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So…I finally was able to, so was it worth doing Engineering instead of Physics?

Contents

First of all, this post might have some strong opinions which some of you may or may not agree with. In case you disagree with these opinions of mine, please do let me know. I will gladly apologize and modify whatever I had posted if I find that my opinions were actually faulty.
 
NOTE: The blog post was initially very long and hence has split into two parts.
 
 
Contents of PART 2:
 
Now let’s begin!
 
 PART-1
Like most of you, I knew that I wanted to do a Bachelor’s in Physics rather than Engineering. But I am pretty sure that you guys can guess how it turned out – Bachelors in Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering!!!  YAY!!!
 

Why are people hesitant to let students pursue Physics? Are they correct in doing so? My opinion about this.

 
One of the few important reasons in my opinion why students are discouraged from pursuing a Physics degree is due to the following reasons:
 
  • What if you lose interest in Physics? Can you get a job in some other field with a BSc/MSc in  Physics?
  • Can you earn sufficient money by holding just a BSc or MSc Physics degree like you earn with an Engineering degree?
  • Can you keep studying and learning physics throughout your life?
  • The process of entering academia can be extremely challenging and painfully slow and yet less lucrative than other jobs in Engineering.
Instead, students are probably suggested to finish a B.Tech/B.E and then do a Post-graduation in Physics. This way your Engineering degree will provide you a solid backup option if you fail in pursuing Physics as a career.
 
And to be honest, whoever gave you this advice, they are NOT exactly wrong about this. This is what I found out after talking to a few students from places like Amrita, IITs (Engineering Physics and MSc), NITs, and IISER etc who I personally know:
 
Apparently, in places like Amrita,  the IT and Engineering companies prefer people from Engineering to Physics, for coding related jobs or electronics related job. Even though MSc Physics students do secure places in some IT and electronics-based companies, it might be a little bit more difficult. However, if you take up some computational physics projects or know good amount of coding and have some good projects in it, you can get a position. But keep in mind that in many universities physics students might not be eligible for certain kinds of jobs which all other engineering students are eligible for.  Not many big companies come to IISER (BSc-MSc Physics) for placements as it is more of a Science-based institute. The situation apparently is a little better in MSc Physics in IITs. Nevertheless, in all the above institutions, people also do government jobs or MBA or UPSC, Chegg, Byjus or whatever field they want to pursue if they find that they are not interested in Physics. However, in all the above cases, many still want to do Physics after their Masters.

This situation is much better in Engineering Physics from places like IIT Madras, where people also seem to get into data analytics, consulting, finance, electronics etc companies if they don’t want to pursue Physics anymore. Read more over here

Despite all this, I would still recommend entering a good undergraduate program in Physics for your Bachelor’s in undergrad if you are really interested in pursuing physics. One of the primary reasons is that you will save a lot of time! If you end up in an engineering program, you would probably be spending the free time which is available after your class hours, exams, and assignments to learning physics and doing some physics research. Instead, if you chose BSc physics, you can probably use that free time to probably learn a new instrument, practice art, and drawing, join some college clubs, play sports or hit the gym or maybe even spend some additional time doing physics, or maybe chill out and watch some anime! Literally, anything you like. Hence forcing someone to do Engineering,  when they are not interested in the field is probably a dumb idea, especially if you have some good colleges in hand.

In case you feel that you don’t want to pursue Physics as a career it should be easy to move to another field if you are willing to put in additional hard work during/after your MSc (like strengthening your coding skills, learning more of electronics, etc). Doing so, you can secure positions in electronics, IT, finance, etc based companies. Further, with MSc Physics you have chances of pursuing another Masters in fields like Data Science, Optics, Electronics, and Applied Physics both in India and Abroad to pursue industry-based jobs. These are in general is way more lucrative than a Physics career and you can probably earn more than what an Engineering with a Bachelor’s/Masters degree earns.
One Take Home Message: If you put in just a little extra work during your MSc in India you can definitely get some amazing jobs in engineering and IT in India. However, outside of India, a bachelor or a masters students in Physics are highly sought after for Industrial positions. So if you are interested in Physics, I would highly recommend you to go for it.
 
