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Recent CE Grad, Want to Pursue Masters in Physics

  1. Jun 23, 2011 #1
    I graduated with a degree in civil engineering in Dec 2010, but only after realizing a year prior that I would rather study physics, so now I'm considering going back to school. I'll be honest, the only CE class that interested me was fluid dynamics and I put as little effort into my other classes as was required to pass, so my graduating GPA wasn't that great: 2.4xx. In the beginning I had no plans for grad school, so by the time I had decided I wanted to pursue physics it was too late to save my GPA.

    Fast forward to now, and I'm trying to figure out what to do. I've taken up through calc III, had a couple basic physics courses, and took one 300 level physics course for fun, but not for a grade. In order to get into a masters program, I need to take the GRE specific to physics, and I would undoubtedly fail with flying colors. What I really need is a solid 1.5-2 years of undergrad classes to catch up and prepare myself for graduate school. So this is where I'm stuck: Do I apply as a freshman? Do I try and apply as a grad student and hopefully talk someone into hearing me out?

    One last thing: I have a decently paying job right now. I was fortunate enough that my parents paid for undergrad, but they won't be paying this time around, nor would they pay for grad school; so any way you cut it I'll be in debt up to my eyeballs if I go back to school. I'm not 100% sure what I would want to do after more school, but I'm obsessed with keeping up with the latest research, so maybe a research job is an option? I can also see myself as a teacher; I wouldn't mind getting paid to talk physics all day. Realistically, what are the odds I'll be able to pay off we'll say...$125,000 in student loans in a reasonable amount of time with a graduate degree in physics?

    ANY opinions are much appreciated, as I've been wrestling over this in my head for a solid 6 months now and I haven't made much progress.
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  3. Jun 23, 2011 #2


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    I find suspect that you attribute your low GPA to not being interested in a CE degree and still going forward and finishing it.

    I am a Civil Engineer. I studied Civil Eng for my undergraduate, and also did a Master Degree in Civil Engineering, but I decided Civil Engineering is not for me. I am currently finishing a PhD in Economics, and I have a Master in Economics as of 2010. I graduated with 3.9 GPA from my undergrad.

    I think you need to rethink your situation, and with a 2.4 GPA, you won't even pass the cut off point of graduate school.

    It is unfortunate your GPA is so low or I would have recommended you to get a PhD in Civil Engineering. They do a lot of basic research in Fluid Dynamics, even publish in physics journals. Wave propagation in soil mechanics is also another field of interest, and much more. Civil Engineering at the graduate level can be quite mathematically challenging.
  4. Jun 23, 2011 #3
    I went in undecided, thinking I wanted to do architecture. I took two design classes and decided to go for engineering. I didn't matriculate into engineering until the beginning of my 3rd year; I had a social life up until that point and it didn't help things. I thought I wanted to pursue CE, but like I said, by the time I really appreciated physics and math in general, it was too late. I was always front and center in the 300 level physics class that I took and the notes from that class are far more detailed than any of my CE classes because I was actually interested in what the teacher had to say. Concrete design, soil mechanics, and structural analysis just aren't my thing. I'll put it this way: I don't analyze steel beams in my free time, but I will sit and read a highly technical physics book for hours on end.

    So you decided against CE after getting a masters?

    I understand that, which is another reason why I need a couple years of undergraduate courses. I have no doubt that I would do well with a course load of classes that actually hold my attention.

    Fluids interested me because it was more of a fundamental physics class relative to the other courses I took. Not to mention there is a certain aesthetic aspect to calculus that fluids helped me see and greatly appreciate. It hit me one night when I was staring at contrails in the sky and I was actually able see the math behind what was going on. But I wouldn't focus on fluids, it was just the catalyst that made me appreciate the math behind fundamental physics. BTW, nothing short of a death threat would get me back in school for more CE classes, especially anything involving soil mechanics, wave propagation or not.
  5. Jun 23, 2011 #4

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    You probably should apply as a "non-degree seeking student".
  6. Jun 23, 2011 #5


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    You could try going back for a second bachelors. Many of the courses you've taken will transfer to it, so you could probably get a bachelors in physics in about two years. State schools will consider letting you do this, but not many private schools will. State schools will be cheaper. Since you said your parents paid for undergrad, I'm not sure where you're getting the 125k figure from - physics grad school pays YOU to get your degree through tuition waivers and assistantships. But without at least a 3.0 GPA in physics classes, they won't (often can't) consider you.
  7. Jun 23, 2011 #6
    Yeah I've thought about that, but I feel like a school would rather accept a student that could later be an asset to the institution rather than someone who might just be taking classes for fun.

