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Advise on UC: Berkeley

  1. Jan 13, 2009 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm an undergraduate student from Australia studying law and science (majoring in Physics). I'm going on exchange this semester to University of California, Berkeley, where I will be doing 3 upper division physics subjects and one upper division math.

    I have heard a lot of rumors from several sources that Physics here is ultra competitive, to the point where students steal each others books, notes etc. Personally I find this hard to believe as I am of the opinion that Physics is a small enough field that you are quite likely to run into fellow graduates later on if they follow their studies - I don't see how an extra few marks is worth making life long enemies.

    Essentially I'm wondering if anyone could confirm or deny these rumors, and if they are true, what's the best way I can avoid any trouble.

    Also any advice on how to get the most out of my time in the States would be welcome.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2009 #2


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    I can tell you from personal experience that this is completely untrue. Pretty much everyone is very nice and often what happens is you'll find a group of people who are taking the same classes as you and can work together on the homework, etc. Most of the undergrads hang out and do their homework in the reading room (251 LeConte) so you should check it out.

    A word of warning - 3 upper division physics classes and an upper division math class is going to be very difficult to keep up with. I would suggest dropping one of them. What classes are you taking?
  4. Jan 14, 2009 #3
    What kind of marks did you need for the exchange? Were there any other requirements (extra-curricular, etc.)?
  5. Jan 14, 2009 #4
    I'm taking 105 (analytical mechanics), 110A (electrodynamics) and 141A (solid state) in Physics and 121B (maths for physical sciences) for Math.

    I was originally taking 111 (labs) instead of 105, but changed to get myself more time.

    I have been told it will be a tough workload, but I was thinking of giving it a go and if it's too much drop 105 for a filler subject. In Australia we don't have any such filler subjects, so this would seem a normal workload. I am getting the impression that there may be more demands on the students over here though.

    Does this seem like a wise approach or will four subjects be impossible? If so any good fillers?

  6. Jan 14, 2009 #5
    A suggestion: consider grad level courses as well?

    I'm from Australia as well and thinking about going on the same exchange as you next year. If I do, I'll probably take a few 2xx subjects. Apparently, it's not unusual. Also, I'm guessing group study or something can be used as filler. A full load seems to be 3 units for 'em americans though.
  7. Jan 14, 2009 #6
    It is untrue, people do not steal each other notes/notebooks. That is not to say the classes are not hard, in fact it seems like the load you are going to take is killer. The Quantum Mechanics i took there alone averaged about 6-9 hours of homework a week for most students... not including lecture or studying.

    (Though QM is by far the most time consuming)

    121B shouldn't be that bad however. I would strongly recommend you find some people in your classes to go over homework/class material with.
  8. Jan 14, 2009 #7


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    The load you are taking is not impossible, but I get the feeling you're going to constantly be struggling to finish your problem sets. It's too bad you're not taking the 111 lab. If there's some way you could take 111 ADV (the 2nd semester) I strongly encourage it. You basically perform 4 physics experiments (out of a choice of ~15-20) over the course of the semester and write papers on each of them along the lines of something you would submit to a journal. It's basically a crash-course in experimental work.

    If you need "filler" classes try looking at http://www.decal.org These are 1-3 unit classes which are run by students and aren't very demanding although they are very fun.

    The problem with signing up for those classes, testing the water, and then dropping one if you need to is that it takes a few weeks for the semester to really kick into gear so you don't initially know exactly what your workload is. In the meantime you're falling behind in the "filler" class you need to be fulltime, and sometimes will not even be able to enroll in it.

    In the end it's up to you, but to me it looks like your setting yourself up for a bad time.
  9. Jan 14, 2009 #8
    Thanks for all the suggestions.

    My thought pattern is as such. My home university has a pretty reasonable final year lab subject. Obviously the one here wouldn't be better, but one thing I've always wanted to learn is about Hamiltonians and Lagrangians, and my home university doesn't offer that at undergrad, which is why I jumped at 105.

    I have to do 110, 141 and 121B (math) to finish my degree, so there is no flexibility there. As I see it the options are 111, 105 or a decal subject.

    As for graduate subjects, I met a guy today who is an undergraduate taking the graduate classical mechanics course. He was talking about how they will be using fibre bundles to solve problems. While that sounds absolutely fascinating, I also feel it may be a bit too much for me at this stage.

    Again cheers for all the suggestions.
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