Yes! You can study Physics after Engineering!

Yes, you read the title right. It is indeed possible to become a physicist after you have completed your undergraduate degree in engineering (BE, B.Tech or BS). In fact it is a good way of switching fields if you feel that engineering is not your cup of tea and pure and applied sciences would have been a better option. Sadly, it is often frowned upon by people when someone wants to switch from engineering to physics. The good news however is that there are many institutes and universities both in India and abroad that allow engineers to pursue a masters degree and doctorate in physics if they so choose.

Before I get to the crux of the matter, I need to issue a warning. It is not an easy task to switch from engineering to physics. Most institutes require the candidate to have an understanding of basic physics so as to crack the entrance examinations and/or the interview thereafter. However, we have plenty of coaching institutes in our country that train anyone interested in physics with the required materials. I am not going to endorse any particular coaching center but if you are interested and your pocket allows you, then it would be great if you can join one of those centers. If instead you wish to do self study for the entrance examinations, there is an abundance of materials available for you online and otherwise.

So, why switch from engineering to physics? Frankly speaking, physics offers less money compared to engineering. If you are a computer science graduate, you can literally mint money while working in the corporate sector. But there are certain types of people (including me) who are much more passionate about the universe and its workings and putting such people in engineering is simply going to make them miserable. They might become good engineers but at the back of their head there will always be a feeling that they could have done better in pure science. If you are one of those, then read on as this can be an eye opener.

Few years ago when I expressed my interest in switching fields from engineering to physics, I had to go through the same “Indian mentality” comments from everywhere. People simply cannot get their head around the fact that one’s passion is just as important as career prospects. I can give you a couple of scenarios. If you want to do an MBA after your B.Tech, nobody bats eyelid. If you want to do Civil Service after your B.Tech, nobody says anything either. If you want to write bank exams after your B.Tech, even then nobody will say anything. But the moment you tell people that you want to pursue physics, astronomy, oceanography or some other field related to pure and applied science, suddenly people react to it asking “Why do you want to do physics?

Anyway, the following are the institutes in India and abroad that allow engineers to pursue an advanced degree in physics or related subjects:

India

Masters Level (MSc and MS)
  • University of Delhi – New Delhi
  • Jawaharlal Nehru University – New Delhi
  • Central University of Haryana – Mahendragarh
  • University of Pune – Pune
  • Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology – Thiruvananthapuram
  • Lovely Professional Univesity – Phagwara
Doctorate Level (PhD and Integrated-PhD)
  • Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics – Pune
  • Tata Institute of Fundamental Research – Mumbai
  • Indian Insitute of Science Education and Research – Various
  • Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology

Abroad

Masters Level (MSc and MS)
  • Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – Canary Islands, Spain
  • International Space University – Strausbourg, France
  • Chalmers University of Technology – Göteborg, Sweden
  • Lulea University of Technology – Lulea, Sweden
  • The University of Manchester – Manchester, England
  • Queen Mary University of London – London, England
  • Ruhr University at Bochum – Bochum, Germany
  • Julius-Maxmillians Universitat Wurzburg – Wurzburg, Germany
  • Observatoire de Paris-Meudon – Paris, France
  • Western University – London, Canada
  • York University – Toronto, Canada
  • Swinburne University of Technology – Melbourne, Australia
  • University of Basel – Basel, Switzerland
  • University of Duisburg-Essen – Essen, Germany
  • University of Porto – Porto, Portugal
  • University of Surrey – Surrey, England
  • University of North Dakota – Grand Forks, United States
  • Rochester Institute of Technology – Rochester, United States
  • Florida Institute of Technology – Melbourne, FL, United States

A caveat I take here is that I compiled the list of foreign institutes almost 5 years ago. I am not sure of the accuracy of these today. However, at the time of compilation of this list, all these institutes had written in their respective websites that they take engineering graduates for a masters degree in physics, astronomy or related subjects. I suggest you contact these institutes individually and find out.

In addition to these institutes, there are institutes that fall under the “may be” category. That is those institutes that may take an engineer for a masters or doctorate programme in physics. It will depend on their requirements and your eligibility. But I will provide a list of such institutes as well just in case:

  • University of Groningen – Groningen, The Netherlands
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven – Leuven, Belgium
  • University of Amsterdam – Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • International University in Bremen – Bremen, Germany
  • University of Southern Queensland – Toowoomba, Australia
  • University of Oulu – Oulu, Finland
  • University of Hertfordshire – Hertfordshire, England
  • University of Glasgow – Glasgow, Scotland
  • Heidelberg University – Heidelberg, Germany
  • University of Bonn – Bonn, Germany
  • Aarhus University – Aarhus, Denmark
  • Copenhagen University – Copenhagen,    Denmark
  • University of British Columbia – Vancouver, Canada
  • University of Calgary – Calgary, Canada
  • University of Manitoba – Winnipeg, Canada
  • Queen’s University – Kingston, Canada
  • Universite Paris Diderot – Paris, France
  • University of Sussex – Sussex, England
  • Curtin University – Bentley, Australia
  • University of Adelaide – Adelaide, Australia
  • University of Oslo – Oslo, Norway
  • University of Tromso – Tromso, Norway
  • University of Silesia – Katowice, Poland
  • Rheinische Friedrich – Whilhelms Univeritat Bonn – Bonn, Germany
  • Jacobs University Bremen – Bremen, Germany
  • University of Helsinki – Helsinki, Finland
  • University of Amsterdam – Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • University of Ferrara – Ferrara, Italy
  • People’s Friendship University – Moscow, Russia
  • Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg – Nuremberg, Germany
  • University of Rostock – Rostock, Germany
  • Technische Universität München – Munich, Germany
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – Munich, Germany
  • Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena – Jena, Germany
  • Technical University of Vienna – Vienna, Austria
  • Bonn-Cologne Graduate School of Physics and Astronomy – Cologne, Germany
  • University of Trieste – Trieste, Italy
  • University of Trento – Trento, Italy
  • University of Bologna – Bologna, Italy
  • University of Cergy-Pontoise – Cergy-Pontoise, France
  • Ecole normale supérieure    Paris    France
  • Stockholm University    Stockholm    Sweden
  • Monash University    Melbourne    Australia
  • University of Tokyo    Tokyo    Japan
  • University of Nagoya – Nagoya, Japan
  • University of Osaka – Osaka, Japan
  • University of Keio – Tokyo, Japan
  • ETH Zurich – Zurich, Switzerland
  • University of Jyvaskyla – Jyvaskyla, Finland
  • University of Milan – Milan, Italy
  • University of Pisa – Pisa, Italy
  • University of Turin – Turin, Italy
  • Kings College – London, England
  • University of Toronto – Toronto, Canada
  • University of Alberta – Alberta, Canada
  • University of Ottawa – Ottawa, Canada
  • Tokyo Institute of Technology – Tokyo, Japan
  • University Observatory Munich – Munich, Germany
  • University of Marburg – Marburg, Germany
  • National University of Singapore – Singapore

