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Advice for a prospective physics major

  1. Jul 26, 2015 #1
    I've always loved physics but have had this (hopefully) false notion that you need to be some sort of analytical genius to get anywhere doing actual physics research so I always told myself I would just follow engineering. This past year (Junior year of highschool) a degree in physics started to seem much more in reach though. A teacher recommended me to skip a year of math classes and go straight into AP Calculus BC and I plan on taking AP Physics:C Mechanics and E&M as an independent study course under the supervision of my 10th grade physics teacher (who has a degree in physics himself). I'm also pretty confident I could get into a fairly good program at one of my state universities (ranked about 30-40) if I chose to pursue a physics & math double major. I have a couple of questions about the flexibility of a physics degree though:

    1) Say I finish my undergrad education and don't have the grades/GRE/etc. to get into a top 20 grad program. Is a masters in engineering (electrical or aerospace) or comp. science at a mediocre school within reach at that point even if I havent done any research related to engineering?

    2) Say I get a Phd at an okay school (ranked ~30th) what are my opportunities in industry? How about from a top 20 program?

    3) Kind of unrelated but since I'm pretty ahead in high school I'm basically going to skip the entire underdivision curriculum excluding ODE, Calc 3, and Intro to modern physics. Is it okay to take all of these classes in my first semester or would that be too much? Is it necessary to know ODE and Calc. 3 concepts before taking intro to modern physics?

    Thanks for any help guys.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2015 #2
    Yes, you can do an engineering masters with a physics degree. It doesn't hurt to take some courses to complement that if you choose to do so. Some areas would probably be easier to transition to (particularly some fields of electrical engineering) than others (for instance, it'd probably be easier to do solid state devices than communications theory).

    It seems early to me to make judgements regarding industry employment for physicists. We're talking 8-11 years from now. Who knows what could change before then?

    You should know ODE before intro to modern physics. Your school, I imagine, would have it as a prereq (and maybe calc 3). That's just something you'd have to figure out based on what your perspective schools will require.
  4. Jul 26, 2015 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    It depends on what the intro modern course is like at the school you go to. One common kind follows directly after the usual two-semester intro to classical physics (the freshman course), doesn't assume more than calculus I and II, and introduces concepts from calculus III and differential equations as needed. Another kind is more an intermediate-level course that assumes you already know calculus I-III, differential equations and linear algebra, and does more sophisticated problems. Many schools have both kinds of courses.
  5. Jul 26, 2015 #4
    The school I plan on attending (Uni. Of Florida) has it coming after the basic underdivision physics with calc courses but before mechanics, e&m etc.

    Theres no prereqs on the UF website but I found a syllabus from a few years back:

    Lots of advanced topics (GR, QM) but all the links are towards popular experiments and interesting talking points rather then anything needing very advanced math.
  6. Jul 26, 2015 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    That looks like it's at a similar level to the course that I taught for many years, right after freshman physics but before the upper-division courses. I see from the course home page that he used the Tipler/Llewellyn book. I never used that book myself, but I remember it being at a level similar to the ones I used (first Beiser, then Taylor/Zafiratos/Dubson).
  7. Jul 26, 2015 #6
    I took Modern Physics at the University of Florida this Spring 2015 semester. ODE's did not play a major role in the course, but was useful in understanding the derivations of situations involving the Schrodinger Equation. I earned an A in the course and the professor was superb. I hope you join GatorNation!
  8. Jul 26, 2015 #7
    How suitable do you think it is for a first semester student ? Or I guess a better measure of difficuly is how difficult you found it compared to physics with calc 1&2?

    I hope so too, thanks! :)
  9. Jul 26, 2015 #8
    In physics with calc (1 and 2), I only remember using separation of variables, but I did not take either course at UF. Gauss Law was heavily reliant on some knowledge of integration, however. I believe ODE should be taken after calc 3, but after calc 2 is okay, too. ODE was used more in Mechanics 1 (not the physics with calc 1).

    As for how difficult I found it, it made sense, it was logical. I didn't find it too hard, but it was definitely the math class I had to study the most for. Compared to physics with calc? I remember physics 2 being fun.
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