Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

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kaustuv1993
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 6:38 pm

Hi!

I'm an Electronics and Communications Engineering (ECE) student from Kolkata, India... However, it was never really by choice that I took up ECE. I always wanted to pursue Physics, having applied to the US for my undergrad education. My aid requirements were high and I saw myself get out on the wait list at a bunch of top Liberal Arts Colleges and one of the top Universities. That aside, as pretty much a desperation measure I had to get into ECE, which according to some Professors would make it relatively less difficult to return to Physics from.

I understand that I have to cover Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Optics and Wave Phenomena, Thermodynamics, Relativity and Modern Physics (Quantum, Nuclear&Atomic). While, obviously, at least 40% of this isn't covered as part of my college course.. I am studying on my own. In addition, I have just come off the back of a 2 month Summer Project with some members of the ALICE team to CERN (from India). My work was in High Energy Physics, and I'm in the process of working on a paper in the field, as a co-author, for publication. I will, of course, look to get some summer internships abroad over the next two summers. .

I am in my second year of college now and will look to go abroad, Europe or the US, for my Masters and/or PhD. in Physics. How feasible is this, if I have high aid requirements, and am looking to get into a top 50 institution? Is there any advice you guys can give me regarding how I should prepare, generally as well as specifically for the Physics GRE? What kind of a GPA am I expected to maintain, and what sort of TOEFL, GRE and GRE Physics scores am I expected to have? I'm looking to move into High Energy Physics or Astrophysics in the future.

How important are summer projects and/or papers going to be, in my applications? Should I apply for standalone MS programs or MS-PhD programs? Which would make it easier to get aid?

Apologies for the terribly long question... I look forward to any advice you guys can give me! :D

Thank you, in advance!
Last edited by kaustuv1993 on Sun Sep 22, 2013 4:37 am, edited 2 times in total.

bosemicrowave
Posts: 27
Joined: Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:33 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby bosemicrowave » Sun Sep 01, 2013 2:53 pm

Hi,Kaustav I'm also originally from Kolkata and a Bengali too.I'm also in your position because I did undergrad in Computer Engineering and now applying for Quantum information,quantum computing,quantum optics or Quantum technology part.

But since I'm Computer engineer and quantum information or quantum computing comes under Quantum version of computer science I have an edge over it.I've done invention in optical fiber(fiber optics) which often comes in Quantum Computer technology and have strong base in photonics,Cryptography but I don't have any experimental work on this particular field.

Since you have done a project in CERN it will be extremely helpful but your PGRE is definitely gonna be the most important part because they want to know how much proficiency you have in undergraduate physics.

How are you preparing for it(specially QM,Special th.of relativity,experimental,statistical mechanics or special topics)?

A score above 90 percentile in PGRE should definitely put you in top 50 program but I tell you not to expect any top 25 program cause you don't have much prior research work.

kaustuv1993
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Mon Sep 02, 2013 10:28 am

I haven't worked at CERN, but with a team from CERN. With regards to the basic portions, Resnick seems to be a good bet... for QM, Griffiths is the book I'm following! And with regards to research, the project I did is leading up to a paper publication... I hope that'll carry sufficient weight!

bosemicrowave
Posts: 27
Joined: Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:33 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby bosemicrowave » Tue Sep 03, 2013 2:55 am

FOR QM-I'm working with Griffiths,Dirac,Arthur Beiser and Resnick...

For relativity Beiser and UC Berkeley text book;but what about experimental part along with special topics including mathematical physics.

Since you are applying for MS then it won't be difficult for you to get in top 30 if you do get above 900 in PGRE but for Doctoral program they require cutting edge research experience.

aipgss
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Jun 01, 2013 10:11 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby aipgss » Thu Sep 05, 2013 6:17 pm

You may check the GRE and TOEFL score requirements at AIP's GradSchoolShopper.com site. Not all the departments publish their minimum score requirements, though.
http://gradschoolshopper.com/gradschool ... ?q=3&cid=3
http://gradschoolshopper.com/gradschool ... ?q=4&cid=3

P-representation
Posts: 61
Joined: Fri Dec 23, 2011 12:56 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby P-representation » Fri Sep 06, 2013 6:33 am

Since you have done a project in CERN it will be extremely helpful but your PGRE is definitely gonna be the most important part because they want to know how much proficiency you have in undergraduate physics.


What on earth are you talking about bosemicrowave? Admissions to the US consider many important factors namely, research experience, letters of recommendation, academic record and lastly the PGRE. PGRE, I think is more of a tool to eliminate people or decide between admitting two very similarly qualified candidates.