Mind you, this list is in the “may be” category. Unlike the previous lists, these universities may or may not admit engineers for a science programme. So don’t come and complain here if your application gets rejected by any of these universities. In fact I don’t take guarantee for the previous lists either. Your admission to any institute in the world is a sum total of a variety of parameters and your ability in qualifying each one of them. No university is obliged to take you just because you applied. However, switching fields to physics after engineering is a long sought after information among many aspirants especially in India and I thought that I should write this article.

If you have noticed, the lists here do not follow any particular order. They are not arranged according to country or rankings of universities. The reason is that the list wasn’t compiled in a day. It was the culmination of many years of searching. Thus this list was made as and when I found relevant information. I am sure you have experienced posting on some physics forums about your interest in switching fields to physics and the backlash that comes from the “intellectuals” of those forums. All you get is some mockery and misinformation. For sometime, I had to face that until I decided to figure this out myself. It was not easy but it was fun finding information. I started putting whatever information I could find in an excel sheet. I think it is time to give out this information so that any engineer out there who wants to switch fields to pure science can do so with as little hassle as possible.

If you have any doubts regarding what I mentioned here, feel free to comment. I believe that I have done my part in telling you where to get what you want. The rest is up to you. Prepare well for the entrance examinations of these institutes and apply on time. The time has finally arrived for you to pursue your dreams. All the best!

Why Study Astrophysics?

The study of our universe

Cosmology – The study of our universe

I am often asked why I am so obsessed with studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology etc. which serves no practical purpose to anyone. The people who ask such questions entertain the notion that anything that does not give immediate monetary benefit is not worth pursuing. In this article I will try as much as possible to highlight the benefits of pursuing pure science such as astrophysics. I will be using the words astronomy and astrophysics interchangeably as differentiating the two is not the main aim here.

Astrophysics to me is an eternal subject. The study of our universe will continue as long as the universe exists and therefore the subject of astronomy will stay on for trillions of years into the future (or at least till any intelligent species can make the study.)  We exist because the universe exists and that makes the study of our universe the most important of all subjects in my opinion.

A person who does not have any training in astrophysics or for someone who thinks he or she is too “practical” may not be convinced with this answer. For such people, any subject should have the potential of generating immediate revenue. In their point of view, the trendiest subjects that have a career potential in the market are the ones people should be pursuing. That point of view is not essentially wrong. However, these so called trendy subjects are like soap bubbles. They form and then get destroyed after a period of time. People pursuing them always run a risk because if the subject of their choice goes down in popularity, they are forced to learn the next trending subject in the job market.

Space science as a subject does not suffer from this problem. It has lived on ever since the dawn of human civilization and is bound to continue into the foreseeable future. Besides, making money in my opinion should not be our pursuit as a race of intelligent beings. Our world is slowly moving towards a non-monetary one and thus our real pursuit should be the attainment of knowledge and its applications.

Astrophysics - A pure science

Astrophysics – A pure science

As I said, astrophysics is a pure science. If you ask any astrophysicist as to whether a particular theory found by him or her has an immediate application in daily life, he or she may say that there aren’t any. However, the same thing can be told about many other subjects. I have added some references that will tell you about many subjects that fall into the category of being “useless” to the “practical” folks but are still pursued by thousands. Hence, it is not something that one must criticize astronomy with. No subject is useless. In the hand of the right person, the scope of any subject is limitless.

If you are willing to delve deep enough, you will know that astronomy is actually a field with a lot of practical applications. Of course the applications come indirectly and eventually but the impact is profound. Astronomy is a frontier research field. In order to do any kind of research in it, you need cutting edge technology. The study of astronomy thus pushes the limits of our current technology thereby contributing to the development of new and innovative methods in terms of instruments, processes and software to get things done. Therefore, pushing research in astronomy will push research in other fields when these technologies are used in the broader sense.

The benefits of astronomy comes from technology transfer i.e. by transferring the technology that was originally invented for astronomy into various applications in the industry. Some areas where we can see the fruits of research in astronomy are optics, electronics, advanced computing, communication satellites, solar panels and MRI Scanners.  Even though it takes time before an application of a research in astrophysics finds its way into our daily life, the impact it eventually makes is worth the wait. Astronomy also has revolutionized our way of thinking by constantly giving us new ideas throughout history.

