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Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 5:26 pm
by brassgod
Hello all,

I'm currently an EE major at a top public university, but I am considering applying to some physics Ph.D. programs for fall 2010. There are a couple of bad marks on my transcript. I have gotten an 'F' in a engineering course, and retook the course and got an 'A-' in it. However, I also was placed on academic probation because of that class and also not doing so well in my other classes that quarter.

At the moment I am taking two upper division engineering course and a lower division physics class. I am doing very well in my engineering classes, but I am failing the physics class. I honestly don't know what the hell is going on in there. This is a result that I began the quarter off two weeks late due to having a hard time finding housing for winter quarter (I did an internship for fall quarter). Also, I had enrolled in an upper division math class and two labs, which I tried to catch up when I finally got back to school, but it didn't go my way so I dropped them. Now, my physics profressor has recommended I drop the class because of my low midterm grade. However, I am unable to drop it or change the grading to pass/no pass because of the engineering department's requirements.

On the upside I have a 3.5 GPA, two summers of research at a national lab in plasma and accelerator physics, and research at a NASA center. I am also doing work with a plasma physics group at my instituition.

I know it'll be hard enough to get accepted to a physics Ph.D. program without the an undergraduate background, but will all this other stuff really keep me out from most programs? Any advice?

Re: Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 6:38 pm
by dlenmn
You wouldn't be the first person to switch from EE to physics. I'm guessing that alone won't be much of a hurdle (but people who have done it should speak). As for the class failing thing, I'm guessing it will keep you out of some of the more selective programs, but most programs aren't in that category. You should certainly be able to get in somewhere -- your research will definitely be a plus (any chance of a publication?) If your heart is set on a selective program, some people with bad numbers have found it useful to first get a masters (masters programs are easier to get in to), do well there, and then apply to PhD programs. Of course, the middle step is key. What physics class is giving you trouble? Are your physics problems simply from the late start? (A late start often causes one to be behind in the work, but does not necessarily lead to not knowing "what the hell is going on").

Re: Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 7:09 pm
by G01
As mentioned you should be able to get in to some program, especially with your research.

Your big issue should be "not knowing what going on" in an undergraduate physics course. You should spend some time figuring out why this is. Not understanding an undergraduate course in physics is only going to make bigger problems in a graduate course in the same subject.

Also, you should strive to get as high of a grade as possible in this physics course. Since you do not have the normal background of a physics major, failing one of the physics courses that you have taken will not look good at all on your application to a physics PhD program.

Re: Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 8:12 pm
by tmc
You're also gonna need a top score in the PGRE. As you're coming from a non-physics degree, the admissions committee will use that as a quality check to make sure you actually know physics.

Re: Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 3:16 am
by brassgod

I will not be publishing anything on my previous work, unfortunately. The class is suppose to be a modern physics (sort of intro to quantum physics) course. However, the professor has thrown in some other material that is not even in the course description, and not covered very well in the course reader or even the reference book. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of the derivations in class.


I am fairly capable of figuring stuff on my own, but the text assigned to the class is not sufficient for me to piece it all together. I am guilty of not paying attention in lecture to most of my classes so I rely heavily on a textbook. I can handle most of the math involved, but I don't know how some things are related to each other. I have searched for a decent textbook but I have not found one. I have also asked the TA for one, but lecture is as good as it gets.

Perhaps physics isn't for me, and I should stick with engineering. :(

Re: Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 4:45 am
by xudis149

My case may be an encouragement for you. I got one admit[Brandeis] and one reject[VTech] till now. Here are the salient features of my application
*International applicant
*No research exp.
*EE Major
*Lots of Failures and retakes of courses.[I mean really lot :oops: ]

On the upside I got PGRE score of 940. Other things that helped my application were.
*I applied for experimental side.
*My recommender's explained my low grades.
*Good SOP

In your case since you are a domestic applicant and have research exp, I think you can have shot at Top places. Just get a good PGRE score and maybe take few grad courses of ur interest.

Re: Do I even have a chance?

Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 2:20 pm
by dlenmn
brassgod, that sounds like a reasonable reason to not understand what's going on, but you need to do what you can to fix the situation. If the material isn't in the text, then go to the library and find a text that does cover the material -- people here could probably provide recommendations. If the prof has office hours, go to them (since he presumably understands the material he added. Also, going to office hours can show the prof that you're working hard, which may help your grade in the end). Etc.

This probably isn't news to you. I wouldn't count yourself out of physics yet.