Can I switch from Engineering to Physics?
Is it possible to do a PhD in physics after B. Tech in engineering?
Can I pursue physics after *put any branch* engineering?
These are some of the questions I used to ask 3 years ago. Back then, I couldn’t find a clear answer. But if you are asking a similar question today,
I have found an answer and it is a resounding YES!!! Yes, you can do physics after engineering,
in fact, you can do a Ph.D. in physics after any branch of engineering.
There, I said it, and for some of you, this assurance is probably enough to begin the pursuit. But there is another set of people. These are the ones like me who were from an unsupportive engineering college, a college with an age-old rigid academic system which gives you no freedom of taking courses beyond your engineering branch, no real electives, a physics department that is pretty much dormant, and no real reputation for research anywhere. And it is precisely for these students that I want to share my experience today of transitioning to physics after engineering.
I have been in this uncertain environment and I managed to get out eventually with quite a lot of lucrative physics Ph.D. offers. Consequently, I would be joining the physics Ph.D. program at Cornell University. Believe me, if I can, you can.
Engineering Days and the Grind
It was near the end of my second year at Delhi Technological University (DTU) that I realized that I had already lost most of my interest in mechanical engineering. I instead enjoyed learning physics and continued doing so. At the end of my third year, I had made up my mind that I wanted to become a physicist instead of an engineer. I wanted to get out soon and I had two options in front of me, one was to apply for Ph.D. programs straight away and the other was to instead do a master’s degree In physics and then apply for Ph.D. I chose the former, though I ended up doing the latter.
At this point, I was missing mainly two things that a physics undergraduate has – physics courses and physics research experience (basically everything). Since my college had no provision for taking physics courses in addition to my engineering courses (many colleges do though), the only option was online courses, video lectures, and books. And that’s what I did.
For the research part, again, there was nothing in my college. So I started applying to internship programs for the summer, both via official portals in top Indian institutes and by mailing professors. I was rejected by almost all places (a combination of lack of physics coursework, not enough marks, and unclear research interests). Finally, some luck landed my way when I was accepted by a professor at IISER, Bhopal to work during the summer. I ended up spending my summer there, had a great experience, and came back even more excited to pursue physics. [Read this post in our blog about How to get Internships by Mailing profs?]
At this point, on my CV, all I had was a bunch of online physics courses, one solitary 2-month physics research experience (with no real understanding of different research areas in physics), some projects in mechanical engineering, and fairly decent undergrad marks. I was naïve, and uncertain whether I can/should apply for Ph.D. or not. I decided to take the GRE and TOEFL exams nonetheless and was, fortunately, able to do pretty well on all of them (general GRE, physics GRE both are needed). Since schools in the US allow B. Tech students to apply for PhDs, I figured I should apply, especially with good scores in GREs, and thought maybe I could do a Ph.D. in physics straight after B. tech engineering.
Long story short, I got rejected from every school. Why? Well, plenty of reasons. Needing 3 letters of recommendations, I got two from physics professors at IISER, and one from my engineering project professor. My own college professor’s one was the weakest (I read the content), and he didn’t even send it to many places. Also, unlike master’s programs/other disciplines, top physics Ph.D. programs are more stringent and do not care much about GRE scores. The key thing is physics coursework and physics research. I also wasn’t mature enough in deciding what area of physics I was really interested in.
Lesson learned: Physics coursework is important, choose LOR professors carefully
M.Sc Physics – A Shot in the Arm
Thankfully, I had already made a backup plan of pursuing a master’s degree in physics from India, in case things do not work out. I gave the IIT JAM exam and was able to do well enough (courtesy all that physics I studied myself) to be accepted to IIT Bombay’s MSc physics program.
(Common Misconception – B.Tech students are not allowed to take JAM or offered MSc physics admission. Well, IIT Bombay certainly allows B. tech students in their MSc Physics program)
This, in my opinion, turned out to be the best decision I took. The academic experience at IIT Bombay was a polar opposite to what I experienced in DTU. Not only were the physics professors awesome, but there were plenty of opportunities to get involved in good research. I took a variety of courses in physics, was allowed to freely choose courses, learned a lot from some awesome physicists, gained research experience in both experimental and theoretical physics (astrophysics, condensed matter, particle physics), collaborated and interacted with professors both from India and abroad of different institutions including a foreign internship, and learned more physics than I could imagine. It was here I realized how less physics I knew and how much a physics degree at a good place can teach you.
