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Classes that are required vs classes that *might* be useful

  1. Sep 2, 2013 #1
    So my advisor is out of the country and I have to pick classes tomorrow, so I'm asking you guy's opinion. I'm a first year grad student and I've got 3 classes on my mind. I'm definitely taking graduate QM, but I'm trying to decide between stat mech and "grad level" electronics.

    I'm going to have to take stat mech sooner or later. I guess the pros to taking stat mech right now would be I would be able to study with my friends and get these course requirements out of the way ASAP.

    As for electronics, I'm interested in it because I work in a highly experimental lab and I'm sure I'll pick up some things that will be useful, but I'm not sure if it's worth it to take a whole class just so I might be able to hypothetically design and build a circuit in one week instead of two. I'm a novice with electronics, but I think this class would be a step to becoming a "guru." Right now my electronics skill is basically looking at a diagram and going "uh, that's a filter, that's an amplifier, that's an integrator" and thinking thinks like "a transistor is basically a faucet!"

    I talked to a few of my labmates. Some have taken it, some haven't. The ones who have taken it said it's useful sometimes because they find they want to do something they learned in the class, and if they hadn't taken it, they would have just needed to break out Horowitz & Hill and read and then maybe ask for some advice before they could attempt it.

    Does it sound like it might be worth putting of the Stat Mech for a year to take this electronics? The electronics cannot contribute to my coursework towards my degree by the way. All also admit the reason I'm interested in the electronics is because I like making things...

    I guess the essential thing I'm weighing is, is it worthwhile to make a temporary sacrifice to get broad knowledge, or is this one of those things where it's best to just cherry-pick what I need.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2013 #2
    A little electronics goes a long way in helping your career in the future.Physicist always encounter electronics. It is a big advantage if you can at least do some basic design.
  4. Sep 2, 2013 #3
    Is taking Statistical Mechanics this year and studying the electronics course (or sitting in on the course) in your own time a viable option?
  5. Sep 2, 2013 #4
    Sure I could just study electronics on my own, but I think the point of the course is that it's very hands on and forgoes rigorous theory in favor of getting your hands dirty with practical circuits. Auditing the course generally isn't allowed, but even if I could talk to the instructor and get permission to sit in, I think it would result in me having to spend too much time trying to keep up.

    It's because I'm already in a research lab and I need to spend time there too along with studying and doing problem sets.

    I think I can only do one or the other, because Statistical Mechanics isn't my strongest subject, and I think I'll need to put extra effort into that class compared to Quantum Mechanics.
  6. Sep 2, 2013 #5


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    Taking Stat Mech and Quantum your first year are very valuable. It's regular for students at my grad program to have all students take 3 courses their first year. Is this possible?
  7. Sep 2, 2013 #6
    Do you mean 3 per semester? Here it's normal to do
    Fall: QM1 and SM
    Spring: QM2 and E&M

    So that's essentially 3 in the first year.

    There are advanced theorists that sometimes pile QFT or some advanced math course on top of that.

    I don't know if I should take more than 2 per semester. That was one thing my advisor made sure to warn me against. It's just this class popped open and I'm not sure if it's worth being behind in classes for an advantage in research.
  8. Sep 2, 2013 #7
    I personally don't believe in rushing just to get over it. For important and difficult classes, I believe it's better to give more time so you can have a chance to absorb it. This is knowledge, not just a grade.
  9. Sep 2, 2013 #8


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    1. Email your advisor. When someone agrees to take on a student they take on the responsibility to help out with choices like this.

    2. If for whatever reason your advisor is not available, there should be someone in the department who administrates the graduate program. When I was a grad student this person had the title of "Associate Chair." This would be a good person to speak with.

    3. If your advisor said do 2 courses per semester, do 2 courses per semester.

    4. Do you have a qualifying exam and if so, when are you planning to write it? Many departments will expect the students to take the qualifying exam after their first year of graduate classes. Electronics, while likely to be extremely handy, is unlikely to be covered on your qualifying exam to any great extent. Statistical mechanics on the other hand is one of those core topics that you can bet will be.

    5. If something is mandatory, it's mandatory. Get it done.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2013
  10. Sep 2, 2013 #9


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    Yes, sorry, I meant per semester. I think Choppy gave excellent advice. Your adviser is probably the person to ask about this.
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