How hard are upper division physics courses compared to freshman physics?

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  • #1
I just took a first semester of a first year physics course for scientists and engineers. Even though I thought that course work was rather rigorous, I did well and got an A in the course. I'm thinking about going into biophysics, but need to have a GPA in the range of 4.0-3.9 since I plan to attend medical school. I was wondering how much harder are upper division physics courses like electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, mathematical physics, computational physics, etc. than freshman physics and whether it is realistic to achieve a 4.0 in them while working 10 hours a week and doing research?
 

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  • #2
fss
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I just took a first semester of a first year physics course for scientists and engineers. Even though I thought that course work was rather rigorous, I did well and got an A in the course. I'm thinking about going into biophysics, but need to have a GPA in the range of 4.0-3.9 since I plan to attend medical school. I was wondering how much harder are upper division physics courses like electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, mathematical physics, computational physics, etc. than freshman physics and whether it is realistic to achieve a 4.0 in them while working 10 hours a week and doing research?
There is no way to answer this question meaningfully. It depends on the professor, institutional/departmental rigor, and your own capacity to understand the material. It is pretty much a guarantee you'll be challenged at some ponit in your physics major... it's an open question of when and how much.
 
  • #3
phinds
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Although I absolutely agree w/ what fss said, I think I'd take a slightly more pessimistic view and say that as general rule, they are a LOT harder, so a linear extrapolation (if such a thing could be done) of the difficulty from lower to higher would be optimistic ... you should expect that it would be worse than that.
 
  • #4
lisab
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Although I absolutely agree w/ what fss said, I think I'd take a slightly more pessimistic view and say that as general rule, they are a LOT harder, so a linear extrapolation (if such a thing could be done) of the difficulty from lower to higher would be optimistic ... you should expect that it would be worse than that.
I'd agree with that.

My personal experience: I worked *much, much* harder in my upper division physics classes compared to lower, yet I got worse grades :mad:.
 
  • #5
Coming from a guy who took the second semester of freshman physics and statistical mechanics at same time. I'd have to say it gets much harder but it's bearable. I had not had any modern physics and every other thing involved me reading a book on modern physics. Of the 5 classes I had last semester stat mech was the hardest, however was the most enjoyable also.

Here's a list of classes I took to put it into perspective.

ODEs
Stochastic processes
Graduate real analysis
University II
Stat mech
 
  • #6
OK, thanks guys these are exactly the answers I was looking for, and given the fact that I'm not a genius I think I will stick to bio as my major.
 
  • #7
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OK, thanks guys these are exactly the answers I was looking for, and given the fact that I'm not a genius I think I will stick to bio as my major.
What happens if you don't get into medical school? What are you going to do with bio?

I think its a myth that you MUST have a 4.0 to get into medical school. Admissions folks should look favorably upon someone who graduated with high grades and a "non-traditional" pre-med path like physics. If you can get an A in the first year physics course I would be surprised if you all of a sudden couldn't handle the upper division courses.

But, if you don't like math, don't continue on in physics.
 
  • #8
phinds
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I agree w/ Morovia, but I would change

But, if you don't like math, don't continue on in physics.

to

But, if you don't LOVE math, don't continue on in physics.

It will make your head hurt otherwise :smile:
 
  • #9
That's the problem I love math and physics but always wanted to be a doctor. I took bio classes and got A's but didn't enjoy the subjects as much as I enjoy physics. You're right, bio major is completely useless and if I don't get into medical school I sure as hell don't want to be a biologist--I would have to go back for my degree in physics. So I continuously contemplate a major in physics but I admit that I am scared of getting low grades like B's and C's in upper division courses like quantum mechanics that everyone says are much harder to get A's in than in freshman calc or physics, because I would kick myself if I don't get in into med school because of that. It is just really hard to decide, that's why I ask for your advice. On another note what kind of a job can one get with a bachelor's in physics--besides being a teacher?
 
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  • #10
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It's possible though very personal. However, I am in a similar situation (work and research plus academics) and have never scored lower then an A on any physics class, lower or upper, and have a 4.0. Sure they're tremendously more rigorous (makes it more fun) but it's possible.
 
  • #11
Well, maybe you're some sort of a genius, which I am not, I worked hard to get an A in physics and that's just first semester. Do you think that a person of average intelligence can get A's in upper division classes consistently?
 
  • #12
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Well, maybe you're some sort of a genius, which I am not, I worked hard to get an A in physics and that's just first semester. Do you think that a person of average intelligence can get A's in upper division classes consistently?
This line of thinking bothers me. Your intelligence has no finite value. Just keep working hard and you'll do fine in your classes.
 
  • #13
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Coming from a guy who took the second semester of freshman physics and statistical mechanics at same time. I'd have to say it gets much harder but it's bearable. I had not had any modern physics and every other thing involved me reading a book on modern physics. Of the 5 classes I had last semester stat mech was the hardest, however was the most enjoyable also.

Here's a list of classes I took to put it into perspective.

