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Programs Physics phd for NASA

  1. Aug 30, 2006 #1
    I have a really big problem, guys. So any help in the form of advice will be really appreciated.
    Ryt now I'm gettin my undergraduate degree in a medical school. But i really want to work for NASA ( not as a doctor ). So I wanted to know
    1.) If it is possible for me to do MS in a physics realted field through GRE. ( although i'm from a medical background )
    2.) And would gettin a phd in physics would be of any help to get a job at NASA.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2006 #2


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  4. Aug 30, 2006 #3


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    So one is getting a degree in what? Is it a pre-med program, as is usually the case with an undergrad program. Medical schools usually give MD's.

    The GRE is usually part of the entrance requirements for graduate school. One gets an MS after some time of study and usually a thesis (actual requirements vary).

    Having a PhD in math or one of the sciences would help in getting a job with NASA. Also, if one's research is particularly relevant to NASA's objectives or interests, that is a big plus.
  5. Aug 30, 2006 #4


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    As unfortunately is often the case, I'm here to burst your bubble.

    It is highly dangerous to tailor-made your studies simply to work on ONE specific area, even worse, for one specific organization. If there is something that we have seen for a fact, it is that job opportunities and availability fluctuates, and fluctuates a lot within just one year. The job environment in which you started your studies is often not the same one when you graduate. Right now, there are many people left holding bags full of nothing when NASA decided to scale back on a significant portion of their science program.

    Do not handicap yourself like that. To put all your eggs into one basket and not even consider the possibility that you might be seeking too-narrow of a goal is a recipe for disappointment.

  6. Aug 30, 2006 #5
    Guys, I'm from India. and gettin my undergraduate degree from a medical school here( the course is 5 1/2 years long and i'm in my 4th year ). The system is bit different here than is in US( I get to do my MD after i finish my undergraduate degree ). But the problem is that i really don't want to spend my life studyin medicine( it's not that there's anythin wrong with medicine, it's just that its not my cup of tea ). And i really want to switch fields, so i just wanted to know if i can do MS in physics/Astronomy realted field through GRE and then maybe phd in physics.

    Although its my great ambition to work for NASA, but if i don't land a job at NASA, I would prefer to do research in physics or become a Astronomer than become a doctor.
    So could u guys give me some advice on what i should do.
  7. Aug 30, 2006 #6


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  8. Aug 30, 2006 #7
    It is possible to work for NASA as a foreign national, but it is VERY difficult. The amount of paperwork and the number of hoops that have to be jumped through to get you a job at NASA are exponentially worse than if you were a citizen of the US.

    In addition, if you are looking to do fundamental science as a NASA employee you are going to have a tough time. Every single research scientist that I know at NASA ( I know about a dozen, but they all work in the same area of physics) who has a Ph.D. in math or physics has atleast 50% (if not all) of his time doing engineering in some capacity.

    A good amount of the hardcore science that is done by NASA is actually done by scientists who have research grants through NASA- but are not actually employed by the federal government. In the public's eye, NASA is a much different instituition than the one that exists in the reality of a bureaucracy.

    I don't mean to ruin your dreams, but having a proper understanding of what NASA really is lets you make an informed choice. It seems like you would be much more happy doing some sort of astronomy or physics. A Ph.D. in physics lets you do so much more than simply work for NASA and in many ways things that can be much more exciting.

    Good luck with your decisions.
  9. Aug 30, 2006 #8
    Thanx for ur advice. I really really appreciate it.
    I'm 20 years old and from India.
    The problem with me here is that i'm already in my 4th year of my undergraduate degree in medicine, and if i choose to switch fields now, its a huge risk that i'm takin.
    Actually I hope to do my phd in Robotics in USA( i'm not even sure if such a degree exists). Actually its just in the last couple of days that i have decided that i can't take it any more, and i have to go for what i would really like to do. So i just started gatherin information whether if its even possible to do MS and then later phd in a Physics realated field( since my UG degree would be from medicine, and there's still 1 1/2 year left before I get my UG degree ). I haven't studied physics in the last 4 years( but i don't mind spending a year or two more than is required to do MS just to catch up )
    The only reason I want to go for robotics is that maybe it would help me land a job at NASA( maybe in their shuttle programme or somethin realated to their space probes -- i'm not really sure ).
    Otherwise, I love astronomy and Physics, and if I fail to get a job at NASA, I could go for any one of these two after my physics phd.
    So could u tell me that if is it even possible for me get a MS course in physics in US.
    Plzz do reply.
    Thanx again for ur help.
  10. Aug 30, 2006 #9


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    You do know that "Robotics" is more mechanical/electrical engineering than physics, don't you?

