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Programs Scope of PhD((or MS/PhD from US)) in A&A?

  1. Jun 11, 2012 #1

    I am a first year student of ECE in India, I am really really interested in Astronomy and Astrophysics and was hoping to get into a BS in Physics program in IIT Kanpur or IISc Bangalore however I fell short of it in JEE. However after doing a bit of searching online I see that several institutes in India like IUCAA, IISc, NCRA-TIFR, RRI, IIA etc. take BE/B. Tech students for PhD/Integrated PhD in A&A. But I am really confused regarding the following:

    1.) The entrance exam to all the above mentioned institutes((like JEST, INAT, IIAEST, etc.)) are largely based on undergrad or grad level physics and maths, which my engg. course won't prepare me for, so how do I prepare for these exams by myself? Is it even practically possible? If so please suggest some books and strategies to self-study undergrad level physics and maths.

    2.) Do US Universities admit B. Tech students to MS-PhD programmes in A&A? If so what exactly is the admission procedure? Which papers of GRE would I have to answer and how do I prepare for them? Would I need to do internships/research projects/etc? If so, how do I find these in India?

    3.) What is the scope of a PhD in A&A? How hard will it be for me to get a position in academia or in a research institute((both, in India and abroad)) where my job will be directly related to A&A/Physics? Money isn't a big issue for me, I will be content as long as I can secure decent and clean living conditions, food and broadband internet((:P)).

    Thanks for taking time to read all this, all help on these will be highly appreciated!
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2012 #2
    Re: How to pursue PhD((or MS/PhD from US)) in A&A?-Please Help!

    Following are the books that you will need to prepare yourself for undergraduate physics, and help you clear the above mentioned exams, the physics gre as well as prepare you to undertake graduate study in phyics.

    Mathematical methods in physical sciences - mary boas :

    Before you even pickup a physics book, this is one book that you'll have to be done with almost completely. This is going to take time, an entire year perhaps, and you can do some physics study alongside, perhaps a review at the level of resnick halliday, but it's useless going in for a study of undergraduate physics without the necessary maths under your belt, ask me, i've gone through it and wasted a lot of time.
    So before you do anything else, this is the book you have to have under your belt.

    Classical Mechanics :

    1.) An intro. To mechanics - kleppner and kolenkow
    This is a very rigorous book, at a level greater than resnick halliday and sorts, but still lower than more advanced undergraduate mechanics.
    This book grew out of the lectures at MIT, by the authors, and this course saw a drop rate of 50% at MIT. So you can judge the level of rigour involved. Although, it's not that difficult too.

    2.) classical mechanics - douglas gregory
    Classical mechanics - john r. Taylor

    Both these Books are at the same level of exposition. I have used the first one. The second one, i.e. the one by taylor is more popular though. There are many other books at the same level. You can go in for any one of them.


    An introduction to electrodynamics - d.j. Griffiths

    This is a classic at this level of exposition. It has its critics just like any other book, but this is one of the best you can get and this is used in universities all across the world as a standard text.

    Quantum mechanics

    An introduction to quantum mechanics -d.j. Griffiths

    QM is a very subtle subject and so everyone has their own opinions about how it should be taught. But again, this book is used as a standard in most universities across the world, and i personally find it an exceptional book as compared to many others that i have gone through.
    But one thing is for sure, that you can't possibly go wrong with this one and its one of the best texts out there to get you started with the subject.

    Heat and thermodynamics

    Heat and thermodynamics - zeemansky and dittman

    Again, lots of comparable books available for the subject at this level, but this one is a standard text for the subject and one of the more popular ones.

    These form the basic pillars of physics. Once you are done with them, you can go in for whatever topics catch your attention. But a good grounding in all the above is needed for you to make a meaningful Attempt at any other advanced area of physics.
    Yes, universities in US, Canada and even UK, will admit students from backgrounds in fields closely related to physics. As an engineering undergrad. you don't really have to worry about eligibility in terms of your degree.

