Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

maliksaim
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Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Wed Nov 21, 2012 7:38 pm

Hi. I'm hoping to apply to some good theoretical physics programs with these credentials:
-BSc(Hons.) in Mechanical Engineering with 2.41/4.00 GPA
-A graduate course in quantum mechanics
-Coursera certification in QM and QC course
-7th in national math olympiad
-and self study :D
-no really, lots of self study
-a good personal statement explaining a lot of stuff and 2 good recommendations letters
-lots of good extracurriculars, including some magazine articles about theoretical physics and science related activites though not really related to physics

Should I apply or is there no point in applying at all? Would a good GRE (General) help very much?

I'm hoping to sit for GRE and TOEFL which requires, at least for me, quite a financial investment. So I am asking to see if I should even bother.

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quizivex
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby quizivex » Wed Nov 21, 2012 7:53 pm

Nope, you will not get into any graduate programs for theoretical physics. Your 2.41 GPA is far too low to be considered at any institution, most of which have an official cutoff of 3.0. A high GRE will not get an international student into a school by itself even with a decent GPA. Not having a physics major doesn't help either.

There is no point in applying, unless you made a mistake converting your GPA and you have a 3.41 instead.

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Wed Nov 21, 2012 8:00 pm

Right. Thanks I guess :D and no mistakes in the GPA. What is the lowest possible GPA that would make me acceptable; the lowest that you could fathom :D I still have two semesters to go.

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quizivex
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby quizivex » Wed Nov 21, 2012 8:09 pm

I don't know how often schools will make exception to the official 3.0 cutoff. Maybe it's possible to get in with a 2.9, but you are far below that now. Even if you do well in your last year, it'd be hard to get over 3.0, and there isn't much else in your profile that would make them want to make an exception unless you get a perfect score on the PGRE.

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Wed Nov 21, 2012 8:15 pm

OK. Another thing. If I take a lot of physics courses in a "free" year, without enrolling in a degree program, how much difference do you think that would make to my application? All other credentials remaining the same.

bfollinprm
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Nov 21, 2012 8:30 pm

You probably need to pursue a second bachelor's degree in physics to wipe out the old GPA.

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Wed Nov 21, 2012 8:39 pm

Thank you for your reply.

But why do you think I need a new degree? If I can take analytical and statistical mechanics, general relativity, graduate E&M and QM, maybe even quantum field theory, wouldn't that suffice for an application? I know I can take and clear these classes because I have seen courses on them, and I know quite a bit from all these classes. I have nothing to show for it, but, if I clear such courses, without enrolling in a degree program, won't that be good enough?

I can't even imagine going through another bachelors degree : D

bfollinprm
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Nov 21, 2012 10:40 pm

maliksaim wrote:Thank you for your reply.

But why do you think I need a new degree? If I can take analytical and statistical mechanics, general relativity, graduate E&M and QM, maybe even quantum field theory, wouldn't that suffice for an application? I know I can take and clear these classes because I have seen courses on them, and I know quite a bit from all these classes. I have nothing to show for it, but, if I clear such courses, without enrolling in a degree program, won't that be good enough?

I can't even imagine going through another bachelors degree : D


Because your GPA is terrible, and a second bachelors would hide that behind what is hopefully a better second go, not to mention offer you the fundamental coursework that's meant to prepare you for a PhD in physics.

EDIT: also, I should mention that I don't believe it would be another 4 years. You'd obviously not have to take general education courses, and my best bet is you'd be done a degree in 1.5-2 years.

TakeruK
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby TakeruK » Thu Nov 22, 2012 1:55 pm

I agree with bfollinprm (that you should probably do a second bachelor's degree). Like he/she said, depending on your school, it might just be ~2 more years of courses (some schools might allow you to count your original classes as your elective credits). But I know some schools won't let you do that!

Also, your choice of classes to take isn't a reasonable one, in my opinion. Most physicists do not take GR until grad school. Same for QFT. If you want to go into physics grad school, you need to put yourself at the same level as physics undergrads. So, in Physics, you need to take things like Thermodynamics, Stat Mech (like you said), senior level EM and QM (I'd say go as far as perturbation theory), classical mechanics, wave optics, lab courses, mathematical methods, and some computational courses. You might have a few of these from your engineering background. In addition, there is a lot of theoretical mathematics in a physics undergrad degree, so don't forget about those too.