Let’s now look at a few examples where the research in space sciences and technology is helping humans around the world:

Medicine

MRI Scanner

MRI Scanner

Perhaps the most important application of astronomy for us would be its technology transfer to medicine. Both astronomy and medicine requires us to see objects with ever more precision and resolution in order be accurate and detailed in our analysis. The most notable among the applications is the method of aperture synthesis. It was developed by the radio astronomer Martin Ryle of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His technology is now used in Computerized Tomography which is commonly called CT scan. It is also used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI and Positron Emission Tomography or PET in addition to other imaging methods.

The Cambridge Automatic Plate Measuring Facility has collaborated with a drug company whereby blood samples from leukemia patients can be analyzed much faster. This helps in better accuracy in medication.  The method that is now used for non-invasive way to detect tumors was originally developed by radio astronomers. It helped increase the true-positive detection rate of breast cancer to 96%.

The heating control systems of neonatology units, i.e. units for newborn babies were initially developed as small thermal sensors to control telescope instrument. The low energy X-ray scanner used for outpatient surgery, sports injuries etc. was developed by NASA. It is also used by the Food and Drug Administration of USA to study the contamination in pills. The software that is used for processing satellite pictures is also helping medical researches to do wide scale screening of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Earth System

Asteroid 2011 MD

Asteroid 2011 MD

Our planet is under the constant influence of the Sun and our climate depends on it greatly. Studying the dynamics of the sun and other stars thus help us have a better understanding of Earth’s climate and its effects. Studying the solar system, especially asteroids tell us about the potential threats that they pose to the Earth. We do not want to be wiped out like the dinosaurs and studying potentially hazardous objects give us insights into how we can protect ourselves in time of a catastrophe. Even the recent passage of the asteroid 2011 MD dangerously close to Earth is a reminder that we should accelerate development of technologies to prevent an impact. Missions to asteroids also give us opportunities to test our technologies in future space exploration and also give insights into subjects such as geology.  It is also important to do space exploration as part of our long term exploitation of space based resources.

Industry

Charge Coupled Device

Charge Coupled Device

In industry, there are many technology transfers that can be cited. For instance, the Kodak Technical Pan was a film originally developed to use in solar astronomy to record the changes on the surface structure of the Sun. It is now used by industrial photographers, medical and industrial spectroscopy specialists and industrial artists. Until recently, the Technical Pan was also used to detect diseased crops and forests, in dentistry and medical diagnosis. It was also used for probing layers of paintings to check for forgery.

The Charge Coupled Devices or CCDs were first used in astronomy in 1976 as sensors for astronomical image capture. This Nobel Prize winning discovery not only replaced film in telescopes but also in personal cameras and mobile phones.

IDL or Interactive Data Language is used for data analysis in astronomy. It is now also used by companies such as General Motors to analyze data from car crashes. This means that astronomy is contributing to research in vehicle safety.

IRAF or Image Reduction and Analysis Facility is a collection of software written by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. It is used by AT&T to analyze computer systems and to do graphics in solid-state physics.

Communication

GPS - Global Positioning System

GPS – Global Positioning System

Radio astronomy has given birth to excellent communication tools, devices and data processing methods. For example, the computer language FORTH was first developed in order to be used at the Kitt Peak Telescope. The founders of the language also created the company named Forth Inc. and the language is now being used widely by FedEx for their tracking services.

The satellites of Global Positioning System rely on distant astronomical objects such as quasars and other distant galaxies to determine accurate positions. So, next time you use GPS, remember the stars.

The most common everyday communication application of astronomy would be Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN. Astronomer John O’Sullivan in 1977 came up with a method to sharpen images from a radio telescope. It was later found to be useful in strengthening radio signals in computer networks thereby giving birth to WLAN.

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Astronomy and the aerospace industry share many technologies that include telescope instrumentation, imaging and processing techniques for images. A defense satellite is basically a telescope that is pointed towards earth and thus use very identical technology and hardware to that of astronomy. The methods used to differentiate between rocket plumes and cosmic objects in stellar atmosphere models are similar as well. They are studied for use in early warning systems.

A device called solar-blind photon counter was once invented by astronomers to measure particles of light from a source without being overwhelmed by the particles from the Sun during the day. It is now used to detect the ultraviolet photons coming from the exhaust of a missile thereby aiding in UV missile warning system. It can also be used to detect toxic gases.

Energy Sector

Solar Panels - A source of clean energy

Solar Panels – A source of clean energy

The techniques developed to detect gravitational radiation produced by massive bodies in acceleration is used to determine the gravitational stability of underground oil reserves. That is a fantastic application in the energy industry.

The methods in astronomy can also be used for finding new fossil fuels in addition to evaluating the possibility of new renewable sources. Companies such as Texco and BP use IDL to do analysis of core samples around the oil fields. The graphic composite material that was initially developed for an orbiting telescope array is now being used by Ingenero in their solar radiation collectors.

The technology used in X-Ray telescopes to image X-Rays is now being researched for plasma fusion. If successful, it would lead to a boom in clean energy in future.

Education and International Collaboration

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy is a great tool to stimulate young minds. If you want children to pursue careers in science and technology, astronomy can help a lot. It engages the minds of kids and helps them keep up to date with the happenings in the scientific world. This therefore affects not just astronomy but other subjects as well. Modern science is a more collaborative effort. And astronomy has been instrumental in bringing together many countries to collaborate on projects that require telescopes and other instruments located at multiple points in the world. Researchers travel around the world to work on these facilities. This brings in many other advantages such as cultural transfer as well.

