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Mechanical Engineering to PhD in Physics


Hello friends, this is Sudhaman. I will be talking about how I got acceptance for a physics PhD abroad (USA), with an engineering background. Hope this helps. 


Field of InterestExperimental Condensed matter physics.
Physics GRE890/990
CGPAB.Tech – 7.8
MSc – 8.0
Major Research projectsB.Tech- Neutrino Oscillations and Bells Inequality      
MSc (on going)Ultrafast Laser spectroscopy of materials.
Strong pointsSOP (I explained how my current research interest arise from my past projects and why specifically I choose experimental field), LORS.
Weak pontsGrades (Important), no research internship- no publications.


I was interested in physics, but just like all of us I had no peer support and ended up taking Mechanical Engineering at Mahindra University, affiliated with JNTU-Hyd. This is an ambitious institute but it’s still in the fledgling stage, I was just the second outgoing batch. I somehow managed to get an average CGPA of 8(Engineering drawing still scares me). The good thing I did was to explore interdisciplinary topics like economics and biology, I did few projects on fluid mechanics’ influence on biological systems. Eventually, I got interested in the foundations of quantum mechanics and did my final year project on ‘Testing Bells inequality using neutrino systems’ with our physics faculty (My college allowed it!). We made some simulations and I did a poster presentation at Hyderabad Central University (HCU). During that conference, I interacted with leading professors of this field like Uma Shankar of IITB and showed them my work. My project guide was supportive, I might have got good LOR from her. 


I applied for MSc physics in Ulm, Germany but got rejected for not having a physics background. So, I planned to do MSc in India. I have mostly done my Preparation for MSc physics entrance exams using D.J.GriffithsQM, EMT. I got in IIT Mandi and HCU (separate entrance test). Considering the less time availability and uncertainty in giving admission to non-physics undergrads, I believe targeting for HCU entrance test is way better than other options. They allow engineering students into physics and has helpful faculty in all fields. Research (especially Laser and solid-state physics) they do is top-notch comparable to that of top IITs.  


After my 1st sem in HCU, I started mailing to prof for a summer internship. I mailed to some 30 profs. A prof from TIFR-Hyd has agreed to give me a project on STM, but due to corona, it wasn’t possible. In the lockdown period, I prepared for GRE. People have really overhyped this, anyone can easily score 315+ with decent preparation. Now choosing universities to apply to, view ranking only to get an idea of what are the decent universities (QS subject ranking below 500). But, don’t go by them (Northeastern uni is ranked way above Boston college, but they don’t even have a proper condensed department). Try looking for research they do in your field.   

Personal suggestion

Many might be applying with low grades and less research experience like me. I got lucky by finding Boston college as they do great research in the Hard condensed mater field (they don’t work in any other department) but not so competitive ranked QS 400-450, probably as they only work in one field their research output is low. So, search for such universities. Few of them:  

Illinois institute of technology, USAHigh Energy Physics. Its located very close to Fermi Lab and Argonne National Laboratory.
University of Tennessee, USANeutron scattering for material study. Nearby lab Oak Ridge National Laboratory (has world’s most powerful sources of neutrons).
Florida state university, USAMaterial properties (e.g., superconductivity) subjected to extreme Magnetic fields. In campus Labs- National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

   So finally, I want to say it’s doable to get Ph.D. in good universities abroad, even if you are not in top IITs. See that you have high grades and had honestly worked on some research projects. Thank you.


Financial aid:

Boston college admission offer stated that they have appointed me as TA for 9 months and RA for summer, for which they pay 32000 usd per year with tution remission.The thing is Boston is an expensive area so the pay is high. In general all other universities I applied have decent pay compared to where they are located. It’s not good to accept a PhD offer without financial support.

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