switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

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larry burns
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Joined: Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:12 pm

switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby larry burns » Sun Nov 28, 2010 8:52 pm

This may seem like a dumb question, but does anyone know how common it is for one to enroll in a physics phD dept, but then do their phD research related to astrophysics/astronomy, especially if that school has a separate astro dept? Also, if I were to do this, would the dept let me catch up for the astro coursework, given that I have no prior background in astro?

I thought applying to phys or combined phys/astro depts would be better since I'm not sure if I want to go into astro, condensed matter, or something eles

vesperlynd
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Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby vesperlynd » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:23 am

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Last edited by vesperlynd on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

pqortic
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Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby pqortic » Mon Nov 29, 2010 2:40 am

vesperlynd wrote:It sound like you and I are in the same position. I was told that as long as you explain that you have non-astronomy interests (condensed matter in your case), the physics departments will understand why you are applying to them, and won't transfer your application to the astronomy departments.

As far as coursework, the schools will definitely let you take some classes in astronomy. Don't worry about not coming in with any coursework; it can be made up in grad school.

I think you got him wrong. he is asking if he can switch to astrophysics program after getting admitted to physics department. and I think it strongly depends on the department policies because astrophysics and physics are so close and related and there are lots of overlaps e.g. graduate astro students are physics TAs or many professors teach in both programs. the best thing to do is to contact one of the astrophysics professors and know their opinion on this.

astroprof
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Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby astroprof » Mon Nov 29, 2010 12:36 pm

It is not unusual for a few students from the physics department to "cross-over"
to astronomy/astrophysics research, even when there is a separate astronomy
department. As has been stated several times on this forum, many research
areas are interdisciplinary, and your research advisor may be located in a different
department than the one you were admitted to. If you are uncertain about the
choice between astrophysics and other areas of physics, you should apply to
physics departments to keep your options open. As a physics student, you will
be required to take the core physics courses and pass the physics qualifier, but
you can complete your dissertation in your area of interest. You will probably need
to take classes for a little longer than your astronomy classmates, since they
will usually be taking fewer physics classes and more astronomy classes, but
it will all even out in the end.

One possible negative of this approach is related to funding. Astronomy departments
are usually significantly smaller than Physics departments, and usually attempt to
match admissions to available RA/TA positions much more closely. In addition, they
will give priority to their own students for such positions. Thus, you may find yourself
as a (physics) TA for longer than if you had been accepted directly into the astronomy
program.

Also, I should note that when there is a large disparity in the quality of the physics
and astronomy programs, the astronomy department may be less willing to accept
physics students. So this is not a good approach to try to "backdoor" your way
into a strong astronomy program.

larry burns
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Joined: Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:12 pm

Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby larry burns » Mon Nov 29, 2010 3:47 pm

Thanks for the replies. I just find it confusing that some schools have separate physics and astro depts, when physics students still can do research with an astro prof. I was concerned that if I entered as a physics student but worked with an astro prof, I wouldn't get to take as many astro classes as the astro students, and thus not have a strong enough background for an astro prof to hire me

Also, I'm not too fond that if I go into physics, I have to start off by taking classes in mech, E&M, or quantum instead of taking solid-state or astro immediately, so that way I can make a quicker decision if I want to go into condensed matter or astro, since I'm basically deciding between those two. Oh, and there goes my plan of applying to the UC Santa cruz physics dept with the intention of working with an astro prof haha

vesperlynd
Posts: 194
Joined: Thu Aug 06, 2009 9:28 am

Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby vesperlynd » Tue Nov 30, 2010 9:39 am

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Last edited by vesperlynd on Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

larry burns
Posts: 77
Joined: Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:12 pm

Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby larry burns » Thu Jan 06, 2011 4:19 pm

I probably should've asked this before, but since I'm interested in applying to some Astronomy depts (separate from physics), will my application be hurt considering that i havent taken any astro classes or done research projects in it? I have a physics degree but did my research projects in materials sci/condensed matter. Should I mention this in my SOP?

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WhoaNonstop
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Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby WhoaNonstop » Fri Jan 07, 2011 9:21 am

larry burns wrote:I probably should've asked this before, but since I'm interested in applying to some Astronomy depts (separate from physics), will my application be hurt considering that i havent taken any astro classes or done research projects in it? I have a physics degree but did my research projects in materials sci/condensed matter. Should I mention this in my SOP?


I think it's worth mentioning. I think committees are more interested in your own development in research, not the actual research itself. Also, it seems to be easier to climb down the ladder than up it. What I mean by this is (and I hope no one finds this offensive) that it appears that having a physics degree and applying for an astronomy program would be easier than having an astronomy degree and applying for a physics program. Of course, each of these programs are going to prefer having students who have the background, but I'd have to say that the core astronomy classes are very similar to the core physics classes.

-Riley

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InquilineKea
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Re: switching from physics to astrophysics in grad school?

Postby InquilineKea » Fri Jan 14, 2011 4:21 am

One possible negative of this approach is related to funding. Astronomy departments
are usually significantly smaller than Physics departments, and usually attempt to
match admissions to available RA/TA positions much more closely. In addition, they
will give priority to their own students for such positions. Thus, you may find yourself
as a (physics) TA for longer than if you had been accepted directly into the astronomy
program.


Oh wow, interesting. So then what do physics departments match their admissions to? A certain number per year?




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