I am currently a graduate student in Theoretical chemistry/Chemical Physics at one of the higher-ranked R1 universities in the US. After a year of taking graduate-level courses in Physics, I have realized that an academic career in theoretical physics is something that I really want to pursue. Soon I would be graduating with a MS in chemistry from my current graduate program in August and I plan to re-apply to graduate school again, specifically to programs in Physics. Here are a few things that aren't clear to me about executing this transition:

  1. Will it be possible for me to make this transition given my academic background in chemistry?
  2. Can anyone who's been through this before, made a similar transition.... give me a couple of pointers?

I don't know if most or any of this matters but, here are a few details.

Academic Background

Prior to joining my current program I went to a college in India to get my bachelor (3 years) and Masters (2 years) in chemistry. I did have rigorous coursework in basic mathematics covering most of the essentials in Differential Equations(ODE and PDE), Linear algebra, Multi-variable calculus, etc. In terms of Physics, I have taken courses in classical mechanics, optics, electronics, and basic E&M. Beyond this most of my advanced knowledge in quantum physics and statistical mechanics comes from personal reading. From both my degrees I have had slightly more than above average to really excellent grades. After I came to the US in the past year I have taken about 6 graduate-level courses ranging from quantum mechanics to quantum optics, offered by the Physics department at my university and some reason to believe that I have had a fairly decent performance in them.

Research Experience

In terms of research I do not have any research publications yet. But, I have worked for a year in an experimental lab during my masters in India and two summer research internships in experimental condensed matter physics and chemical physics(theory). Also currently, I am working on a summer research project in theoretical condensed matter physics with one of the faculty members at my current university in the US.

I am mainly looking to transition into a Ph.D. in either condensed matter field theory or something more aligned towards quantum physics(like quantum information or ultra-cold physics).

  • 1
    Why not ask your current supervisor? – ZeroTheHero May 23 '20 at 21:32
  • I recommend looking around the site: there are lots of "transition from _ to _" questions already. One caveat: will you be classified as an "international student" despite your US degree? If so, that may make things more difficult; there are typically fewer spots for international students. – cag51 May 23 '20 at 22:20

Your situation is not much different from other people seeking to pursue condensed matter theory. There's a lot of overlap between theoretical chemistry and condensed matter physics, so there's no real scientific barriers. The regulations of individual universities may matter, but we can't help you there.

People who brand themselves as chemists tend to pick RSC or ACS published journals. People who brand themselves as physicists tend to pick APS or AIP published journals. Otherwise, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference.

  • Then, how would you distinguish people interested in things like condensed matter field theory? – EverydayFoolish May 24 '20 at 16:43

I think your background in chemistry should not be a disadvantage. I know a guy with a background in computer science transitioning to physics too. Besides GPA, LORs, SOP, and GRE general, I think a high score in GRE physics will definitely help too. If you aim for high-rank schools, try to get GRE physics for more than 900. Do you currently enroll in a university in the US? Is there any physics professor there whose research you are interested in? Why don't you email them to express your interest and visit their office if possible? You can work with them on some small projects too. It helps you to test the water and see if you are really into a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.

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