I am an electronics engineering undergrad currently choosing a topic for my bachelor thesis.

I have always been interested in physics in general, and in quantum mechanics in particular. To make sure my attraction to quantum mechanics wasn't merely that of a layman reading about the cool properties of the quantum world, I studied as much textbook quantum mechanics as I could lay my hands on. I audited online courses offered by MIT and Stanford in addition to the studying I did from the best undergraduate textbook out there. And I was doing that parallel to my university engineering work.

Now I have the opportunity to apply for a bachelor thesis at a prestigious german university in the topic of Quantum Dot Qubits, which is, as you might have deduced from the name, a quantum mechanical topic.

But because physics is not my major, I had doubts about whether I am qualified to apply, so I looked at the university's undergrad physics curriculum and, not surprisingly, the Quantum Mechanics courses included titles that I know of but did not have the chance to delve deeply into. But I am quite confident (with a hope that I am not overestimating my abilities) that I can catch up to whatever I am lacking (which is not a lot - pretty much little chunks here and there) pretty quickly.

For the past couple of days I have been deciding back and forth on whether I should apply, with my leash being that ,whatever I have studied, I don't have as much experience as the physics students (I did not solve as much problems) to carry out the highly physical research that would be assigned to me. But I saw this post and this post, and after reading that "Bachelor theses are closer to literature reviews" I think my decision is going to be to apply after all and acquire the chunks of knowledge I am missing on the go. Would that decision be wise?

EDIT (Jan. 23, 2017): 5 months ago, I successfully completed my bachelor's thesis in the field of quantum information, and I got the top grade. I am currently applying for grad studies in the same research area.

There are two major issues here: on the one hand there is learning and mastering a topic, on the other hand there is writing a thesis merely.

For the former: quantum mechanics is a very delicate subject that requires a deep understanding of classical physics and analytical mechanics, not to mention mathematical methods as theory of operators on Hilbert spaces and differential equations. Learning quantum mechanics is also about understanding quantum mechanics: it is already difficult for people in the field and it will especially be for whom is from the outside. Moreover, there are different sub-topics areas that you may be involved in, and they may differ from what you have read around (quantum mechanics is not what people think it is).

You will certainly finish writing your thesis successfully, but that does not mean you will have majored and understood the topic well enough to continue doing research about it. A thesis on quantum mechanics is useful if you want to continue investigating the subject in your further career (as, for example, trying to switch to a master's degree in a more related physics area, like nuclear or solid matter physics, or even theoretical physics). Most depends on what you are planning to do afterwards. If you will continue on the engineering side it is advisable to work on a topic that will get you a job as engineer, eventually, otherwise you are going to end up with a science salad without being expert in either field, neither physics nor electronics, since you could have invested your bachelor thesis time otherwise.

This said, do apply for it. It is always good to at least have the possibility to decide, rather than regretting not to have applied; in addition, always go for whatever makes you feel passionate.

There are two dangers here. One is that you might feel deflated if you aren't accepted. The other is that you might spend too much time on the application.

If you can apply without letting yourself get carried away, then I agree, there's nothing wrong with applying to something that is a bit of a stretch.


Edited to add:

Oh. Thanks for explaining. Well, in that case, I will describe a possible course of action for you. It is called, in the vernacular, "get 'er done." In this scenario, you finish up the Bachelor's in a fairly efficient way, by sticking with your original focus, leaving yourself free to steer your studies in a slightly different direction, if desired, following graduation.

I don't think you would find yourself locked into sticking with your Bachelor's thesis topic area forever.

Perhaps you would enjoy doing some formal coursework in quantum stuff while you are finishing up your Bachelor's. That would help you fill in any small gaps you might have from the self-study approach, and also allay any lingering self-doubt you might have from having done the autodidactic thing.

Another thing you might want to work on concurrently with finishing your Bachelor's would be to do some networking with some quantum people, so as to make it easier to veer that way after finishing the Bachelor's.

In other words, maybe it would be less messy if you finish baking the cake, or at least get it in the oven, before starting to mix up a batch of cookies.

  • I am actually a little worried of a third danger: not being able to excel compared to if I did the thesis on something closer to what I am already studying. – user120404 Sep 18 '15 at 22:54

I'd say check carefully that you have the requisite knowledge (or can get it easily) and apply. Worst that can happen is that you are turned down. Don't limit yourself, let others do the limiting if need be.

I am myself from the territory of computer science and applying for the aerospace engineering is my ongoing hit to be marked...

BUT HOW?!... The seminal point is the relative interdisciplinary background, has which been acquired by the student within his/her undergraduate studies, in addition to high GPA.

In my case, there is a solid research background in the space robotics and planetary rovers. So, one might conclude that I had to learn many things from space dynamics to handle my thesis, was which about navigation of the space rovers. Now, with due attention to my final noticeable GPA, I has been succeeded to make an impact on a professor of aerospace engineering to recruit me as his graduate student... The high GPA let either the professor or the admission committee assumes that you are both smart and assiduous enough to learn all the things, could which be named as the prerequisites for successful entrance to the new program...

So, if you even have, for instance, some knowledge of the semiconductors, superconductivity, nano- or micro-electronics, you would be a good choice for the program, is which seemingly far-fetched from the context of your undergraduate major. Furthermore, the transition of the solid state experts to electronics and vise versa is considerably a resolved point, in the global research community. Finally, I am keen on insisting on you to pursue your aims, reasonably, and do not take them as abstract dreams, but the realizable goals...

Best

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