From the examples I mentioned and countless other examples that you can find online, it is pretty clear that the study of the universe is very beneficial to humanity. There are many people around the world who are interested in the study of the universe but are thwarted by the pseudo-pragmatic folks who think the subject is useless. My suggestion to anyone who wishes to study the subject would be to not let others tell you how practical or impractical that subject is. If they do not like what you are doing, it is their problem, not yours. Half the people who advice you against the subject do not really know anything about its breadth and depth.

The Sextant - An ancient celestial navigation tool

The Sextant – An ancient celestial navigation tool

As mentioned before, astronomy changes the way we think and look at this world. Even before writing was invented, humans have looked up at the sky to make decisions regarding when to plan the crops, how to keep track of the days and months or how to navigate the seas. Some of the greatest quests of human kind would not have been possible if methods to study the skies weren’t invented. Where we came from and where we are going are deep philosophical questions that are yet to be answered. In my opinion, studying the cosmos using rigorous science is the only way to finally know the answer.

Before I end, I must thank astronomers Marissa Rosenberg and Pedro Russo and all the other eminent people whose insightful articles I have referred to create this write-up. I have added them as reference for anyone who wishes to read more about the advantages of investing their time and effort in studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and related areas, which are considered pure science without any immediate practical value by many.

My father often quotes the old saying, “People will come and go, but the institution remains.” I would like to rephrase that and say, “People who oppose the study of our universe will come and go. But the universe will remain.

Bibliography

  • Aperture synthesis. (2014, Apr 22). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aperture_synthesis
  • Astronomy and the Modern World. (2011, Feb 17). Retrieved from Canadian Astronomy: http://www.castor2.ca/07_News/headline_110310.htmlz
  • Astrophysics. (2014, Apr 22). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrophysics
  • CASU Astronomical Data Centre. (2001, Feb 1). Retrieved from Cambridge Astronomy Survey Unit: http://casu.ast.cam.ac.uk/surveys-projects/adc
  • Gallagher, B. (2013, Apr 11). The 10 Most Worthless College Majors. Retrieved from Complex City Guide: http://www.complex.com/city-guide/2013/04/10-most-worthless-college-majors/
  • Hall, S. (2013, Nov 11). How Astronomy Benefits Society and Humankind. Retrieved from Universe Today: http://www.universetoday.com/106302/how-astronomy-benefits-society-and-humankind/
  • Loose, T. (2012, Jan 12). College Majors That Are Useless. Retrieved from Yahoo Education: http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm
  • Odenwald, S. (2001, Feb 1). Why is astronomy important in our lives? Retrieved from Astronomy Cafe: http://www.astronomycafe.net/qadir/q1138.html
  • Rosenberg, M., Russo, P., Bladen, G., & Christensen, L. L. (2013). Astronomy in Everyday Life. Retrieved from International Astronomical Union: https://www.iau.org/public/themes/why_is_astronomy_important/
  • Rosenberg, M., Russo, P., Bladen, G., & Christensen, L. L. (2013, Nov 3). Why is Astronomy Important? Retrieved from Cornell University Library: http://arxiv.org/abs/1311.0508
  • Why is astronomy important? (2004, Aug 3). Retrieved from Clearly Explained: http://clearlyexplained.com/technology/science/astronomy/why-is-astronomy-important.html

Preparing for GRE and TOEFL

My previous post described briefly the general procedure involved in applying for MS in US. Today I will elaborate on one the most important aspect of your application – your GRE and TOEFL scores. You should understand that to get into a reputed institution, it is a must to take these tests. There are institutions that do not require them but I would rather suggest you don’t waste your time on those since in the long run you might face difficulties.

Both GRE and TOEFL are required to be taken because of the type of abilities they test. People have often asked me why it is required to take TOEFL also even though GRE has a verbal part in addition to the quantitative. Well, my answer is simple. They test two different kinds of English. TOEFL is taken to prove that despite your mother tongue, you can still handle English fairly well. GRE Verbal on the other hand tests whether you can utilize complicated sentence structures and recognize them if seen. It also tests whether you can decipher a fairly technical document, analyze it and derive conclusions. It is a quality expected in every master’s degree aspirant in USA.

From personal experience, I feel that taking TOEFL before GRE is better. I think this will maintain the flow of your preparation. Besides taking TOEFL (which is easy) will give you a firm understanding of how to take an online computer adaptive test in a controlled environment so that you can be mentally prepared while taking GRE (which is harder.)

TOEFL

TOEFL as you know stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It is taken to prove your abilities to handle the language in reading, writing, listening and speaking. My advice is not to spend too much time preparing for TOEFL if you had English as a functional component of your employment or in your daily life. In my case, I had a call center experience and it was really not a big deal for me to take TOEFL.

The maximum time I spent in preparing for TOEFL was 3-4 hours. I borrowed the Kaplan TOEFL preparation guide from my friend. It had a CD inside. And I ran the CD to simulate the test in my computer. It gave me sufficient drill work and that was more than enough.

The Test

As I said, if you run the software from Kaplan or Barrons or any other syllabus, you will do just fine in the test. That’s all the training you need. Do not panic even if you get a long prose to analyze in the reading section. Just concentrate and you will find the answers to the questions given on the right side. While taking the speaking section, do not try to put an accent. Try neutralizing your accent and that’s more than enough. While speaking English, keep the jaw relaxed and speak slowly and clearly. You will get 15 seconds to prepare and 45 seconds to deliver your speech. Keep your cool and note down your points of speech in the 15 seconds you get and start speaking freely based on the points you noted.

If your functional usage is not English or you do not have sufficient fluency in the language, then you will need extra training. In those cases, workout the questions in the books and then practice using the software and you will get good results.

