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All the geophysicists in the house, represent

  1. Apr 27, 2012 #1
    Hello physicists and students of physics, I am on my way out of freshmen year and preparing for my next year of physics. My goal is to ultimately become a geophysicist but I haven't been able to find a sizable amount of relevant information on the field or how to become one.

    My advisor has outlined a plan for me that would include a few geology classes but because of liberal learning and language requirements, it looks like I won't be able to take any classes in the field until maybe junior year..

    My next semester is Latin, Linguistics, Modern Physics, and Mathematical physics. Does anyone think I should swap one of these classes (not latin, though) for a geology/chemistry/meteorology class just so I can be introduced to other topics in the sciences before I dive right into my physics degree? Granted, I enjoy learning about physics and I am willing to put the time in to obtain the degree, but I'm not sure I'm intellectually gifted enough to excel in it so I am wondering whether I should branch out earlier than later.

    Also, I was thinking about getting the Boas MAthematical Techniques in Physics and trying to teach it to myself this summer (homework questions are answered on Cramster so I think I am certainly capable of teaching the material to myself if given enough time. 3 months seems like enough time).

    If you glazed over reading this and don't feel like making my decisions for me (completely understandable given the amount of these posts on this forum) then at least comment on geophysics or provide a link. I've searched all over the forum and no one seems to be talking about it. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2012 #2
    /shameful bump
  4. Apr 27, 2012 #3
    My formal experience with geophysics is limited to one semester several years ago, but I actually found the topics quite interesting. Contemporary geophysics uses a number of high level concepts borrowed straight from electromagnetism, thermal physics, and the physics of fluids, and with a solid background in physics you would be well prepared for it (and you'll need some computer programming experience as well). Analytical work in geophysics in particular can be quite difficult, so having a mastery of a book like Boas would be a huge plus. The best thing you could study before diving into it would be fluids, and in particular stresses and strains in three dimensions. It is not an easy subject, so be aware. Also, unlike many fields of theoretical physics it requires a really strong knowledge of materials and their properties.
  5. Apr 28, 2012 #4
    I'm not sure about anything in geophysics, but I do have something else to say. Having just finished my 2nd year and having done (these past two semesters) all of my upper level required classes, my advice is: don't do that. Last spring, in my first year, I also took 4 math classes and a physics class, that was so that I could prepare to take the classes I took this year. It turned out that it's much, much harder to actually learn these things at a deeper level when you're running around trying to solve all these ridiculous homework sets and study for the round of tests, all in physics/math, that comes up every so often. Finals would destroy you. You may even burn out and decide that you don't like the stuff anymore (I know that after last spring, I was feeling very burned out, I'm not sure how I made it through this year either). However, in the interests of full disclosure, I was working on two research projects this year, so it probably didn't have to be so bad.

    A lot of people gave me this sort of advice, to take things slow and learn everything well enough. You know, build a good foundation and other things like that. I was far too interested in the higher level stuff, and I wanted to dive into it as soon as I could. Another downside to this is that in my last year, I'll likely have my schedules with no technical classes at all.

    One good outcome this had, however, is that this summer I got a bunch of really amazing internship offers. This was my primary goal in doing all of this, so that I could be/seem "qualified" to do higher level research. Turned out that I was already doing research at my own school, though internships are a very big plus also. And in a sense, taking extra classes did help me to know where I should look for things I didn't know about. Still, the foundation I built isn't as good as I could have done had I spread things out even over an extra year.

    My advice is to stick with your current schedule. I think two physics courses is good enough that you definitely won't be bored, but any more than that I think isn't good and might be too stressful. You become limited in your thinking if all you do is physics and math. This is something that I've found is good about American higher education. It's also better that you take these classes concurrently, like I did, if your goal is to learn things very well. Liberal Arts classes keep your life in perspective, and is difficult in its own way.

    Anyway, I tried to be as honest with the pro's and con's of doing it all so that you could make your own decision. My idea was to game the system so that I could do interesting work sooner. It's working out for me, but it might not for you. Also, there is something significant to be said about having a rock solid foundation (though I was the kind of person who was literally disgusted when having to memorize equations by rote, or practice problems a million times. Still am actually...).

