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Grad School Dilemma

  1. May 21, 2012 #1

    I plan to apply for the PhD program in physics at the the University of Miami. I want to go there because it is in my home town. Its physics department, it seems, is not stellar. My real disappoinment is the apparent lack of courses: they teach statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, but not general relativity, a course I've always wanted to take.

    So that got me thinking. Assuming I did complete a PhD at this university, and having not taken a course in astrophysics or, say, theory of condensed matter, would it be my responsibility as a qualified researcher to learn those subjects myself? Likewise, if I wanted to do research on particles, as a grad student, would it be possible having never taken a course in paticle physics?

    Thank you for your time ~
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2012 #2


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    Applying to a PhD program is a lot more about a subfield than physics in general. For example, a university could have world-class research in condensed matter but have absolutely nobody doing CMB astrophysics. Or vice-versa. Furthermore, a lack of courses can be a little disappointing, but look at it this way; a PhD is about producing original research, not taking courses. Now, whether or not that lack of courses is symptomatic of a much deeper problem in the department I can't say.

    Of course, not every physicist needs to be intimately familiar with GR or condensed matter. Again, it all depends on what your focus is. (Surely it would be a little embarrassing for ANY physicist to not be able to at least speak intelligently about either of these fields, but could come at no serious detriment to his research.) If you did want to do particle physics, it's not required at all that you have already taken a course in it (although it would certainly help). What is important is that you're interested enough (and, in some cases, talented enough) to put several solid years of effort into chipping away at some small piece of knowledge contributing to that field.
  4. May 21, 2012 #3
    Ok, for starters, I feel that I should tell you that there are most certainly courses in GR at UM, seminars in condensed matter, astrophysics, and loads of professors doing work in those fields ... I've remained relatively anonymous with my educational history thus far on the forum, but I feel the need to defend the old alma mater here when it risks being defamed due to libelous remarks, even if they're unintentionally libelous due to ignorance.


    There are a few exceptional professors at UM, but you are right that it's definitely not a powerhouse physics PhD school (UM's main things are: marine biology, atmospheric science, and music performance, which they are a TOP school in the U.S. for all three of those fields). BUT there are a few professors who are definitely worth studying under for the duration of a physics PhD depending on your field of interest.

    You should probably do a bit more research into graduate degree requirements as well as previous course offerings, professor's research areas, etc... It took me about two minutes to find the two links I'm including in this post. Sorry if that's blunt, but it really did take me about 60 seconds to find each of those, so I'm not really sure how you came to the conclusion that UM lacks rigor with their curriculum.


    After a certain point, you'll be doing directed readings and research under your adviser rather than taking formal courses. I'm sure that they only offer and formally name + number courses that they routinely have enough grad students taking each time it's offered, otherwise you'd just take "directed readings and research" under professor __________. Those directed reading courses would not be formally numbered and thus might not be listed since there may only be 1-2 grad students wanting to learn said field each year, which doesn't warrant giving it a formal name, course section, time slot, etc... I'm pretty sure the faculty is big enough, and deep enough to guarantee that you'd have somebody to serve as an adviser for nearly any area of physics.

    Best of luck if you are able to get into UM for grad school.
    Last edited: May 21, 2012
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