 

For students who are still in High School

For these reasons given by people, I too ended up pursuing a Bachelors’s in Engineering and thought I would do my Masters and Ph.D. in Physics. In my case, I was suggested to go to Physics only if I get into top places like IISERs or IITs or IISC or BITS or CMI, which I obviously didn’t get. A primary reason that was given to me for this is either because of the lack of colleges that offer a good BSc Physics program or probably because the standard of BSc physics has drastically gone down. Being a resident of Chennai, I can give you a few examples. Loyola, MCC and Presidency colleges from Chennai were places that probably had very good Physics departments in the past. For example, Nobel laureates in Physics like CV Raman and Chandrasekhar studied in Presidency College, Chennai. But now, I have personally heard from many people that these places have become utter garbage for studying Physics. (You can google about this if you want.). So I don’t regret that I choose Engineering rather than doing Physics in these kinds of places.
 
However, there are probably other great colleges as well. Some of them which immediately come to my mind are Shiv Nadar University and Azim Prem Ji University. (There is a list of many more Good colleges which offer a BSc Physics Program (click here) written by the King of this group, though I don’t agree with every college in this list.) I don’t know anyone personally who studied in these places, but I heard good reviews about them. These are some of the places that I didn’t know about when I just completed my 12th standard and I regret not doing much research about the Universities in class 11 and 12.
So if you are someone who is currently in Class 11 and 12, I would also recommend you to check out other good “NON IIT-BITS-IISC-IISER” institutions, in case you don’t perform well in your JEE or NEST or BITSAT or KVPY especially if you are really interested in Physics. Take your parents’ or friends’ help if needed. But do your research a little carefully. Don’t forget to check if the college that you got admitted to offers a BSc Physics program or not! It is VERY easy to overlook that.

What all I did to change my stream to Physics

Somehow I was convinced to enter into Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering for my B.Tech. Though my family wholeheartedly supported me for pursuing Physics after my undergraduate, I did not have any guidance on how to do so. I knew about JEST and TIFR-GS but did not have any idea how to start studying for that (though all I had to do was open the syllabus start studying from them😐).

I just spent the first 1 to 1.5 years reading random books, magazines, popular science books from my college library which were interesting and fun but did not help me learn any UG level Physics. Simultaneously, I decided to learn from the edX 4 Series course on Astrophysics. Though those courses gave me good exposure to Astrophysics, it was still not at the UG level. This 1st year is the time where 95% of the students actively join several clubs. But I did not join them because I already had very little time to spend for Physics. Clubs are most probably the most awesome things about college and I would recommend most of you to join one. Don’t miss that opportunity!!! Whether you learn something useful or not, you will definitely meet a lot of friends and have a great chance of finding like-minded people like you. I was especially surprised to know the number of people who had passion in Physics and also wanted to move to Engineering.

 
In fact, only during my 4th year and the gap year after B.Tech, I came to know that there are at least 3-4 people in my college who are trying to move to Physics like me. One of them was with me in several classes and I did not know back then that he wanted to do the same thing as me.

(A reason why I would still strongly recommend people to join a good Bsc Physics program if you can. It might be harder for you to meet like-minded people in college club/chapter and do Physics if you chose engineering.)

In my second year, I finally started with Resnick and Halliday and towards the middle of my second year, I finally started with an NPTEL Quantum Mechanics course taught by Prof Manoj Harbola. It was pretty challenging and fun.

Somewhere during this time, I think I also applied to several summer internships like the Indian Academy of Sciences thinking that my decent CGPA would help but it did not. I tried emailing several professors but in a lot of cases I got no response and a few times responses like, “you don’t have the necessary coursework” or “I already have enough students”. With my parents’ and relatives’ and friends’ help, I somehow got the contacts of a few Physics Professors from IISC and met them in person. They gave me a little guidance but they could not take me as their student as they were already full.

