Transitioning from ECE to Physics

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physics-ee
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2020 12:33 am

Transitioning from ECE to Physics

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

Profile:
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.

physico_guy
Posts: 5
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.

geekusprimus
Posts: 102
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

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.

physics-ee
Posts: 3
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2020 12:33 am

Re: Transitioning from ECE to Physics

Post by physics-ee » Sat Jan 23, 2021 12:23 pm

physico_guy wrote:
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.
DSP isn't just fourier transforms though. And our course was on advanced controls, which included stuff like intro to calculus of variations, optimization theory, some stochastic calculus, matrix exponentials and solutions, ricatti equations, HJB equations, and stuff. Nevertheless, point taken. And yes, I recognise that universities in my country don't have much of a reputation abroad. Good for you, choosing to be born in a good country.
geekusprimus wrote:
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.
Thank you so much for your suggestions, they're recommendations I've gotten from several professors as well. I will try and keep these things in mind while applying and improving my profile.

occamsshaver12
Posts: 8
Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2020 6:52 pm

Re: Transitioning from ECE to Physics

Post by occamsshaver12 » Mon Feb 08, 2021 6:11 pm

I might be late to give advice but here it is nonetheless. The best way forward is by doing meaningful research in the area where you want to pursue your Ph.D. If you do that and apply to many places, you should get somewhere. Some places rely heavily on research and may ignore the lack of courses. Some will not even consider you even though you might have done great research. So apply wide. But if you want to be safe you should pursue a master's and take courses and do research. To sum it up, research is necessary but going for a master's (with research) will heavily favor you. Also, look out for research advisors with any connections.

I would also like to say that you learning things on your own will make you a good Physicist, but if you nothing to show for it, it becomes irrelevant. So learn stuff but work primarily on having things to show for it (doing well in Physics GRE also comes to mind).



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