    Out of state tuition (I'm looking at schools in California, I'm in NC) is killer, my undergrad was nowhere near that expensive because I was in state. I guess I need to talk to the admissions department because I'm under the impression that once a degree is earned, the classes used to get there are no longer eligible for transfer credit. If I knew I could transfer all my general education classes and have two solid years of nothing but physics/math then I would be extremely happy.
  8. Jun 23, 2011 #7


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    The problem I see is that you only mention Freshman College Physics courses... You didn't like Statics? Dynamics? Mechanics of Materials? those are the courses of classical mechanics based on vectorial methods taught to engineers... They are way more advanced than the freshman physics. How did you do on those courses? What about the structural analysis courses using Virtual Work? Castigliano Theorem?

    You mention, you didn't like soil mechanics... You didn't like Boussisneq Theory?. I mean all of these courses are pretty much applied mathematical models developed for a topic. Theoretical work. Same as Navier-Stokes for Fluid Mechanics.

    I am bit skeptical about your decision for physics and math. I think, you should rethink your situation carefully instead of jumping into another field. It seems to me you are basing it on freshman physics... Why did you lose your motivation?.

    Yes. I did my master in Transportation Engineering. Transportation is an interdisciplinary field borrowing quite heavily from economics, operations research, psychology, urban planning, and others. My master thesis was based on Econometric modeling, and thus I really liked it, and I decided to just pursue Mathematical Economics.

    My background in my undergraduate is quite heavily on mathematical structural analysis, and thus I benefited from all the math I took (plus extra math I didn't have to take) for my graduate studies, even thought I left Structural Engineering. However, if I could do it all over again, I would have preferred do my undergrad in Applied Mathematics, and proceed to a PhD in Economics.

    I like that you've made up your mind to leave Civil Engineering. However, You don't seem to understand that those AREAS OF RESEARCH are applied mathematical modeling and based on PHYSICS. I think you don't know what you want, and that is clear. What is it exactly you say you like in physics? Trust me, getting a couple of As in freshman physics doesn't mean physics is for you, especially when the more advanced theoretical courses on physics in engineering (Statics, Dynamics...) didn't interest you.
  9. Jun 24, 2011 #8
    I took statics, dynamics, solids (mechanics of materials), etc. and yes I do realize that every CE class is based on a more fundamental physics. For the record, I absolutely loved dynamics; it was right up my alley. I don't consider it a CE class because it was optional. It used to be a required course but my school changed the degree path so dynamics was optional and we could take traffic engineering instead.

    I just don't find it interesting in the least. It's hard for me to get excited about soil gradation, pore pressure, and just dirt in general.

    No, I'm not just basing it on freshman physics. Like I said, I took a 300 level astrophysics class for fun and to test the waters to see if I really wanted to pursue it further, and was completely enthralled.

    I absolutely understand that. Once I realized that what I was studying was just another branch of something more fundamental, I became more interested in studying physics. I've always been the type that has to know how things work, and physics is the foundation of nearly every branch of science out there.

    I know exactly what I want: a deeper understanding of the world and the universe as a whole, from fundamental particles all the way up to black holes. Quantum theory greatly interests me for a couple reasons: no prediction it has made has ever been wrong, and there seems to be a definite link between consciousness and the quantum world. I have been highly interested in consciousness for as long as I can remember and given that studying physics could give me a better understanding of the human mind makes it all that much more appealing.

    And I didn't even do well in the first physics class that I took; I wasn't mature enough to appreciate what I was learning. It wasn't until the second class, on electricity/magnetism/optics, that I started to see the underlying beauty and really start to ask questions that would lead me to other branches of physics. I can tell you the exact moment that it happened too: We were discussing gravity in class one day and I was thinking about Newton's equation for gravitational force. It hit me that his equation implied that a change in gravitational force was instantaneous; remove the sun and the earth is immediately thrown off its orbit. That didn't sit well with me, so I started reading up on gravity, which lead me to relativity, and it was downhill from there on. I never had that kind of revelation during a soil mechanics, structural analysis, or concrete design class.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2011
  10. Jun 24, 2011 #9


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    I think reading your new replies, you do seem more clear about your pursue. I think you can understand why I was skeptical. You don't want to change direction, and then end up quitting your new path again. I know most people say you can always go back to school, and yes that is true. However, we have a finite amount of time on this planet, and you want to make the best of it.
  11. Jun 24, 2011 #10
    Oh yeah, I can definitely see why you were skeptical. "So this kid had a 2.4 in some basic engineering classes and thinks he wants to be a physicist?" Trust me, I've looked at this from every angle, which has just made it that much harder in regards to just exactly how I should go about applying. I know on paper I don't look like much, but the drive is absolutely there.
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