ODEs
Stochastic processes
Graduate real analysis
University II
Stat mech

stat mech was really harder than graduate real analysis?
 
  • #14
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Well, maybe you're some sort of a genius, which I am not, I worked hard to get an A in physics and that's just first semester. Do you think that a person of average intelligence can get A's in upper division classes consistently?
Or maybe I'm not, I do work hard in every class. I do a lot of reading and self-teaching (as supplement) in order to grasp the concepts and stay on schedule with lectures. Most of the times what comes out is what you put into it; I say this because you will possibly get horrible professors who make it almost impossible to get an A but that's besides the point of your effort. The one thing that I would point out is that over the years my interest in physics has grown a lot, even now that I'm on break continue to read textbooks, etc, every once in a while. If the interest is there I think that it'll be satisfactory enough to keep you trying and realistically achieve those A's.

Though I would say to at least take intro physics II and modern physics before you decide. Introductory mechanics it's just not fair justice to all the far more interesting fields you'll find in upper level courses. Courses like Quantum Mechanics or Stat Mech can be very foreign to classical mechanics (specially intro level mechanics). A lot of my classmates have transferred from other departments, such as engineering, and found the upper level stuff to be horrible while others love it. Some of the transfer students did not even know that Stat Mech existed, just to give you an idea. My advice would be to wait until you've seen more, look around your university's physics website and see the requirements and books they use, read up on them and their "rigor" and then make your decision.
 
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  • #15
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If you're not that far along yet you could take a more advanced physics course to see how you handle it.
 
  • #16
Thanks for the advice, I will give physics a shot after all :)
 
  • #17
Simfish
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Eh, I found freshman physics more difficult than upper-division physics, and got much higher grades in upper-division physics (without putting in much more effort). That being said, my situation was extremely unique (and is that of an outlier)
 
  • #18
If that's the case I would love to find myself in such a unique situation. What accounts for the uniqueness of your situation?
 
  • #19
Simfish
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Early entrance to college (no prior exposure to physics), VERY immature in freshman year, have ADD and only got meds for it by the time I took upper-div courses, also majored in math first (so the math in the upper-division physics courses was generally the easy part for me), and I generally have a *really* weird learning curve (I don't get things at first, then I suddenly get them - sometimes even faster than people who get things before I did).
 
  • #20
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I found junior/senior physics classes to be night and day harder than freshman level physics classes. I certainly did not get A's in every class (and honestly got a a few C's). I just did not have the time that was required to get all A's.

4.0 is not unattainable, some kids in my classes have gotten, thus far all A's. Don't know how talented they are, don't know how hard working they are, don't know what their domestic situations are. I can say the same about you. So its hard to say if YOU are able/willing to get all A's.

Its easy for people (especially around here) to say "if you are willing to work hard enough..." But no one here knows you or knows what you are actually able to do, you may not be physically able to study the amount of time you need to study to get all A's (you might have a job, research, a family, a girlfriend, etc..) and its really up to no one to tell you what to prioritize. Whats important to you is important to you, period.

Anyway, are upper division physics classes much much harder than freshman? My opinion, without a freakin' doubt! Can you get all A's? Depends on you, your situation and your willingness. But people do do it.
 
  • #21
OK, I guess I'm gonna have to break up with my girlfriend--for about 4 years.
 
  • #22
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Well, as you can tell...for me personally, physics wasn't my whole entire life. It isn't even what I love the most. I love math, history, sociology, psychology, chemistry, biology, kineisology, baseball, MMA, my wife, my parents, going to concerts and of course physics...all about on equal levels (more or less...maybe i love my wife and parents more...).

So therefore inorder for me to enjoy some of my other loves in life, some study might have had to be sacrificed, some mental/physical energy had to be spent elsewhere. I think this is OK. If your girlfriend is awesome and you absolutely adore her, PLEASE dont break up with her just to get all A's.

A person has to be balanced. Of course, there are people for whom physics IS life...they love it more than anything (and anyone) else, and thats OK as well.

Point is, never let one thing be your entire life, your entire identity. You are sure to burn out. Of course I've learned (through some of those Cs) that I do need to step my game up, that I do need to sacrifice time and energy away from some activities and redirect it towards school. For as much as I love a whole mess of other things, I don't think I could do anything else as an occupation than to teach Math and Physics at a Uni, to write textbooks in a different style than what is currently out there, to (attempt) to show that math isn't a tool for the physicist, but rather that the universe is a giant mathematical structure and physics helps us understand that structure in a less abstract way (I could be wrong, math may indeed just be a tool).

Long post, still long...don't trip too much over getting 4.0's. Go out there, enjoy your college career, study what you find interesting, work hard and kick *** to the best of your abilities. You'll be fine.
 
  • #23
Thanks, but I wasn't really going to do that. It was more a metaphorical/sarcastical way to describe the fact that I will have to bust me *** for the next four years and then another four in med school, but I think that it will make my life a one that I could be proud of at the end.
 

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