    Good luck.
  6. Apr 28, 2012 #5
    I would say take chemistry or geology but I don't know what courses you have to take. Taking chem before geology would probably be best, but that's just me. As far as being intellectually gifted, if you have the drive and put in enough time and effort, you'll be fine.
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012
  7. Apr 28, 2012 #6
    So it seems like everything is working out for you. good job on that. What about your semester made it so bad, other than the research? What were you taking? And have you taken modern physics or mathematical physics already.
  8. Apr 28, 2012 #7
    Yeah I do plan to do this. I don't know though, adv. geology is offered in the spring so it looks like I won't be able to take chem until junior year. You think I should get rid of linguistics and get chem in there? That would be two labs a semester but who knows, i might be willing. No idea how mathematical and modern physics will be. 300 level courses, though.
  9. Apr 29, 2012 #8
    Well last spring I was taking Calc 3, ODEs, Linear Algebra, Physics 2 (e&m part), and Mathematical Structures (which was basically a transition to higher level maths, with proofs and stuff). That was hard mostly because of the homeworks and the tests. As soon as I was done studying for one test, there were 3 others that I had to watch out for, and it was likely that I would have one in just a couple of days. Ontop of all this, I was also taking an English 2 course online. When finals rolled around, I was beaten pretty hard. Got unlucky in a few classes, but this sort of things wouldn't happen if one puts more than the minimal effort to get an A. Math Structures, my hardest class, required some serious time put into it because I'd never encountered proofs, and the way of thinking in higher level math needs a bit of getting used to.

    My school stuffs two semester courses in higher level physics into one course, and beats the crap out of you with them. First semester I took Modern Physics I, Classical Mechanics (Marion & Thornton, just a step below Goldstein), and Quantum Mechanics (Griffiths). I was doing research at the time, and perhaps without it I could have done it. Still, It's very difficult to be doing this sort of thing, because we got homework problems every other day (for CM and QM, they were 5 credit hours, so we had MWF for two hours each day, and the worst part was that I had these two back-to-back..... so four hours of hard physics every other day). Something had to give, and it wasn't going to be research or these two upper level classes I was taking, and so I ended up with a C in Modern Physics (though I made A's in the two others). Even though I made A's in those courses, I don't feel as if I understood everything well enough, and that's very bad because beyond the obvious downfalls of not having a good foundation, you also feel bad and it takes a mental toll on you as well.

    This semester I'm taking E&M (Griffiths again), Thermodynamics (Blundell), Modern Physics II, and an advanced experimental laboratory course. I'm looking to make all A's this time, but this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't gamed the system a bit. I got lucky with the workloads of these two other courses, and lucky that most other people in the room were not very bright. I still have the same problem with not understanding things as deeply as I want to. For me, this is not a huge deal because I'm not planning on doing a PhD in physics (I'll be switching to CS for grad school).

    In fact, this is another point that I should stress a bit. It's pretty important that you don't overload yourself. Last spring, when I was taking those 4 math classes + the physics, I went home and I didn't do one small bit of technical work for almost a month. I did come back in the fall with some vigorous intent that I would blow these courses out the water, but some personal issues came up which changed my priorities a little. Again, full disclosure, but I don't know how hard I could've gone for an entire semester with so much work. Maybe it is possible without doing research, but honestly it isn't worth it. One thing I'll bring up is that, when I was taking Quantum Mechanics, I was having to learn higher level QM with no background in QM at all (recall that I was in Modern at the time, and we wouldn't get to QM till the end of that semester). This was a really, really brutal first month or two for me because not only was I making the jump from a 2xxx course to a 5xxx course and the mode of thinking it requires, but I also had no idea what was going on. There are other things like this that I also had problems with too. It was definitely a combination of things that led to the decision to move away from physics, but the feeling of being burned out and not understanding things certainly had a significant impact too.

    Anyway, I'm trying to include all the details so you can decide for yourself. I'm sure it would be doable, but what would be the purpose? Modern Physics is designed in such a way, I think, to keep your interest high by introducing a bunch of different, cool topics. You can always study physics on your own, and read the higher level books so that the transition isn't so painful. In fact, one of the things I was very upset about was that I didn't have time to read the things I wanted to read on my own time. Don't underestimate this... having time for your own thoughts is invaluable. Stifling this, for me, had a very bad effect on my mentality towards academics. If you're just going through the motions, prepare to be miserable. If you can keep feeding that little intellectual curiosity flame by reading and thinking on your own about things you're not pressured to because of grades and tests, I think you'll have a much better time in school.
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