My point in the last paragraph is that it's not enough just to show you can complete/pass Physics grad level classes. Especially for theory, which requires a strong foundation/background, I think they would be more interested in you having a complete undergrad level physics. They can always teach you the graduate level stuff when you're at their school. You also might need this stuff to write the Physics GRE (you didn't mention this test at all?)

If you had a really strong GPA, things might be different! You mention the TOEFL, which might suggest you're an international student. Maybe you want to take another check to ensure you converted your GPA correctly! I know that a grade like 70% in some places is really good but in North America, it's not great at all!

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Thu Nov 22, 2012 6:57 pm

Thank you for your reply TakeruK

My point is, if we take as an example all the courses you mention, I don't see why I should get a new degree (I realize there is no point in debating this, I'm just venting my disappointment). We have done way more thermodynamics than any physics graduates is required to do, quite a bit of stat mech as a part of thermodynamics, I'm taking an extra course from EE department on senior EM next semester, I have completed a graduate course on QM, going into quite a bit of detail of the perturbation theory. Regarding math methods well we have completed courses on multivariable calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, numerical analysis, probability and statistics and we do quite a bit of cartesian tensor analysis in the stress analysis course. Regarding computational courses we had at least 8 credit hours of C/C++ programming and quite a bit of use of matlab; we also learn the engineering packages like ProE, Solidwork and even Ansys to an extent. Things I lack on paper are optics and analytical mechanics. Optics, I honestly don't care much for, and, I know analytical mechanics at least at a senior level undergrad course, through self study.

And there is no mistake in the GPA. I get the point; its horrendous : D I have never enjoyed engineering. Don't ask me why I went for it; long story. I am however surprised at how many people in this forum graduate with a 4.0/4.0. At least at our institute, when someone gets a 4/4 in a single semester, its big news. Nobody has ever graduated with a 4/4, so I guess we have bad grading system (I know, excuses, excuses, excuses : D)

blighter
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby blighter » Fri Nov 23, 2012 3:14 am

maliksaim wrote:And there is no mistake in the GPA. I get the point; its horrendous : D I have never enjoyed engineering. Don't ask me why I went for it; long story. I am however surprised at how many people in this forum graduate with a 4.0/4.0. At least at our institute, when someone gets a 4/4 in a single semester, its big news. Nobody has ever graduated with a 4/4, so I guess we have bad grading system (I know, excuses, excuses, excuses : D)


While we have a few people who have a GPA of 4/4 (10/10, rather) at my school, the variance in GPA is too high. When converting the GPA it's not quite right to just account for the top GPA, even the variance should be accounted for.

The average GPA at my school is around 7.0 and the standard deviation is close to 2.0, whereas the average GPA in US is around 3.4 and the standard deviation is around 0.5. That converts a GPA of 5.0 at my school to a GPA of 2.9 in the US system. I know this isn't the most elegant way of converting the GPA's but at least it is better than simply scaling it.

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Fri Nov 23, 2012 5:37 pm

blighter wrote:
maliksaim wrote:The average GPA at my school is around 7.0 and the standard deviation is close to 2.0, whereas the average GPA in US is around 3.4 and the standard deviation is around 0.5. That converts a GPA of 5.0 at my school to a GPA of 2.9 in the US system. I know this isn't the most elegant way of converting the GPA's but at least it is better than simply scaling it.

Our average class CGPA right now, out of 4, is around 2.62; +/- 0.05. They should take that into account.

hooverbm
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby hooverbm » Mon Nov 26, 2012 9:56 pm

I think a huge challenge for you would be to convince graduate programs that you're a strong candidate for physics. As others have mentioned, the GPA is just too low. Maybe that has something to do with how your institute handles GPA, maybe not. Point is, it just doesn't look good on paper.

It sounds like you have diversified your academic interests a bit with independent study, which is nice, but it may not sound convincing to an admissions committee. If you have a letter of recommendation, or independent study with a professor that could attest to any rigor in self-study, that would help.

