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Courses Care to comment on the sensibleness of my course load?

  1. Jun 12, 2012 #1
    I'm coming into a university this fall as a junior after completing ALL of my general education requirements, which puts me in somewhat of an odd position. I literally have no courses left to take except for ones in physics and math, so that's definitely a plus. However, I haven't been able to take some of the physics courses that I would prefer to have taken earlier (ie Modern and CM). On a positive note, I was able to take advantage of the fairly flexible requirements of the General Studies AS degree at the community college and have already completed Calc 1-3, ODE, and calc-based Physics I and II with 5 A's and a B (bad semester 2 years ago) out of those 6, 3.9 something overall. My plan is to take the GRE next October or November, graduate Spring '14, and get into an *awesome* grad school (nothing wrong with high aspirations, right?). Another downside with having so many courses already done is that I will end up double-majoring in Physics and Mathematical Science in order to meet the minimum upper-credit course requirements of the Physics BSc. So, I am hoping to get some insight on my projected course loads for the semesters. Too heavy, too light, unnecessary math for physics, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, I found out my Physics Dept is somewhat light in their offerings of upper-level physics courses as there is no Physics PhD program at my university. I had to go here, though, due to the location and extenuating circumstances. So here it is:

    Fall '12
    Classical Mechanics - 3 cr
    Modern Physics - 3 cr
    Modern Physics Lab - 1 cr
    Linear Algebra - 3 cr
    Mathematical Modeling - 3 cr
    Guided Inquiry I - 1.5 cr (TA for University Physics I)

    Spring '13
    Electromagnetism - 3 cr
    Quantum Physics I - 3 cr
    Visualization of Physics Using Mathematica - 3 cr
    Intro to Computation Mathematics - 3 cr
    Directed Study - 1-3 cr (depending on what's available)

    Summer '13
    Hopefully a REU! If not, perhaps some Chemistry (I and II, 4 cr each) at the community college? Not much is available that I need at the university. But I'm shooting for that REU!

    Fall '13
    Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics - 3 cr
    Intro to Mathematical Reasoning - 3 cr
    Bridge to Modern Analysis - 3 cr
    Independent Study - 1-3 cr (depending on what's available)
    Guided Inquiry II - 1.5 cr (TA for University Physics II)

    Spring '14
    Senior Physics Lab - 3 cr
    Seminar in Conceptual Physics - 1 cr
    Concepts of Statistics - 3 cr (haha)
    Numerical Analysis - 3 cr
    Mathematical Expositions - 2 cr

