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Which branch of physics to pursue going to grad school from chemistry?

  1. Jul 2, 2014 #1
    I will be applying for schools soon in physics, although my bachelors is in chemistry. Although I have decided that I would rather pursue physics than chemistry in graduate school, at the moment, I do not have my heart set on any specific sub-discipline of physics. So, assuming I have absolutely no preference towards any subfield, what would be one or a few to consider, both in terms of likelihood of success/enjoyment, given a chemistry background, and likelihood of being admitted (or, better yet, would there likely be a significant difference in admission likelihood to a chemistry related field versus less related field)? Of course, chemical physics would be the obvious answer, but any additional details on the subject would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2014 #2
    Well, obviously it is almost impossible for you to enter a theoretical field, since in a such field requires rigorous education in physics. I think experimental nuclear physics or experimental condensed matter physics could be fields you can consider.

    But even if it is possible to enter a physics grad school with a bachelor's in chemistry, I don't think it is a good idea going into a field which you don't have too much passion in just because you were accepted. You gave me too little information: if you haven't taken any advanced physics courses, then you should take some this coming fall to get a feel of what you are going into. Have you prepared for the PGRE? What about research that is relevant to physics (or of chemistry that might have you stand out)?
  4. Jul 3, 2014 #3
    Fields that I have seen where chemistry students work have been condensed matter, atomic and molecular physics, and biophysics. Chemical physics programs will be your highest chance of admission, but be sure to know the requirements of reach program - every chemical physics program I have seen has been different from one another.
  5. Jul 3, 2014 #4
    This was more of a general question of a general chemistry undergraduate versus a general physics undergraduate than about myself, personally. Since you asked, though, here is a little more information about myself:

    Upper Division Courses:
    -Classical mechanics (1 of 2 courses in the physics department)
    -Electromagnetism (1 of 2 courses in the physics department)
    -Mathematical Methods (in the physics department)
    -Quantum Mechanics (two courses in the chemistry department)
    -Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (two courses in the chemistry department)
    -Inorganic Chemistry (two courses in the chemistry department)
    -Physical Chemistry and Materials Chemistry labs (in the chemistry department)

    I also have some reading background (finished Marion & Thornton, finished Griffiths E&M, read most of Linear Algebra (Shilov), Abstract Algebra (Pinter), Symmetry (McWeeny), Group Theory (Tinkham), Statistical Mechanics (Tolman), Information Theory (Pierce), and reading Quantum Computing (Nielson), Quantum Mechanics (Shankar), Relativity (Zee), Set Theory (Stoll), and Graph Theory (Chartrand)). I also work in a geochemistry lab and intend to move to a physics lab (most likely atomic) before applications are due. And, of course, I will not be attending for over a year, so adequate preparation is not nearly as much of an issue as admission (if I stayed enrolled and taking classes for credit, I could easily have a degree in physics by spring next year).

    Also, that was not to say that I am not passionate, but merely that my passion is more general and that, although certain fields do seem appealing, I cannot say definitely that I want to be, say, a plasma physicists and will settle for nothing less.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2014
  6. Jul 3, 2014 #5
    Wow, that's a lot of physics for a chem major. What I was worried was someone who isn't prepared in/passionate about physics entering grad school, because that would lead to a heck lot of struggle. If you think you are prepared and passionate enough, then you should.

    As I said, your chemistry knowledge will be beneficial in nuclear physics and condensed matter physics, and also you can look for geophysics. What Mmm_Pasta have mentioned are fields you can consider as well.
  7. Jul 3, 2014 #6
    I decided early on that I wanted to do physical chemistry (originally I wanted to do organic synthesis, but the physical aspects turned out to be my favorite in general chemistry). It wasn't until senior year, though, that I definitively decided to get off the fence and go for physics, which is why I decided to finish my degree rather than switching and just shove in physics courses where they would fit (I was actually all set to graduate last quarter but enrolled in classical mechanics last minute out of fear of not having that branch represented on my transcripts ["This guy wants to go to our grad school for physics and didn't take CM? Next!"]).

    Thank you both for your replies. I'm glad you mentioned nuclear, as that is a field that really interests me, but has worried me a little about being a longer shot than atomic or chemical (not to say that I don't intend to discuss this topic with people outside of physics forums, of course).
  8. Jul 3, 2014 #7
    Ironically, my first choice for potential advisers, I have just learned, is not even part of the physics department, he is part of the chemistry department. What an interesting turn of events!
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