I think having a research project at CERN in your second year itself with a pending publication is very impressive and if you continues on this track, you would certainly be in a strong position to get into a good graduate school for your Ph.D, even immediately after your undergrad. (You must be in a 4 year engineering course right?)

In the meantime, you should also try to take as many physics courses (real courses, not online video lectures!) offered in your university as possible and ace all of them. Also, second year is too early to think about studying for the PGRE IMHO, as long as your basic fundamentals in classical mechanics, electrodynamics (I think you will cover this in your ECE coursework at least partially) and quantum mechanics are clear, the PGRE won't take more than a month or so to clear.

bosemicrowave
Posts: 27
Joined: Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:33 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby bosemicrowave » Sun Sep 08, 2013 4:55 pm

His background is not Physics hence he will have to show proficiency in PGRE.Do you think if he gets a score of 800 in PGRE then he will be admitted in any top 50 program(he's International).Since he is applying for MS,research experience is not that important in most universities because I don't think it's possible for him to get in top 10,even with perfect PGRE because of his Engineering background.In top 10 you definitely requires lots of research even if you are applying for MS program.

But he can still qualify in universities like Cornell where I've seen students with perfect PGRE have been admitted although they were international candidate from Engineering background.

kaustuv1993
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Sun Sep 22, 2013 4:21 am

Hi guys! I'm sorry for the late response. Thank you, for all your encouraging, and informative, replies!

I have a few questions though. Firstly, what's the aid scenario like for people who apply for Master's programs? And the thing is I know how difficult it is to get into the really top PhD. programs, so for such Universities would I have a better chance if I applied for my Masters, and then eventually tried to get into their, or any other top, PhD. programs?

Secondly, regarding research experience, I have worked and am still working with that team from CERN, after the official completion of my Summer Project. We are still moving ahead with our paperwork, and hope to have it accepted for publication by the year's end. Some of you have spoken about "cutting edge" research, but it somewhat confuses me. What would you define cutting edge as? Would it be things like working specifically at some cutting edge research lab? My research work on High Energy Physics, focusing on studying about the physics of collisions at LHC energies and understanding QGP, is honestly as much as I can handle at the moment! But, if there are any suggestions regarding research that you guys have for me, I'd love to hear! I wish I could have done even more research work but, in all honesty, it's not possible for me to have done any more than I have! I've just moved into my second year after all, and, in India, unless you're at an IIT or IISc, no first-year student is ever given much of a chance at getting a good research project. I'm very lucky that my professor and his PhD. students are giving so much of their time, and resources!

P-representation, its not a question of choice really... I have Physics as per course requirements, and have no option of taking any further such courses. Have you taken the PGRE yourself, yet? If so, what do you think I'd need to prep from and for? And yes, in my (4-year) ECE course, we will be covering the fundamentals of Electromagnetism decently enough.

Bosemicrowave, I'd take an education in Physics at Cornell quite happily. It's not just a question of whether it's a top 10 place or not, it has to have a department flourishing in my chosen line, HEP, Astrophysics, or whatever. What's the aid scenario like, for international MS and PhD. applicants, respectively?

Do you guys feel attending a Summer School, at a good University, or even CERN, would help add to my application? Or would a summer research project weigh more heavily?

I look forward to your response! :)

P-representation
Posts: 61
Joined: Fri Dec 23, 2011 12:56 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby P-representation » Sun Sep 22, 2013 5:12 am

Quick replies to all your questions

1) Most reputed universities do not have a terminal Master's program and admit students working toward a Ph.D degree only. This is however, true only for Physics. It is quite different were you to apply to the ECE departments. A terminal master's program is typically for people who want to work in industry rather than as a stepping stone to a Ph.D. This is however, very field dependent. I don't think getting a Master's degree is like getting a foot in the door of the universities Ph.D program.

If you want a Master's degree then Europe is also a very good option. You could try for schools like ETH/EPFL, Ecoly Polytechnique, Oxbridge etc...For the UK atleast, there are some funding opportunities by way of external fellowships you could apply for.

2) Working with a group from CERN in your first year itself is very impressive! Getting a publication out of it is even better. Don't worry about things like "cutting-edge research" and all that. That is for the admissions committee to decide and not for you to worry about. No one really expects "cutting-edge" research from an undergrad student. Cutting edge research takes time and typically involves a lot of collaborations between researchers. What they expect is a sincere effort and meaningful contributions to whatever project you worked on. This is something they will gauge from your recommendation letters so ensure that your Profs would be willing to write a strong letter when the time comes i.e be on very good terms with them and let them have a high impression of you and your abilities.

