that could give you a wealth of information.

    Quite a few of my fellow students at UCSB had Physics degrees and I think they were actually better prepared than us EEs.
  13. Jul 12, 2012 #12
    I was looking through the Applied Physics programs at a few schools I was planning on applying to, and a lot of the faculty listed under those departments were the same as the ones I saw in the EE departments whose research interested me. UCSD even lists Applied Physics as a focus in their EE program. At Caltech, the courses all relating to devices and materials are cross listed between EE and Applied Physics. Do you think that this is a good enough criteria to base the decision on? I probably won't have a chance to talk to anyone I know in depth about this for a while. The programs all have a focus in electronics and materials, which seems great for me.

    Really? That's really good to hear. Only about half the school's I looked into have an Applied Physics program, so I was still pretty worried about the other half.
  14. Jul 12, 2012 #13
    From what you wrote it sounds like this could be a good option for you. You will most likely get all your jobs from your personal network and your advisor is a big, big part of that. (my advisor got me my first job and recommended me to the startup I joined later... I'm on my fourth job now and have never applied to a job opening. I think this is typical in specialized fields. My point is your professional network is *THE* most important thing after technical excellence). So, if the courses and professors are cross-listed you're golden!

    There is so much interesting stuff out there now in materials, devices, and circuits! You're going to have a lot of fun!
  15. Jul 16, 2012 #14
    Sweet. Thanks a lot for the advice!
  16. Nov 12, 2012 #15
    Sorry to bug you again, but now that app deadlines are coming up I'm more stressed than ever. I have taken the Physics GRE (740) and the general. I got 88th on Q, 89th on V, and a 4 in the verbal section. These scores seem to be not too bad, my general scores seem to be slightly above the average for UCLA EE (except verbal, my verbal is way higher).

    I've decided to apply to Davis as a safety and not to apply to Caltech. I was considering apply to USC, but was wondering if I should be looking for one more safety school instead?
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