My name is Kunal Vyas. I am a Mechanical Engineering graduate, the year of 2018 from Mumbai. Like most of you, I too aspire to become a Physicist someday and to do that, first I had to change my field of study from Engineering to Physics. Today, when I write this post, almost a year after completing my Engineering, I would like to believe that I have been successful in changing my field. A few days ago, I got to know that I have been allotted a seat in IIT Bombay for MSc Physics. Here, I would like to tell you about my journey into Physics, how I was able to achieve what I did, and also any kind of information that will help you to do the same.
I had decided to commit a year completely to learning Physics and preparing for exams after my Engineering. I had taken JEST, JAM, and TIFR-GS in 2018 too, and had realized then that I am capable of doing well in these exams if I work hard enough. So I started in June. I talked to people and read some Quora answers that helped me make a shortlist of the books that I was going to buy. I ordered the books from Amazon and while they were arriving, I made a plan, a schedule for completing the syllabus before December.
Then, I knew which exams I was going to take: TIFR-GS, INAT, CSIR-NET, GATE, JAM, and JEST. Out of these, GS, INAT, and NET were going to happen in December. NET was not that important to me. I was just taking it because it was a Physics test and I was eligible to take it. But TIFR and IUCAA were dream institutes for me then and I wanted to do a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from any of those. So, I started preparing for them. An explicit syllabus was not available for these exams, hence I decided to follow the JEST syllabus.
My strategy was to take one topic at a time. I had counted the days to December and then divided those days between the different topics according to the time I had figured they would require. At first, I was shit scared by looking at the books and the amount of syllabus that I had to cover in that time. It was a mountain to climb. But after the beginning, I started gaining confidence and was able to complete the topics according to the schedule. By topics, I mean Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, etc. I used to read the books that I had bought skipping the stuff that wasn’t in the syllabus and after finishing reading, I used to solve lots of problems and refer online videos(mostly NPTEL) for help. I had also bought material from fiziks institute mainly for solved examples because the standard books did not contain much of them. I also needed to solve the kind of problems that are asked in the exams and what better source for that than the material of a coaching class?
In September, when everything was going according to plan, I came across this blog and the Whatsapp group. It was also a phase in which I was realizing that Physics is much more than Astrophysics and I probably should explore that before deciding on any specific field. Thus, after reading the posts on this blog and interacting with people on the group, the idea of doing a PhD from abroad after an MSc crept inside the back of my mind. Anyway, I completed the syllabus by mid-November and started solving past papers. I gave TIFR-GS, INAT, and CSIR-NET on 9th, 13th, and 16th December respectively. Unfortunately, I did not do well in these exams and eventually did not clear any of them.
In spite of this, I did not lose hope. I shifted my focus to JAM. Since I had followed the JEST syllabus, I had to complete the topics in the JAM syllabus which were not there in JEST. I made a list of those topics and studied them through whatever source I could find. I was done by mid-January. I wanted to do well in all the exams that remained so in the remaining days, I simulated and evaluated all the past GATE, JAM, and JEST exams plus took 5 mock GATE tests and 5 mock JAM tests provided by fiziks. I used to do pretty well in these tests but I never took anything for granted. Until the last test I took, I always wanted to do better than the previous one. All the 3 exams went well and I was satisfied.
The results came and I was happy with all three of them. I secured an AIR of 141 in JEST, AIR 114 in GATE(Physics), and AIR 11 in IIT-JAM. Although by then I had made up my mind about doing MSc, the only thing that bothered me was that my results weren’t good enough to apply at IUCAA and TIFR Mumbai, which, as I said earlier, were dream institutes for me. I wanted to at least give a shot over there. Nevertheless, I applied to IIT Bombay(PhD), IISc(PhD and Int. PhD), ICTS-TIFR(Int. PhD), TIFR Hyderabad(Int. PhD and PhD), IISER Pune(Int. PhD) and IISER Kolkata(MS in Space Physics). Most of these applications are free of cost. I got calls from everywhere but only went for IIT Bombay and ICTS for the written test/interview. Written tests at both these places weren’t that difficult. I cleared the one at IIT Bombay but not at ICTS.
At IIT, we had to choose which field do we want to do PhD in. I gave my interview for Astrophysics in which there were 3 faculty who asked pretty easy questions. I figure they did that because I am an Engineer and have no formal background in Physics. Anyway, they asked one basic question each from Classical Mechanics, Electrodynamics and Quantum Mechanics. I wasn’t convincing and required a fair amount of help in all three questions and as a result, wasn’t selected to do PhD over there. But while I was at ICTS, the 1st round of JAM counseling was out and I got allotted a seat at IIT Bombay for MSc which is what I wanted the most. Now, I am back from ICTS, sitting at home typing this and relieved that I have a college of my choice to go to.
As I said, I prepared according to the JEST syllabus. So, I also bought books accordingly. Here is a list of sources that I used-
Classical Mechanics – Takwale and Puranik. I don’t recommend this. I think Kleppner and Kolenkow or Marion and Thorton are the best according to what I’ve heard.
