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How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skills?

  1. Jun 3, 2012 #1
    Here's some background about me. I'm a senior undergraduate student in china, majoring EE. I'm about to graduate in about half a month. I got a job offer as an engineer which starts in July.
    But I am planning on applying for a physics PHD in US in a year or two. What I have been wondering is that how does a prof decide if a non-physics major student is qualified to join his program?
    Even if I have been studying physics in my spare time in college, there's no way of proving it. Some say that the GRE physics subject can be a qualification, but physics major students take it too. If a physics major undergraduate and a non-physics undergraduate get the some score, there's no doubt that the physics major undergraduate has the advantage.
    How can I prove that I am qualified without a bachelor's degree in physics?
     
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  3. Jun 3, 2012 #2
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    try to get an MS degree of physics in China. then you can apply for a PhD in US.
     
  4. Jun 3, 2012 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Let's start with a simpler question - what makes you think you are qualified? Once we know the answer, we can go the next step and figure out how to convince someone else you are qualified.
     
  5. Jun 3, 2012 #4
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Here's the problem, it takes a full year's preparation to take the tests that allow you to apply for a MS in china. Which means I have to quit my job, stay at my parents' and study for a whole year. This is kinda unacceptable to me.
     
  6. Jun 3, 2012 #5
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    This is exactly my point - if I don't know how an admission committee decides, I can't even know if I am qualified. But I get your point. I self-studied physics for about 2 years in college, mostly basic mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, some GR or more advanced stuff. I know that I'm not ready yet, that's why I didn't apply in my senior year. Because I know I have to continue self-studying for several years.
    What I am concerned is that if there's standard for me to meet?
     
  7. Jun 3, 2012 #6

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    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    There is a standard. It's called an undergraduate degree in physics. You have not met it.

    Given that, you will need a good reason for the committee to let you in. Those reasons exist ("I've done the equivalent work" being the most common), but if you can't articulate one, there's little chance the committee will figure it out for you.
     
  8. Jun 3, 2012 #7
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Thank you very much for your help, but there are people who got into physics grad-school without a BS in physics, right? What did they do to achieve that? I mean, besides publishing valuable papers on their own like Einstein did...
     
  9. Jun 3, 2012 #8

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    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Most of them had done the equivalent work, or close to it. In my entering class we had two: one was one class short, and one was about three classes short.
     
  10. Jun 3, 2012 #9
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    By "equivalent work", you mean?
     
  11. Jun 3, 2012 #10
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Self-studying all the same material and mastering (or becoming proficient in,) all the same textbooks as a typical undergrad student would have.
     
  12. Jun 3, 2012 #11
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    I imagine if you score in the 80+ percentile on the Physics subject GRE they will have some idea of your Physics knowledge. No research or courses will hurt slightly but I wouldn't say it's impossible.

    ZapperZ's sticky post is particularly useful here.

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=64966
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2012
  13. Jun 3, 2012 #12
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Thank you, but not being able to prove any of my self-studying is my concern here.
     
  14. Jun 3, 2012 #13
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    You need to find a way to prove yourself then.

    The obvious one is by doing very well on the GRE.

    Perhaps you could talk to some physics professors and see if any have time to do an independent study on a topic and get a LoR from a physics professor.
     
  15. Jun 3, 2012 #14

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    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    I'm afraid to say that this doesn't have an easy answer.

    You are right - there are essentially an infinite number of Chinese students who want to come to the US to study physics in graduate school. Even if you ace the GRE, there are plenty of other students who also aced it, but got a physics degree, and will not require some 'catch-up'. They will also have letters of recommendation from physicists who can attest to how well they will do.

    You can toss your hat in the ring, but there are a lot of seemingly better-qualified applicants. If you think you deserve a spot that one of them would otherwise take, it would be good to articulate the reason why.
     
  16. Jun 3, 2012 #15
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Thanks for the advice~
     
  17. Jun 3, 2012 #16
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Thank you so much for helping me, I'm sure I will figure it out eventually~
     
  18. Jun 3, 2012 #17

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    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    One thing the universities will care about subject-wise is the core subjects, typically classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. If you majored in Electrical Engineering (which is what you mean by EE, yes?), then presumably you should have most of the mathematical skills that physics students are expected to have, and you hopefully are pretty familiar with Maxwell's Equations and how to solve them, which means you should have Electricity and Magnetism pretty covered. I'm not sure how EE programs are structured, but I assume you also learned quantum mechanics (and its application to semiconductors). If so, that will help too. I would think that even EE's have to take intro physics, so you should have some basic classical mechanics covered. If you know the math behind LRC circuits very well, then you should have the harmonic oscillator in classical mechanics pretty much covered, because it's the same math. If these assumptions are all correct, then off the top of my head, the main topics you will be lacking in degree-wise are special relativity, the lagrangian formulation of classical mechanics, and statistical mechanics. If you have taken thermodynamics, then that may be a sufficient prerequisite to take an upper-undergraduate stat-mech class, but otherwise, these are all topics you should be self-studying and you should probably point out you have studied all the topics you are lacking in your application. Note that unless you want to go to grad school to study general relativity or string theory, no committee will care if you haven't studied it at all.

    The other, and perhaps more important, thing that admission committees tend to look at is your research aptitude. They want to make sure you will be a successful researcher, so if you can prove that you have done good research work, it maygive more weight to your application versus and application with a physics bachelors and slightly better GRE scores, but no research experience. (This is not a guarantee). So, if you can demonstrate that you have excellent research abilities, this will really help your application. Depending on what you will be doing on your job, you may be able to use that experience. I suppose it will help if the research you want to be doing during your Ph.D. is related to EE or will use a lot of the knowledge you acquired in your EE degree (but if not, don't lie - that's not going to be beneficial to anybody).

    Also, as mentioned in that last paragraph there, the committees will want to know what you can do for them better than what a physics bachelors student can do, so if you can convince them that your EE experience will give you an edge in some way over another candidate with a physics bachelors, that can't hurt your application (presumably). Heck, on the one hand, you are competing with a bunch of other Chinese physics B.Sc. applicants, which may lower your chances, but on the other hand, you are probably not competing with so many EE applicants, so who knows, maybe your EE degree can help you stand out from the crowd of Physics B.Sc. applicants - but, you'll still have to convince the committee that you deserve a spot.
     
  19. Jun 3, 2012 #18
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Thank you for such detailed advice~ It helps a lot. You are correct about my curriculum. Seems that I have to work on the subjects you mentioned which weren't in my curriculum, like statistic mechanism. Thanks a lot~
     
  20. Jun 3, 2012 #19

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    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    You should also look at the webpages of the schools you are interested in applying to and look for information about their qualifying exams and/or preliminary exams. (One of these will be an oral exam and the other will be a written test; which one is called which depends on the school). Take a look at what subjects the written tests will cover. These are the subjects you should know very well if you want to go that school.
     
  21. Jun 4, 2012 #20
    Re: How does a admission committee decide a non-physics major student's physics skill

    Thank you again~ Here's a thought, since it's very unlikely for me to go back to school for a MS or BS in physics. Would one of those online classes help? I'm not talking about something like MIT's OWC, but the programs that some universities offer online with videos, tests and certifications. Would it help a lot if I manage to join them and get certificates for courses like quantum mechanics etc.?
     
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