    And wham-o! Done. No sweat, right? Alright, so some of the combinations sound a little worrisome, but I love math and physics so I'm really more excited than anything. I just don't want to be blinded by ambition, so to speak. I would really like to have some more upper-level or grad-level physics in there, but my department doesn't have a whole lot to offer. They do have some courses I would really like to take that may be helpful to the fields that I'm leaning toward (HEP and field seem very awesome), such as E&M Theory and/or Theoretical Mechanics, but I would have to take them at the same time as StatMech and I've heard that class can be quite hefty. I would so be willing to ditch Independent Study and Guided Inquiry II for a taste of some of the good stuff, though! My university also has no active Society of Physics Students, so I'm excited to get the ball rolling on that! I'm a member of that and Sigma Pi Sigma and have been aching to be more involved. As a side note, I have to be going full-time (for grants, scholarships, etc), I also work full-time (until I figure out how to just go to school and support my family and myself), oh and I'm a husband to an awesome wife and dad of two wonderful little boys (3 years and 18 months). Impossible? Things are happening every day.... Haha. Any input would be greatly appreciated, especially from you mentors out there, too! Thanks guys :approve:
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2012 #2
    Only 1 semester of E&M and Quantum?
  4. Jun 13, 2012 #3
    I'm concerned about that, as well. With the way that the prereqs work, though, I can't take any upper-level E&M or Quantum courses until the fall of senior year, at the same time as StatMech. Also, I'm already going to be a little hard off because I will have to take the PGRE that October or November, hardly enough time to get a thorough understand of StatMech/Thermo in the class. That being said, my advisor told me that they don't even offer Quantum II, even though it's in the catalog, and the only upper-level available are Quantum Mechanics and E&M Theory. Even those are only available once a year, at the most.
  5. Jun 13, 2012 #4
    If you have something to plug in place of the Wolfram Mathematica for physicists class, I would say do it. You can pick up Mathematica easily on your own (by watching tutorials and using it as help with physics HW) and that class is sucking away 3 credits of your time.
  6. Jun 13, 2012 #5
    I had a feeling it wasn't really necessary. My advisor tried to tell me it's "highly recommended," especially when trying to get on a research team. Should I take a math course there instead? Or something else? Any recommendations?
  7. Jun 13, 2012 #6
    No computer programming courses?...or have you gotten all those out of the way? What about math classes like abstract algebra, topology, or complex analysis?
  8. Jun 13, 2012 #7
    Yes. Also, find out what the Mathematical Modeling course is like at your school. Typically, it's a social science oriented course which benefits economics, psychology and biology majors more than physicists. If that is the case, your time will be better spent picking another math or physics. Lastly, consider taking Differential Equations if you haven't yet.
  9. Jun 13, 2012 #8
    Now that you mention it, mathematical modeling does sound a little broad. I was originally taking it to attain the double major with mathematics and it's required for that, but I would prefer to have maths that would better help me in upper-level physics course, which I've heard topology, abstract alg, and complex analysis all do. Abstract alg and topology are both offered in the fall, would I be better suited to one of those? Or would it be better to have linear alg under my belt before then? Those two are 500 level and linear algebra is only 300. Mathematical modeling is only 200, and it sounds kind of boring.. I've already completed Ordinary Differential Equations.

    Also, I haven't done any programming courses, but I was underf the impression that it'd be ok to self-study one or more as needed. Worthwhile to take a course on one?
  10. Jun 13, 2012 #9

    The math program I'm in requires mathematical modelling too...I took it last semester. I didn't learn anything that I hadn't already learned in other courses. (Except for maybe some of the Game Theory stuff) It was mostly applications of differential equations and dumbed down mathematical biology, economics, and calculus based physics. I'd recommend abstract algebra if you're interested in physics theory. Topology has it's physics uses too. Be sure to take lots of computer programming courses...that was my mistake as an undergraduate. Engineering courses can come in handy too.
  11. Jun 13, 2012 #10
    I'm really trying to get out of the Mathematical Methods course and get into Intro to Mathematical Reasoning. Apparently it's the proofs course, so the majority of the upper-level, including Abstract Algebra and Complex Analysis, require that I take that first. Now I just need to get an override to get into it since it's full, and get an override to switch into a different section of Linear Algebra that better fits with the times. Or else I'll end up with like 7 hours in between classes. Ouch! So wish me luck getting two overrides, the classes only have 25 an 35 students, respectively, though. This way I can take Abstract or something in the spring. Woohoo!

    For the programming, should I just take that Mathematica course? I imagine that would be the most applicable. Does anyone else agree?
  12. Jun 13, 2012 #11
    I don't. Mathematica is easy to learn. The harder thing, that comes up often, is actual programming. Fortran, C, C++, etc, etc.
  13. Jun 13, 2012 #12
    Bah. Alright, so which one would give me the broadest foundation for physics application? And, of course, is best to have in the toolbox of knowledge?
  14. Jun 13, 2012 #13
    I agree with Jorriss. Programs like Mathematica or Maple are pretty easy to pick up. I had a difficult time finding work after graduation despite knowing Mathematica well. My recommendation is to learn C++. It's useful for applying some of the numerical techniques you'll learn in numerical analysis, and it gives you programming as a useful skill to fall back on. Most good physics graduate programs will probably be more likely to admit you if you've got some programming language knowledge.

