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Quick Question: Switching Fields in PhD

  1. Nov 28, 2014 #1
    I am a senior physics BS student, applying to programs in condensed matter and high energy physics at the moment. However, I have always been interested in doing an MS in EE. Its sort of late this year though, and I can't apply for EE programs now. But that got me thinking: is it possible to start my PhD program in physics, and then switch to engineering while in grad school? What is the process for this? Do I re-apply?

    I know it sounds bad, but I don't know what to do with my life at the moment. I'm hoping that I might learn if physics grad school is for me, by doing a year of it. So I guess i'm just wondering the possibility and possible issues of swapping to EE MS (or PhD even) programs, after having completed a year of physics PhD program.

    Thanks!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 28, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    In general, no. One applies to the EE department like anyone else, and starts from the beginning. Be aware that if you don't have the EE prerequisites, this will be harder than if you do.
     
  4. Nov 28, 2014 #3

    George Jones

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    My wife got an M.Sc. in physics, then started a Ph.D. in physics (in Canada, completing a Master's before starting a Ph.D is common), before switching to a Master's in material science engineering at another university.
     
  5. Nov 28, 2014 #4
    Nice. Was she in a related field of physics?

    Thanks, so I would have to re-apply to school, but for EE. Would waiting another year then applying to EE programs be better than doing this? I'm not sure if schools would see dropping out of a PhD program to start a different one, as good.
     
  6. Nov 28, 2014 #5

    analogdesign

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    I dropped out of one PhD program to start another one with no problem. Happens all the time. At the PhD level "fit" is everything.
     
  7. Nov 28, 2014 #6
    You can ask around the department you go to if students work with professors in other departments. At my school I know of some physics doing research in the EE department as well as others.
     
  8. Nov 29, 2014 #7
    I have a physics friend who got accepted in an EE MS program this past year (he started it in the fall). He had to take some prerequisites in EE though. I think he took Circuits I, Circuits II, Electronics I, Signal Processing I and Physical Electronics (this probably wasn't needed with his strong physics background but he wants to go into semiconductors). So he took 12-15 credits of prerequisites, which isn't that bad since he pretty much just took one EE class his junior year till graduation. I think the signals class and physical electronics actually counted as some physics electives for him as well.
     
  9. Nov 29, 2014 #8
    Okay, this makes me feel better then. How did you go about it, and do you think taking a gap year would be better than prematurely quitting?

    Yeah, I have taken some EE, but i'll probably need to take some undergrad courses during the EE program. Other threads about Phys -> EE seem to suggest this is possible.
     
  10. Nov 29, 2014 #9

    analogdesign

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    Well I went to grad school "A" for about a quarter when it was clear to me it wasn't going to work out. The professor I was going to work with met with me a few weeks after I got there and told me he didn't require my services after all and I was "free" to talk to other professors. I really didn't find one that clicked with me and frankly I was getting kind of depressed about the whole situation. I contacted a professor who had recruited me at grad school "B" but I had declined their offer. I went up to grad school "B" and talked with him and we decided I could start as a first-year grad student in grad school "B" the next fall. So, in a way, I both quit a grad program and I took a gap year. I spent the rest of the year working by-the-hour with a research group I had previously interned with. I got really lucky, it's true, but I also had the foresight to cut something short that wasn't going to work out.

    While I lost a year, in the long term it really doesn't matter. I got my Ph.D. and have a fulfilling career so it all worked out for the best.

    As to your question, don't start a grad program you're planning to quit. It is far better to get an internship or co-op or somesuch for the year than start grad school fresh. Try your best to do some career-related activity during that gap year. If you're switching to EE you will have to take some requisite courses (undergrad courses you need to start grad school). As aspire said, it is typically four or five courses. If your university allows it (and you can afford it), you can try to take those courses during a gap year and you won't lose much time at all in the end.
     
  11. Nov 30, 2014 #10

    ZapperZ

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    How about sticking to Physics PhD, but choosing a field of specialization that has a close tie to EE? Accelerator physics, Detector/Instrumentation physics, etc. are all fields in which both EE and Physics PhDs work in.

    Zz.
     
  12. Dec 1, 2014 #11
    I don't think i'll be able to get much of a job, given a physics BS. But I suppose I could try. And I'm not quite sure if I'm 'planning' on quitting. I'm just not sure if physics is for me, at this point.

    That's a good idea, but is it possible to get industry jobs (not finance) in that case? And is the pay as good as engineers get? I'm not keen on academia.
     
  13. Dec 2, 2014 #12

    f95toli

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    In that case you should also consider WHY you want to do a PhD. It might not be worth getting a PhD in engineering it if your plan is to go to industry.
    Whether or not having an EE PhD is actually worth it will strongly depend on which sub-field of EE you are interested in (i.e. might be a good idea of you are interested in device physics/semiconductors, but probably virtually useless from a financial point of view if you are into circuit design)
    Note that I am all for doing a PhD because you think it might be an interesting experience and you will enjoy it, but don't assume it is going to make you more competitive compared to someone who "only" has a MSc but then spent the following years actually working in industry..
     
  14. Dec 3, 2014 #13
    Well, I mentioned in OP that I would consider an MS. But thanks for the info regarding fields of EE. I'm most interested in solid state devices, semiconductors, etc. so i'll probably go for the PhD. I guess I don't want to be stuck with a PhD in physics, and not be able to get a job because my degree says 'physics' and not 'engineering'.
     
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