Department of Physics VS Astronomy

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gaugeinvariance
Posts: 35
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by gaugeinvariance » Wed Nov 25, 2020 3:34 am

Dear All

It is me again :D I have heard some of the rumors that it is better to apply for department of physics even if I wanted to conduct research on astrophysics, since it is easier to get into graduate school for the department of physics because they would be having more vacancies and more funding. Is this rumors true? Does anyone who are now conducting astrophysical research encountered something similar?

Thanks all

HubbleBubble
Posts: 32
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by HubbleBubble » Wed Nov 25, 2020 7:25 am

It is completely false, and in terms of funding and job vacancies, the reverse is true in my experience. On a national level, astronomy is one of the very best funded fields. Despite having so many extant telescopes still making discoveries, the US government has continually placed large amounts of funds into staying at the cutting edge (big part of this has to do with NASA). On a personal level, in my experience the problem with astronomy professors is they hire far more students than they have time to mentor well.

As for job vacancies, astronomy is often the only physics subfield with its own department, which can be of a similar size. Once you graduate I would say between observatories and universities your career odds are similar to a PhD in some other subfield, if not better. The difference is that there are no profitable companies doing astronomy research unless you count optics, so going to industry usually means data science not private astronomy.

It is true that, like HEP, astronomy is a very popular field, and applicants generally want to take astronomy courses and do an astronomy qualifying exam rather than taking physics courses and quals completely unrelated to your research. Thus, your odds are slightly better to get into physics PhD programs. However, that might have different meaning person to person. Astronomy admissions seem to place more weight on research experience and less weight on GRE scores, so if you have done significant amounts of research or have a lower GPA/GRE you are better off applying for astronomy. I would apply to both, and advise against applying to just one or the other.

It is also true that there are <50 pure astronomy departments total, but nearly 200 PhD granting physics departments alone. That usually means that astronomy departments are only at top schools, and as a class are harder to get into. So that clouds peoples perceptions, maybe my own.

TLDR: If a school has a physics and astronomy department, apply to the astronomy department. Your odds aren’t that different, and at minimum the reward is not having to take a physics qualifying exam. But applicants with less research experience should find lower ranked, pure physics programs as safeties.

gaugeinvariance
Posts: 35
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

Re: Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by gaugeinvariance » Wed Nov 25, 2020 7:55 am

Thank you so much for the valuable information. In particular, paragraph 3 really catches my eye!
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It is true that, like HEP, astronomy is a very popular field, and applicants generally want to take astronomy courses and do an astronomy qualifying exam rather than taking physics courses and quals completely unrelated to your research. Thus, your odds are slightly better to get into physics PhD programs. However, that might have different meaning person to person. Astronomy admissions seem to place more weight on research experience and less weight on GRE scores, so if you have done significant amounts of research or have a lower GPA/GRE you are better off applying for astronomy. I would apply to both, and advise against applying to just one or the other.
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Here is the issue, despite the GRE scores that are not required this year, I am having a reasonable GPA (3.86/4.00) and in terms of research experience, I have got a paper (first author) submitted to ApJ. But the problem is I am coming from a physics background, for which I didn't take much Astronomy course, and on the other hand, some department of astronomy really place the deadline so early (For example, December 1), for which I may not have got enough time to submit all the required information. These factors really hinder me from applying directly to astronomy PhD, provided that transfer from physics to astronomy is always possible! But what you talked about - applying both, is really new to me, how do I suppose to explain to the school why do I apply both? :shock:

