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Physics after bachelors in Computer/Information science

  1. Jul 17, 2014 #1
    Is it possible to do masters in Physics after studying computer science or information science at bachelors level? Do US universities accept students from Computer science or Information science for MS in physics?
    p.S.: I can prepare for physics GRE as I havea deep passion for physics
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  3. Jul 17, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    US institutions generally expect graduate students in physics to have completed a BS in physics or the equivalent.
  4. Jul 17, 2014 #3
    So won't it be possible for me to get into a good university for masters in physics if I take up CSE/ISE at my bachelors level?
  5. Jul 17, 2014 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    Which part of my reply didn't you understand?
  6. Jul 17, 2014 #5
    I don't think they are 100% strict about having BS physics. I thought about doing physics grad school with just a math degree, plus one extra physics class and some engineering classes, like electromagnetism, and self-studying some stuff. Talked to some profs and they thought it would be okay, as long as I did well on the entrance exams. That's with math/EE background, though. It would be harder with something that doesn't teach you enough of the physics. It may be true that computer skills could be valuable, but you still have to know physics to make it through. And furthermore, it would be hard to make a case that you have those skills based only on self-study. You need recommendation letters, preferably from physics profs.

    Ed Witten was a history major. Turns out his dad was a physicist, so that fact isn't quite as surprising as it might seem without that other bit of info. Plus, it may have been a sort of an unorthodox and lucky admissions decision. I'm not sure exactly what Witten brought to the table, but whatever it was, it worked out!

    So, yes, they will accept computer science or information science, but only under extraordinary circumstances. Maybe if you got a minor in physics. Why wouldn't you just study physics? If you want a back-up plan in case physics doesn't work out, a double major is good, or maybe a minor, plus devoting a large amount of thought and planning into stuff like networking/career counseling and so on.
  7. Jul 17, 2014 #6
    I can't actually get a minor in physics(because in India, you study only what you choose) but there is a supplementary program called REAP in a nearby planetarium wherein the whole of undergraduate physics will be taught in 3 years but just without a degree certificate. Would that help?
    And seeing your answer, will a major in Electrical and electronics be better(I feels it's not my subject at all. 1.physocs 2.computers.. ) ?
    The reason why I chose CS/IS over BS is because in my locality, we really lack good schools for BS. The problem starts from bad laboratory equipment till many teachers not attending the college to teach and avoiding teaching all together.. In one sentence, there is only complete support for engineers, particularly from EC or CS/IS.. So I was hoping if I can get enough opportunities studying CS/IS and attend the REAP program to up my physics skills.
    I also will and like to do a lot of self study. I have covered 80% of halliday resnick walker book in my 11th-12th for my entrance test. So, in the next four years(and since CS /IS Is really easy for me), I can really push my physics knowledge beyond the fundamental text books and gain knowledge from a higher level textbook.
    And our college is research supportive so, I can get to work at internships with scientists in summer.
    Keeping these in mind, am I good to go with CS /IS?
  8. Jul 17, 2014 #7
    And as letters of recommendations are required, I can get them from physics professors In the institute(they are the ones who teach physics to engineering students, nothing much) and the professors teaching at REAP can also help me getting letters of recommendation I guess.

  9. Jul 17, 2014 #8
    But I have one serious worry.
    Can this risk of shifting branches completely devoid my chances of getting into a top university? If so, what can be the reasons?
    How van I make up for it?

  10. Jul 17, 2014 #9
    Sounds difficult. I wouldn't count on it. What I'd recommend is to try, instead, to go to grad school in computer science. You might be able to get a job as a programmer in a national lab or something eventually. That's probably the closest you could come. Also, some computer scientists do research in quantum computing, so that would be another thing to look into.
  11. Jul 17, 2014 #10
    All That's painful to hear because I'm very much interested in pursuing physics.
    One serious question. I'm asking this since I have fully four years in my hands.
    If I want to switch between branches and get into a top university, what all should I follow in the next four years? Like I know keeping up my GPA, scoring well in GRE and TOEFL. Other than that? What all can I do to up my resume and have my chances to get Into physics grad school
    (Out of curiosity, is it advisable to forget dreaming about Caltech or such schools?)
    Please help me out regarding this. Iv had physics as my passion eversince I am learning it as a subject :)

  12. Jul 17, 2014 #11
    Hi there. Here are my thoughts.

    Firstly, it is always great to have a dream school or multiple. I think its safe to say that 99% of students and applicants do, whether they admit it or not. But realize that coming from a CS undergrad, it is definitely dreaming. I'm just starting graduate school, but even in my undergrad years (at an at least semi-decent university =P), I never heard of a CS undergrad going to a Physics grad.

    What can you do to get your chances up? Well, the same things that everyone tells everyone. Study hard. Get good grades - and by good grades I mean anything lower than an A- will hurt you in the eyes of a school like Caltech. Research with professors. Top schools really care about research potential in a candidate. You will need to do better than 'well' on your exams - shoot for 'great' or 'fabulous'.