    This is getting rather confusing. It seems that you have ambitions in all different directions. While that is OK when one is just starting out, at this stage when you are thinking of jumping into the field in mid-stream, such indecision is not helpful. Do you want to do robotics, or do you want to do physics/astronomy? Decide once and for all, because unlike starting out as as undergraduate, you don't have that "honeymoon" years where you can take a set of intro classes that are shared by those majors.

    In addition, most of us can't tell you if it is possible to get into a "MS course" in any field. What you have to do is look find a few schools that offer the field of study that you want to get into, and look at the undergraduate curriculum in that field. Chances are, these are the courses that they assume that you already know by the time you enroll. I don't know how much physics and mathematics you have, but if I were you, I will be concerned, first and foremost, that my education is severely lacking in many of the fundamental requirements to be either an engineer or a physicist.

    Once again, I will point to the link I gave you, and it would apply to an engineering graduate programs also, because many of them have qualifying exams as well, even for a Masters program.

    I would also ask you to pay attention to what Norman has said. Many of the so-called NASA programs are run not NASA employees, but rather various individuals from a number of institutions that have obtained research fundings. NASA is becoming like a "user facility", where people from other places use their facilities, such as the Hubble telescopes, etc. to do their research work. This is not unlike other scientific facilities such as CERN, Fermilab, synchrotron sources, etc. in which most of the research done are by those from other institutions.

    So do not be fooled into thinking that one has to work for NASA to do astronomy/astrophysics work that are being reported by NASA.

  11. Aug 31, 2006 #10


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    You may have to be a US citizen, unless you work for NASA via a different institution:
  12. Aug 31, 2006 #11
    Just getting a badge (you need one to get into any NASA site) takes a very long time for foreign nationals (on the order of 6 months). Worse if you are a citizen of one of the ITAR restricted countries or a country the US is currently participating in an embargo against- you may not be awarded a badge at all. Things get complicated when you start working for the federal government.
  13. Aug 31, 2006 #12
    Sorry for not being specific, but the problem is that I myself haven't decided for sure whether to go for physics or astronomy.

    I also read in the following thread - Part VII: The US Graduate School System
    - by ZapperZ that one doesn't have to do MSc to apply for a phd. But is this possible for me to apply directly for a physics phd( i would have my undergraduate degree in medicine and not a BSc from physics ). So what should i do,
    ----- apply for a physics MSc and then for a physics Phd. or
    ----- directly apply for a physics phd.
  14. Aug 31, 2006 #13
    Ryt now I'm not thinking about applying for NASA( i still have 1 1/2 years to go before i get my undergraduate degree in medicine, and i don't think there's a job at NASA for such qualifications ). Although I do plan to apply at a later stage when I think that I have some qualifications( I'm not sure what they might be, I'm still lookin for more information ) that they might find useful.
    And I honestly have no idea what a badge is.
    As for the ITAR restricted countries, I looked it up and forutnately for me India isn't in that list.
  15. Aug 31, 2006 #14


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    There's nothing to stop you from applying. However, with your background, it is amost certain you will not be accepted, considering you do not have the physics expertise and credentials. I mean, why would you even want to apply in the first place knowing that you have so much deficiencies in your physics understanding? You'll spend at least a year doing nothing but taking undergraduate physics courses, and this is even assuming that you have the necessary mathematical background to tackle those physics courses (and this is not something to trivialize either).

    Again, you are jumping way too far ahead. I've given you a first-order self-test for yourself. I'd suggest before worrying if you can get accept or not, if you can apply for Ph.D or Masters, or if you can work for so-and-so, that you make your own self-evaluation first.