HubbleBubble
Posts: 32
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by HubbleBubble » Wed Nov 25, 2020 8:12 am

gaugeinvariance wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 7:55 am
Thank you so much for the valuable information. In particular, paragraph 3 really catches my eye!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It is true that, like HEP, astronomy is a very popular field, and applicants generally want to take astronomy courses and do an astronomy qualifying exam rather than taking physics courses and quals completely unrelated to your research. Thus, your odds are slightly better to get into physics PhD programs. However, that might have different meaning person to person. Astronomy admissions seem to place more weight on research experience and less weight on GRE scores, so if you have done significant amounts of research or have a lower GPA/GRE you are better off applying for astronomy. I would apply to both, and advise against applying to just one or the other.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here is the issue, despite the GRE scores that are not required this year, I am having a reasonable GPA (3.86/4.00) and in terms of research experience, I have got a paper (first author) submitted to ApJ. But the problem is I am coming from a physics background, for which I didn't take much Astronomy course, and on the other hand, some department of astronomy really place the deadline so early (For example, December 1), for which I may not have got enough time to submit all the required information. These factors really hinder me from applying directly to astronomy PhD, provided that transfer from physics to astronomy is always possible! But what you talked about - applying both, is really new to me, how do I suppose to explain to the school why do I apply both? :shock:
With a 3.86 and a first author ApJ paper you have nothing to worry about. Hahaha. A physics background is fine. You should do relatively well this year, although COVID will prevent you from doing as well as you should, as with everyone. Usually those excellent stats give you a decent chance at the top 10, you can check profile threads to get an idea. So if I were you I’d go for mainly astro programs.

When I said apply to both I meant overall, not at the same university. Maybe someone else has tried that and can advise you. I suspect that it would seem indecisive - usually you are interested in a program because you want to work with a particular group, and they will be in either one department or the other.

geekusprimus
Posts: 107
Joined: Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:10 pm

Re: Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by geekusprimus » Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:43 pm

Something that's being left out here: what are you interested in? Do you want to do physics, or do you want to do astronomy?

Although coursework at the undergraduate level is quite similar, coursework at the graduate level is quite different. A typical physics department requires courses in quantum mechanics, E&M, classical mechanics, and math methods, plus some electives. Fundamental coursework in astronomy will be things like observational techniques, stellar evolution, galaxy formation, and methods of radiative transfer, plus some electives. You'll touch on the fundamentals of a physics department, but those topics won't be covered with nearly the same breadth. It's not difficult to get courses in either department approved if there's a need for it, but your primary coursework will be very different. Classes like general relativity and cosmology will frequently be cross-listed and/or offered in both programs, but something like quantum field theory will be only in a physics department while exoplanets would be pretty much only in an astro department.

HubbleBubble
Posts: 32
Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2020 7:06 am

Re: Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by HubbleBubble » Wed Nov 25, 2020 11:27 pm

geekusprimus wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 6:43 pm
Something that's being left out here: what are you interested in? Do you want to do physics, or do you want to do astronomy?

Although coursework at the undergraduate level is quite similar, coursework at the graduate level is quite different. A typical physics department requires courses in quantum mechanics, E&M, classical mechanics, and math methods, plus some electives. Fundamental coursework in astronomy will be things like observational techniques, stellar evolution, galaxy formation, and methods of radiative transfer, plus some electives. You'll touch on the fundamentals of a physics department, but those topics won't be covered with nearly the same breadth. It's not difficult to get courses in either department approved if there's a need for it, but your primary coursework will be very different. Classes like general relativity and cosmology will frequently be cross-listed and/or offered in both programs, but something like quantum field theory will be only in a physics department while exoplanets would be pretty much only in an astro department.
Very good points!

gaugeinvariance
Posts: 35
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2020 6:33 am

Re: Department of Physics VS Astronomy

Post by gaugeinvariance » Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:33 am

Firstly I would like to thank HubbleBubble for the advices. Actually after reading your comment, I have checked that, in most of the schools that I applied, the group that I am interested to work in also exist in physics department, so I think I wouldn't be big problem!

On top of that, with regard to the comment from geekusprimus, that's a very good point! If you really ask me, I am very interested in doing research in computational astrophysics simulation, BUT, I enjoy the course work of physics department! QFT, Classical field, etc... :shock: That's quite strange isn't it?



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