But from what I see here:

1) No research experience
2) Low GPA
3) No tests scores

I know it sucks to think about taking some time off from applying to graduate school. But I strongly recommend pursuing a B.S. in physics first, as others have suggested. In addition to your coursework, pair up with some faculty and gain a valuable research experience that you can talk about in your personal statement and prospective research interests. If you can argue in your personal statement why you're a good fit for your prospective field of study by backing it up with research in that field, that will give you far more mileage. And finally, prepare for the PGRE. It's a lot to do, but it sounds like it's worth it in your case. If you have the motivation to pursue physics, you're halfway there. You just have to show others what you're capable of (GPA, research, and tests).

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:49 am

Thanks hooverbm for the advice. Also, thank you everyone else for your replies as well. Truly. You have given me a good kick of reality. Whether my circumstances allow, or, even if I have the motivation, to go for another BS, even if it only takes two years, is not an easy "yes" for me. I am still applying to two places, just to rid my mind of all the what-ifs that would arise in a few years if I don't, but, now, because of all your advice, I am much better prepared for a rejection. I have done well to teach myself physics until now, maybe that would be the best way for me to go in future as well : D

I would still say, I think most of you people are being too negative about my GPA. First, its a GPA in mechanical engineering; a field which I am trying to get away from. Secondly, there have been people going from arts and humanities to masters in science subjects; I at least have lots of physics and mathematics under my belt. And third, in case you people are thinking that I am trying for a direct PhD or a masters leading to PhD, that is not true. I am, specifically, looking for a dead end masters right now. Does that change your mind a bit about my chances? : D

blighter
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby blighter » Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:16 am

Terminal master's programmes more often than not, don't fund the students.

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:20 am

I guess I can manage most of the funding for my studies. I just want to get in a good school.

blighter
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby blighter » Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:12 pm

In that case, it shouldn't be hard at all to get in somewhere. Also it can help you with the top schools if you indicate that you'll be financing your education yourself.

bfollinprm
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby bfollinprm » Wed Nov 28, 2012 3:52 pm

maliksaim wrote:I would still say, I think most of you people are being too negative about my GPA. First, its a GPA in mechanical engineering; a field which I am trying to get away from. Secondly, there have been people going from arts and humanities to masters in science subjects; I at least have lots of physics and mathematics under my belt. And third, in case you people are thinking that I am trying for a direct PhD or a masters leading to PhD, that is not true. I am, specifically, looking for a dead end masters right now. Does that change your mind a bit about my chances? : D


These two statements are contradictory. It's precisely because you have "lots of physics and mathematics" courses that we're being negative about your "GPA in mechanical engineering", a field quite closely related to physics, especially at the undergraduate level. You aren't trying to get away from the field, you're moving slightly sideways. If you were coming from a humanities background, I'd be less concerned about your GPA (since it shows nothing directly as to your aptitude in math/science), though I'd of course be (much more) worried about your preparation for graduate school.

You might be able to get a terminal masters, but there are often GPA prerequisites there too. I feel much better about your chances for those, however, though be sure the schools you apply to actually offer terminal masters (most schools in the US which offer a PhD do not).

maliksaim
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby maliksaim » Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:03 am

@blighter: Really?? Top schools? Just want money? I hope you are not talking about making donations and spending hundreds of thousands on the damn thing. I just meant I can pay the few thousands worth of tuition fee : D

@bfollinprm: I realized the apparently contradictory nature of the statements when I wrote them. The thing is, whichever subjects I have done which were closer to math and physics, then engineering, I have been much better in them. The things that brought me down were stuff like, engineering materials, statics, mechanics of materials, circuit analysis, electronics, design of machine elements, theory of machines, refrigeration and heating, and the worst were two courses in manufacturing technology. I just hate the desperately ad hoc complexity of the calculations and the billion different rules to learn to study each separate case. I like simple stuff. I was much better at the four introductory physics and math courses, dynamics, thermodynamics I (thermodynamics II was an applied horror with details of stuff like refrigeration, combustion, gas turbines, psychrometry, etc.), fluid mechanics I and II, linear algebra, differential equations, probability and statistics and of course my singular graduate course in QM. Its not like I have never enjoyed engineering; sometimes learning about the machines and technology is good, and working in lab and on projects is almost always fun, but I don't enjoy the theory of engineering; it requires too much rote learning, which is not my cup of tea.

blighter
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Re: Mechanical Engineering to Physics; should I apply

Postby blighter » Sat Dec 01, 2012 11:58 pm

Surely not Princeton, MIT or any of that sort. But I'm sure you can get into some place in the top 30. Stony Brook has a terminal master's programme.




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