Transitioning from ECE to Physics

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Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2020 12:33 am

Transitioning from ECE to Physics

Post by physics-ee » Mon Jan 04, 2021 5:25 am

Final year ECE student in Pakistan. University ranked highest in Pakistan overall and for ECE. Reputation okay for Physics. GPA is 3.55.
I have done research within the EECS domain. An internship in a a research lab relating to Deep Neural Network architectures. Currently a Research Assistant at a lab. My thesis is on Neural Networks based robotics. I'm also currently a TA for an ML course for Master's students.
Physics Courses: Introductory Course in Applied Physics, Thermodynamics, Engineering Mechanics, Electromagnetic Field Theory, and QM-1. Hoping to take QM-2 and/or statistical physics and SSE in the final semester. Self-taught Classical Mechanics (Idk how much that means though).
Mathematical Courses: Calculus -1, Linear Algebra and ODEs, Multivariable and Vector Calculus, Complex Variables and Transforms (Essentially complex analysis with an applied focus), Probability and Statistics, Numerical Methods.
ECE Courses that might be relevant: Programming courses are quite extensive from Object Oriented, Data Structures and Algorithms to Machine Learning. Circuit Analysis courses are obviously heavily studied. Electrical Machines, Instrumentation and Measurement courses, Microwave Engineering (Applications of Maxwell's Equations) might be considered relevant.

My honest question is, do I really stand a chance at a Physics graduate program? My GPA isn't the highest, though I do have 3.8+ GPA in my last 3 semesters. While I have some courses in Physics, my major concern is a lack of research in Physics. Traditionally, Engineering students don't traditionally sit in Physics courses at my university. Had to email people all around the university to make them let me take QM.

Would I be better off applying to Applied Math programs? I do feel like my mathematical background might be comparable to a Physics major, and I took quite math-heavy upper level ECE courses like DSP and Advanced Control Systems.

If I do end up applying to Universities in the US for either Applied Math or Physics, would you have any suggestions?

Thank you for reading this post, your replies will be highly appreciated.

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Joined: Fri Jan 01, 2021 9:27 am

Re: Transitioning from ECE to Physics

Post by physico_guy » Sun Jan 17, 2021 11:24 am

Lol, you have no chance for Physics PhD admission. "Advance Mathematics" of DSP (just Fourier Tf.) and Control (Just Laplace tf.) stuff is not that advance either. No one care discrete Fourier transform in physics :lol: So your background is very weak for physics. My suggestion is doing a master's in physics might help you a little bit. If you want to be a physicist, you should have enrolled in physics unless you are Witten. Also highest ranking in Pakistan, India etc mean medium to low ranking in USA. By the way if you are applying for a Solar Cell research or experimental condensed matter then you are OK, you have some chance.

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Re: Transitioning from ECE to Physics

Post by geekusprimus » Sun Jan 17, 2021 3:11 pm

I'll offer you a second opinion: most physics departments will accept non-physics students. The qualifications are based on coursework, not degree title. It's hard to compare international schools to US schools because the standards and course coverage are different, but here's the usual coursework requirements for admission:
  • Quantum mechanics at the level of Griffiths, McIntyre, or a similar text.
  • E&M at the level of Griffiths or a similar text.
  • Classical mechanics at the level of Thornton & Marion, Taylor, Gregory, or a similar text.
  • Thermal physics (stat mech + thermodynamics) at the level of Schroeder, Kittel, Gould & Tobochnik, or a similar text.
  • Math up to vector calculus, ODEs, and PDEs. Complex algebra expected, complex analysis is helpful but not required.
Some universities will consider admission for students with coursework deficiencies, but you'll be expected to complete remedial courses before you can take any of the coursework that counts toward your graduate coursework.

The real make-it-or-break-it requirement, though, is your research. Any research experience is helpful, even non-physics research, but obviously physics research will be the most useful, the reason being that your best letters of recommendation will come from your research advisors/PIs. Having a PI who knows somebody or is known by somebody is an extremely valuable bonus for your application.

Assuming your coursework requirements are met, my advice would be to look for programs that play to your strengths. There are a lot of experimental groups that build their own equipment, and having someone with an EE background could be tremendously useful. Also, a lot of quantum computing research is happening at the interface of physics and electrical/computer engineering, so those are programs you might want to look at, too.

If you want to improve your application, the two things that stand out are your lack of a real classical mechanics course and lack of physics research experience.

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