  16. Aug 31, 2006 #15


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    It's going to be very, very hard getting into a competitive physics grad program with absolutely no physics background at the undergraduate level.

    Most grad schools will accept students with an undergraduate degree in "physics or related fields". I'm not sure Medicine is a related field.

    Do you have any college (or even high school) classes in physics? Without some background in physics, an admissions committe will hardly look at your application, unless you have a 95% or better GRE physics score.
  17. Aug 31, 2006 #16


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    Did you miss my post?

    edit: still missed it?
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2006
  18. Aug 31, 2006 #17
    Thanx to all of u who have been takin some time out to help me out here.
    Let me explain a little about my situation here.

    If u guys don't wanna read the whole thing, u can just go through the shorter version below that.

    The school system here is divided into 10 classes(each of one year) and a further 2 classes after that( again of one year each - I think that's equivalent to high school in US ).
    After ur 10th class u have to decide among subjects u want to take. eg. one combination could be Physics, Maths, Chemistry( to be eligible for engeenerig schools) and another one could be Physics, chemistry and Biology( to be eligibile for medical schools ). I choose the latter ( i was 14y old when I made this decision ).
    After u pass ur 12th class, u have to give a Pre medical or a Pre engeenering exam to get entrance into a Medical school or a Engeenering school respectively. I opted for the former. ( This was in 2002 )
    Now i'm in my 4th year and really think that it was the biggest mistake of my life to go for medicine.
    Now i really want to switch fields. Can I switch fields here in India ? The answer is a definite no no. Because to apply for a MSc in physics its compulsory to have a BSc in physics ( To university can't take u even if u were stephine hawking - its just the rules )
    If i want to switch fields I will have to repeat 11th and 12th class with Physics, Chemistry and Maths as subjects and then give a Pre engeenering entrance examination if i opt for engeeneing or maybe i could do BSc. So whatever i have done since the last 6 years will be completely wasted. Plus that would enormous amount of pressure on my parents( both in terms of financially and mentally ). This is if i decide to completly quit my medical seat and decide not to complete my undergraduate degree in medicine( there's still 1 1/2 year left of it ). And its not easy to get a medical seat here in India ( 40,000 giving the exam and just 200 seats ). The only point i'm tryin to make here is that i would be takin an enormous risk if i choose to switch fields. I would be left with nothing if things didn't work out.
    So what I have been trying to find out is that is it possible in US to get a MSc without a BSc in physics. As far as I know it takes about 2 years to complete MSc, but i'm ready to give even 4 years just for MSc ( assuming i'll take me first two years just to catch up, as i don't have a BSc in physics ).

    IN SHORT :

    1) I have studied physics and chemistry till high school.
    2) Ryt now i'm in 4th year in medical school and want to switch fields.
    3) Can i switch fields here in India ? ------- Not possible.
    4) So is there a way to go for a MSc- physics/astronomy in US. I'm willing to spend 2 years just to catch up for the absence of BSc physics.

    I know its very difficult for any of u to answer whether its possible or not. I think maybe it depends on the particualr university or maybe the interviewer.

    Anyway, I would be really thankful for any advice on what I should or could do.

    Thanx a lot again, u guys.
  19. Aug 31, 2006 #18


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    You have basically answered the question yourself here. You clearly do not have adequate preparation not only in physics, but in the mathematics required.

    Again, take that self-evaluation that I suggested. Do a sample GRE, and then, try looking for qualifier-level questions and see if you can even make heads or tails of it.

    Please note that even people who came from closely-related fields to physics, such as engineering and mathematics, still have to do quite a bit of remedial physics to catch up and get through the qualifier. I will put it to you that with your educational background, it is almost impossible to be able to catch up on the physics you need in 2 years. Why? Because you also lack the tools to do advanced undergraduate physics - the mathematics. So even if you enroll in those classes, I am almost certain that you won't be able to do them.

    Physics isn't a subject in which you can jump midway and learn it simply by reading a book. So I am highly skeptical that, based on what you have described, you would get an admission to a physics graduate program and survive.

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