This time I applied to the top Ph.D. programs in the US again. Not only did I know more physics, but I was also better prepared, had actual real physics coursework (good GPA) and research experience in hand, and amazing LORs from IIT profs. Needless to say, I was accepted to several places with full fellowship (Cornell, UCLA, Penn, John Hopkins, Bristol (UK)) among which I accepted Cornell’s offer for doing a Ph.D. in physics.
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25 thoughts on “My Journey into Physics After Engineering – Vaibhav Sharma”
I simply emailed and got a reply. 🙂 But bear in mind that the hit rate for replies was like 1 in 10-15. So email a lot of profs and you might just get lucky. Make sure that each email is personalized to that particular prof and not just mass mailing.
iam an ece student, is there any way to do mc in physics through gate rank in ece ?
is there any chance pls kindly give information
As you mentioned, you got to do summer internship at IISER Bhopal, can you please give me a glimpse how you approached and guide me a bit about the procedure.
can i get phd course in any college in india straight after my btech in cse
Do check all posts in the blog, many of your questions including this about direct PhD will be cleared. In case of any uncleared you can ask in the whatspp group or me directly
I checked jam 2019 minimum eligibility for msc physics in iit bombay, they want minimum 2 years physics and maths subjects. I am a cse graduate so i never had physics as a subject. What should i do??
Check out the criteria on their official website.
Now, it has no restrictions on engineering graduates.
Pls go through this
Hi Sir, I just read your blog. Your story is quite inspirational. I am a Mechanical engineering student. I got selected to do Integrated PhD course at ICTS-TIFR. I just wanted to know what is the reputation of ICTS internationally and what are the future options that I have after doing PhD at ICTS.
Chintan A. Patel
Sir, How can I get a chance to do internships abroad during my MSc course?
Can you please suggest some good sources for doing online physics courses? Are those sources credible to be put in my CV for applying abroad?? I mean are they recognised abroad?
Truly inspiring story, Vaibhav. Kudos to you! Thanks a lot for sharing this with the world. 🙂
sir , how did you study physics on your own ? i mean what course structure did you follow , which sites, books , lecture slides , whatsoever .
Vaibhav has written blog posts about his preparation for exams like JAM, PGRE and NET in seperate posts in our Blog. Kindly go through them.
Sir is it possible to get selected for MS course in physics in USA after I have done Btech in mechanical engineering?
Yes it is possible, please read all the relevant blogposts from the contents page.
Your story is very inspiring. Thanks for making the efforts of sharing this with us.
Sir you talk about internship. Is it necessary to getting working experience for getting admission ? can I not got through exam directly?
Hello Thankyou for sharing such an amazing information with us, keep posting
For more information, visit: Courses After Mechanical Engineering
I am a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate student interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in physics. What can I do now to prepare for that track? I am also considering taking up a minor – my options are a minor in Materials Science and Engineering, Physics, or Mathematical Sciences. A minor in physics seems like it would help with pursuing a Ph.D. in physics however it is on the more difficult side of minors. What are your thoughts on this?
Thanks so much for writing this article. This was really inspiring, and it was great to hear about your story — it gives me hope. Best of luck at Cornell! I hope I can follow your footsteps and get into a physics PhD program as well. Cheers.
I’m persuing b.tech in ece, now I’m in final year.
I’m have interest and passion in physics. I want to do MSc physics after b.tech but i don’t have honors degree or BSc degree in physics which is required for abroad admission. After MSc in physics I will do Ph.D
I’m not understanding how to do MSc physics.
Please, help me in doing MSc in physics, it’s my request, sir.
I’m persuing B.Tech in ECE. Now, currently I’m in final year.
I have interest and passion in physics. I want to do MSc physics after b.tech but i don’t have honors degree or BSc degree in physics which is required for abroad admission. After MSc in physics I will do Ph.D and further I want build my career at research field or physicist.
I’m not understanding how to do MSc physics.
Please, help me in doing MSc in physics, it’s my request, sir.
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