Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

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physguy
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Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:15 pm

Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby physguy » Mon Jul 11, 2011 7:50 pm

Up until recently I've always though about going to grad school for phys but now I think engineering is a better choice for me. I'll be entering my senior year of undergrad in the fall and I'm interested in going into engineering for graduate school. When I graduate my degree will be a bachelors of science in physics. I don't have much coursework in engineering but I have done some research in EE.

I don't know much about admissions for engineering grad schools. I have a good GPA (3.85/4.0), but I haven't taken my GRE yet. I have 2 summers worth of REUs (1 optics, 1 EE) and a year of research at my university. I'm worried about trying to apply to engineering programs with a physics degree and minimal engineering coursework to back it up.

Can I get into any sort of engineering PhD program? (Aero, EE, Mech, Nuc)

One of the great aspects of a Physics PhD is the financial aid. Can I still get a good financial aid package if I go into engineering?

If I can't get into a PhD program, what about an MS program? How well funded are those?

Does anyone have any experience in switching from physics to engineering? Was it difficult?

I realize information on this might be scarce. If you can point me in the direction of a better website please post a link.

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grae313
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Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby grae313 » Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:09 am

physguy wrote:Up until recently I've always though about going to grad school for phys but now I think engineering is a better choice for me. I'll be entering my senior year of undergrad in the fall and I'm interested in going into engineering for graduate school. When I graduate my degree will be a bachelors of science in physics. I don't have much coursework in engineering but I have done some research in EE.

I don't know much about admissions for engineering grad schools. I have a good GPA (3.85/4.0), but I haven't taken my GRE yet. I have 2 summers worth of REUs (1 optics, 1 EE) and a year of research at my university. I'm worried about trying to apply to engineering programs with a physics degree and minimal engineering coursework to back it up.

Can I get into any sort of engineering PhD program? (Aero, EE, Mech, Nuc)

One of the great aspects of a Physics PhD is the financial aid. Can I still get a good financial aid package if I go into engineering?

If I can't get into a PhD program, what about an MS program? How well funded are those?

Does anyone have any experience in switching from physics to engineering? Was it difficult?

I realize information on this might be scarce. If you can point me in the direction of a better website please post a link.


You asked a lot of questions that could be answered pretty easily with google. Did you bother to look at a few department websites to see what they say they require of their applicants? If you did, you should change your post to reflect that and you'll get a much warmer reception here.

I google engineering graduate programs and picked a top 5 one - UC Berkeley - and went to their admissions website. You'll notice they don't even require a technical background. Do your best to meet as many of their course suggestions as you can and I think you'll be fine with a physics background. Want to see if this is representative? Check a few other engineering department websites. Here's Berkeley's answer about financial aid. Last but not least, you can always call up a random department and ask them anything.

physguy
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:15 pm

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby physguy » Tue Jul 12, 2011 12:20 pm

Yes, I have done a google search and in fact I've checked out Berkeley's website before. "Being considered" is rather ambiguous, as are many of the other admissions websites. I know many say physics backgrounds will be considered, but I was hoping someone here had some experience in the matter.

Considering it's an atypical situation it wouldn't be out of the question to get a smaller financial aid package or face a harder time gaining admission. Some insight would help me gauge just how steep a slope I'm facing.

You're right, I should have worded my questions better. Perhaps now you can understand what I'm asking and/or the kind of answers I'm looking for.

Talking to an admissions rep might be my best bet. Thanks for the suggestion and I appreciate your help.

SSM
Posts: 87
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:57 pm

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby SSM » Tue Jul 12, 2011 7:12 pm

I sort of switched from physics to engineering, although I was an engineering physics major in undergrad so it wasn't much of a switch. If you have a physics background, intro engineering classes are actually quite a bit easier. Also, grad level classes are really similar to physics in a lot of cases, especially if you do something like optics. If you're into EE, the change is pretty seamless for the most part.

physguy wrote:One of the great aspects of a Physics PhD is the financial aid. Can I still get a good financial aid package if I go into engineering?


One of the greater aspects of an engineering Ph.D is financial aid. The two places where I applied to engineering programs gave me the best two financial offers. Usually engineering schools aren't hurting for money.

elliott34
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Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 9:39 am

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby elliott34 » Tue Jul 12, 2011 10:13 pm

Relevant. Email to Cornell Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
"We have students that apply to ECE with a variety of degrees/backgrounds in engineering. We don't generally see as many students who apply to our field with a Physics background, it's usually students from Applied Physics. But, depending on your personal background, along with what your specific interests are would determine if you would be a good fit for our field.

Someone at Cornell

-----Original Message-----
From: ME
Sent: Sunday, June 05, 2011 3:32 PM
To: Student Services
Subject: phd


To: Student Services
From: ME
------------------Start Message------------------

Do you admit phd students in EECCS with an undergrad degree in physics?
------------------End Message------------------

[This email was sent from ECE's public web site]"



As you can see it's sort of a grey area. Also I was looking at Michigan Aerospace and they specifically discourage applicants applying without backgrounds with aerospace since you almost certainly won't get in.

