MSc in Physics, PhD in engineering?

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Hi

Is it possible for a student with a MSc in physics to do a PhD in an engineering field, e.g. electrical or mechanical? There are a parameter I am mainly concerned with here:

With a degree in Physics it is reasonable to assume that the student should be able to learn the necessary material for the engineering PhD project. But my question is, is the fact that this knowledge is initially absent something that makes it improbable to "switch" fields? I mean, there will always be an engineering candidate that has this initial knowledge.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this matter.
 

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  • #2
Simon Bridge
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It is technically possible to do a PhD with no previous qualification in a field - you just have to be able to show that you are good enough. You should talk to the college.
 
  • #3
Astronuc
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Hi

Is it possible for a student with a MSc in physics to do a PhD in an engineering field, e.g. electrical or mechanical? There are a parameter I am mainly concerned with here:

With a degree in Physics it is reasonable to assume that the student should be able to learn the necessary material for the engineering PhD project. But my question is, is the fact that this knowledge is initially absent something that makes it improbable to "switch" fields? I mean, there will always be an engineering candidate that has this initial knowledge.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this matter.
It should be possible. We had physics majors in our graduate nuclear engineering program. Engineering afterall is just applied physcis. One may have to take certain upper level undergraduate or introductory graduate courses in the particular engineering discipline.

As Simon Bridge indicated, one should check with the university and engineering school as well as the engineering department of the relevant discipline.
 
  • #4
It is technically possible to do a PhD with no previous qualification in a field - you just have to be able to show that you are good enough.
Has that ever actually happened? Like someone without a degree getting a PhD?
 
  • #5
Simon Bridge
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I know of one case that was discussed in a faculty meeting ... the applicant had been self-educated and had been doing research for quite a while. I'm not counting honorary degrees here though ... which, I understand, used to be for this purpose. The discussion centered around what was to be required for granting a degree and should the previous work be counted towards a lesser degree first. The consensus was that there wasn't any point formally awarding the lesser degree if the work was good enough to be turned into a PhD thesis. Some people thought he should have to complete at least a postgrad diploma before being accepted... which is more usual, for instance, where someone is returning to study after a lengthy hiatus.

This would, of course, be extremely rare. It would also depend a great deal on the faculty: they are within their rights just to refuse out of hand. But you'd hope that, in a meritocracy, work worthy of a degree would win the degree right?
 
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ZapperZ
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Do engineering schools in the US, in general, have qualifying exams the way we do in physics? I know a few that do, but I don't know if this is true in general.

Zz.
 
  • #7
Physics_UG
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Do engineering schools in the US, in general, have qualifying exams the way we do in physics? I know a few that do, but I don't know if this is true in general.

Zz.
Yes they do Zz.
 
  • #8
jasonRF
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Do engineering schools in the US, in general, have qualifying exams the way we do in physics? I know a few that do, but I don't know if this is true in general.

Zz.
All of the schools I applied to (and some others I know about second hand) had some sort of exams. However, what those exams entailed can vary greatly from school to school. Some have formal written exams, and often the candidates must choose M out of N subjects (say, 3 out of 6, or some such thing). Others had oral exams with one or more profs. Some had certain scores you had to make in order to pass. One school determined ahead of time what percentage (40% was the number I recall) of the students would pass.

Where I was, the graduate committee was King. They determined your course requirements (department had no course requirements at all!), and determined the nature of the qualifier exam - in my case it was an oral exam where anything was fair game. I botched a simple probability question so was forced to take a class, which ended up being very good for me and my career is much better for it! After we were done with classes, we had another exam, the admission to candidacy exam. Again, that was whatever the committee wanted, and mine was oral once again. I was given one month notice, and my only responsibility that month was to study for the exam. I knew other students in the same department with different committees that had completely different arrangements - even formal written exams for qualifiers and research proposals for admission to candidacy.

The OP should look at the exam structure as part of chosing where to apply. The exams at some schools may essentially require taking a bunch of undergrad classes, while other schools' exams may be more conducive to the background of the OP.

good luck

jason
 
  • #9
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Has that ever actually happened? Like someone without a degree getting a PhD?
Wittgenstein was in the middle of studying engineering when he came to Cambridge to study the foundations of mathematics with Russell. He got his PhD for 'Tractatus' without - as far as I know - getting an undergrad or master's in anything.
 

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