Towards the end of the second year, after taking the advice of a few professors from my college, I started looking at the UG Physics of IIT and MIT, IISC and IISER etc and finally realized that I was already way behind all the other students from those institutes as many of them already had published a few papers.

So I started self-studying physics and took up more NPTEL courses. Finally, towards the middle of my third year, I decided to contact professors from my college for help and one professor agreed to let me work with him on a research project on quantum computation as I knew some basic quantum mechanics. This was probably of the most important steps and I am always grateful for his help. Soon this research experience had helped me land a Summer Research Fellow Program at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics where I had worked on Astroparticle Physics. This was probably the first time I actually even met with fellow students who were actually from a Physics background!! (Yes really!) The difference between them and me was crazy! This is one of the times I felt so helpless. However, I learnt so much during these two months and I was motivated to still do better.

For my bachelor’s thesis, since my college wanted me to do something in Engineering but I wanted to do something in Physics, I decided to work on Astronomical Instrumentation, which has a good blend of both Physics and Engineering. After mailing professors, I finally got the chance to work at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics on the same. Here I had the oppurtunity to attend several talks, seminars and colloquiums of several big professors and researchers. I found that in the Indian Institute of Astrophysics or Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics you always have some talks or seminars every day going on. This is something that separates these institutes from most other Universities. It will amazing to be a part of such research institutes and would recommend people to at least do some projects in such places for at least a few months.

Finally, towards the end of the final year, I felt that I wanted to learn more Physics before applying for PG. My Summer internship at Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics taught me that I was way behind others and hence took this decision. I was still open to giving JEST/JAM and also PGRE and decide my options based on that.

During this 1 year break, I decided to work on Stellar Physics, Spectroscopy, and Photometry at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and took up some NPTEL courses.

The application process for the US turned out to be pretty hectic and I did not have sufficient time to prepare for JEST or JAM. So I gave up on studying in India.

Thats it!

 

My Personal Book and Online Resource Recommendations

 
There are already a couple of amazing posts about the list of Books and Online Resources that one can use for their studies starting from the most basic to very advanced topics. However, I just felt like mentioning my own suggestions. Many of these will cover Basic topics only as I haven’t done much of advanced courses yet.
 

Classical Mechanics

Basic: Introduction to Mechanics by Kleppner and Kolenkov. This is a very standard book that is used by almost all Universities around the world and it introduces Newtonian Mechanics (with Calculus). Further if you want a good collection of Problems that can accompany this book, refer to Theoretical Mechanics by Spiegel.  If this seems hard go back to Resnick and Halliday, or HC Varma or try keeping them as a reference. Another good book would be the Berkley Series Book Volume 1 by Charles Kittel. I have done just a little from this, however, I found it to be very interesting. I have always wanted to try the book by Marion and Thornton but never got the chance to do so but I heard really good reviews about the book. Lectures that can accompany these text books (or Vice versa) are the Classical Mechanics course by Walter Lewin at MIT,  MIT 8.01 Scholar Version, or the NPTEL Lectures in Classical Mechanics by Prof Debmalaya Bannerjee (which is more advanced than the above two).
 
Advanced: Classical Mechanics by Goldstein is the Standard Book for this course which introduces Lagrangian and Hamiltonian. There is so much in this book that I haven’t read but, till whatever I had completed, it turned out to be really interesting. I mostly used the book by Calkin for Lagrangian and Hamiltonian dynamics. It turned out to be really good. If you can try Landau and Lifshitz’s book, though I have read only a few pages from the Book.  If Goldstein seems hard, go for this. The explanations in this book are really good as well. Theoretical Mechanics by Charudatt KadolkarClassical Physics by Balakrishnan and Classical Mechanics by Susskind are some set of really good Lectures on Lagrangian and Hamiltonian Formulations of Classical Mechanics.
 

