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Programs Reasonable Degree Timeline for Undergraduate/Masters/PhD?

  1. Jul 18, 2011 #1
    I'm a bit ahead due to AP classes, starting in the summer and tests of advanced standing so it looks like I can comfortably finish my BS in about 3 years time starting this fall. I'm trying to get my education timeline to run somewhat reasonably with my significant other's and she will be taking a total of 5 years starting this fall for her double with music. For Physics, is there any reason to apply to a Master's at one school and then a PhD at another or is it more like you apply to the graduate program with an intent for a PhD take classes, take qauls etc?

    My goal at present is:
    3 years BS Physics/BS Applied Mathematics (a double major assuming I take summer semesters)
    2 years MS Physics at the same school
    5-7 years PhD Physics at a school that actually offers the programs I'm interested in... (While my University is a great overall school it simply doesn't offer any of the subfields I'm interested in. . .)

    If I did this it would put us both out at the same time and we've already mapped out a number of graduate school options for different scenarios (Top schools all the way through some extreme fall backs) so that won't be an issue. The problem is that I'm not sure if it would be legitimate for me to go to a school for Masters and another for a PhD if I'm looking for a relatively competitive program (probably high energy, particles and fields, or cosmology depending on how my SR, GR, and QFT courses go).

    I could probably apply to grad school in two years time if I take summers and drop the applied math degree but there are no schools in my state that offer my programs! (I wish I lived in NY or California...)

    I would really like to take her degree into consideration when I apply to for grad school and any advice on how to time myself would be great.

    If it turns out I need to apply to graduate school directly for a PhD path I've heard that a lot of people take 5-7 years time. My dad said he'd had friends complete PhDs in 4 years with a lot of work but I'm not sure I would be comfortable trying to do a Physics PhD that quickly (or if it's even possible for me). Is there anyway to determine a rough length for a PhD? I'm sure there are some paths that take longer than others. Most schools I've looked at do give medians of 6 or 7 years but there must be some exceptions.

    Thank you for your time,
    Elwin Martin

    Edit: I'm guessing that a double major doesn't mean anything to most graduate programs so long as my research, grades and PGR are good so would it be advisable to drop it? I would really like to have Applied Math degree as it would give me a more rigorous view of many topics I need in Graduate Physics (Differential Geometry and Topology for instance.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2011 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    In the USA, you almost always enter a physics PhD program after finishing the bachelor's degree. After completing a certain amount of coursework, you can usually pick up a master's degree along the way, so to speak. The total amount of time to the PhD (after the bachelor's) varies depending on your field, whether you're in theory or experiment, how well your dissertation topic turns out, etc. Most people take 5 to 7 years.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2011
  4. Jul 18, 2011 #3
    You may also consider staying the 4th year for your Bachelor's, to improve your chances in getting into a better PhD program. It wouldn't hurt you if you're not barred on time or finances.
  5. Jul 18, 2011 #4
    So slowing down my course work and lowering my load per semester a little won't make my application look weak? That's surprising to hear but good to know. (or is it that I'd have more time for research?)

    I shouldn't be awfully barred by finances. I sort of lost my state scholarship for the fall (I have a 4.0gpa presently, it's not a grade thing) but it will be back from the spring onward for about 96 credit hours more?

    If I'm slowing down and I don't think that the second major would hinder my time to study for PGRE and research etc should I consider the second major then? At least where I'm attending, I can fill most of my Physics electives with degree requirements for an Applied Math degree (Complex Analysis counts as a Physics Elective, Mathematical Statistics, Numerical Analysis, PDE counts as a 4000 level elective in both etc.) I'm not sure I can slow to four without being bored otherwise but I guess I'll know when I start hitting the real classes like Electrodynamics or Complex Analysis etc.
  6. Jul 19, 2011 #5
    I thought I'd heard that. A professor of mine did a master's-ish program at Oxford for 2 years and then came back (he did Caltech UG and Stonybrook for PhD, which is the kind of situation I wish I could reverse for myself but I guess we all do[there's nothing wrong with Stonybrook though!]) so I was wondering if I could find a program that was similar in the U.S. but I guess not. I'm hoping to go for theory if my PGRE scores are competitive and my research is good.

    What motivation is there to pick up the master's along the way? Is it a fallback for hire-ability?
  7. Jul 19, 2011 #6
    It comes down to, can you handle upper division physics courses coming in as a freshman(I'm assuming junior level courses)? A lot of plans sound good on paper, but loading up on electrodynamics, QM, and PDEs and two more classes in one semester would just be killer in terms of homework and studying.

    But if you can realistically handle the workload, then there really shouldn't be a problem.
  8. Jul 19, 2011 #7
    1) No. It's better to get things done well then done quickly.
    2) If you push yourself too hard and burn out then it doesn't matter.
  9. Jul 19, 2011 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    Basically, yes. If something happens and you don't finish your Ph.D., you've still got something. It might not actually matter for much, but the effort to do it should be trivial. All I had to do was file a form in the department office and maybe pay a small fee.
  10. Jul 20, 2011 #9
    I'll keep that in mind, thanks.
  11. Jul 20, 2011 #10
    Thanks, I guess I'll look into it when I get there.
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