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Sooo I'll have a math degree in the fall

  1. Feb 25, 2008 #1
    Hrm, I had an account on here that I used to post with a while back, but I don't remember the name or password. Oh well.

    Anyway, I'm in a bit of an awkward situation. As the title says I'm going to graduate in the fall semester with a degree in math (and a physics minor). My passion is physics, and ultimately I would like to go to graduate school for either physics or electrical engineering. But due to the underfunded and understaffed physics program here it was against my interests to complete a degree in physics here. They've been losing staff over the years and the university never rehires. The remaining professors have been working their arses off to hold the thing together with spit. Funny thing, actually; the university has been channeling most of their funds in building up the "technology" program. Bah. Good luck having a good IT program without half-decent engineering options. I think I'm ranting again.

    Well, the math degree should be good. But considering the math program here isn't geared towards teaching future physicists and engineers (it's mostly for CS, business, and education majors), I'm probably missing a lot. I wouldn't know where to begin if I was given a PDE to solve, beyond what I've seen in solving these time-independent Schrodinger equations for various potentials, and I barely know what a Fourier transform or tensor is, and so on.

    Additionally, I have zero research experience whatsoever.

    The bottom line is, I think it's safe to say I'm not prepared to go to grad school for physics. If I really want to do physics or engineering, the obvious step would be to transfer to another university (after I finish the math degree; not stopping now with one semester to go) and continue undergraduate studies. Great, but it will have already taken me four and a half years to finish this math degree. Not that I have any regrets; I've been able to go to this school without accumulating any debt, and with a 3.5ish GPA, I probably couldn't have hoped for better considering my piss poor high school performance, and I could probably get into the school I'm really looking at (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; nice school, fairly competitive, huge physics program, and fairly close to home). At least I think I could probably get in. Do correct me if I'm wrong in that assumption.

    But is this a good idea? Continue undergraduate studies for even longer, and then graduate school for god knows how long? It seems incredibly unorthodox; in reading forums like this, talking to friends, etc, it seems everyone is in such a hurry to finish their undergrad work.

    How long would it take me to finish a physics degree, considering I will have a physics minor, a math degree, and all my liberal education complete? Consider the fact that my university isn't particularly competitive, and the math and physics courses might be dumbed down a little bit (I don't even think you need to have passed high school to get into this college), so it might be possible that I would need to retake some. Though I might be wrong here, as I've not personally seen the challenge level of physics courses at more competitive universities.

    Also, my ACT score was only 24. In transferring to another university after four years, would that matter very much?

    I'd really like to go to grad school for physics (or engineering), perhaps even get a doctorate, but I figure that if I can't get into a very competitive graduate school, I'm not even going to bother.

    Edit: Oh, and one more thing. How does transferring to other universities in the middle of the school year work (that is, going to one uni in the fall, and then transferring to another in the spring)? Do they usually allow that sort of thing?
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2008 #2
    My father thinks that if I don't get into graduate school for math that I should get another degree in something like physics, engineering, computer science, or economics. But, I can't imagine doing anymore full-time undergraduate work. That's just me though. It doesn't seem unreasonable to go back to school for undergraduate work if that is what you want to do. The biggest reason I wouldn't go back to undergraduate school is that now that I have become increasingly interested in doing things that are creative and there is something about having to homeworks, take quizes, sit in lectures, and take tests that destroys creative work. But, graduate school in the first 2 years is sort of like this, and the only thing that can push me to get through that is the prospect of doing novel research. In any case, I would recommend that if you do go back to school, you try to get done with your second major as quickly as possible. So, I would sit down and figure out how long your extra degree will take and what you can do to make that time shorter (e.g., take classes at your school during the summer and fall that will transfer to your major at the other schools you are considering). Other options are to do a masters in engineering or physics at the best school you can get into and afford. They will probably let you take remedial classes in physics and give you extra time to graduate. Then you could apply to a ph.d. program that think is worth your time. I think I would choose this second option over the first.
  4. Feb 25, 2008 #3
    Most schools require you to take the basic courses to get into their graduate program. I got into CE Masters program as a BA physics with zero computer engineering background. But I am required to take some deficient courses before I can continue. And what is that? Like 3 classes (9 credits).

    You can be accepted to a graduate physics program if you can satisfy their most needed courses. Probably quantum mechanics, Newtonian mechanics, etc in your case for physics. There is no need to redo your undergrad as physics nor transfer to a different school.

