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From Chemistry to Physics

Posted: Tue Sep 09, 2014 6:40 pm
by djh101
Hell, PGRE community. I will be applying to graduate schools soon with a degree in chemistry (physical chemistry concentration) from UCLA. I will be applying for quantum information (where applicable) and either theoretical or experimental atomic (where not applicable). Now, I would say I'm certainly prepared, at least as prepared as a physics major, to pursue physics graduate school, but I'm a little bit worried about how a chemistry degree will look on my application. I guess what would be most helpful is something like a 1-10 rating of how much my application will be negatively affected (and details are, of course, appreciated). I haven't seen a single chemistry major in the admissions results threads, so I can only speculate, but it seems to me like one of the most natural fields to transition from (following math).

A little more about myself and courses:
-3.6GPA, all As/A+s in upper division math, physics, and physical chemistry (except for a B in thermo and an A- in nonlinear DE, and A-/B+ in inorganic chemistry if that's considered related).
-Quantum in the chemistry department was a two part course (Quantum Chemistry/Spectroscopy). According to the description, part B was a spectroscopy course but we actually covered E&M with Griffiths followed by mostly matrix mechanics and perturbation theory with Feynman (I actually used Shankar and Zettili, myself).
-I think we actually covered more thermo in the chemistry department (it was a single course in the physics department, but ours was a two part thermo/stat mech series).
-Physics students take a single four-unit elective lab while I had to take two five-unit labs (p.chem lab and materials chemistry lab).
-I've taken E&M (part 1/2), Classical Mechanics (part 1/2), and Mathematical Methods in the physics department. I was actually all ready to graduate but threw in CM my last quarter to at least have a foot in every major physics branch on my application. I've also taken ODE, nonlinear DE, and linear algebra in the math department. Since I'll be taking a year off, I intend to strength my math and quantum mechanics background as much as possible during that time, if it matters.
-Right now I'm estimating a PGRE score in the mid/high 700 range. I'm aiming for 800 and don't think I'll do worse than mid 600s.

So, to summarize, would a chemistry degree put me at a significant disadvantage or a slight disadvantage with maybe a shift in weight towards PGRE, letters, etc. (or something else)? Anything specific I should mention in my SIR (aside from why I don't have a physics degree)? My main concerns are the degree title and the small amount of documented quantum mechanics background.

Re: From Chemistry to Physics

Posted: Tue Sep 09, 2014 7:54 pm
by TakeruK
I don't think you will be at a significant disadvantage at all. Some schools actually ask for the syllabus or list of textbooks used for a few of your courses so this will be a chance to show that your QM is a lot like a Physics major's QM. If you can strongly motivate your reason for your interest in Physics and how your background can help you achieve this, then you should face almost no disadvantage at all. Especially since I think your research interests nicely bridge physics and chemistry. Some profs may be concerned that you won't succeed in Physics courses outside of your subfield but it sounds like you will have a good foundation for pre-reqs and also strong academic performance to show your ability.

I don't think most places really care too much about the degree title as long as you have the right physics background. Many schools do weird things with degree titles anyways, so you won't necessarily be the only student without a degree title that says "BS Physics" even though your courses are similar to a BS in Physics.

Re: From Chemistry to Physics

Posted: Tue Sep 09, 2014 11:25 pm
by djh101
Well, that's rather encouraging. Thank you for your response. I am choosing to apply for atomic partially because of my chemistry background (not wholly, of course- this isn't to say I'm not significantly interested in atomic). Given the close ties between chemistry and physics, though (all of the physical chemistry professors at UCLA seem to be physicists by education; even worse is USC, whose quantum information center seems to be mostly people with physics bachelors degrees and PhDs working in the electrical engineering and computer science departments), I would think there would be more chemistry to physics transitions. Although I suppose that most chemistry majors want to be organic chemists and biochemists.