Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

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Lex
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Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby Lex » Tue May 10, 2011 1:11 pm

Hello everyone! I am a non-physics major, and I'm wondering how possible it would be for me to study up to take the Physics GRE. I'm interested in applying to the University of Washington's Astronomy PhD program, and they require around a 700 on the Physics GRE to be accepted.

A little on my background. I have a BA in Anthropology. I've taken entry level college courses in Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Physics, Anatomy, Physiology, and Astronomy. I've taken math up through trigonometry, and if I decide to do this, I'll take calculus this summer.

I've been considering buying some physics textbooks to fill the holes in my physics knowledge.

My question is, do you think I'll be able to be successful doing this? I'm open to suggestions, tips, even exclamations of "you're crazy!".

TheBeast
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby TheBeast » Tue May 10, 2011 2:08 pm

I don't think that this is an impossible task, but it's going to be extremely difficult. In particular, since you don't have any knowledge of Calculus or Linear Algebra, there's going to be a lot of math to get comfortable with in addition to the physics concepts.

It's possible, I guess, given enough time and effort. How many years of prep do you plan on doing before applying? Keep in mind, however, that the PGRE is just one aspect of the application. Research experience and letters of reference from physicists will also play a role.

Read through this recent thread that was started by someone asking a similar question. They had a better math background than you, but it should give an idea of the challenges ahead.
http://www.physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3859

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HappyQuark
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby HappyQuark » Tue May 10, 2011 2:14 pm

Lex wrote:Hello everyone! I am a non-physics major, and I'm wondering how possible it would be for me to study up to take the Physics GRE. I'm interested in applying to the University of Washington's Astronomy PhD program, and they require around a 700 on the Physics GRE to be accepted.

A little on my background. I have a BA in Anthropology. I've taken entry level college courses in Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Physics, Anatomy, Physiology, and Astronomy. I've taken math up through trigonometry, and if I decide to do this, I'll take calculus this summer.

I've been considering buying some physics textbooks to fill the holes in my physics knowledge.

My question is, do you think I'll be able to be successful doing this? I'm open to suggestions, tips, even exclamations of "you're crazy!".


Most schools won't even consider you unless unless you have a bachelor's in physics or something related to it (e.g. astronomy, engineering or applied physics). Regardless of how well you do on the physics GRE, with just a B.S. in anthropology your app will suffer one of two fates: either it will be quickly thrown out or laughed at and then quickly thrown out. Additionally, even without the degree most programs require that you've taken a standard set of upper division coursework typically including Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Classical Mechanics, E&M, Optics and Statistical Mechanics. Self-teaching is NOT considered an acceptable substitute for this coursework and, again, I doubt a B.S. in anthropology will cover it.

So to answer your original question of, "do you think I'll be able to be successful doing this?", the answer should clearly be OF COURSE NOT!

If you really want to go to graduate school in astronomy or physics and you want to go to a school as good as UW, the only logical way to do it is to get a B.S. in astronomy or physics. Go figure, right!

CarlBrannen
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby CarlBrannen » Tue May 10, 2011 8:51 pm

Edward Witten took an undergraduate degree in history and now is a fairly renowned physicist specializing in string theory.

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grae313
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby grae313 » Wed May 11, 2011 8:12 am

Lex wrote:Hello everyone! I am a non-physics major, and I'm wondering how possible it would be for me to study up to take the Physics GRE. I'm interested in applying to the University of Washington's Astronomy PhD program, and they require around a 700 on the Physics GRE to be accepted.

A little on my background. I have a BA in Anthropology. I've taken entry level college courses in Chemistry, Cellular Biology, Microbiology, Physics, Anatomy, Physiology, and Astronomy. I've taken math up through trigonometry, and if I decide to do this, I'll take calculus this summer.

I've been considering buying some physics textbooks to fill the holes in my physics knowledge.

My question is, do you think I'll be able to be successful doing this? I'm open to suggestions, tips, even exclamations of "you're crazy!".


It sounds like you've understandably but mistakenly assumed that the physics GRE is a test on the knowledge and subject matter required to be admitted to and succeed in graduate school. It is not -- it is mostly a test of lower division physics and based more on memorization and short tricks/problem-solving skills. Getting a 700 on the exam is definitely doable for any intelligent person who can study your basic intro-series physics, even without calculus. That's not enough to get admitted to graduate school. You'll have to demonstrate knowledge in the upper division material somehow, and by far the easiest way to do this is to take and do well in courses. If you're serious about this, call up UW astronomy and just ask what would be required of you as an applicant.

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HappyQuark
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby HappyQuark » Wed May 11, 2011 1:10 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:Edward Witten took an undergraduate degree in history and now is a fairly renowned physicist specializing in string theory.


Just so we are clear, are you giving the OP advice based on, arguably the most brilliant man alive, being an exception to the rule?

CarlBrannen
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby CarlBrannen » Thu May 12, 2011 1:57 am

HappyQuark wrote:Just so we are clear, are you giving the OP advice based on, arguably the most brilliant man alive, being an exception to the rule?


A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer are riding a train through Scotland.

The engineer looks out the window, sees a black sheep, and exclaims, "Hey! They've got black sheep in Scotland!"

The physicist looks out the window and corrects the engineer, "Strictly speaking, all we know is that there's at least one black sheep in Scotland."

The mathematician looks out the window and corrects the physicist, " Strictly speaking, all we know is that is that at least one side of one sheep is black in Scotland."

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HappyQuark
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby HappyQuark » Thu May 12, 2011 2:33 pm

CarlBrannen wrote:
HappyQuark wrote:Just so we are clear, are you giving the OP advice based on, arguably the most brilliant man alive, being an exception to the rule?


A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer are riding a train through Scotland.

The engineer looks out the window, sees a black sheep, and exclaims, "Hey! They've got black sheep in Scotland!"

The physicist looks out the window and corrects the engineer, "Strictly speaking, all we know is that there's at least one black sheep in Scotland."

The mathematician looks out the window and corrects the physicist, " Strictly speaking, all we know is that is that at least one side of one sheep is black in Scotland."


Yeah, I thought so!

CarlBrannen
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Re: Non-physics major interested in Physics GRE

Postby CarlBrannen » Fri May 13, 2011 8:25 pm

HappyQuark wrote:Yeah, I thought so!


Or put another way. If a year ago, I'd written that I'd been out of physics for a quarter century, and wanted to go to grad school, and planned on getting a 990 on the physics GRE what advice would you have given me? "Study hard"? Or "maybe you should be happy with a 700"?




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