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Extra courses for physics grad school after Mech.Eng?

  1. Apr 6, 2015 #1
    Hello everyone, I am starting my third year in Mechanical Engineering. I wish to get a degree in physics after my bachelors, theoretical physics, to be precise. So what extra courses should I take now in order to be ready for grad. school ?
    Please note that my college does not offer minors.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2015 #2
    There are 2 things you need for Physics, Physics classes themselves and Math classes.

    For math, you NEED the calculus sequence, linear algebra, both ordinary and partial differential equations, and probably some Real and Complex Analysis if you're focusing on theoretical work. In grad school it depends on your interests for what classes you should take. If you're into Gravity and Relativity then Topology and Differential Geometry are needed, and for Quantum Field Theory you would need/like advanced probability and the like (maybe some abstract algebra? idk). Don't know about the grad level math used for other areas, though I'd imagine for Unification or Quantum Gravity work you'd need all of the above with emphasis on abstract math.

    As for Physics, undergrads ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BE PROFICIENT IN THE FOLLOWING: Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Quantum Mechanics, usually in that order. Without those you're basically screwed in Physics. Also take labs and research projects whenever you can (prioritize research only if you have enough credits or are satisfied with labs), and depending on your school some advanced classes like Special Relativity may be open to you.

    Obviously you cannot take all of those in addition to your ME degree right now, so re-enrolling at a later date will be necessary. If you don't have the funds to work towards another Bachelor's degree I would get a ME job to both help with money and make sure you aren't satisfied with ME and really want to change to Physics. Physicists generally lead a much harder life than most engineers. That's me assuming that you mean to get an Bachelor's though, if I interpreted that incorrectly and you meant something else you should read this:

  4. Apr 6, 2015 #3
    Thanks for your reply.
    As for the maths, I have already taken most of what you stated. Actually, I have looked at my college's physics program outline, and compared to my program; I'm only short on two maths courses.
    For the physics subject; I think a mechanical engineering degree covers classical mechanics pretty well. So only quantum mechanics and electromagnetism remain if I'm not mistaken. in addition to relativity of course.
    I'm definitely not thinking about re-enrolling. Not for the funds, but for the time. I don't think I need to take all of the courses in the physics program in order to be able to get into grad school. I'm just looking for the minimum prerequisites for it.
    Best, Adam
  5. Apr 6, 2015 #4
    Okay, thanks for clarifying. In that case I would take those two math classes, electromagnetism and QM. Relativity is not really necessary, but would be a nice bonus. Definitely follow ZapperZ's advice in the thread I linked, and maybe review your Classical Mechanics to make sure you didn't miss anything. I agree that Mechanical Engineering would have prepared you well enough, but depending on how good your college is you may have a gap or two in your knowledge, probably in the theory if present. I wouldn't worry too much about that though.

    Any idea what area you plan on going into for Theoretical Physics?
  6. Apr 6, 2015 #5
    Not really. As you see, I'm not a physicist, and my knowledge is somewhat limited, so I'm not entitled to say I'm in interested in this or that particular subject of physics. But overall, I am interested in modern physics (quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory.. etc.)
    I read that post by ZapperZ and it was really helpful. I will sure take required extra courses as much as possible, but I might not be able to take all. So do you think I can fill up the rest by self studying? (which I'm very efficient at)
    Best, Adam
  7. Apr 6, 2015 #6
  8. Apr 6, 2015 #7
    You can get away with self studying the extra mathematics, the CM review and the general physics (that may or may not be a thing in your school) but I would definitely take courses in EM and QM. Those 3 are absolutely essential no matter what, and are also the main thing tested in the GRE which you will need to take for Grad school. So I would take the EM and QM classes (if your school has mutliple levels, prioritize the basics for EM (very hard to self teach at first) and the more advanced QM, then self teach the rest), and if you can take Complex Analysis or Real analysis (real can be self taught much more easily, prioritize complex). So to sum it up first priority is EM (basic is more important to take formally), QM (advanced is more important to take formally), either real or complex analysis (complex is more important to take formally), take an undergrad Physics lab (you really need at least one, I would recommend a summer lab to help with time), and go through a Classical Mechanics textbook to review and fill in any gaps. If you can manage that then look into an elective in Optics or Special Relativity or abstract math or something. Still make sure to keep up with ME to safeguard if you need a job tho, and remember to take summer classes to help with time!
  9. Apr 7, 2015 #8
    Thanks a lot for your advice.
  10. Apr 7, 2015 #9
    No problem, hope it helped
  11. Apr 7, 2015 #10


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    Not only that, but I continue to profess my puzzlement at such an "extreme" choice of options here.


    Why did you go from one extreme to another, i.e. "Mechanical Engineering" to "theoretical physics"? Are you not aware of all the gradual colors of the rainbow in between? Are you not aware of parts of your mechanical engineering background that can transition less abruptly into physics? Why is the choice such a huge jump? Do you even know what "theoretical physics" is?

  12. Apr 7, 2015 #11
    Yes I am very well aware what a "theoretical physicist" is. It's not a big mystery why you see such extreme transitions. It is exactly because they are on opposite sides of the spectrum that people would be interested in theoretical physics, it's different! Otherwise I might as well just stick to engineering. I don't want you to get the wrong impression that I don't like engineering. The whole point of this post was out of curiosity, that in case I would go for a physics degree, what would I need. In addition, taking the courses kindly mentioned by Niflheim wouldn't hurt in any case.
    As for "parts of your mechanical engineering background that can transition less abruptly into physics" I honestly don't have much knowledge about this. I'd be interested in it though. Any advice, or links are appreciated.
    Best, Adam
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