GRE

The Graduate Record Examination is actually quite simple when compared to other exams like GATE, JEST, JAM etc. But it is tougher than TOEFL and requires rigorous preparation. Spend sufficient time reading the theoretical part of each section. Most of the things have been covered in your high school. This is just an application of those concepts but they need to be revised nonetheless.

Verbal

This is an analytic version of English as I explained before. You have to build your vocabulary in order to survive this test. Use both Barrons and Kaplan for your preparation. I suggest you join some coaching center since they give you additional materials to improve vocabulary such as flashcards. My favorite method is using software known as Anki. It is an amazing software that helps in improving your vocabulary using a virtual flash card system. Install Anki today and download its flashcard decks and start working out. A person with sufficient level of intelligence can get through the analogies and antonyms section. You also should practice writing the essay and arguments. If you are used to writing in simple English like me, you ought to change that. They are looking for people who can make shorter, crisper sentences with sufficiently superior vocabulary. Instead of saying, “I strongly dislike crime”, if you say, “I abhor crime”, it would have a different impact on the reader. The first paragraph of any essay is called the thesis. That is where you briefly describe what the remaining essay is all about. It must contain roughly five sentences. It is a good idea to write the thesis paragraph and summary paragraph after you write your main body. That way you will have better control on the flow of your prose and will present clarity of thought to the reader.

Quantitative

Many students spend too much time on verbal thinking that it is going to be tough and neglect quantitative. That should not happen. Allocate equal amount of time for both. You should work with two separate syllabi if you want to get through GRE quantitative. You MUST do all the problems given in all the sections of both the books. Do not leave even a single problem unsolved. Get help from your instructor if you are in a coaching center or try online to find solutions. Quantitative follows arithmetic, algebra, Euclidean geometry, coordinate geometry, probability and statistics. You don’t need to know trigonometry or calculus but if you can use them in simplifying the problems, it would be great.

Joining discussion groups is something I didn’t do myself. I did join a group but never discussed anything. You don’t actually need it. You can find solutions otherwise. You have practice software with the GRE book that gives you sufficient drill on the test scenario. Also you can try websites such as www.majortests.com and practice the questions there. Remember, this is a computer adaptive test. If you get one question right, the next question will be tougher. And if you get a question wrong, the next question will be easier. The problem is that tougher questions carry higher marks than easier ones.

It is true that you don’t have to answer all the questions to have a good score. You have to answer the questions that appear earlier better. That will ensure that you get tougher and tougher questions to answer which will get you good marks.

Drawing a diagram is a good way to tackle your quantitative problems. Unless you can visualize what exactly they are asking, there is no point in answering. You might end up calculating it wrong. In addition to Barrons and Kaplan, you can try quantitative aptitude books of other authors as well.

The Testing Center

Your choice of testing center is very important. My suggestion is to choose a center that is away from your city. May be an adjoining city would do. The reason is to have a more silent environment. Most testing centers are flooded with candidates and seeing “tensed” faces itself would wash your confidence away. In my case, I was lucky to have just two other cheerful guys for my TOEFL test.

The same thing applies to GRE testing centers as well but the number of Prometric centers that conduct GRE tests are less in number compared to TOEFL centers. So, you might not get as many choices as you would in the case of TOEFL. Nevertheless, try to get a center that doesn’t usually get much rush as much as possible.

You will be subjected to a thorough security check. You MUST carry your passport. They do not accept any other type of identification. Also carry your test confirmation receipt. You don’t basically have to carry anything else. If you do, you will be asked to lock them up in the locker outside. You have to pull out your pockets and show them that there is nothing inside. Also you will be asked to undergo a biometric scan. Keep this in mind to avoid surprises on the test day.

Do not chew chewing gum. They will be monitoring you during the test and if they have the slightest hint of you doing it, you will be asked to go out and throw it away. Also if you are a fast typist, you will be asked to slow down since the typing sound is considered a disturbance to other people.

Breaks

When you take the tests, you will be given a 10 minutes break after the first two sections. You MUST take that break. Go outside, get some fresh air. Have coffee or tea and snacks. I had an egg puff and tea. Make sure that you don’t exceed the 10 minutes time. Refreshment will help you handle the second half of the test with the same amount of confidence that you had in the first half.

Miscellaneous

A score above 1250 in GRE and 100 in TOEFL would be enough for you to get in to fairly reputed institutes. But if you can make above 1350 and 110, it would be excellent! Your test results for TOEFL will take about 15 days to reach you. GRE scores are immediately calculated after the test except for the essay type questions. You will be asked to choose the universities that you need to send the scores to. If you haven’t decided yet, just put some dummy university name for the time being and get out of the testing center. You can login to the ETS website and send the scores to your favorite universities from the convenience of your home. Mind you, it will cost you money to send scores to universities. So, if you are sure about the universities, then try mentioning them at the test center itself to avoid extra charges.

Be sure to get the details of the department before sending the scores. Sometimes the department you want might not be listed in the ETS website. In those cases, it is better to check with the department to see where you need to send the scores. Sometimes they will ask you to send it to the Graduate School without any specific department mentioned. Send the scores and inform the department of the same so that they can have a lookout.

I think I have covered all the necessary details regarding both GRE and TOEFL. If there is anything I have left out, do let me know and I will add those. Thanks for your time and all the best with your GRE and TOEFL!

MS in US – A Crude and Interesting Process!

Image of US Education

This is a very interesting topic of which the information is often garbled by misinformed people. Doing an MS in US is not child’s play. The effort involved is huge and if you do not follow the procedures well, you might end up messing the whole thing. My personal advice to anyone aspiring to do an MS or Ph.D in US would be to create a backup plan. Please understand that US is not the end of the world. There are other countries that give you the same type of education and standards. For instance you can opt for Great Britain, Europe, Canada and Australia in addition to applying  to US. I am telling you this because getting a visa to go to US for your education is a horrendous procedure and there is absolutely no guarantee that you would be successful.

I also suggest that you approach a proper overseas consultancy that offers training and guidance in all the procedures involved. A word of caution that I would like to give at this moment is that the overseas consultancy that you choose would help you with all the processes up until your admission in the university. They are totally useless in your visa interview at the American Consulate. Hence, make sure that you do you homework and make your own informed choices based on the information available online and from your friends.

The process of going to US for MS can be divided in the following steps:

  1. Program of study
  2. Institute and department
  3. GRE and TOEFL
  4. The Paperwork
  5. Visa

Let me explain each one in detail:

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1. Choosing the program of study – This is very tricky for most students. They do not know as to what they really need as a branch of study. In America, it is possible to become an engineer even if your undergraduate is in medical science. I personally know someone who did his undergraduate in Agricultural Engineering and is currently doing his Ph.D in Neurobiology. So, it is definitely possible. There are many reasons why you chose a particular branch of study in your undergraduate. You might have chosen to become an engineer just because your parents wanted you to do it. Or you might have done the same because your friends chose it and you were under peer pressure. Let it be any reason, American education will fix all that and you have opportunities to change the silly mistakes that you did as an undergraduate student. Mind you, your life is not to be wasted doing things that you do not like. It is for you to realize your own goals and aspirations.

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2. Choosing the right institute and department – I have heard students ask, “I have 55% in my B.Tech, can I apply in MIT?” This is ridiculous. MIT, Caltech, Princeton, UCLA, Purdue, UTexas etc are beyond the reach of average students. Most people who study in these institutions have been in prestigious institutions in their undergraduate such as IIT’, NIT, BITS etc. Or they might be exceptionally good in their academics. So, do not waste your time in applying to these institutes. Grad Schools and Happy Schools Blog and sites similar to these will give you sufficient information regarding how to choose an institute that matches your taste. Something I know from personal experience is to choose the universities that have a good distance/online learning option. I am telling you this because if you do not get through the US visa process, you still have an option to study from here and then apply for visa at a later time.

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3. GRE and TOEFL – These are two essential components of your graduate admission. You ought to take this no matter what. There might be institutions that do not require GRE or TOEFL scores but you might have a tough time getting through the visa interview since they ask all sorts of questions if you have not taken your GRE or TOEFL score. The GRE Subject Test is not required in 90% of the institutes but if you are wise enough, you can take that also to be on the safer side. But my advice is not to waste your time on that since there are plenty of universities in US that do not require the subject test.

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4. The paperwork involved – This part is interesting since no one realizes the amount of paperwork involved in the process. You should put in paper each and every aspect of your application process. Just as you do your online work, so should you do the paperwork. It is very important to have both online and hard copies of all your documents. Let me give a brief account of all the paperwork that you have to go through:

  • GRE and TOEFL scores –  They send you the paper format of your scores. Keep them ready. In addition, they send the paper format of the scores to the universities that you have chosen. Make sure that you send them.
  • Your SOP (Statement of Purpose) –  This is also known as Statement of Objectives. Either way, this is an important aspect of getting your admission in any institute. You should write down in paper as to why exactly you want to choose a particular college and course. You should write down your interests, what you have done so far to that field and what you will be doing after you have finished the program. This needs to be more objective than passionate. However, you can add your emotions here than there to show certain level of passion.
  • Your SOR (Statement of Research Interests) – This is for students applying for Ph.D. You should let them know why exactly are you doing a Ph.D and what exactly is your area of research interest. You don’t want to go to America or any other country without an idea in mind as to which part of which subject you want to research. The professors also look for this because they might have some project in hand an will be looking out for people who can work for them. If you can find a research problem, then even better since you can put that in your research proposal.
  • Academic resume  – This is another tricky part. You might have seen job resumes several times. This is slightly different. You can convert your job resume into an academic resume if you know where to change. Your objective should be to get admission and not to get a job. Further, you have to put your academic profile before your job profile so that the professors and the department heads can see them first.
  • Official Transcripts – I am sure almost all of you have your degree certificate, your provisional certificate and your mark sheets of your  undergraduate performance ready.  But that is not enough. You need to get something called the “official transcript”. It is created by the university you studied and can be either given in your hand or sent to your chosen American university depending on where you studied. Either way, make sure that you keep a photostat copy of your mark sheets since you have to submit them at the time of application of transcripts. If you can get it in your hand, you can send it to the US university through courier. Or you can arrange for the university to sent it. This is important because they need to understand your strong and weak points. This will particularly help you at the time of funding since the professors need to know in which area you can work and which one you cannot. It doesn’t matter if you had backlogs. No one really cares about it if your overall undergraduate score is above First Class.
  • Affidavit of Support – This is a letter from a notary or any other gazetted officer. This will show on a stamp paper that your parents or whoever is sponsoring you for the education is capable enough to support you. It is basically a legal document that can convince the university that you are not going to seek unauthorized employment in USA during or after your studies and that you intend to return to your home country after you are done with your MS program.
  • Bank statement – The universities are not actually looking for a step by step bank statement of your past 6 months’ transactions. If you can get a letter from the chief manager of your bank that you and your parents have sufficient savings in your accounts to support your studies, it is more than enough. But, you are always welcome to take your 6 months’ statement with you for your visa interview.
  • Application Receipt – This is the receipt of the application that you made to the university. I know that you get an online copy of the application receipt in your email and also that the university is well aware of your application. Nevertheless, it is important as a standard office practice. If you don’t understand what I mean, please check with your parents who have been in office and paperwork for decades. We have been brought up in computers and hence we don’t understand the value of paperwork. So, make sure that you print out your application receipt as well as application fee receipt.
  • Recommendation Letters – This is yet another important aspect of your application. Though most universities require only 2 recommendation letters, my advice is to produce 3. You can get one from your principal, one from your HOD and one from your lecturer. That will create a 3-tier effect to your application. While preparing your recommendation letter, try to limit it to just two paragraphs. Also do not use superlatives like, “he has been the best”, “she was one of the most brilliant” etc in the letter. Keep the language moderate and professional. Your faculty will anyway tell you the corrections that you need to make.
  • Photostat copy of your mark sheets, certificates, GRE and TOEFL scores  –  Despite sending your official transcript, you should also send the photostat copy of your mark sheets and your undergraduate certificates. This is for quick reference since the GRE score, TOEFL score and official transcripts reach the university at different times. They need to match them with your application ID. So having a photostat copy of these documents is worthwhile.
  • Covering letter – This is included in the package that you send to your  university. This letter will summarize all the documents that I have described above. You should mention that though you are sending the photostat copies of your mark sheets, certificates, GRE and TOEFL scores, you have sent the originals of the same separately. You should also give the list of documents included in the package that you are sending so that they can look for it if something is missing in the package or inform you about the same.
  • The package

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    This is a brown paper envelope of sufficient size that can hold all your documents without bending. Instead of writing the address of your department, I suggest that you print out the recipient’s address on a paper and paste it on the envelope. This is much better than letting people decipher your handwriting. Your package must also include the photostat copy of your passport and your recent passport size photographs (3 of them). Now, try to courier it rather than using registered or speed post. Courier will help you track the shipment all the way to the university online.

    Getting your visa

    I am not going to talk much about this part. All I can say is that it is a horrendous nightmare. As mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, you should apply in multiple countries other than USA. I am not very positive about you or anyone else getting through the US visa interview process. If you do, you might be one of the lucky people who made through. Make use of information available online regarding the visa interview processes and try to get through. Create a backup plan just in case things don’t come out the way you wished them to be. Be confident and answer questions promptly. Give them a feeling that you are a genuine candidate but do not let them feel that you are desperate in going to US.

    Scholarship

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    Please do not think that scholarship is for the most brilliant students. Even if you are an average student, you have chances of getting funded. It all depends on the availability of projects with the professor and your good luck. Every professor seeks funding from various agencies for projects related to his/her areas of expertise. He/she would certainly need people to work to get the project running. So in most cases, you can get a GRA (Graduate Research Assistantship) or a GTA (Graduate Teaching Assistantship). Again, I would like to repeat what I told in the beginning. Do not choose big shot universities. Try smaller ones since you have better chances of getting scholarships there. Also, once you have made your application, fix an appointment and try calling the professors. Talk to them and let them know your interests. Do not be surprised if you hear 99 nos and 1 yes because that 1 yes is what will get you what you want. Further, do not be picky in your research areas in the beginning. Have a general idea about things. You always can choose  your favorite subjects at later points of time.

    Miscellaneous

    The miscellaneous items that you need to learn are software skills. You ought to know programming in Matlab, Autocad, Astrogator etc in order to survive MS in any country. Especially if you are funded, you will be expected to write programs that simulate various scenarios. Also you should be good in math and data analysis. No matter how dry these subjects sound, you ought to get them in your head. Join social networking pages of the universities and connect to students who are studying or have studied in your chosen university and get to know more.

    I think I have pretty much covered everything that is required. I will devote separate, elaborate posts on each of the aspects I have mentioned in here in due time. If you have any questions or suggestions, do let me know. All the best!

UND Space Studies Distance Learning Part – I

The University of North Dakota has an excellent masters degree program in space called Space Studies, which was started in 1987. What makes the program so special is its interdisciplinary nature and the willingness to admit students from practically any undergraduate background. The program encompasses engineering, physical sciences, biological sciences, policy and business related aspects of space. As a student of the Department of Space Studies at UND, I feel that this fantastic program must get people’s attention.

To quote my professor, for most people, space means just rockets, astronauts, and pretty Hubble pictures. No one sees the broad view where there are multiple subjects involved making the field very intricate and fascinating. Right from equipment manufacture to complicated life support systems to space policy making, space is a field where all the cutting edge technology, science and politics comes into picture.

UND graduate, Brian White has written an excellent blog regarding the Space Studies masters at UND as well as ISU. Hence, I am not going to cover that part. You can also get more information about the program from the official department website. What I plan to do in Part – I of this series is to discuss one of the three required courses in Space Studies masters called SpSt 501 – Survey of Space Studies – 1 and my experience so far as a distance student studying it. This is an introductory course that lets students know what space studies is all about and what they can expect from the remaining semesters. It is co-taught by all the faculty members of the program and hence gives the students an introduction to the subjects taught by each faculty and their individual research areas.

As any person fascinated by space like me, there will be lot of questions in mind such as to which branch of space studies one needs to specialize and so on. For instance, some students like astrophysics while some others like commercial space and yet there are some who like spacecraft design and space biology. After 501, students start to rethink their interesting areas. I have heard students talk about specializing in fields that they never thought they would specialize when they started the program.

What appears to be very fascinating might not be the field where our original talent lies. SpSt 501 gives us the opportunity and wide perspective to think and choose our area of specialization as we advance in the program. I am a distance student of this program living in India and it has given me an amazing experience studying online. UND Team has invested sufficient amount of time and money in order to give the distance students as close to a campus experience as possible with high quality videos and power point presentations.