Electrodynamics

 
Basic: An obvious and Standard choice that comes to my mind is Electrodynamics by David J Griffith. I would highly recommend this. However for students especially from Electronics Engineering, you might be asked to refer to Engineering Electromagnetics by William Hyat or Engineering Electromagnetics by Alexander Sadioku. Those two are absolutely equally good as well. Just keep in mind that there might be small changes in notations between Griffith and them which isn’t a big problem at all (like one prefers to use the Electric flux density and other prefers to use the electric field). Another alternative for Griffith would again be the Berkley Series by Purcell is also equally good. Anyone of the above books should be fine.
 
Good set of lectures which can complement your reading are Electromangetism by Prof Manoj Harbola and of course Walter Lewin’s Lectures on Electricity and Magnetism.
 
Advanced: Electrodynamics by Jackson. I haven’t done this yet but literally, everyone suggested this book and at the same time they gave an evil smile while doing so. I wonder why.
 

Waves and Oscillations

Some really good books, in my opinion, are Waves and Vibrations by AP French, Waves by David Morin and again the Berkley Series by Crawford. All of them are really good and you can’t go wrong with either one of them. If you don’t like the explanation in one or find it difficult to understand from one, go to the other.
 
A slightly advanced textbook for waves and Oscillations is the Physics of Waves by Howard Georgi. It is available for free on his own website. This might be a bit hard on the first read, especially if you haven’t tried the others which I mentioned above. This book is especially very rigorous mathematically and will help you understand Waves and Oscillations from a Perspective that is not provided by the books above.
 
Further a set of lectures which can help you are the ones by Walter Lewin at MIT and a newer version of the course by Yen Ji Lee.
 

Quantum Mechanics

Quantum Physics by Eisberg and Resnick and Quantum Mechanics by David J Griffith are some of the basic books. Usually, not many people read Eisberg and Resnick but I would highly recommend it and many times I like the way the authors introduce the subject more than Griffith. Another good read would probably be Modern Physics by Arthur Beiser which might be used frequently in many Engineering courses.
 
More advanced level books might be Modern Quantum Mechanics by Sakurai and Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Shankar.
My favorite lecture series for Quantum Mechanics would be 8.03 (Both Prof Barton and Prof Alan Adams), 8.04,8.05 from MIT OCW. All of these are a fantastic set of lectures on Quantum Mechanics and would strongly recommend everybody to watch them. There are several lectures on NPTEL for these courses, but I feel that the MIT versions are way superior ( I haven’t watched Prof Balakrishnan’s lectures so I cannot comment on that one). You could also refer to Theoretical Mechanics Lectures by Susskind which has a set of lectures on Quantum Mechanics.
 

Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics

I haven’t referred to many introductory books on this except Resnick and Halliday and Concepts in Thermal Physics by Stephen and Blundell.
 
A more advanced book would be Statistical Physics be Statistical Mechanics of Particles by Mehran and Kardar.
 
I found the NPTEL lectures by Prof Ashwin Joy to be really good for an introduction to Statistical Physics.
 

Special Relativity

You can refer to Special relativity by Robert Resnick and Special Relativity by AP French. However these Book might a little big. So you might refer to the later parts of the Books Kleppner and Kolenkov, David J Griffith if you find the above two books a little hard.
 
A good set of lectures would be the Advanced Special Relativity course by Prof HC Varma and Special Theory of Relativity of Prof Shiva Prasad. The latter one, in my opinion, is a little more detailed.
 

Other Recommendations

  1. Perimeter (PSI) Lectures – Perimeter has the full set of recorded lectures that cover advanced topics like Classical Mechanics to Foundations of Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. The nice thing is that they have about 10 versions of each of the courses because they have been recording all the lectures for about 10 years.  They might be a bit hard but if you are at an advanced level you could probably do it.
  2. Theoretical Minimum – Prof. Susskind has some really good set of Lectures in Physics starting from topics like Classical Mechanics to Particle Physics and Cosmology.
  3. NPTEL and MIT OCW Physics
  4. Feynman Lectures- Take your time to read this.

Thanks for reading! Please have a look at the second part of the blog which contains the most important details which will be helpful for you by clicking here.

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