    But it depends on the person. I picked up VLSI design and microprocessors rather quickly, so I'm not behind.
  5. Feb 26, 2008 #4
    These are the core courses I was told you need:

    Physics: Newtonian mechanics, vibrations and mechanical waves, Hamilitonian classical mechanics, about 2-3 terms of quantum mechanics, 3-4 terms of electromagnetism, thermal physics, and any kind of extra.

    Math: Single and multivariate calc. A term of linear algebra, ODE, PDE. Complex variables and vector analysis/calculus.

    I would not reccommend you do grad without all of this, as its sort of a bare minimum. If your only lacking like PDE, you can independently learn it over the summer or something. I'm only second year, but even this early on I learned when my school says I need a certain math I better have it.
  6. Feb 26, 2008 #5
    Actually, you may be able to get into grad school with the experience you have, assuming you've at least taken the first two years of undergrad physics and have at least a couple advanced undergrad physics courses. I would actually fill out the application and see what happens. The U of M-TC application is free anyway, so what do you have to lose besides $130 on the GRE (which you need to spend anyway)? If they let you in, you'll probably spend your first year filling in your undergrad gaps, but that's OK. It certainly beats going back to undergrad. There's a grad student in my department who has a EE background, and who hasn't even taken as many of the advanced undergrad physics courses as the rest of us. He's doing just fine.

    Incidentally I did my undergrad at the U of M-TC. Minneapolis is definitely a great place to live; so much so that I'm planning to move back after grad school. Just make sure to bring a warm coat and hat for the nine months of winter.
  7. Feb 26, 2008 #6
    Thanks for the responses guys.

    It would definitely be nice to be able to skip the undergrad. On the other hand, I'm not sure what I have to lose in doing more undergrad work, other than time. I have no debt or loans to pay off yet, and I don't feel rushed to start a career as soon as possible (though that could change at any moment).

    I think I'd be okay with that if I was going into engineering, but I'm not quite sure yet if I want to do that. If I go for pure physics, which is what I'm leaning towards, I'd want to get into a fairly competitive graduate school, given the horror stories I hear on these forums about physics Ph.D employment. Given my education and lack of research experience, that's probably an unrealistic thing to hope for.

    Whew, well, I think I can only get one or two terms of electromagnetism and one term of quantum mechanics (which I'm in right now) while I'm here. There's one actual E&M course (which I haven't taken, since I never intended to complete a physics degree here) and one actual QM course, and then there's a "theoretical physics" course which will either be more E&M or more quantum, depending on which professor ends up teaching it. I also have not had a course in thermo. Due to the lack of staff in this program, these courses are only offered on an every-other-year basis, so there's no way I'd get them here in the next year. And never mind the question of whether or not they will be enough to prepare me. Based off of your list, I'd definitely need more undergrad stuff.

    The courses I've had or am currently in are like this:

    Physics I (basic newtonian physics and wave mechanics)
    Physics II (more classical physics, E&M, thermo, optics, all merely introductions)
    Modern Physics (a taste of special relativity and QM)
    Digital Electronics (I could never figure out why this is required for a minor)
    Quantum Mechanics (sort of a first semester course in QM, no lab)

    Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I am lacking. It's to be expected; I haven't really been focusing on physics, but rather getting my math degree out of the way.

    Y'know, I looked at the practice GRE, and it doesn't look too difficult. That is, at least the parts I know how to do. My lack of knowledge in thermo, optics, and E&M would kill me.

    Anyway, as far as doing undergrad courses while in grad school, my brother (who is in grad school for English) does that, and the tuition waver he gets for being a TA doesn't apply to the undergrad courses he needs to take, so it gets a little expensive for him. Not sure how that works at other schools, of course.

    What do you suppose my chances are of getting into U of M-TC's graduate program right now, assuming I could do half-decent on the GRE? I've been told it's pretty competitive.

    Now if only I didn't screw up in high school. Then I could have gone to a school like that from the start. Oh well, no point in crying over spilled milk.

    No doubt! I live north of there right now. Yesterday we had a "warm" day of around 23 F, and after the cold spell last week it felt like t-shirt weather, at least relatively speaking. But yeah, the TC's are great. Not sure if there's any place I'd rather go to school.
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