Remember, if you're trying to get into a top school, you're competing with students who have plenty of experience with the engineering curriculum and experiences with CAD, design projects. Although it appears you have experience in EE so I don't know. I would do a post-bacc program, otherwise you will almost certainly have to spend time making up undergraduate courses once you get into grad school which should only be one extra intense year. Also, go on MIT open courseware and look at the lecture notes from various engineering fields. Make sure you even like it. I know it's not for me after doing that.

My other advice would be to look the optical engineering program at Rochester, Arizona, and Central Florida, particularly Arizona. Optical Engineers usually come from physics backgrounds it is a pretty lucrative discipline. Seriously just type in optical design engineer into any job search engine...check out spiee.org and learn about the photonics industry, it may be up your alley.

physguy
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:15 pm

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby physguy » Tue Jul 12, 2011 11:44 pm

Thank you for the responses.

It seems like it really varies by program and discipline. To be honest, I'd like to get into as good a program as I can but I don't feel a need to get into a top 5 or even top 10 program. I'm not looking to become a professor or academic researcher. I'd like PhD in engineering so I can conduct research in industry or government, which is partially why I think engineering is a better route for me than physics.

Also, it seems like the fields of engineering that would provide the easiest transition are EE and Optics. From elliott34's response Aero seems to be a difficult transition. Is the same true for MechE and Nuclear?

elliott34
Posts: 18
Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 9:39 am

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby elliott34 » Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:14 am

My friend got into University of Florida nuclear engineering with a physics undergraduate degree. He and his advisor called up a TON of nuclear programs to see how his application would be treated, and I'm pretty they said yeah he would have some catching up to do, an extra year to be more specific, but after that it's not a big deal. UF is a great school.

Not sure what the transition is like for MechE. You're better off asking an engineering undergraduate to be truthful. It's a nice thought to think that because MechE's take a lot of thermo that you're going to be fine, but they've also designed engines for example and know about the vibrational modes of various beam structures, all stuff you'd have to learn if you didn't want to make writing your dissertation harder for yourself. A PhD is not something you just "get," you should have a deep interest in the field and are willing to slave away at something throughout the night when other things in life beckon. You have to love it. This is what I am told. Which is why I said: If you're going to do this, don't just pick any random discipline because you think the transition will be easiest. Do a LOT of research into the disciplines (I like MIT open courseware) and decide which one strikes you as most interesting.

http://tam.cornell.edu/ might be for you, or applied physics programs. Check out Civil engineering, too.

physguy
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Joined: Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:15 pm

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby physguy » Wed Jul 13, 2011 5:12 pm

The year of catch up isn't a deal breaker for me. If I can get funding while catching up, I won't have any qualms.

I've done quite a bit of research into the various disciplines of engineering. I've conducted research in some of the fields including optics, nanotech/solid state and some EE work pertaining to plasma physics.

I worry about the transition because if I'm unable to succeed, it doesn't really matter how deeply interested I am. That said, I understand that the time and work necessary for a PhD is nothing to take lightly. Which is why I am narrowing down my choices by removing both the fields I'm not interested in and the schools/programs that won't accept my application.

I do enjoy physics, but the career opportunities it offers are not the ones I'm looking for. I know some say that a physicist can get a job as an engineer. But, I think its easier for an engineer to get a job as an engineer.

I emailed UCSD's MAE program and got this response:
Yes, absolutely you would be a good candidate for our PhD program. We have several students with degrees in physics as well as math. Financial assistance is reserved for PhD students so if you are in need of that, the PhD program is your best bet.


So it seems to vary quite a bit between schools and programs.

Again, thanks for your responses. You're really helping me out a lot. I appreciate it.

elliott34
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Joined: Thu May 05, 2011 9:39 am

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby elliott34 » Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:14 pm

physguy wrote: If I can get funding while catching up, I won't have any qualms.


That may be asking a bit much. It may be the sort of thing where they admit you with the idea that you take courses on a non degree basis and THEN you start the phd program. Def send emails out about this.

CarlBrannen
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Joined: Mon May 24, 2010 11:34 pm

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby CarlBrannen » Wed Jul 13, 2011 7:19 pm

physguy wrote:Can I still get a good financial aid package if I go into engineering?


If you want to get funding, instead of looking for a school, why don't you look for a researcher? There's lots of research in EE that need more skills in applied physics than engineering. So if you find that perfect researcher, maybe they can support you from day one as a research assistant.

Even if that perfect researcher can't fund you, going through this way gives you a bunch of advantages. You may get better ideas of what subject you want to work in. It may help you get into a grad school with that perfect researcher. Etc.

ComboOrgan
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Joined: Sun Mar 02, 2008 6:39 pm

Re: Engineering PhD after Physics undergrad

Postby ComboOrgan » Sat Sep 03, 2011 9:36 pm

I had a physics undergrad, and I'm currently doing my PhD in nuclear engineering at a top program.
My pal went from a physics undergrad to a PhD in materials science and engineering in a top program.
Another guy in my department went from a physics undergrad to an EE PhD program.

Yes, it can be done. It's done all the time. I even remember some schools telling me they considered physics to be better preparation for their program (but this wasn't the norm).

I've found several things difficult in my first year, and I lacked many of the practical skills engineering majors had, but we all have our challenges to overcome.




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