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Want to pursue a Physics Degree Please advise

  1. May 29, 2014 #1
    Hi guys, I am currently at a crossroads where I have to make an important decision and was hoping the kind members of the PF forums could help me.

    I have a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from an Ivy League school (GPA - 3.88). Lately, I have had the opportunity to rekindle my interest in pure physics and applied math. Initially, I intended to study these topics as a 'general interest' thing. However, I think I might want to gain an in-depth mathematical foundation of physical phenomena and work at a research level on select topics - I'm gravitating towards particle physics & unifying theories like string theory. To do this, I realize I will need a formal education in Physics.

    I have some background in Classical Mechanics and Thermodynamics as a mechanical engineer but am a little lacking in fundamental knowledge of other topics like EM (I have studied the basic wave propagation, electrostatics, AC/DC, magnetic induction in first year Physics & Electronics, but not Maxwell's treatment of EM waves), QM, GR, Statistical Physics, etc. Please note that the courses on CM & TD were from the mech engg department; I'm not sure if the physics department handles them differently.

    I would like to work towards a PhD in Physics - I'm turning 28 shortly. I have read ZapperZ's thread on taking practice GRE tests to evaluate yourself. I took that a while back and fared decently on a lot of topics – had to do a few 'Google searches' though.

    I would love to hear some personal experiences; of how you (or someone you know of) got into a Physics graduate program from another field. What kind of physics related coursework did you do in your Undergraduate studies? What hurdles did you face during your application process and later on, at the Graduate Program?

    Would you suggest I apply to a Graduate program in Physics and take up remedial courses in the remaining topics? Realistically, would a program accept this situation, considering the courses that I've taken? What are the admissions officers looking for, in this regard?

    Really appreciate any input..
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 2, 2014 #2
    Any views on this? Here's a condensed version of my post, just in case you found the above a little long.

    I have a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering. I plan on working towards a PhD in Physics with a current interest in theoretical aspects like particle physics & string theory. I have some background in CM and Thermodynamics but little math' knowledge of QM, GR, StatMech and EM (at least not Maxwell's equations).

    I would like to know how important undergraduate course selection is for admission to Grad School (MS or PhD). Do I stand a chance and more importantly, is it feasible to handle Grad Level Courses by taking remedial courses while in the program? Has anybody done this or knows of someone who has? Thanks!
  4. Jun 6, 2014 #3
    I'm only an undergrad, but, speaking on behalf of those undergrad classes, I don't know how you could get by without them.

    We get taught the "basics" three times. Electrodynamics, Mechanics, and Quantum. Once in the intro to physics course + something like "modern physics," then again as a two semester course for each (intro to electrodynamics I, II, etc..,) then again at the graduate level as another two semester course for each.

    These courses are what keep us undergrads complaining, so take your time with them! I recommend Griffith's to learn EM and Quantum at the undergrad level (get that text even if it isn't assigned, it is astoundingly good).

    I can't answer your other questions.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2014
  5. Jun 6, 2014 #4

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    Dis you read the sticky thread "Can I get a Ph.D. in physics if my bachelor's degree isn't in physics" at the top of the list? (And if not, can you tell us how we can make it more visible?)
  6. Jun 7, 2014 #5
    They are likely different. Did your classical mechanics course cover the following topics?

    • Keppler problem
    • Rotating Reference Frames
    • Lagrangian Mechanics
    • Hamiltonian Mechanics
    • Coupled Oscillators

    If you are not confident with most of these, you should consider taking an undergraduate mechanics course (intermediate level) before attempting a PhD.

    You also probably need a years worth of quantum and E&M studying. Even if you somehow manage to learn these well enough by December, I think they are only offering the Physics GRE in April now. Realistically, it might be two years before you would start an advanced degree. You would have to convince the admissions committee of your worth which might not be easy. It would be better with if you had good grades in some actual upper-level physics department courses to show.

    Personally, I managed accepted to a Physics PhD program with an E.E. degree. I took additional courses for a year before applying (including graduate level courses). Even then I would say it almost didn't happen.

    Also, theoretical particle physics is probably one of the more competitive sub-fields. I am told it is usually easier to get accepted if you state your intention is to be an experimentalist.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2014
  7. Jun 9, 2014 #6
    Thank you so much for this info and the Griffith's suggestion.

    Thank you so much for your detailed reply. I didn't come across the Keppler problem and coupled oscillators (at least not as a separate topic) in my graduate class in dynamics. Something to think about...

    Very true. It would be two years before I can start a graduate program in the US.

    Glad to hear you made that leap. Did you take those additional courses while in your undergraduate program?

    Would you say it's relatively easy to 'change your interest' to a more theoretical field during the PhD program. Or does it heavily depend on finding an advisor who is already looking for a PhD student?
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