On another point, I would sincerely advise you to stop believing what "bosemicrowave" says. He is himself an undergrad? student and is applying for the first time to grad. school. The internet can be a mean place and you should protect yourself from random advice from unqualified people. From his previous statements before and on other topics, I really feel he doesn't know or understand what he's talking about. He seems to be in the habit of stringing a bunch of high-fi physics jargon together to demonstrate his "knowledge" of the field. You might want to check out his replies on this topic:
viewtopic.php?f=1&t=5217&p=45114#p45114

3) Summers schools are a good. Summer projects are better. Sometimes if you're lucky there would be a summer school at the very university where you're doing your summer project :-)

And since you asked for it: I gave the PGRE in my final year and got a perfect score of 990 after a little more than 2 weeks of serious (~ 4 hours a day) effort. It is pointless to worry about such things in your second year! Focus more on your coursework and research. The rest will sort itself out later.

kaustuv1993
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Sun Sep 22, 2013 9:44 am

Congratulations on your PGRE score P-rep! Thank you, for all your advice! :)

blighter
Posts: 256
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:30 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby blighter » Sun Sep 22, 2013 9:53 am

Why don't you transfer into a physics programme? Wouldn't that be better than going through three more years of engineering curriculum?

kaustuv1993
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Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Sun Sep 22, 2013 10:26 am

blighter wrote:Why don't you transfer into a physics programme? Wouldn't that be better than going through three more years of engineering curriculum?


Actually, blighter, things don't work that way in India, it would have been a very complicated procedure... I would have had to drop a year, and get into a new college for that as well - and it would've been difficult to get into any decent place after dropping a year. :/ Plus, my institute is an engineering college, it doesn't have a Physics Bachelor's program. :|
Last edited by kaustuv1993 on Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

TakeruK
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Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby TakeruK » Sun Sep 22, 2013 1:20 pm

kaustuv1993 wrote:
blighter wrote:Why don't you transfer into a physics programme? Wouldn't that be better than going through three more years of engineering curriculum?


Actually, blighter, things don't work that way in India, it would have been a very complicated procedure... I would have had to drop a year, and get into a new college for that as well - and it would've been difficult to get into any decent place after dropping a year. :/ Plus, my institute is a engineering college, it doesn't have a Physics Bachelor's program. :|


It sounds like it will cost you as many years anyways to transfer. That is, if you do a Physics MS first (2 years) then do a Physics PhD, the PhD school may not count your time in the MS and you will "miss out" on 2 years. But I guess if you miss out on 2 years, it's better to have a Engineering degree and Physics MS instead of just a Physics Bachelor if you want to be prepared for other careers?

I have a question too -- you sound like you've just finished your first year and you already know you want to do Physics. I've seen a lot of posts from other students who want to transfer from engineering into Physics and it sounds like they kind of knew this from the start. So why didn't you start at a college that lets you do a Physics Bachelor program in the first place? Why did you go to your current college? Are Physics programs really rare in India? I don't mean to be nosy (maybe you have personal reasons), but I'm just curious why so many people try to go from engineering to Physics instead of just starting out in Physics!

By the way, you can also consider Canadian universities. In Canada, the MS is indeed a stepping stone to a PhD because direct entry PhD admissions happen only in exceptional cases (or certain programs wanting to model the US system). Usually it's a 2 year MSc followed by a 3-4 year PhD, which is the same total time as a US PhD (5-6 years) but divided up differently.

blighter
Posts: 256
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:30 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby blighter » Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:03 pm

TakeruK wrote:I have a question too -- you sound like you've just finished your first year and you already know you want to do Physics. I've seen a lot of posts from other students who want to transfer from engineering into Physics and it sounds like they kind of knew this from the start. So why didn't you start at a college that lets you do a Physics Bachelor program in the first place? Why did you go to your current college? Are Physics programs really rare in India? I don't mean to be nosy (maybe you have personal reasons), but I'm just curious why so many people try to go from engineering to Physics instead of just starting out in Physics!


Good physics undergraduate programmes were rare in India 5-6 years ago. That's not true any more. Besides I would say that good engineering programmes are just as rare as good physics programmes if you take into account the relative demand for the two.

blighter
Posts: 256
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:30 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby blighter » Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:06 pm

kaustuv1993 wrote:
blighter wrote:Why don't you transfer into a physics programme? Wouldn't that be better than going through three more years of engineering curriculum?


