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Mech Engineer to a PhD in Physics

  1. Apr 5, 2014 #1
    Hi, I'm a graduate in Mechanical Engineering (BEng 1st). The idea of further study has interested me for many years but I have never acted on it. Currently after working for a year and a half in the oil and gas industry I have the further education bug again, but I would love to follow it this time.

    I'm not particularly satisfied at work, especially as the company becomes more paper-orientated (which I accept I would have to do anywhere). I would quit my job to continue further education.

    I've always had a love for physics, and when work sent me to China I read an introductory book on quantum physics during all the travelling, which I enjoyed more than the reason for being in China. I've bought several extra books but perhaps my biggest downfall is the mathematics. I would be more than happy now to study after work or in my free time.

    I would like to do research in physics. Ultimately a PhD, and that would be ideal now, but I think it's too big a jump from a bachelors in Mech Eng. Is it possible someone could explain what I would have to do to start research in physics or other ways to work towards my goal of a PhD in physics.

    I graduated when I was 22 in 2010. I've looked at Marie Curie fellowships, or working at CERN, I would love to pursue that!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2014 #2


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    You need to look at degree planners for typical BSc and MSc for quantum physics and see what you are lacking compare to other potential applicants applying for quantum physics PhD's.

    It is not impossible, but you've got a lot of work ahead of you.
  4. Apr 5, 2014 #3
    That's grest that you enjoyed the quantum physics text.

    The next step is to find avjob in your current area or a closely related one that you enjoy more than the one you have.

    Meanwhile continue studying the quantum text on your own while making use of resources like this website to help you along.
  5. Apr 5, 2014 #4


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    Please note that physics isn't JUST "quantum physics"!

    You cannot get a degree in physics, or be called a physicist, when ALL you know is quantum physics.

    There is already a thread that I created about jumping from a different major to do physics PhD program and what you need to do a self-test. I've also written a chapter on this in my So You Want To Be A Physicist essay:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=4501336&postcount=10 [Broken]

    I have seen students with a B.Sc in Mech. Engineering struggling to pass such qualifying exams, more so than a student in chemistry or EE.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Apr 5, 2014 #5


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    Maybe that is not very surprising, considering that even the existence of atoms (let alone anything about their structure and behavior) is irrelevant for almost all of mechanical engineering.
  7. Apr 20, 2014 #6
    Thanks for the replies, I will go through that 'So you want to be a physicist' thread. I think I was too eager about the whole PhD thing. I've taken a step back and would now rather do a Masters in Physics. Some are research masters and some are taught. If I follow my gut feeling I would chose the research, however due to my engineering background a taught degree might be better as my Physics goes as far as A-level which was done about 8 year ago!
  8. Apr 21, 2014 #7
    Wrong. I am working on my PhD in mechanical engineering and I do research in quantum mechanics and phonon transport related to heat transfer. I do molecular dynamics for a variety of materials and relate the atomic properties to the macroscopic thermal properties. Most of mechanical engineering is going down this path now to complete a "bottom-up" approach.
  9. Apr 21, 2014 #8
    Why not just go for a PhD in mechanical engineering? You seem to be interested in quantum mechanics, and I can promise you that MANY mechanical engineering professors do research in quantum mechanics. I'm working on my PhD in mechanical engineering and I do the same. You can get plenty of theoretical quantum physics work while obtaining your mechanical engineering PhD.

    A physics PhD will include less classical mechanics and more relativity and electromagnetism, while a mechanical engineering PhD will include less relativity and more classical and continuum mechanics. BOTH can have quantum mechanics (if you decide to do QM research as a mechanical engineer, I do it!). If you like relating quantum mechanics to classical mechanics then mechanical engineering is the way to go.
  10. Apr 21, 2014 #9
    Hi cytochrome. Thanks for sharing that. It did occur to me about doing a PhD in mech engineering, and I didn't know QM would play any part in your research. I have a love for physics though and I just want to learn about it, all of it.
  11. Apr 21, 2014 #10
    I understand, I too also want to learn all of it.

    Just realize that a PhD in mechanical engineering is very physics based and you will still be able to learn any part of physics you wish.

    It basically depends on what fields of physics you're more interested in...

    Analytical mechanics, continuum mechanics, thermal physics? Go for mechanical engineering.

    Electromagnetism, particle physics, general relativity? Go for physics.

    Both have their equal share of quantum mechanics, from what I've seen. Keep in mind that a PhD in physics must also know about analytical mechanics, continuum mechanics, and thermal physics and a PhD in mechanical engineering must also know about electromagnetism and most of them are generally educated on topics like general relativity out of pure interest.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
  12. Apr 29, 2014 #11
    I went to see my old professor from my Mech Eng degree. I told him my ultimate goal is research in Physics and he said I should just go straight for that, I needn't 'waste' my time do a Masters. I was so happy when he said that. There is a new Physics department starting in my old university so he put me in contact with the Physics BSC tutor.
    I think I'll read up on different topics in Physics so I have a better understanding as where I want to be. For example I'm unfamiliar with condensed matter physics.
  13. May 1, 2014 #12


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    How well do you know physics? You should acquire a working knowledge equal to or greater than a typical physics bachelor, even before you start grad school. I assume you have a good grasp of mechanics. How is your E&M? Do you know Maxwell's equations by heart? Can you solve problems involving vector calculus? In quantum, you should know stuff like nondegenerate perturbation theory, variational approximation for ground state energies, indistinguishable particle statistics, selection rules, angular momentum addition. How about thermodynamics?

    I don't think there's much condensed matter physics at the undergraduate level, so you may be ok without knowing it, though it's a nice bonus.
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