After an M.Sc in physics, one needs to look for various opportunities to get into a PhD program in physics to kick start his/her career in physics. In that pursuit, one often overlooked but important and extremely useful path is the CSIR NET exam in physics. This National Eligibility Test (NET) is administered by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research under the govt. of India. Clearing this exam can open more avenues than you think if you intend to do a PhD in India, or if you want to gain some research experience in India by being a project student. It is extremely vital for engineers going into physics who are looking for positions and need monetary support with recognition from the government.
What are the opportunities offered by this exam?
Teaching career: First of all, clearing the NET exam makes you eligible for teaching in a lot of universities all over India. Those students who do not want to go for PhD and instead want a university/college level teaching job would immediately become eligible by clearing this exam. It is in fact a mandatory requirement in most universities in India for becoming an entry level assistant professors in physics.
PhD Fellowship and Opportunities: With a great performance in the NET exam, you can get selected for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) which would make you a very attractive candidate for PhD. Simply put, you would first be able to apply and get interview calls for PhD positions in various universities in India including IISc, HRI and many others. Also with a JRF, the institute and the professors do not have to worry about funding your PhD stipend since it will come directly from the central government. This would improve your chances of cracking the interview and getting a PhD offer in India.
Research Project Assistants: A lot of professors have openings for research project assistants, and if you want to gain some research experience with stipend to later apply for a PhD in India/abroad, a JRF award helps in getting you brownie points with the professor and even funding.
Clearing NET/JRF gives you credibility as a successful student in physics, even if your bachelors was in engineering. So it is perfect for engineering students willing to enter physics.
Exam Dates and Eligibility Criteria
The NET physics exam can be taken twice in a year, in June and December. The December one is perfect if you wish to enroll in PhD programs during August of next year. The JRF award is valid for two years within which you must join a PhD program to avail the fellowship.
B.Tech and MSc students are both eligible for the exam. Though for teaching opportunities, you need to have an MSc degree. You can read about the various eligibility criteria on the official website here: http://csirhrdg.res.in/jrfsrfra2.htm
Syllabus and Exam Format
The syllabus for the exam is quite comprehensive and covers almost all undergraduate and master’s level physics topics. You can get the syllabus here
The good thing is that you can prepare for NET which automatically prepares you for other exams like IIT JAM, GRE Physics and even JEST, GATE physics. So the preparations can be clubbed.
The exam format is also a bit different. The exam is of a total of 200 marks and is divided into 3 sections. Section A has 20 logical reasoning multiple choice questions (MCQ) worth 2 marks each out of which you only need to do 15. Section B has 25 MCQs of 3.5 marks each of which 20 need to be done. Section B has core physics questions which are generally a bit on the shorter side and requires quick application of formulas instead of long computations. Section C has 30 MCQs from the advanced physics syllabus of 5 marks each out of which 20 need to be done. These are long computation questions generally. 3 hours is the stipulated time allowed for the test.
There is 25% negative marking for each wrong answer. So guesswork would not be a good idea in this exam. Attempt only those questions for which you know the solution.
How to Prepare?
Preparation for this exam is vast and should start roughly five to six months in advance if you are not confident with the topics in syllabus. If your basics are strong, two months of preparation would suffice.
The first step is to get all the previous year papers, which you can get from here: Old CSIR net papers
Once you have scanned the syllabus and are confident of basic knowledge of all the syllabus topics, start by solving the previous year papers to gauge your performance. Match the answer key to see your score and identify topics of weakness. Work on your weak topics and attempt other previous year papers. Time all your mock tests to get a feel for the exam multiple times and get used to the time pressure. Keep giving mocks regularly, at least two in a week before going for the exam.
Arihant’s CSIR NET physics book should be enough for a lot of NET type questions. For basic physics topic books, refer to the post for JAM preparation linked above.
NET exam is a very formula and memorization based exams. So make sure that you make a list of all formulas of the syllabus topics and then memorize them. Formulas save a lot of time in a lot of questions.
Since the exam doesn’t require you to solve all questions, it is important to make a decent strategy. The best way to make a strategy is to take 3-4 mock tests and try out different approaches to see which works the best.
In my case, I first attempted the Section C 5 marks questions since those have the greatest reward. 20 out of 30 questions are to be done so you should immediately leave a question which you do not how to solve. Roughly 1.5 hours should be given for this section.
Then Section B can be attempted which is the most formula based part of the exam. In one hour, 20 out of 25 questions can be attempted giving about 3 minutes for each. Key is to leave any question which looks difficult.
If you are good at logical reasoning, leave the last half hour for section A. Some questions there are really simple and you can do at least 10 if not the maximum 15 that you are required to do. This could give a decent boost to your score.
In NET, formulas and time pressure are everything.
What is a good score?
The cutoff for qualifying NET or getting JRF keeps changing every year. In general, 90 marks are needed for clearing JRF while 75-80 marks can be enough for simply qualifying the NET exam. I got 123 marks and secured AIR 11 in the exam. So that will give you an idea of how many marks can fetch a particular rank.
Taking the NET exam and getting JRF or clearing NET can open a lot of opportunities for you in physics, especially when you are an engineer.
If you want to read about my journey into physics after engineering, you can read about it here: My Journey into Physics After Engineering -Vaibhav Sharma
If you have more questions, you can reach me here in comments or on
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About the author:
Mr. Vaibhav Sharma is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in the prestigious Cornell University, an ivy league university which is the 14th best university in the world and is among the top 10 universities in the USA!!
The fact that he once was an engineering grad like the readers of the blog should give us all enough hope and assurance to pursue our passion for physics after engineering.