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Programs Non-Physics Undergrad and Grad - Phd Physics?

  1. Feb 6, 2010 #1
    I have done my Under Grad in Electronics Engg from India and my Master's in Telecommunications from US. I wanted to know how difficult will it be for me to get into a Doctorate course in Physics especially Astrophysics? I am working right now and want to pursue this solely for personal reasons so am not hung up on specifically where I do it from or even getting aid or scholarships.Also, is it possible for someone to work fulltime and pursue a post graduate course? I love the subject so motivation would not be a problem.
    I guess I would have to give the GRE (generic) again along with the Physics GRE subject test. My question is that if I do well in the both of these above tests, do I stand a good chance in getting into a nice school for a post graduate course? I have good academic and work history so that should not be a problem.
    Any comments are welcome. Thanks in advance!

    - Niranjan
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2010 #2
  4. Feb 7, 2010 #3
    It's possible, but how to go about it depends on your situation.

    First question. Why do you want to get a Ph.D. in astrophysics? The first thing that I do whenever someone asks me how to get a Ph.D. in astrophysics is to try to talk them out of it. Most people have no idea what getting a physics doctorate is like, and I want to tell them what a painful, brutal, agonizing process it is so that I can scare them into not getting one. If after listening to me talk about how painful, nasty, and horrible an experience getting your Ph.D. is, you still want to get it, then you've passed the first test.

    The good news is that universities are in need of slave labor to teach undergraduates and do research to pull in grants, so if you have the background and the insanity, you can find someone to take you. The first step is to get some graduate textbooks and some papers. Go to http://adswww.harvard.edu/ and pull up a few papers. Read them. Do you understand them? If not, you are missing some preparation and you need to do some work before you are in shape for graduate school.

    Most physics schools need slave labor so this should not be a problem.

    Not really. There are some fields in which it's common for full time people to get Ph.D.'s. Physics is not one of them.

    Yes it will. It is not enough to love the subject. To have any chance of finishing your Ph.D. you have to be *INSANELY OBSESSED* by the topic. You will be working as a slave laborer for five to seven years of your life.

    It would be a good idea if you took the physics GRE since this gives you the level of preparation you have.

    Schools need slave labor so you'll probably find someone to take you if you are crazy enough. Since you have an EE background, I'd focus on applying to schools with a strong observational astronomy background since you can use your skills to build instruments. If you have a good physics background, and focus on schools with strong focus on instrumentation (i.e. places that do radio/microwave astronomy), I think they'll take you. You probably should look in the journals for places with this strength, and then start talking with professors in this schools. If that's difficult, you might look for work as a technician at an observatory and work your way in that way. There is a lot of observational astronomy that involves signal processing so that would be an area which you may have a strength.

    But....... You have to want this so bad that you are willing to be brutalized for five years.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  5. Feb 7, 2010 #4


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    With electronic engineer degree, math should not be an issue and you should be sufficiently versed in physics. Many astrophysics grad students have little or no formal background in astronomy before grad school. As twofish noted, your telecom background should be a big plus - you may need only suffer 4 years of brutality.
  6. Feb 7, 2010 #5
    I really want to thank both Twofish and Chronos for your comments. Twofish , I could not help but smile on your repeated reference of 'slave labor' - I do get your point! :wink:
    I am just at that point in life where life has become totally monotonous and I really want to escape the inertia along with the fact that I always wanted to work in the field of Astrophysics. I know I am very ill prepared at the moment as I don't even know what specific subject would I choose if given a chance but I am very much prepared to give in a good 5-7 years.
    Anyways, thanks a lot for your comments but another question - How do I start? Do I start just by going through the websites of different schools detailing their Physics programs and if I find anything of interest then I get in touch with the Proffesors there?
  7. Feb 7, 2010 #6


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  8. Feb 7, 2010 #7
    1) The one good thing is that it won't be boring. :-) :-) Ph.D.'s are not boring. They are often exciting in the wrong ways.

    2) If your goal is to work in astrophysics, then getting a Ph.D. may be completely the wrong approach, and in fact it may be a bad thing. You other thing that I didn't mention is that you should go into the Ph.D. program with the assumption that it will *NOT* help you get a job in astrophysics. There are just too many Ph.D.'s being produced and too few faculty positions. I'd love to get a job in astrophysics, but I couldn't with my Ph.D.

    2) One thing that you might strongly consider is to start looking for job openings in the national labs, observatories, and universities for instrument designers and electrical engineering. Most of those jobs do not require a Ph.D., and I can imagine some jobs (for example a network engineer at an observatory) where you would be more qualified than someone with an astrophysics Ph.D. Those jobs are somewhat hard to get, and they require your standard network/job search skills.

    The reason this might be something to consider is that 1) if you get your Ph.D. you are going to have to work really hard to get a job in astrophysics, anyway and 2) if you get a job as a technician and it's going to be very useful when/if you decide to get a Ph.D.

    The standard reference is that American Institute of Physics directory of physics/graduate school programs. Every university library and most public libraries have it, and if all else fails you can buy it from AIP.

    http://www.aip.org/pubs/books/graduate.html [Broken]

    Start with the AIP directory -> department websites -> professors.

    One thing that I would suggest is that if your main interest is to get a job in astrophysics, you might mention that and your EE background. The professor may know someone that knows someone that knows someone that needs a telecommunications specialist on an astrophysics project.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  9. Feb 12, 2010 #8
    Hi Niranjan,

    I am a person who will fit into what you asking here. I did my UG in Electronics and Communication in India and came to US for my masters in Engineering, then with the flexibilty of choosing programs here i decided to do what i dreamt of for long time in my life. Doing Astrophysics

    You do have to write a subjective GRE and it shouldnt be a much difficult thing to get an admission, but you will have prereqs to be satisfied.

    Dont try to blindly go for top schools, in astrophysics, choosing your advisor is very important..do some initial research abt profs and their research area and see you whether you can fit into that.

    Bottom line: Choose professor not school
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