    When I was first applying to graduate schools, I didn't know how to program and one professor harshly told me that my lack of programming ability made me unqualified to study under him. He literally said, "What can you do? What good are you except to hold equipment and push buttons?" I'd like to spare you that sort of experience. :) Learn to program!
  15. Jun 14, 2012 #14
    Yikes! I think I'd be speechless after that. Indeed, I will take the advice and gladly take C++ in the spring. That would be a pretty cool semester, I think. Quantum I, E&M, Abstract Algebra, and C++ with a little lab time to round it off? Yes, quite nice!
  16. Jun 14, 2012 #15
    Does your school have something equivalent to independent study with a professor? If so, you should do that to cover the stuff from quantum II. I'm not an admissions committee but I feel based on undergraduate experience that only taking 1 semester of quantum is a pretty large defect.
  17. Jun 14, 2012 #16


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    I don't think abstract algebra will be very useful to you. I would suggest not taking that. The abstract algebra done in physics has little to do with abstract algebra done in math. And furthermore, you can easily pick it up if you ever need to.

    Topology would only be really useful if you want to study differential geometry or analysis rigorously. It might be that you also never use this.

    Complex analysis is more useful, I guess, but perhaps a physicist should comment on that. In either case, don't they have a "math methods for physics" class, that would be far more useful that taking pure math classes.
  18. Jun 14, 2012 #17
    One suggestion would be to try getting an independent study in Fourier Analysis and/or Advanced Linear Algebra and/or Partial Differential Equations. The material from those areas will be haunting you as a physics student. It is better to do it sooner rather than later.
  19. Jun 14, 2012 #18
    They do have Independent Study, but with a professor I think that they call it Directed Study. I'm already looking to take that in the spring, but I'm not sure how many professors are able or willing to work with students in areas like those covered in Quantum II. Disappointing, I know, but such is the way of a seemingly lack-luster physics department. I agree with you on your point about the deficiency. I'm not only worried about the impact on the admissions committee, but also the performance on the PGRE. I've posted a new thread addressing that concern and the possibility of transferring mid-undergraduate program.

    Thank you for the input, as I'm sure you have a better idea than me of what is helpful or not, regardless of being a physicist. I'm just starting out and trying to learn as I go.

    Unfortunately, there is no math methods for physics or even physical sciences class. I picked up the book by Boas that I've seen ZapperZ recommended, and am trying to decide on whether or not to purchase it. It does seem helpful in at least steering me toward the right classes, though, regardless.

    That being said, I think that PDE would be pretty helpful and will start working toward that. I have to take Intro to Math Reasoning (intro proofs class) first, then Advanced Calculus, then finally PDE.

    What about the Analysis courses? Numerical Analysis I know is important, but that appears to be on a different track entirely than Real Analysis. And before I can take Real Analysis I have to take Bridge to Modern Analysis (ostensibly Analysis I) and Analysis II. I have to take Real Analysis I and II before I can even get to Fourier Analysis, but that is an upper-level grad class. Needless to say, it doesn't seem that I have enough semesters to get all of this done, being that I'm a junior this fall. I posted a thread about whether or not it is ok to take an extra year as an undergrad in order to get that extra experience. What do you think?

    See above, for the most part, haha. The small math and physics departments make it difficult to get independent studies in areas that I have an interest or that are helpful to me. If I take Fourier Analysis myself I have about 6 prereqs to complete first. Which is fine with me, I really enjoy math! But the time.. I will be taking PDE in the spring if I can get an override to get into the proofs class (which is its prereq) since it's full right now.

    As far as the Advanced Linear Algebra, I should be able to take that one as soon as I have space. It appears that would be a helpful course, as well.

    Thanks for the comments, everybody.
  20. Jun 15, 2012 #19
    Well, luckily...
    1) No matter how bad your department is, any professor could teach the material out of an UG quantum sequence.
    2) The quantum in the phys GRE is notoriously simple.
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