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Has anyone gone from chemistry to physics?

  1. Apr 18, 2014 #1
    I will be graduating with my B.S. in physical chemistry after this quarter and would subsequently like to attend graduate school in physics. I'm not really looking for a "can I go to graduate school in physics with x degree" type answer, but more something along the lines of personal experience. Has anyone gone from the former to the latter? What challenges did you face? What were some areas you felt behind in due to studying chemistry as opposed to physics? How was the GRE? Out of curiosity, I would love to hear about some personal experiences (even from those with other non-physics degrees, feel free to opine if you'd like).
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2014 #2
    While looking across the forum, I've come across multiple people who have switched from chemistry to physics, hopefully one of those people will give personal advice. But hopefully I still be able to help a little. Anyways, what math and physics courses have you taken and how did you do in them? How has any P chem class(es) went for you? Also, which area of physics would you want to go to graduate school for?
  4. Apr 27, 2014 #3
    Quantum Chemistry, Spectroscopy, Thermodynamics, Mathematical Methods for Physicists, Linear Algebra (part 1), E&M (part 1), ODE, and Nonlinear DE. Currently taking Classical Mechanics (part 1) and Statistical Mechanics. A's in all except for an A- in Nonlinear DE and a B in thermo.

    I'm still sort of honing in on what, specifically, I'd like to pursue. I only just discovered quantum computing recently, but I would say that sounds like a field I would love to get into (in middle school I really wanted to become a video game programmer and have since had a small hobby in web design). For now, nuclear would probably be my second choice.
  5. Apr 27, 2014 #4
    Once again, I don't have personal experience with it although it might help to actually go through a couple advanced upper undergraduate/early graduate textbooks and see where'd you be lacking. It might be useful to go/skim through a book on quantum mechanics and nuclear physics (and I'm not sure about what subjects will gauge your readiness for quantum computing). Anyways, hopefully someone can provide more personal insight about it.
  6. Apr 27, 2014 #5
    Of course. Right now my main focus is this quarter's course load and GRE preparation, but I will be taking a year off before graduate school and intend to stick around my school and audit some graduate classes and do some reading up until then.
  7. Apr 27, 2014 #6
    A lot of it is going to depend on the particular Chemistry program you attended. I did chemistry at UCSD as an undergraduate and the physical chemistry there was particularly light and nonmathematical so a student who did not extend themselves past the core curriculum would be severely lacking for physics graduate school.

    I know several chemistry students from Caltech on the other hand who are orders of magnitude more prepared for physics than most physics students.

    If you're an average student and your undergraduate degree did not cover E&M, stat mech, CM and quantum, then you might have trouble assuming you want to start in graduate courses.
  8. Apr 27, 2014 #7
    UCLA chemistry is a little disappointing in terms of math. Linear algebra isn't required for chemistry majors, so all the classes that require linear algebra have to spend a few days explaining to everyone what a matrix is. One thing I found a little funny was that the the math department was hesitant to use complex numbers (in ODE we had a very brief introduction to Fourier series using strictly sine and cosine) while in the physics department they start getting thrown around everywhere (specifically in mathematical methods) without even an introduction.
  9. May 2, 2014 #8
    The program might be disappointing but did you personally take linear algebra? Did you extend yourself beyond the minimal requirements?
  10. May 2, 2014 #9
    Of course. I'm not making excuses, just ranting about the program a little. The problem isn't so much that I wasn't able to learn linear algebra or complex numbers (the two main subjects that aren't utilized) but that they aren't really used as much as they should be. For instance, most of the concepts in inorganic chemistry would be a lot easier to understand if they were explained directly in terms of linear algebra (for instance, reducing a representation is just multiplication by the character table matrix, i.e. projection of the reducible onto each irreducible vector) instead of complicated formulas with no logical meaning given.
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