    The procedure, for most universities, requires you to submit your application by around december of the year before you intend to join. This would mean, you'll be applying somewhere around the end of your fall semester in your fourth year.

    Fall session in most universities starts from august/september.

    You prepare for the GRE by first being competent in undergrad. Physics, using the books i mentioned above and then going in for a practice of previous years physics gre papers.

    As for the general gre, there are lots of books available and there's plenty of material online. The general gre typically requires not more than a month or two's preparation. So you can stop worrying about that right now. Although, you should start working on your Vocabulary.

    For this, you need lots of reading, and a book called "word power made easy - norman lewis".

    Remember, you'll be taking both the general gre and the physics gre in the first semester of your fourth year, i.e., your 7th semester.
    You'll also have to take TOEFL , as a test of your english proficiency. This is also considered to be a piece of cake as long you are fluent and decent enough at english. A week's specific preparation would be more than enough.

    Yes you need as much research expeience as you can get. You need all the more because you come from a non physics background. Try to get involved with physics prof.s at your university in an area that catches your attention.

    You could also work in the areas related to your core degree, i.e. electronics as electronics isn't that far afield from physics.

    If you can manage to get a pulication, that would be a real bonus as that would improve your profile and make you attractive to the top 20 universities.

    Keep a good gpa so that you can apply for summer programmes and internships at various indian institutes like TIFR, HRI, CMI etc.
    You can visit their websites for more details.

    I don't have a good idea about this since i too am an undergrad. In ece right now.

    But from what i have read, A&A seems to be one of those areas of physics where jobs are scarce and the pay isn't that good.

    And getting a tenure in academia is very difficult in general. You'll have to spend atleast 5 years or so on temporary post docs, that don't pay that well, before you can start thinking about any permanent job.

    In india though, the situation is slightly better as of now. You can secure faculty position in one of the many engineering insitutes india, as a physics professor, althoug i don't know wether you'll be able to work in A & A in such institutes.

    Also, we can't predict, what it's oing to be like a decade or so from now.
  4. Jun 11, 2012 #3
    Loads of thanks! I will start with Mary Boas asap.

    Also yes, I have also heard that getting a permanent job in academia is difficult but then again I ave see various good engg college having profs with only one post doc as faculty, even if I am not able to work in A&A it would be better than no job. What about jobs outside academia?

    P.S. Say, did you use to post on goIIT.com? Are you also planning on giving GRE?
  5. Jun 11, 2012 #4
    Are you talking about indian prof.s or prof.s in universities abroad, that got a faculty position with a single post doc ?

    If it's india, then as i said, it's relatively easy to get into indian academia as there is an acute shortage of faculty.

    And yeah, even if you won't be ale to work in astrophysics, you'll still be able to work in some other area of physics for sure. But i am also not too sure wether a guy with a phd in say condensed matter physics would get an upper hand over you in indian engineering colleges and institutes, since these institutes are oriented towards engineering and applied science.

    I have heard that finding jobs outside of academia with a physics phd isnt much of a problem. But what most people have an issue with is the nature and quality of the job.

    You may be overqualified for many of these jobs, and could have gotten most of these jobs with something like a masters in engg. , and your pay will also be similar.

    Also, the pay in indian universities isnt that great.

    If you are content with that, go for it.

    And yeah, used to post all kinds of crap on that site, and yes i am also planning to give the physics gre, but wether i am going to give it this year or next year, i am not too sure.
  6. Jun 12, 2012 #5
    Indian profs., of course.

    If there aren't any restrictions on number of attempts, why not give it this year?

    Also, what internships, etc did you do?
  7. Jun 12, 2012 #6
    I could give it this year, depending on my preparation, but i don't know if the scores of previous attempts also get listed when you apply. So if i score low this time, and have to give the exam again, and if the lower scores also show up on my gre transcript, it might have some negative impact in my admissions. So i'm trying to find out if that's the case or not.

