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Physics From engineering BSc to Physics MSc

  1. Apr 25, 2017 #1
    Dear forum, let me tell you my story:

    I hold a BSc degree in petrochemical engineering. I'm 25 years old. I finished my university studies 4 years ago, graduated with honors and have been working in the industry ever since. I have a good job with a decent salary, I can buy stuff and support my family but I'm not satisfied with my career.

    I just could never stop thinking about physics since I finished school. I let go many chances, as an undergraduate, to switch faculties. I didn't choose physics when I was younger because I was thinking more about money than self realization.

    So far my love for physics is based only on concepts I learned or read on my own. This year I started studying from books and material I found in the internet, following advice from forums like this one, checking MIT OCW and so. Even though my self-study has been short, I seem to understand the concepts and equations. My math knowledge reaches up to differential equations, vector calculus and linear algebra. I lack tensor analysis, differential geometry, Fourier transforms, complex analysis, Hilbert spaces, generalized functions, integral transforms, Green functions. My physics level is just general physics, I learned some lagrangian and hamiltonian mechanics on my own (Marion), some extra concepts on EM theory (Griffiths), only the first part of QM (Griffiths), almost none of Statistical Mechanics. I am sure I can understand new things if I get the time to review them, luckily my brain is not rusty even after 4 years of not being sat in a classroom.

    I looked for advice into my university's graduate program. They were announcing positions available for a master's program in physics. I was curious about taking the challenge and see where I was so I applied, passed the test and the interview (I still don't know how, I even said I wanted to do Cosmology and they deemed it doable, they said my academic record and my evident, almost desperate enthusiasm for learning physics were good points in favor). I thought I would be rejected due to my lack of physics background, nevertheless I was accepted and even granted with a scholarship (I won't pay any tuition fees, receive a reasonably good stipend for two years and even hace health insurance; in exchange they demand full time dedication and presentation of a master thesis at the end of the two-year program). I should be exploding in happiness but I feel I have been wrongly accepted or maybe the interviewers, who are PhD professors from the faculty, didn't care enough to make sure they are accepting the fittest candidates.

    They said I will have to take Classical Mechanics, EM and QM. I have been checking the syllabi of those courses and they start already at an advanced level, i.e. CM will start with Langrangian and Hamiltonian mechs right away, using Goldstein and Landau's books. EM will use Jackson and Landau. QM will start with operator theory, quantum dynamics, Schrodinger and Heisenberg interactions, propagators, density matrix, perturbation theory, etc. (all of that sounds like chinese to me) and suggest Merzbacher, Sakurai and Cohen-Tannoudji as reading material. I have acquired the recommended books and checked them, they are heavy weights, specially Landau-Lifshitz' collection.

    All of it sounds as interesting and challenging as frightening and a bit irrational for me. Although I'm in love with the idea of changing my career path and start doing something I know I will enjoy, I want to remain rational and be sure I'm doing things in the most thoughtful way so the risk is minimum and I can surely assimilate as much possible from the Master's program without having a stroke or overloading my brain. I consider this is my first step towards my long standing dream of becoming a physicist and I want to do it right, there is only one life to live.

    I don't know whether to accept my position in this program or keep studying on my own and hope for the next announcement to apply again, IF the faculty staff agrees with my deferring from the program. I'm afraid I might disappoint them and make them no longer want to let me apply next year, for example. Would I be too old to start? Am I going through the right train of thought? I need advice from people who are experienced in physics and, if I am lucky enough, maybe someone else here has gone through this issue.

    Many thanks in advance to all of you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 25, 2017 #2
    If they have offered you free tuition with a good stipend, I suggest that is an opportunity not likely to be repeated. Think seriously about accepting it! You must have made a hit with them. Evidently they think you can do it, at least they think it enough to take a chance on you.

    Now, do you think you can do it? Only you can answer that, but this is an exceptionally good offer, at least on the surface of it.
  4. Apr 27, 2017 #3
    Thank you, Dr. D.

    My doubt comes from the fact of feeling not completely prepared and the fear of running out of money eventually. I could say "I'm gonna take classes of topics X, Y and Z and in my free time I shall study N, P and Q and sometimes even go back to the A, B and C". Romantically speaking, everything is possible and it's never too late to follow our dreams, etc.

    I'm Peruvian and the university in question is the National University of Engineering, although the most academically demanding and competitive in my country, it's a state university.

    I'm trying to look at all the possible downsides so I can fully know what I'm getting into.

    I know I would do whatever to push my career further, but...

    What comes afterwards?

    How hard is to get accepted in a PhD program overseas?

    I don't plan to stay in my country forever. I picture myself as a professor, but in my 40s or 50s, before that I'd love to be working as a researcher in some institute or university, discovering new stuff, publishing papers, making computer simulations and so on.

    How long it would take to get accepted in a PhD? How much is required minimally?

    How could I economically maintain myself in the meantime?

    How is the life of a recently transitioned physicist?

    What comes after a PhD?

    Considering my interest is in theoretical physics, astrophysics and cosmology:

    Which countries and universities would accept an applicant who has 5-year undergrad of petrochemical engineering, 4 years of industry experience and just 2 years of graduate physics?

    What are my real chances in the outside world in spite of my enthusiasm, will to learn and understand nature?
  5. Apr 27, 2017 #4
    I have very few answers to your questions. Your situation is far from my experience, so I will bow out at this point.
  6. May 4, 2017 #5
    Here are my thoughts:

    First of all, trust the judgment of the professors. They have seen hundreds of students. They will know after 2 minutes if you are suitable for the program.
    They think you are fit for the job, and you want to do it. From your post I gather that you are highly motivated and smart. I see no problem here.

    I think the main question is: can you and do you want to risk it financially? Remember that it will be a temporary problem. After you have your degree, you can decide to do a PhD or go back to industry, but this time with a MSc. degree. You can expect (at least statistically) more pay, and a better career path. And maybe also a more satisfying job because it is closer to what you want. Most of your questions are about doing a PhD and very long term prospects. A prerequisite for a PhD is an MSc. degree. Focus on that first. My advice: do the math (financially). Can you afford to be poor for (?) two years? Also discuss with your loved one(s).

    The only other thing I would like to mention now is that if you want to get paid by doing theoretical physics, you should find people that are willing to pay you. People will pay you if they think they can save or make a lot of money with it. Even at universities, research projects are often funded by big companies, at least in Europe. You will find more people willing to spend money on quantum computers and fusion reactors than on the theory of black holes. Most professors I know cleverly combine research by (for instance) investigating the impact of ink droplets on paper to improve printers, and at the same time investigating meteorite impacts on planets. So if you want to investigate meteorites, go to Hewlett-Packard.
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