Can grad students take fun undergrad courses?

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  • Thread starter DukeofDuke
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  • #1
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Can grad students take "fun" undergrad courses?

Hi,
is there any general policy on what undergraduate courses Physics grad students can take?

I'm a physics undergrad, but I like mathematics quite a bit and there are a lot of math courses I know I won't be able to take before I graduate. So I was curious as to whether Physics Graduate departments would mind if I sat in on an extra math course every once in a while for fun (or if there is a general policy for this type of thing, involving tuition and such).
 

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  • #2
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It will of course depend on your university, but from the experiences I have with graduate students (mostly from European universities, don't know if it matters) it seems that at most places you're allowed to audit courses if you like (i.e. take them, but without credit) and take whatever courses you like as long as you fulfill the physics requirements and make adequate progress (auditing may not be possible at all places). At most places you're given pretty free reins as long as you show you can handle it. I would be really surprised to find a university in which physics students aren't allowed to at least enroll in a couple of undergrad math courses. For parts of physics the standard undergrad math training just isn't enough, and in that case departments would be crazy not to allow students to take a bit more math. In my experience the students who go a bit outside the comfort zone of their field and take some auxiliary courses are the best student and I believe departments know this.
 
  • #3
Vanadium 50
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It depends on the school. Schools where the physics department ends up paying the math department if you sit in will have a different view than ones that don't. Also, do not forget that graduate school is a full time job.
 
  • #4
Physics Monkey
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Hi DukeofDuke,

Another factor you should be aware of is the difference between different sub-disciplines in physics. I am a theoriest, and I have taken a large number of classes outside of physics, including neuroscience, biology, mathematics, and economics/finance. I basically have the freedom to do whatever I want as long as I satisfy my advisor with my work and remain on track according to the department's timeline. On the other hand, many of my experimental friends basically spend all their time in the lab.

String theorists I know typically have more freedom and desire to take interesting math classes. Still, most theorists I know have taken at least one math class outside of the physics dept. Also, I don't know anyone who has spent more time outside physics than myself, so there does appear to be a self-imposed upper limit of maybe 3-4 classes. And of course, I can only speak for my own department.
 
  • #5
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I took multiple completely unrelated undergrad and graduate courses as a grad student, generally one per semester in my later years. I'd tell (not ask) my advisor what I was doing; he didn't seem to understand my motivations, but had no serious problem with it.

Tuition-wise, some universities might have issues depending on your funding status and how that school works; every place seems different. It wasn't a problem for me.
 
  • #6
f95toli
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On the other hand, many of my experimental friends basically spend all their time in the lab.

Indeed, my advisor used to get upset whenever I told him I needed to attend a course; simply because he wanted me to focus on the experiments.
And these were all compulsory courses that I had to pass in order to get my PhD:rofl:
 
  • #7
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Would it be feasible to take the extra courses as an undergrad and then graduate a semester or two later? Keeping your undergrad status would remove a lot of the bureaucratic hoops that you'd otherwise have to jump through, and lots of places will let you keep your undergrad financial aid for an extra semester or two.
 
  • #8
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Would it be feasible to take the extra courses as an undergrad and then graduate a semester or two later? Keeping your undergrad status would remove a lot of the bureaucratic hoops that you'd otherwise have to jump through, and lots of places will let you keep your undergrad financial aid for an extra semester or two.

The courses are not important enough to sacrifice a year of grad school for :)
 
  • #9
turin
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For my own personal benefit, I took a freshman computer science course while I was a graduate physics student with a T.A.. It was in a totally different department and and had nothing to do with my research. The physics graduate coordinator seemed to have a positive attitude toward the idea, but I don't know what my advisor thought about it; I didn't ask his permission. (I didn't feel obligated since I was on a T.A. rather than an R.A..)
 

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