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Grad school on only ONE semester of quantum and e&m?

  1. Feb 9, 2013 #1
    For personal reasons beyond my control I have not been able to do as much studying at home as I needed, and I totally burned out. I finished honors quantum I with an A and honors e&m I with a B+ last semester. But I had to drop the second quantum and second e&m very early in this semester (early enough that it doesn't show up on a transcript) because of total burnout.

    E&m I went up to chapter six of Griffiths and quantum I went up to angular momentum and harmonic oscillator. Quantum II picked up with perturbation theory and e&m II picked up at chapter seven of Griffiths.

    My advisor told me that dropping those classes wouldn't hurt my chances of grad school (they are not required for my degree in engineering physics) since "most" programs only offer one semester of quantum and e&m anyway.

    I've been doing some digging and had trouble finding hard info on this. My dream grad school is UT Austin, but I'm aware I may not get accepted (my GPA is 3.7ish, my physics GPA is higher).

    Did I ruin my chances of getting into grad school by not taking the second semesters of those courses? UT Austin's prereqs for their graduate quantum and e&m classes are "graduate standing."

    If not, did I ruin my chances of getting into a school like UT Austin?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 10, 2013 #2


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    Many people apply to grad school with only one semester of each. Most grad schools will let you catch up with the second semester if you want before starting the grad classes (second semester of QM helped me, didn't bother with E&M and did fine in those classes). I will warn you that I didn't get into any top 20 grad schools in physics with a 3.7 GPA and publications in my field. But I very much doubt it was due those two courses, which my school didn't offer.
  4. Feb 10, 2013 #3


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    I don't think your ruined your chances at grad school.

    I had two semesters of E&M but only one semester of quantum. I am in grad school, and closer to the end of the PhD than the beginning.

    With an overall GPA of 3.7 and a physics GPA higher, I don't think anything about your academics will keep you out of grad school. If you have good GRE's, good letters, and some research experience, there is nothing stopping you. I cannot comment on your chances at UT-Austin as I do not know the program.

    That said, I think the most important thing is to make sure you really want to go to grad school and do PhD research. Grad school is hard enough when you want to be there. This is really why undergrad research experience is so important. It shows you have some idea of what you are getting into.
  5. Feb 11, 2013 #4
    I'm also considering University of Florida in Gainesville, among others. And I've done (and will continue to do this Summer) undergraduate research. Who are letters of recommendation supposed to be from? Physics professors? What if I only really know one personally, am I supposed to ask my physics professors? Are professors or teachers/lecturers outside of physics okay? What about post-docs who worked in the lab I worked in?
  6. Feb 11, 2013 #5


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    The best letters come from people who can speak about your potential to do original research, since that's what a PhD is really about. So from research advisers. After that, professors who can talk about your potential to do well in graduate level classes, so from professors who taught upper division classes that you did well in. Professors outside the field aren't going to be as useful as letter-writers; if they didn't do a PhD in physics themselves, they probably don't know really what is required. Postdocs who can write research recommendations are fine as well.
  7. Feb 11, 2013 #6

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    I don't think I would ever ask a postdoc for a letter. They just don't have enough experience in writing them - or reading them.
  8. Feb 11, 2013 #7


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    I agree with Vanadium. Avoid letters from non faculty if at all possible. I'm about two years away from graduation- closer to being a postdoc than an undergrad. I can safely say, in two years, I would still not trust myself to write a rec letter! (I've never seen one personally!)

    Preferably your letters should come from physicists. But this is not a hard and fast rule. If, like me, you came from a small physics program with only a few faculty, a letter from a math professor, an EE professor, or a physical chemist would not be bad. In fact, if you are interested in applied physics research, then having one letter from a engineering professor might mean more than a letter from a string theorist. One of the letters should definitely be from a professor you did research with.

    Avoid letters from professors of disciplines that are not closely related to physics though. Biologists or organic chemists will have a lot less to say about your ability to do physics than an engineering professor or a physical chemist.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2013
  9. Feb 12, 2013 #8
    If you can't take more classes before you apply for grad schools then I would highly recommend studying more advanced material than this. I have only peaked through Griffiths QM book and I was not impressed because it seems too elementary especially if you're intention is grad school. A good grad school prep QM book that I used in my senior level undergrad course was Shankar, that guy knows his stuff. Griffiths E&M book is pretty good but still I would expect to go beyond that level to get a taste of what's to come.
  10. Feb 12, 2013 #9
    I own Shankar, was thinking of self-studying. Does it matter that self-studying doesn't show up on a transcript?
  11. Feb 13, 2013 #10
    No, but at least you can see if you can handle harder material, not to imply that you can't but having only one semester of E&M and quantum doesn't really get your feet wet.
  12. Feb 13, 2013 #11


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    Several people in my program entered with either one semester of EM, one of quantum, or one of both. I cant say whether these people were at a disadvantage while applying, but they certainly did get in. This is a pretty good institution, around the same as UT Austin. I can say that it seemed to me that these people were less prepared for coursework. This doesnt mean they were unprepared for research, but they did seem to have to work harder at course material.
  13. Feb 13, 2013 #12
    Exactly my point. I know some of my classmates that came from smaller colleges and they didn't have the resources at their schools for challenging undergrad classes. These students definitely struggled in grad classes and some actually had to repeat classes before they were underprepared. I want to make sure that he's prepared.
  14. Feb 13, 2013 #13
    Okay, so self-study Shankar. Would you say it's necessary to go through the whole book?

    What book do you recommend for E&M self-study?
  15. Feb 13, 2013 #14
    I would google for some 2nd semester syllabi and see what schools cover specifically. For example, http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/physics/8-05-quantum-physics-ii-fall-2004/syllabus/ [Broken]

    In general for QM it'll be scattering theory, approximation methods, maybe a touch of relativistic quantum.

    E&M you might see special relativity, conservation laws, electromagnetic waves, potential formulations.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  16. Feb 13, 2013 #15
    Its pretty much the flexible physics option at MIT and that option doesnt put you at a disadvantage at getting into graduate school.
  17. Feb 13, 2013 #16
    I am currently in my 3rd year and just saw several seniors at my institution get into various top 20-30 programs with only one semester of each Classical, Quantum and E&M. So, I believe that should not prevent you.

    That said, I am curious of opinions as to what is expected from Top 10 schools? Should we assume that one essentially needs a year of each field plus some high level math courses to be competitive? In other words, will having only one semester put you at disadvantage or is it more that having a year will give you an edge?
  18. Feb 13, 2013 #17
    If you have research and PGRE you should be fine.
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