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Careers: Physics/i know my passion but not the right course


i am an indian student of class 12 i have keen interest in mechanics and i prefer deep knowledge through the medium of ideas.i want to study   physics and want to go for research in it please tell me the whole path and all options.

ANSWER: Hi akshit:

I will focus on how you can pursue a graduate program in the United States since I am most familiar with that system.  i suppose that getting into a top graduate program in India is much the same.

It is straightforward, but a long and challenging road.  Start by enrolling in a B.Sc. program in physics at university.  The best option is a 4 year program if you can enter one.  If a 3-year degree is all you can find, then you will have to taken an M.Sc. as well in order to keep your options open for graduate study abroad. Most universities in the United States will not admit a student with a 3-year degree from India unless they also have an M.Sc.

Once in your program, you need to obtain research experience with one or more faculty members.  It does not matter what specific area of research you pursue as an undergraduate because you can always change in graduate school.  The purpose is two-fold: the first to gain experience which will make you an attractive prospect for graduate school and the second is to have one or more faculty members who can write a personal and thorough reference letter for you.

Try to get top marks in your classes.  I know that sometimes the scores in India are low comparatively to those in the United States and most universities in the U.S. know this, but the higher your marks, the more you will stand out.  This does not mean just to get the top marks without really understanding the material.  You have to be passionately interested in all aspects of physics if you are going to be successful.  I always am frustrated when I hear students say that they don't like experimental physics or thermodynamics or something else.  The hallmark of a good physicist (scientist for that matter) is that they can get excited about any topic in physics.

Finally, the Graduate Record Examination is essential for the United States and many of the best physics programs require both the General examination and the Physics subject test.  The better you do on the physics test, the more you will be considered by a graduate program.

There are also good and bad ways to write your personal statement but you are just finishing secondary school so it is a bit premature to go into detail about this now.

Good luck!

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QUESTION: sir it has been a long time after my first question and by this time i have cleared my board i.e, 12th exam with 89% . i am deadly keen to pursue career in pure `sciences but in india it not seen as a good career and and all the people around me are suggesting to go for  sir i want to know the difference in the two options in terms of what i will get to study in both.

please guide me by comparing the course studies in both.

ANSWER: Hi akshit:

I really hate it when I read "it (science) is not seen as a good career".  Ask yourself what criterion is being used to make this value judgment?  Is it income?  Well, income is not everything in life.  If you are passionate about basic science and research, then you do it with your eyes open and make sure that whatever sacrifices in income you make are acceptable.

That being said, I know a number of very successful researchers in India who have a great life.  They have even done well after getting Ph.D. and then deciding to change careers to work in industry.  Science, in particular physics, is good training and sought after by companies in the financial and software industries, to name just two.

Now to your question.  The BTech is not a very strong degree if you want to pursue a Ph.D. in physics or other science.  You don't get the requisite background in the basic field that you need to qualify for a graduate program.  Applicants to my university in physics with a BTech usually require a Masters in Physics to be considered while if you have a BSc in Physics, you only usually need one year of graduate study (if you have a 3 year BSc) to be seriously considered.


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QUESTION: sir can you please also tell what after i complete bsc (hons).

Hi akshit:

I presume that what you are asking is whether you can apply for a Ph.D. program just after a 3 year B.Sc.  Some universities in the U.S. will not take students with a 3-year degree but others might.  You need to take the GRE and if you do well you should try applying after the B.Sc.  Otherwise an additional year of Masters courses will be a good idea.

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Carlo Segre


I can answer most questions about studying physics in college and graduate school; questions about condensed matter physics; x-ray physics; synchrotron radiation; and general and modern physics. I can also answer questions about careers in academia.


Professor of physics for 30 years at Illinois Institute of Technology. Academic adviser for undergraduates and graduate students. I have served on university promotion and tenure committees, search committees for Deans and Department Chairs. I have also been an Associate Department Chair and an Associate Dean. I have 34 years experience in materials science research and I have been responsible for building and now managing a User facility at the Advanced Photon Source.

American Physical Society
Sigma Xi
American Chemical Society
American Associate for the Advancement of Science
International Centre for Diffraction Data (Fellow)
International X-ray Absorption Society

Nature; Physical Review Letters; Physical Review; Applied Physics Letters; Journal of Physical Chemistry; Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials; Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics; Solid State Communications; Physics Letters; Journal of Low Temperature Physics; Journal of Crystal Growth and Design; Physics Letters; Journal of Applied Physics; Journal of Archaeological Science; Physica C; Corrosion Science; Electrochimica Acta; Journal of Nuclear Materials

Ph.D. Physics, 1981 - University of California, San Diego
M.S. Physics, 1977 - University of California, San Diego
B.S. Physics, 1976 - University of illinois, Champaign-Urbana
B.S. Chemistry 1976 - University of illinois, Champaign-Urbana

Awards and Honors
Duchossois Leadership Professor of Physics, IIT Fellow, International Center for Diffraction Data

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