1. PF Contest - Win "Conquering the Physics GRE" book! Click Here to Enter
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How can a chip design engineer become a physicist?

  1. Sep 2, 2009 #1
    Dear physics lovers,
    I've been working as a chip design engineer (designing SoCs for ultra-low power audio/medical applications) for the last 3 years at one of the top-5 semiconductor companies in the world. For the first couple of chip design cycles (~2.5 years) I was solving some really interesting design problems. Such problems now appear less challenging or interesting. After much deliberation I came to a conclusion that only by solving fundamental problems my thirst for problem-solving will be quenched. I loved physics as a high-school/college student (knew Halliday&Resnick backwards) and I still do. I would like to spend the rest of my life solving real-life physics problems.
    I've an MS in Electrical Engineering with a focus in integrated circuit design. Given my background and where I want to go, what path should I take? Do I absolutely need a MS or a PhD in physics? If so, does my background hurt my chances of getting an admission? If I don't get a degree in Physics, then what are my options? Any helpful pointers or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks a lot,
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2009 #2
    The short answer is yes, you need a credential in the field.

    You don't really say what your background in physics is. Assuming that it is limited to the usual undergrad engineering sequence, you'll have to do a lot of remedial work before you could be admitted to an MS or Ph.D. program.

    If you are serious about wanting to become a physicist, I'd suggest trying to find a local university where you could take a few upper division physics courses. Some schools have an "Open University" program where non-degree students can take a few courses paying per credit. After you've done most of the undergrad sequence, you could probably apply to an MS program, and if you did well there, a Ph.D. program.

    Alternatively, if you are only interested in finding hard problems, you might want to consider a Ph.D. program in electrical engineering.
  4. Sep 2, 2009 #3
    Seriously. Why switch to physics? In my opinion, EE (along with materials engineering, physical chemistry and more) has managed to snatch away or at least co-op many very interesting problems that might have traditionally been soley in physics.

    There are useful, lively, new and exciting areas of research in physics. Unfortunately they are often forcably tacked onto the lumbering frankenstein that is modern physics departments. Sharing resources with a lot of that nonsense is worth avoiding, if you can do so easily.
  5. Sep 2, 2009 #4
    Thanks for the response. In terms of my actual physics background, you're right. My BS is also in EE, but I took classic mechanics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and elctrogmagnetics and engineering physics. In my MS I took 3 semiconductor device physics courses. Given that info, What all pre-requisites I need to take to make myself eligible for an MS-physics admit? Is it typically OK to contact professors of local universities to get a better idea of my prerequisites?
    I considered PhD in EE, but I'm afraid I'll end up doing the same things I'm doing now after a gruelling ~5 years. I say that because I see PhDs in my own team who do more or less the same stuff I do. There are some niche areas where PhD in EE is a must-have. But, generally speaking PhD in EE is redundant especially when you are already in the industry. If I'm fresh out of school then doing a PhD in EE may make more sense. That's my understanding and it may not be 100% correct.
    Thanks again for your ideas.

  6. Sep 2, 2009 #5
    A quantum mechanics course would probably be nice to see, but it seems that you have the basics covered.

    I think it's a good idea to get in touch with a local university and see what they have to say. (There is usually some obvious contact point for prospective students, so check their website.) The university where I got my MS (one of the CSU system schools) would admit students conditionally if they had a few undergrad prerequisites that they still needed to complete.
  7. Sep 2, 2009 #6
    Thanks for your valuable suggestions.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook