Please tell us about yourself. ow did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

Radha Ramachandran, SM’09, hadn’t yet finished her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, but she already knew she was ready for a change in perspective.

“I wanted to move to pure science,” Ramachandran says. “Physics is not so different from engineering, but it’s a way of looking at the same problems at a more fundamental level.”

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She chose the University of Chicago’s Master of Science Program in the Physical Sciences Division to bridge the gap between her engineering degree and the PhD she aimed to pursue. “UChicago was one of the only places that offered a distinct, intensive master’s program in physics,” says Ramachandran, who is now a PhD candidate in the Department of Physics at UChicago.

Prior to applying for the master’s degree, Ramachandran visited campus and met with the dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences to discuss her interest in the program. He answered her questions and advised her to take the GRE as soon as possible, since she was sure she wanted to pursue the degree.

Tell us about the Master of Science Program at University of Chicago

The Master of Science Program in the Physical Sciences Division is a one-year, interdisciplinary program for students who are undecided about pursuing a PhD, who want to strengthen their background before applying to PhD programs, or whose careers could benefit from a year of rigorous scientific research at the graduate level. Offering courses in multiple departments and research tracks, the program provides students a broad education while allowing them to identify a research specialization.

“I’d done basic research but hadn’t formally taken physics courses during college. UChicago’s master’s program was very flexible, so I could tailor it according to what I wanted to do next. I ended up taking all the first-year courses that PhD students take,” Ramachandran says.

In those classes, Ramachandran was able to get a taste of PhD work and collaborate with peers who helped advance her understanding of the material.

“It was very interesting taking courses with PhD students. I could gauge for myself where I stood against people who do get into these programs,” Ramachandran says. “I would meet with the PhD students in my classes, and we’d all do problem sets together. It really helped me in thinking through the problems.”

What did you do next? Tell us about your Phd

Ramachandran applied to the physics PhD program as a master’s student and continued her studies directly after earning her first graduate degree. With her first-year requirements out of the way through the master’s program, she could focus on her research earlier than many of her peers.

She continued the fruitful research collaboration she had begun with her master’s thesis advisor, Sidney Nagel, studying fluid dynamics as they relate to petroleum excavation.

“The nature of the research has changed with more and more experiments. It’s a linear path from the project I started to what I’m doing now, but the focus on the problem has changed,” she says.

At UChicago Ramachandran’s perspective is expanding, not only through her research but also in her career outlook.

“I was really focused on being an academic, but I’m starting to explore other options as well,” Ramachandran says. “My department brings back alumni from my program with many different kinds of jobs. It’s nice to have that exposure; it has opened me up to many possibilities.”