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Good Physics School

  1. Aug 3, 2006 #1
    Does anyone know what schools are the best for a physics major? I've doing some research. I've heard a lot about Rice's science department but not anything about physics specifically and I read Harvey Mudd has a good physics department and is the only school I've found that has physics as one of the top three department. Of course, the top universities and UCs will probably have a semi-decont department.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2006 #2
    Personally I'm fond of the NYU physics department, they have about 30 people in the physics faculty and about 25 physics majors entering every year. So its pretty much guarenteed that your going to get to know the faculty pretty well, and its a research university so its easier to find internships etc.

    NYU also has a reputation for hooking its students up with various programs all over the world.
  4. Aug 3, 2006 #3
    I took just 3 physics courses in my engineering program. I never did like physics but I passed all my courses. My favorite physics course was Quantum Physics and if I had to study physics it would be at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
  5. Aug 3, 2006 #4
    Harvey-Mudd is going to be a better bet than the UCs in my opinion. The UCs are research schools, with far less attention on undergrads. Harvey Mudd is all undergrad, you'll get a lot more one on one attention, and more research opportunities.

    I'll recommend Cal Poly (where I attend) as well. Not as presitigious as Harvey Mudd by any means, but we have a good department and pretty much every student that wants can get in on research projects with a professor (the department actually pays students for summer work, a few professors have grants to pay students during the year). We have about 30+ students per year and we're a fairly close department (none of that no social life all studying silliness you hear about). My two top choices were originally UCSB and Cal Poly. IMO Cal Poly is the better choice with one exception: If you can get into UCSB's College of Creative Studies Physics Program (as opposed to the College of Letters and Sciences Program) take it. Its basically your undergrad setup in the way graduate programs are usually set up, with far more expansive opportunities available to you than would normally be. Its only about 14 students per year out of all their physics undergrads that get in, and its a fantastic program (I got in, but unfortunately I couldn't afford it).
  6. Aug 4, 2006 #5
    i believe i'm obligated to rely the bit of advice the undergrad advisor at the university of florida gave me when i was deciding on which school to go to: a pretty safe bet is to go to the best public university in your state for undergrad, and then worry about getting into the best schools for graduate school.

    for example, he went to university of maryland (not a bad school by any stretch, i believe) and then went on to get his phd in condensed matter at cornell.

    that's the cost-effective route, and it is the route that i took.

    another bit of advice that i got from an advisor at tufts university, when i told them i had my choice narrowed down to that one and UF: the undergraduate physics curriculum is extremely similar from school to school. most programs have their subtle differences, but there is not a tremendous amount of variability.

    even though i have a friend in harvey-mudd, i am not sure about how easy it is to get some sort of research project there. i imagine it's much easier, though, at getting involved in research at a school with a phd program.
  7. Aug 4, 2006 #6
    I'll be going to UMD this fall as a freshman, and I hear that it has a great physics program, and it has plenty of resources with a student:faculty ratio in the physics department of about 3:1. There should be plenty of research opportunity if you look for it. And I am going in there with every intention of making myself stand out and excell in all my classes and do some research.
  8. Aug 5, 2006 #7
    I still feel you should pick a graduate school based on the type of research you want to do. Why go to a school where no one is doing the kind of research that creams your twinkie.
  9. Aug 5, 2006 #8


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    Keep in mind that the research enviromnent at resesarch-oriented PhD-granting universities is usually very different from the research environment at undergraduate-only institutions.

    At the larger schools, the main mission of the research projects is to produce publishable results. Many of them do have strong programs for undergraduate involvement in those projects, but teaching undergraduates is still very much a secondary mission. A project is likely to involve some combination of professors, post-docs, graduate students and undergraduates, with the undergraduates being rather small cogs in the machinery.

    At the smaller schools, undergraduate education is (or should be) one of the primary missions of the research projects. A project is likely to involve one or two professors and a few undergraduates (no grad students or postdocs because they don't exist at schools like this). The professors should view the research as being an extension of the classroom, and will probably be the same professors that you've had in class. The students will probably take on a bigger share of the work than in a larger project.

    At a smaller school, you won't have as big a choice in research projects, and they won't be as "important" in a global sense as at a larger school, but you'll probably be able to get more deeply involved in them, and get experience with more aspects of the research process.
  10. Aug 5, 2006 #9
    I'll agree with franznietzsche: Do NOT go to a UC school for your undergraduate schooling. I went to UC Irvine, and the faculty was definitely not interested in teaching (with a couple exceptions). I basically taught myself.

    I have heard this from many many other people. Frankly, I think it's a shame that these schools can get away with treating the undergraduates so poorly.
  11. Aug 5, 2006 #10


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    This thread is not about picking a grad school.
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