Prerequisites

There are no specific prerequisites for this course since students from practically any background with descent GRE and TOEFL scores can join the program. I think this is the most exciting aspect of this program. It doesn’t matter whether we have a physics degree or aerospace engineering degree in our undergraduate study. What matters is having an intense desire to make contributions to the field of space. And that I think is the prerequisite for this course. But from experience of this course, I have a few suggestions. It is good to revise your basic economics, biology and mathematics that you learned in school and college. Keep an overall outlook about the various aspects of space in the current space age and past. You should know the basics like what a light year or an astronomical unit means among other things. You should be familiar with the concepts of biological, geological and cosmological evolution. As far as mathematics is concerned, if you are familiar with trigonometry, logarithms and exponential series, you should do just fine. Knowledge of calculus is appreciated but not applied too much in this particular course.

Enrollment

Every student will be given access to the Campus Connection portal. This is where he/she can register for the course. Once registered, the student can request permission to access the course in the Learning Management System of the department. This is the one stop location where most of the activities take place. The lectures, power points, course syllabus, grade book and assignments are managed here. You can either download the lecture or the presentation or watch it online. Interested people can also buy some of the lectures from Amazon before enrolling to get a better understanding of the course.

Progress

Lectures are uploaded every week within two days after the class takes place. Since distance students cannot attend the classes, their attendance is counted by the chat sessions they attend with the concerned faculty and other distance students. The chat session for the distance students happen a week after the original classes were conducted. So, technically, distance students finish the course a week after the campus students do it. For 501, there are 3 chat sessions per week and we can choose any one of them depending on our convenience. The exams are also called assignments. So do not confuse. They are conducted online and you can see your grades almost immediately unless there are subjective questions.

Description

As mentioned, 501 is a broad based introductory course. It is not an elective but a required course and carries 3 graduate credits. It is advised that you take this course at the first opportunity you get. The following will give you a brief idea about what this course actually comprises of. Please note that this might change depending on several factors associated with the university. There are 7 modules that we need to study in order to complete 501 as shown below:

1. Introductions

This module introduces you to all the remaining modules and each faculty associated with those modules. A brief overview of the course syllabus takes place. In addition, a separate class on writing methods is also conducted since all students have to write and submit papers to journals for the rest of their academic and research career. It is a very important module and I learned a lot from it.

2. Space History & Policy

Space Studies is just as policy oriented as its technical areas. This is important since we need to understand the real politics that goes behind the scenes of every space mission or research conducted. We should know from where the money comes and how it is regulated. For those of us who wish to try our hands in space entrepreneurship, policy is a must. This module introduces us to the general space arena and space history. Further, it teaches us space policy and law along with military space. So, by the end of this module, our perspective starts to change and that is a good thing.

3. Orbital Mechanics and Space Mission Design

This is really an interesting module and I must say my favorite. This is where I am focusing my current research and is a very smooth and straightforward module. It teaches introductory orbital mechanics and trajectory related calculations. The fundamental equations in rocket science and their applications are taught. Rockets, launch vehicles, payload and spacecraft design are the other subjects dealt in this module. The module ends with the analysis and design of space missions, which reminded me of my software engineering classes. It is basically a space replica of the same. Overall, this is where the technology part of space studies begins. My personal advice is to get this module engraved in your mind since you are going to use the concepts you learn here for the rest of your life if you work in this field.

4. Planetary and Space Science

This is yet another interesting module. Those who want to move onto astronomy and astrophysics, astrobiology or earth science should know all the concepts taught in this module. It covers lunar and solar system science, the planet mars, asteroids, meteorites and comets, extraterrestrial life, observational astronomy and earth science and global change. I think these topics are self explanatory.

5. Space Life Sciences

I just loved this module. It opened up yet another door in my mind through which ideas can pass. In this module, space suits, psychological aspects of adaptation to space and the history and policy of human spaceflight are taught. I never thought I would become interested in space life support systems before I studied this module. As I mentioned before, our interests will eventually change as we move through the program until we find what exactly is it that we want to do in space.

6. Satellite Applications

For information technology graduates like me, this module is very closely related to the things we learned during our undergraduate program. Hence, it is relatively easy to grasp the details. The topics covered are communication satellites and remote sensing.

7. Space Economics, Business, and Management

It is again policy related. It speaks about international space where all other countries that have space programs other than US and Russia are introduced. More topics on NASA and its current position in US space arena is also taught in addition to going to deep into the government and industry aspects of space economics and management.

By now, you might have got an idea about what SpSt 501 is all about and how it can benefit you during your entire Space Studies program and beyond. The semester has ended and I can say for sure that I am fully satisfied with the course curriculum. A few final words before I close this topic:

  1. If you are a distance student, make sure that you have plenty of time to invest. If you are working and studying, you are going to be on a rough ride especially if you have joined a research team of some sort.
  2. Being a distance student, you are advised to take only one course per semester. This means that you will take about 3-4 years to complete the required 33 credits of graduate work. My personal advice is – DO NOT take more than one course per semester since 1 itself is too much work. If you are very clever, you can manage 2 but NEVER 3!
  3. Do not think that just because the exams are open book type, you don’t need to study. You have to work really hard since the exams are timed and the more time you spend referring materials, the lesser you will get to answer the questions. So, study really well before attempting the exams.
  4. If you are an overseas distance student, you won’t be funded. Hence, please make sure that you have sufficient sources of funding if you plan to take the courses overseas.

You don’t have to rush yourself to complete the 33 credits within 2 years like the regular students. Remember, in academics, it is not always the first person to finish first who wins. It is the person who finishes well. With this maxim, I am concluding this post.  I wish you all the best in your Space Studies program!