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Engineering PhD in physics after engineering career?

  1. Apr 26, 2008 #1
    I was curious if anyone had experience with going for a physics PhD after having a decent engineering career. I've been considering the possibility of this, and am currently working and refreshing my memory on the physics I've learned (and eventually teaching myself more) in some of my free time.

    What would your occupation be like after having both engineering experience and a PhD in physics? I enjoy engineering, but I also really enjoy physics, and I'm just considering the possibilities several years ahead of time...
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2008 #2
    At my school there is a graduate student who worked as an engineer for 15 years before deciding he wanted to change fields and get a physics Phd. He is almost done and told me once that working for 15 years before graduate school really had its advantages because he was already use to working 60-70 hour weeks.
  4. Apr 26, 2008 #3


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    All I can say is that you would make a damn fine experimentalist!


  5. Apr 26, 2008 #4
    Same here...nice to know someone else is considering this too. I'm not an engineer yet, but I am training to be one (I'm actually entering my 3rd year as an undergrad EE student). Perhaps there are others on this forum who have actually taken this route?
  6. Apr 27, 2008 #5
    Woow, My Uncle did this. B.s. EE & B.s. Physics, Phd Physics. He dosent have much industry experience though, worked for research labs for the government most of his life, Bell, Brookhaven etc.
  7. Apr 28, 2008 #6
    You guys are encouraging, but I know there has to be someone on this board who has done this!

    Zz, I'd hope so. I think I'll have a solid understanding of engineering by the time I enter physics grad school if that's the route I choose. Knocking out shop drawings to standard will be no problem, or maybe even building hardware myself.

    I think my biggest problem will be continuing to be knowledgeable about physics for those years while I'm working full time. I'm making progress through Serway, and after that I'm going to go through my old calc and DE books so that I don't forget that precious math. I think I've also got a math tutoring part time job lined up. I looked up the subject matter for the physics GRE and it doesn't look that bad compared to how i thought it would be.

    Looks like I'll have to get and stay more motivated than I've been in the past to be able to pull this one off.
  8. Apr 28, 2008 #7
    Well, I'm not quite there yet, but I hope to apply to Ph.D. programs in the fall after a career in computer engineering. I finallly broke down and decided that no one would take me seriously without *some* formal background in physics (beyond taking the standard freshman physics sequence 20+ years ago!), so I'm in an M.S. program now while I work part-time.

    I'm convinced that it's possible, but it's by no means easy.
  9. Apr 28, 2008 #8
    I feel the same way!!

    It would be nice if you could keep us all posted about your progress. I'm sure there are quite a few engineering students or graduates who would like to "do" physics. In about 1.5 years, I too, would like to explore the possibility of pursuing graduate studies in physics after my EE degree. However, I don't know how things will turn out by then. I am from India and things are much more rigid here. I'm taking quantum mechanics "formally" next semester and hope to back it up with other physics electives. However, our EE curriculum is very heavy and we don't have many non-departmental electives.

    Are you interested in experimental or theoretical physics? I am interested in both, but I am told that eventually you have to specialize in one of the two :rolleyes:. But yes, after engineering, I would definitely like to have the option of studying theoretical physics..

    Perhaps we should also discuss the rules and requirements of physics graduate programs in different places. If someone has anything to share about this, please do post on this thread.
  10. May 11, 2008 #9
    I am an electronics engineer from India. and if this might help, i decided to change to physics and applied to Us universities and got two admits! it is possible. my undergrad college was very rigid and didnt allow any courses in physics. I used to go to the community science center and keep in touch with some of the physicists in the city. In my opinion, the US universities are quite open, all you have to do is to get a decent GRE score and show a very high GPA. Even if your projects are in your own engineering fields, as long as they establish you as a promising researcher, they'll take you.
  11. May 11, 2008 #10
    Hi, we would all like to hear more about your experiences. I too, am an EE student from India. Please also have a look at https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=233859. What field of physics are you studying now? Theory or experiment or both?
    Last edited: May 11, 2008
  12. May 11, 2008 #11
    Well, as you it turns out, i and tanuj had applied together. And we have very similar profiles, mainly because all of our projects are together. We still cant understand why i got chosen over him. i am interested in experimental particle physics, but as i have not had any research experience, i still cant say for sure. My admits are from Brown University and Stony Brook. Whatever tanuj has told you about applying, goes for me as well.
  13. May 11, 2008 #12


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    Both Brown and Stony Brook have good programs.

    I agree with ZapperZ's and Beeza's comments.

    Both physics and engineering are broad fields, and being redundant, engineering may be considered applied physics. For example, a EE could do physics and specialize in EM (e.g. radar, waveguides, . . . ) or condensed matter (as it applies to microelectronics or superconductivity, or . . . ). I had a friend in college who did EE, and one of his courses was essentially applications of Maxwell's equations.

    Mechanical engineers do applied physics in structures/materials, or thermodynamics, or fluids. One of the hot areas these day is numerical simulation, particularly with multiphysics codes. A strong background in the fundamentals, i.e. physics, would be beneficial.

    In nuclear engineering, we coalesce nuclear physics with various disciplines such as reactor physics (neutron transport and interaction), thermomechanics/thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, materials, electrical (power) engineering and instrumentation. One professor who taught reactor physics obtained his degrees in engineering physics and physics, since there were no nuclear engineering programs at the time. He also built an ion accelerator with his graduate students, which enabled studies of the effect of radiation on materials, including surface modification and bulk material modification effects.

    An engineer with a physics degree is worth his weight in gold, more so in the right industry.
  14. May 11, 2008 #13

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    Never saw a shop drawing to standard until I got to industry. More likely you'll do a drawing and work in the shop to get it built.

    If you want to catch up on physics, find something that interests you and start working on it, while you are trying to figure it out you'll naturally start finding the gaps in your background that you'll need to spend time filling in. Even though I finished my degree almost 10 years ago and got out of physics for a while, I am now getting back into what I really want to do and am having to fill in all the gaps I had as a student.

    Absolutely correct, I'd hire one in a heartbeat if their resume came across my desk and funds were available.
  15. May 11, 2008 #14
    Experimental particle physics sounds good. Did you also apply to theory programmes?
  16. May 11, 2008 #15
    theres no separate application for theory programs. n fact, you can write in your statement of purpose which field interests you and coincides with your background, but it is only after spending 2 yrs in the phd program that you actually decide your field. meanwhile, summer internships, RAs, TAs and of course, your course work will guide you as to where your interest falls. also, most US universities start their graduate courses from the very introduction of the subject, or so am i told.
    since you are in mechanical engineering you can read extra q.mech and em. for me, in the ece field, q.mech, classical mech and stat mech was lacking in my background. as i ve read, in iits you are allowed to take extra courses. so take a few courses in physics, try to link them with your current engineering studies in your projects and maintain your GPA. they also want to see that you are good at something you do. you cannot make excuses like "i was never interested in engg and i wanted to do physics, thats why i did badly in exams or dont have projects/papers to show".
  17. May 12, 2008 #16
    I'm in Electrical Engineering, not Mechanical Engineering.

    To some extent, that is accurate.


    Btw, where are you from?
  18. May 12, 2008 #17
    oh sorry, i thought u were from mech.
    i am from nirma university, ahmedabad, gujarat.
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