Actually, blighter, things don't work that way in India, it would have been a very complicated procedure... I would have had to drop a year, and get into a new college for that as well - and it would've been difficult to get into any decent place after dropping a year. :/ Plus, my institute is a engineering college, it doesn't have a Physics Bachelor's program. :|


I do realise that the procedure can be hard. But some universities do let you transfer. The freshman courses are the same for both physics and engineering majors. So you won't lose anything.

kaustuv1993
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:05 pm

TakeruK wrote:
kaustuv1993 wrote:
blighter wrote:Why don't you transfer into a physics programme? Wouldn't that be better than going through three more years of engineering curriculum?


Actually, blighter, things don't work that way in India, it would have been a very complicated procedure... I would have had to drop a year, and get into a new college for that as well - and it would've been difficult to get into any decent place after dropping a year. :/ Plus, my institute is a engineering college, it doesn't have a Physics Bachelor's program. :|


It sounds like it will cost you as many years anyways to transfer. That is, if you do a Physics MS first (2 years) then do a Physics PhD, the PhD school may not count your time in the MS and you will "miss out" on 2 years. But I guess if you miss out on 2 years, it's better to have a Engineering degree and Physics MS instead of just a Physics Bachelor if you want to be prepared for other careers?

I have a question too -- you sound like you've just finished your first year and you already know you want to do Physics. I've seen a lot of posts from other students who want to transfer from engineering into Physics and it sounds like they kind of knew this from the start. So why didn't you start at a college that lets you do a Physics Bachelor program in the first place? Why did you go to your current college? Are Physics programs really rare in India? I don't mean to be nosy (maybe you have personal reasons), but I'm just curious why so many people try to go from engineering to Physics instead of just starting out in Physics!

By the way, you can also consider Canadian universities. In Canada, the MS is indeed a stepping stone to a PhD because direct entry PhD admissions happen only in exceptional cases (or certain programs wanting to model the US system). Usually it's a 2 year MSc followed by a 3-4 year PhD, which is the same total time as a US PhD (5-6 years) but divided up differently.


TakeruK, thank you for your advice regarding Canada. I will definitely consider applying to certain places there.

Now, coming to your question, yes I have just finished my first year and I did know from the start that I wanted to do Physics, after High School. The thing is entrance to colleges/Universities in India don't work in the way they do in the US. There are the following ways to study Science/Technology in India:

1. As per 2012 regulations, which is when I gave my entrance exams(the rules have changed a bit since then, but are roughly the same), to get into Engineering institutes, such as the IIT's (Indian Institute of Technology) or Delhi Tech. University, or the NIT's, etc.... You'd have to give the IITJEE(Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examination for the IIT's) or the AIEEE(All India Engineering Entrance Examination for most other engineering institutes) and there are more state level examinations(eg: WBJEE) or examinations conducted by the Institutes themselves(eg: BITSAT) for entrance. This is all very confusing, to a non-Indian, I guess. The point is, to get into any really good engineering college you'd have to sit for extremely competitive exams and have to a) prepare just for them, very rigorously, to get into the best places; or b) be a genius; and c) you have to have a really good exam, you get a shot at it only once in a year. Then, based on your ranks in the exams you go through the online procedures to get into the institutes.

2.Now, coming to the Physics applications. To study Physics at any top place in the country, IIT's or IISc or IISERs you'd have to give the aforementioned exams, and not just do well... you'd have to get extremely good ranks to get the opportunity to study Physics. There are also separate colleges where you can study Physics, there are, again, a few places known for their academic excellence in science, but entrance to them totally depends on your performance in PCM(Physics, Chem and Math) in your High School Board examinations. The best of these places have no research work going on, or facilities for research work. Entrance to them is dependent upon you crossing their PCM or overall board mark cutoffs.

Thus, as you can see, there is no specific umbrella under which we can clump entrances to colleges/technical institutes/research institutes for undergrad in India, and I've tried to simplify the system for you( there are several other examinations to get into places, but it's difficult to explain ALL of them!). Unlike the US, there is very little, if any, assessment of the individual who applies for a seat at an institute in India, all that would matter are the ranks or marks. I do not attempt to judge the system, it's simply the way things work here!

