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Careers: Physics/Switch from engineering to physics


QUESTION: Respected Sir,
I'm Rohit, currently studying in first year engineering in Electronics & Telecommunication. I'd like to know the possibilities of switching over from engineering to physics after graduation. Please help me out, sir. I dont like engineering. I'm studying engineering, because in india, an engineer has 100 times more value than a physics graduate, (which is not the case in other countries like USA, etc.) and also better job prospects. But sir, I live physics and want to make a career out of it(not a high paying one, but just a job where I can continue my researches with minimum salary).I like to learn physics and that too the stuff which is not taught in btech(like relativity, quantum mechanics, etc.) please help me out, sir. Thank you for reading this.

ANSWER: Hi Rohit:

Of course it is possible to change to physics from engineering but you will make it easier on yourself if you make sure to take as much electrodynamics theory as possible in your BTech degree.  You will have to make up deficiencies, such as classical mechanics, statistical mechanics and, of course modern physics and quantum mechanics but most Ph.D. programs in the U.S.A. (if that is your goal) will require you to take an extra year of study anyway because the BTech is, if I am not mistaken, a three year degree.

If your goal is to study in the U.S.A., you will have to do well on your GRE exams and specifically the Physics GRE in order to get into a Ph.D. program in physics.  You might have to self-finance a Masters degree in physics somewhere in the U.S.A. also, to make the transition but it is certainly possible with enough determination.

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QUESTION: Respected sir,
Thank you for the reply.I want to do MS physics after my, probably from a US university. But most of these universities require me to have the following, while applying for MS physics course:
1. Research experience in physics.
2. Recommendation letters.
3. Should have completed all course-work in physics, if I'm not holding a bachelors in Physics degree.(which is applicable in my case).

Please tell me what should I do during my under graduate days, so as to satisfy these pre-requisites for an MS Physics degree. (especially condition no.3). Thank you

ANSWER: Hi Rohit:

Perhaps you are looking at a subset of programs.  You might wish to broaden your search.  I know that my university, Illinois Institute of Technology has accepted students from engineering into our Masters program.  We decide which courses they need to take to make up for missing material and then integrate it into the Masters program.  For the Masters program, research experience is a plus but not absolutely required.  Those students who wish to pursue a Ph.D. will get research experience in the masters program and then apply to a new university or stay in our program if they pass our exams.

To best prepare yourself, you should try to take extra electives in physics if it is possible in your university.  I know that in India it is not always possible to take courses outside of one's major.  If you can take all the upper level physics courses in mechanics, statistical physics and quantum physics, that would prepare you well for the Physics GRE and a graduate program in physics.  Another option is self-study, using the online resources that are available these days, however, this option does not provide a credential that you have completed the courses.

A third option is to see if you can take some physics courses online from a university that will give you a transcript as a non-degree student.  I know that our quantum mechanics sequence is already delivered online and we have, in the past allowed students from other universities to take them online as non-degree registrants.

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QUESTION: Respected Sir,
Yes, I'd have to consider the second option because, like you said, in India, courses outside our majors are unavailable. So, I'll have to prepare all by myself for the Physics GRE. do you think it'd be all right to prepare by myself, with a bit of determination and hard work?
Also, how should I prepare for Physics GRE? I can buy books and study them and solve problems. Would that be alright? What are the books that I should buy to prepare for physics GRE?


Hi Rohit,

I have seen other students in your situation do this by self-study.  it is clearly not as effective as taking the courses with proper feedback in terms of homework and exams.  The time it takes to follow a class also gives you the opportunity to really understand it better.  Furthermore, when you say that you studied the material on your own, there is no tangible proof that what you say is true.  However, you don't have much choice and will have to do it this way. (As an aside, I think that the Indian system hurts its students with this inflexibility).

In order to do well on the Physics GRE, you will need to have a lot of experience doing problems so that you can recognize the ones you see on the GRE quickly and be able to skip steps in working out the answer.  The test is long and if you are working all the problems out slowly, you will not finish it.  The best way to prepare is to get standard text books for all the parts of physics covered on the exam and just work problems and more problems.  Then you can try the practice tests that are available on the ETS site.  Finally, you might be able to find a Physics GRE Prep book.  I am not sure how useful that will be but it might help.

Good luck!


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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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