Electrodynamics – D. J. Griffiths. Hands down. It is a basic book and I felt that it was perfect for learning as well as preparations for all entrance exams.
Quantum Mechanics – D. J. Griffiths. I liked the book and I would recommend it. It doesn’t provide you with much intuition but it teaches you how to “do” Quantum Mechanics very well, as mentioned by the author himself. Good for all exams except JAM. For JAM, it is overkill.
Statistical Physics – Berkeley Physics course by F. Reif. I liked this book too. It is a pretty basic book but it helped me build an intuitive picture. There is another book by F. Reif which is not a Berkeley Physics course. That is an advanced book.
Mathematical Methods for Physicists – Arfken, Weber, and Harris. This book was too advanced for me. Eventually, I ended up only referring it. There is a book by Mary L. Boas which is widely recommended.
Electronics – Borrowed a book from a friend who does Engineering, it was by Theraja. Used it a little. Mainly used NESO academy videos on YouTube and fiziks notes. I wasn’t much interested in learning Electronics so these sources were good enough for me.
I was finding Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics difficult so I watched loads of NPTEL lecture videos from YouTube for them. Lectures by V. Blakrishnan on Classical Mechanics are very good, highly recommended. For QM, I watched lectures by Ajoy Ghatak, also extremely helpful.
A portion of the JAM syllabus is not covered in these books. For example, Optics, Solid State Physics. For these, I used fiziks notes, H. C. Verma and a lot of YouTube videos.
Finally, when I started solving papers, I had bought books containing previous years’ papers and their solutions for JEST, JAM(Arihant), GATE and TIFR-GS from Amazon. I used these to evaluate my scores for past papers.
Institutes that take Engineers:
Here I will mention a few institutes which I know that take Engineers along with the exams through which they take and the courses they offer.
IUCAA – PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics (INAT, JEST, CSIR-NET)
TIFR Mumbai – Int. PhD (TIFR-GS, JEST, CSIR-NET*)
ICTS-TIFR – Int. PhD (TIFR-GS, JEST, GATE, CSIR-NET)
TIFR Hyderabad – i) Int. PhD (JAM, JEST)
ii) PhD (GATE, JEST, CSIR-NET)
NCRA-TIFR – Int. PhD (INAT, TIFR-GS, JEST*, CSIR-NET*)
IISc – i) Int. PhD* (JAM, JEST)
ii) PhD* (GATE, JEST, CSIR-NET)
HRI – MSc Physics (JEST, CSIR-NET)
IIT Bombay – i) MSc* (JAM)
ii) PhD* (GATE, CSIR-NET)
IIT Kanpur – i) MSc* (JAM)
ii) PhD* (GATE, CSIR-NET)
iii) Int. PhD* (JAM)
IIT Indore – MSc in Astronomy* (JAM)
All IISERs – Int. PhD (JAM, JEST)
IISER Kolkata – MS in Space Physics (GATE, JEST)
IIST – MS in Astronomy and Astrophysics* (GATE, JEST, CSIR-NET*)
IIA – Int. MTech PhD in Astronomical Instrumentation* (IIAST, JEST, GATE, CSIR-NET)
JNU, Pune University, Haryana Central University, University of Hyderabad* – MSc (Their own respective entrance exams)
I’bve listed the ones that I know of. Many more institutes and IITs take Engineers. I will keep updating this post as I remember or find out more institutes.
For a more extensive list, click on the following link to visit the post in our blog about the same –https://physicsafterengineering.blogspot.com/2018/03/physics-after-engineering.html
Turns out CSIR-NET is an important exam after all.
* – not sure/not all branches, check the website
GATE = GATE in Physics
Few words of motivation:
So I told you the story of changing my field. I want you to believe that you can too if you want. I’ve heard people say that the people who do well in exams are “talented”. Trust me, that is not the case. I’ve been a fairly average student all my life and I’ve written this post primarily for a target audience of people who think they are the “average” student. For all of my Engineering semesters, I have been one of the bottom 5 students in a class of 70. Most of the time, 2nd last or even last. A year ago, not a single person in the world would have thought that I will be going to IIT, no one! I had even failed Physics in my 11th class. I had got 30/100 in the final exams in Physics. They promoted me to 12th after giving grace marks. So, if I can do well in Physics exams, then you certainly can. You just have to focus and work hard once you have figured out what you want to do. No matter where you are, whether you are stuck in a job or still in college, start today. Make a plan. Whatever circumstance you might be in, it is possible.
PS: I would like to give a shout out to Dushyanth Edadasula, the creator of this blog, and the admin to our Whatsapp group. He has had a part to play in my journey and many others’. His initiative has provided us with a much-needed community that is ever-growing. This blog and the group have proved to be extremely vital to me in times of uncertainty and despair. Thanks a lot, Dushyanth! You have been of immense help.
That’s all from my side. Thanks for reading! Cheers!
Physics after Engineering.
You can find the FAQs and important conversations happened earlier in the groups in this SubRedditr/Physicsaftrengineerin/