    As for internships and all, i have nothing so far. I have a really screwed up gpa, haven't been able to work on my self study of physics as i had planned because of college stress and lots of distractions. So now i am working these summers to cover up. Next semester oneards, we have minor projects.

    I am thinking of doing something physics related for my projects as well as improving my gpa a bit so that i would be able to apply for vistors programmes at places like tifr hri and all in the winter break.

    That's the plan as of now.
  8. Jun 13, 2012 #7
    All the best, man.
  9. Jun 18, 2012 #8
    One more thing, considering the fact that I will have to prepare undergrad physics by myself along with my engg. course, when should I start preparing for physics GRE and the other exams mentioned above?
  10. Jun 24, 2012 #9
    I would say, plan on completing a good portion of undergrad. Physics by the end of your 2nd year, and start preparing exclusively for these exams from the start of your third year.

    This way you get one year to study for specific exams. On the other hand, if you aren't able to complete your study of undergrad. Physics by the start of third year, i'd suggest you crry on with that and spend some time solving basic physics problems at the level of i.e. irodov or resnick halliday as problems of such level comprise a large part of physics gre and other exams as well.
  11. Jun 24, 2012 #10
    I really really don't think it's necessarily to be familiar with partial differential equations or tensor analysis before beginning undergraduate physics. He'll have the mathematical background to study a good part of Boas' book by the second year or so (at which point he should), but there's very little of it he could understand at this point.
  12. Jun 26, 2012 #11
    I think he would definitely be in a position to start with Boas in freshman year.
    The level of math and science education here in india, at the high school level, is pretty advanced than that in the US I guess.

    So the typical american freshman calculus and physics is covered here in high school as well as at the "engineering entrance exam levels". In india, almost all science students do appear for these entrance exams for various universities and engineering institutes.
    These exams and accordingly their preparation requires competency at the level of american freshman or even beginning sophomore level.

    So I don't think picking up boas at freshman level is a big deal. The only prerequisite in my opinion is freshman calculus, which I am sure OP must be comfortable with, coming from an indian education system, which he does.

    As for topics like tensors and all, I'll agree, those can be left out. I not much can be left out though, only tensors and maybe calculus of variations.
  13. Jun 28, 2012 #12
    Sorry for replying so late. And yeah, I guess it would be beneficial to complete undergrad Physics by the beginning of second year too, since from third year one is more free to skip some classes in college and all.

    As for Maths and Physics in India, yeah, one completes almost everything taught in the freshman year in US universities((judging only from those free courseware videos of MIT, Yale, etc.)) for his/her 12th standard, and if you prepare thoroughly for IIT-JEE/AIEEE you cover a lot more than your US counterparts as Resnick Halliday/University Physics are completed before the final exams of 12th along with books like H.C. Verma's Concepts of Physics which are quite advanced compared to the Halliday. Luckily my preparation for those exams was good even though it wasn't good enough :P I have a good grasp over the calculus required for IIT-JEE. Nothing about tensors though.

    For this year I guess I will revise and practice most of JEE/Resnick level Physics and Maths as that would also help with my engg. coursework, try to complete the parts of Boas I can and start with the Physics books mentioned here, probably one which covers the topic which I am most confident at Resnick's level. Does this make sense?

    Also, interestingly my University's semester exam schedule clashes with all Summer Student programs at research institutes. The only options I could try for will be HRI and RRI which accept interns throughout the year...
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2012
  14. Jul 8, 2012 #13

    yeah, that's a good schedule that you've planned for yourself.

    And I guess, the internships work more on an individual basis. So even though some internship programmes might not allow interns throughout the year explicitly, try e-mailing the prof.s there and explain your situation so they could take you on some other time of the year.
  15. Jul 11, 2012 #14
    Thanks, will have to try that when the time comes.

    Also, since we both are in similar situations, if you ever have more advice to give please mail me, my email is pkbang2011@gmail.com, especially when you get an internship!
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