    I think this is your biggest problem - you are competing against the brightest students around the world at the dream schools. They were almost certainly all physics majors. (Or applied physics). They took Mechanics, E & M, QM, Stat Mech, Solid State, as part of their curriculum. You are going to have to prove you know all these as well as an undergrad physics major. The Physics GRE won't prove that even if you get a perfect score. The Physics GRE is just a scrape on the surface of each subject with no real depth. (if any physics grad student or professor wants to disagree with me - I welcome it - This is my opinion having just gone through the grad school app process).

    One more thing: I see you are interested in an MS. Why MS and not PhD? I don't think there are many spots if any at top schools for MS students in physics. They want you to do a PhD. No one mentioned this. I am curious to see what other people think about this also.

    tl;dr: Dream Big. But realize what you are up against. CS background will not be advantageous for physics grad school applications.
  13. Jul 17, 2014 #12
    Definitely I want to do a PhD.
    Yes, the main concern is switching from CS\IS to Physics. I'm really worried about it because if I take the '3 year' B.Sc program in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics from the schools around, I would really have hurt my career because 1. Iv mentioned about teachers 2. Most of them who come there are those who have missed an engineering seat. Not someone genuinely interested in science. (This is India. Support for engineering is tremendous. There are 30 NITs and 15 IITs but a countable IISc s. Sad. There are plans for opening more NITs and IITs. IISc are being forgotten).

    If CS\IS is a bad option, will Electrical and Electronics engineering help? What else do you suggest?

  14. Jul 17, 2014 #13


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    As I said in your other thread it will get you into a masters in computational physics (admission is either a degree in computer science or physics) and you can branch out from there.

    But your math and computer science preparation needs to be strong.

  15. Jul 17, 2014 #14
    You could try what I was thinking about doing. My plan was to get a masters in physics at the same place where I did my undergrad in math, which wasn't very selective, and then impress the hell out of them and get perfect grades and everything, so that I could get into a reasonably high ranking graduate program. In fact, I sensed they were kind of drooling over me, the star math student, since they are kind of desperate for good students.

    To prepare, I planned to take a couple more physics classes, like intermediate classical mechanics and quantum. I got as far as taking intermediate classical mechanics, but I didn't like it, so I ended up choosing math instead and now have a PhD in math and learning some physics on the side. Actually, it turns out I do like classical mechanics; I simply needed to read Arnold's book about it, rather than the stupid undergraduate book we used. Anyway, one thing to think about is that you might not like physics as much as you think right now. Things can change over the years.
  16. Jul 18, 2014 #15


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    sagarbhathwar, my sincere advise to you is this:

    In India, go for EE/ECE. Then do a master's in modelling and simulation or computational science/techniques (they allow engineers to join in). After that you will have the necessary background to go for a PhD in computational physics.

    Otherwise, go for EE/ECE and then try to apply for grad school in the US to Physics departments (they will expect you to clear the physics GRE for this). It is much easier transitioning from EE/ECE to Physics than from CS/IS.

    I agree, but most of the people joining engineering are doing it for the job offers and not because they are very interested in it. You have to understand, computer science is closer to maths and electronics than it is to physics. If you want an engineering branch closer to the sciences, you have the option of EE, ECE and ChemE. I found that Electronics was a very natural and good pathway to physics, because in many ways electronics *is* physics.
  17. Jul 18, 2014 #16


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    For my curiosity, I'd like to know: Is EE a close enough equivalent? Especially w.r.t solid-state electronics and electromagnetics?
  18. Jul 18, 2014 #17


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    No. There are many things you study in a physics program that are not covered in an EE program. I was a double major in EE and physics.
  19. Jul 18, 2014 #18
    Ee and physics really aren't close. The basics may be the same... Entry level e and m is required for both. But after that it is my understanding they diverge quickly.
  20. Jul 18, 2014 #19
    The main overlap between EE and physics would be E and M. Not intro E and M, as second semester physics, but the next level. The courses tend to be slightly different, but the main topic there is understanding Maxwell's equations. EE classes deal with circuits a lot. This just means one less subject to catch up on. You might have to catch up a little bit on the specifics of E and M that are covered in a physics department version, but I don't think it's a huge difference. I knew people who substituted one for the other at my university. Also, I think signal processing is somewhat relevant for understanding physics. Also, in EE, you still use a lot of what you learn in introductory physics, as well as a lot of the same math that a physics major would use, which does prepare you a little more than if you had just taken it and moved on.

    I had a strong math background, as well as EE, so I had more than EE, but I still would have had to do a lot of self-studying, plus take one or two more classes to catch up before I could be a masters student in physics.
  21. Jul 18, 2014 #20


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    Thank you all. I asked because I actually had electronic engineering as my undergrad and currently doing my master's in energy science and engineering with specific focus on photovoltaics and electrochemical energy conversion and storage. I have studied E&M and what I studied slightly but not significantly different from what I see in the physics curricula in common. As part of my master's I did study Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, Semiconductor physics (including devices and optoelectronics), thin films, surface chemistry, electrochemistry, vacuum science and technology and two courses of thermodynamics (engineering, chemical) amongst others. Though, my school is an interdisciplinary one so I don't know whether this makes me eligible to apply in physics grad programs for a PhD in, for example, semiconductor devices though I have studied it quite in depth.

    I agree, signals and systems can serve as a replacement for "waves and oscillations", though of course the matter is treated and applied very differently and EE doesn't teach things like harmonic oscillators.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2014
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