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First year with physics major. What to learn in spare time?

  1. Jan 5, 2013 #1
    I am a non-traditional student looking to change career paths. Though I am in my first year of college, I already know I want my major to be in high-energy physics. I am in a small community college for now as I need to save money. As such, there is not much of anything in my field that I can become involved in at the college. I have looked into REUs for getting involved in research, and after my AA, I plan to become heavily involved in research at the university I will attend.

    One thing I am not sure about is what I should learn in my spare time? I have started to become very frustrated, as I know I am spreading myself very thin. I have been trying to brush up on courses I have already taken that are relevant to my field, like mathematics/calculus and chemistry. I regularly engage in problem solving types of brain teasers. I also have to work though, so I am limited in what I can dedicate myself to.

    One thing that has been suggested to me has been to learn computer programming and Linux. However, as far as which computer programming is best to learn, the feedback has been very mixed. I have also had others who have told me I should be more involved in researching all I can in my field, like from periodicals and the like. I am just trying to do so many things at once, and would love some feedback on what all of you who have done this feel I would most benefit from learning in my spare time at this point?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2013 #2


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    I admire your passion and enthusiasm. But in your first years, you really should just concentrate on the classes you're in now, IMO. The stuff you're learning now may seem unsexy and not related to your ultimate goal...but believe me, you'll need it in the coming years!

    So my advice would be, instead of adding more breadth, go for more depth. For example, do more problems that just the homework that's assigned, and read Feynman's Lectures - let yourself really think about what he says (that's not wasted time!).
  4. Jan 5, 2013 #3


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    I agree with LisaB. I'll also just add one more point. It's rarely a wasted effort to learn at least one computer programming language. There isn't a best per se, just very common and useful one. For a first language in science, I would recommend Python, then C++ just so you'll appreciate Python :D. Maybe Pearl later on. Point being is, once you learn one, you'll find other programs easier to learn.
  5. Jan 5, 2013 #4
    Coming from a first year student like yourself, but who's fairly well versed in CS, I would say start with Python or Processing. Processing if you want visual pleasure from your work.

  6. Jan 6, 2013 #5
    Well thanks so much for all the feedback. I completely understand what you are saying lisab, and I have been trying to go more in-depth into classes I have already taken as you have suggested. Like I said, I am spreading myself pretty thin at this point. The reason I mentioned computer programming is I've been doing tons of research the last several months on what top grad schools look for, and I have seen a lot of information on individuals knowing computer programming before they even started their freshman year in college. I have also heard of individuals who had difficulty in some classes because they didn't know computer programming before taking them. I just want to make sure I'm not missing out on something that might hinder me in courses later on down the road.

    As far as the suggestion about Python, that is one I haven't heard mentioned yet. Then again, I haven't looked into it much yet, lol. The sticky in this thread ("so you want to be a physicist?") seemed to focus on Fortran, C, and C++. I'm assuming that once you learn one, it's more like learning a different dialect than a different language in some cases? Also, what about Linux? Is there any point to learning it? Though I have used Windows since its inception, I have never touched Linux to date. Since I have a spare hard drive that I only use as a backup, clearly I can put it to a better use.
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