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I am a Mechanical Engineering major applying for Ph.D. programs in Physics (in the US) who was always interested in Theoretical Physics but chose Mechanical Engineering due to a poor career choice at the time of the selection of undergrad major. Being interested in only theoretical physics, I didn't care much about perfecting the engineering subjects and this is reflected in my grades. I have very good scores in Physics courses (except for an applied physics course). I am writing my SoP and have gotten advice from a lot of people that I should explain my choice of a different major despite my interest in physics as well as my average grades in engineering subjects. But I am not sure whether plainly telling them that I got viciously lured into engineering by being told "undergraduate physics education in our country is not good and one can easily switch to physics after the undergraduate program if one has done undergraduate studies in engineering" would help. Also, whether plainly telling the truth that I didn't find engineering interesting and thus, my grades are average would help. It might (wrongly) show that I would not study uninteresting things that are required for some research project.

I have a fair amount of content to write about my interest in Physics, for example, I am pursuing a minor in Physics, I have done a good number of interesting research projects, I have attended some schools on theoretical physics, have taken a graduate course in GR, I have well-identified research interests, etc. etc. Is it required (or helpful) to write about why I chose a different major and why my grades are average in the engineering subjects? If yes then what should be the tone and approach?

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    Viciously lured? What, did a professor threaten to beat you up? – Jon Custer Nov 28 '17 at 14:42
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    Well, how does one 'viciously' lure somebody? – Jon Custer Nov 28 '17 at 15:01
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    I did not make any such moral equivalencies in my statements. Certainly, should you let such perceptions into your statements of purpose that will likely not put you in a good light. Take heed of the note about blame-shifting indicated in an answer below. – Jon Custer Nov 28 '17 at 15:14
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    "Being interested in only theoretical physics, I didn't care much about perfecting the engineering subjects and this is reflected in my grades", "It might (wrongly) show that I would not study uninteresting things ... " Isn't that exactly what happened though? If you take this approach, you'll need to offer convincing evidence that you're now willing to put more effort into uninteresting topics. You spend an awful lot of time with research projects studying things outside your field (in CS at least, I dunno about physics). – Lord Farquaad Nov 28 '17 at 18:40
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    @Dvij Well you don't always get to choose the consequences of the things you work on either. The way you've presented this is that you'd only work on something if you've deemed it worthwhile (it has an interesting consequence). As someone who's participated in research, I can tell you that at some point you'll work on something "not worthwhile". People selecting students for research know this too, and saying "no, but I think this project is interesting, I'll study it" isn't worth much. – Lord Farquaad Nov 28 '17 at 18:57
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I do think you should explain your mediocre grades in your major in your application. Give the honest truth that you feel it was a poor choice of major and you lacked interest in the subject. It's not perfect, but it's better than no explanation.

The more you can portray it as a story of growing and maturing over time, the better. Focus on the positive: lessons learned, developing more discipline, finding your passion in your physics classes, etc.

I don't think you should say you were "viciously lured" into engineering. It doesn't really add anything to the story, and also it comes across as blame-shifting.

  • Many thanks for your time and response! I get that telling someone that I was viciously lured into something isn't going to do any good and it will rather do a lot of bad, for example, it will question my ability to take an independent decision at its very core. But, I do need to explain why I took a different major if I have always been passionate about theoretical physics --which is the case and I am planning to mention that in my statement. – Dvij Mankad Nov 28 '17 at 15:09
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    You can say that you were advised that you would do better with an engineering degree than with a physics degree given where you were studying. It may have been genuinely well-meant advice, not vicious luring. – Patricia Shanahan Nov 28 '17 at 15:26
  • @Dvij fair enough, I think explaining it is fine. My point is simply to avoid making it sound like blaming others for the decision. – user24098 Nov 28 '17 at 16:20
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    You don't even need to mention that someone else recommended it (or lured you into it). If you just say that you thought it'd be better for your career, but that you now regret the decision, you get the message across without any hint of blaming others. – Anyon Nov 28 '17 at 17:52
  • @Anyon That's quite simple and useful. Many thanks for your guidance! – Dvij Mankad Nov 28 '17 at 19:07

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