In my case, I was hell-bent on going to the US for my undergrad, and I was unwilling to enter the rat-race of giving up 2 years of my high-school life, my passion for debating, quizzing and music, to crack the IIT entrances. My board marks in Chemistry were anomalously low, compared to my marks in other subjects... so it wasn't possible for me to get into the best of the liberal arts colleges here for Physics(my Chem marks did rise after I sent my papers for revaluation, but revaluation results come out quite a few months after applications are over), and I was not willing to study Physics at a place that wasn't to my liking. What with my US applications letting me down, and my board marks not warranting a place at a good college, I chose the best college at which I was getting access to an Electronics course, with my (above?)average ranks in the Engineering entrance exams. So, there's the story. Call it my failure, stubbornness at not going to a mediocre college for Physics or what you will, I'm studying Electronics and Communications Engineering at a college of my choice. It has the added benefits of being in my hometown, and the presence of top-notch Government science research facilities within the city. So, from a very personal angle, my choices help me study without distractions and also give me a shot at getting good research experience in Physics.

Frankly, I'm not alone. There are thousands of other Indian kids out there who'd rather have pursued pure science as opposed to engineering, in my college itself there are so many talented guys who'd rather have gone for Law or Economics, but circumstances have forced them to pursue engineering. In most cases such as mine, reasons for not pursuing a degree of one's choice are very personal... but, at times, our system of education does have a role to play in making us choose paths we'd rather not take.

I apologise for this long and digressive reply, but I hope to have answered TakeruK's questions satisfactorily. Once, again thank you everyone for your advice... I look forward to hearing more about how to prepare for the PGRE from all of you.

kaustuv1993
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Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:08 pm

blighter wrote:
kaustuv1993 wrote:
blighter wrote:Why don't you transfer into a physics programme? Wouldn't that be better than going through three more years of engineering curriculum?


Actually, blighter, things don't work that way in India, it would have been a very complicated procedure... I would have had to drop a year, and get into a new college for that as well - and it would've been difficult to get into any decent place after dropping a year. :/ Plus, my institute is a engineering college, it doesn't have a Physics Bachelor's program. :|


I do realise that the procedure can be hard. But some universities do let you transfer. The freshman courses are the same for both physics and engineering majors. So you won't lose anything.



"Some Universities" would include the IIT's or BITS to be honest. Most other Engg. colleges don't even have BSc programs! To clarify, I'm not at an IIT or BITS. Do you have any advice on how I should prep for the PGRE?

blighter
Posts: 256
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2012 6:30 pm

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby blighter » Sun Sep 22, 2013 3:35 pm

kaustuv1993 wrote:
blighter wrote:I do realise that the procedure can be hard. But some universities do let you transfer. The freshman courses are the same for both physics and engineering majors. So you won't lose anything.



"Some Universities" would include the IIT's or BITS to be honest. Most other Engg. colleges don't even have BSc programs! To clarify, I'm not at an IIT or BITS. Do you have any advice on how I should prep for the PGRE?


I think you're misunderstanding. I am not suggesting to change your major within your own college. I am asking you to join some other college which has a physics programme. They'll let you in directly at a sophomore standing. I don't intend to say it's going to be easy. You'd have to go through a lot of bureaucracy to do that. Again it's all up to you.

I don't have much to say about Physics GRE. I like reading/doing physics but I hate preparing for exams. It's just too much stress for me to handle. So I ended up ignoring PGRE. I'm just glad I'm done with it.

TakeruK
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Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby TakeruK » Sun Sep 22, 2013 5:18 pm

Thanks for the explanation. I understand now that due to all of the testing, one really needs to know what they want to do in high school to properly prepare themselves for college. That sounds difficult -- I really did not know what I wanted to do in graduate school until partway through my undergrad degree!!

If it is possible to switch to a Physics undergrad program though, I think that would greatly increase your chances of attending graduate school in North America. I think that action is probably the biggest thing you can do to increase your chances of getting in.

kaustuv1993
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Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2013 6:42 am

Re: Switching from Engineering to Physics for my MS

Postby kaustuv1993 » Wed May 14, 2014 12:08 pm

Hello again!
I was really tired of going through the motions of completing my Engineering Major in India, so I applied for transfer admission to some schools in the US this year to study Physics, and have been accepted at Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin. Considering that I want go on to a PhD in Physics (preferably in Experimental Hight Energy Physics), can anybody tell me how good Lawrence is for Physics and for producing grad-school ready students? Do students from LU get in to top-tier grad schools? Does anybody have an idea of how LU is viewed by prospective grad schools? Will a transfer have any effect on how I am considered by the grad schools I apply to?

I've also applied to Brandeis and Reed, but I do know that they're both really good for Physics... I have applied to the College of Wooster too, and would love to know how it compares to Lawrence in this context. Additionally, could anybody tell me whether transferring to any of these schools would better my chances of getting into a good grad school in the US, as opposed to completing my Engineering degree (in India) now and then applying for an MS-PhD in Physics in the US?




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