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Courses How many courses should I take?

  1. Aug 17, 2009 #1
    I want to know something: does it look bad if you don't take that many courses? In my grad career, my first semester is going to have only 2 grad courses I'll be taking. I want to take more, but my advisor/person I'm doing research for is telling me not to. (E.g., he's also going to be writing letters of recommendation, pretty tentatively). I also want to go into theoretical physics (either particle or condensed matter or general relativity/cosmology...wherever things take me, although I'll gladly put my heart into whatever I wind up in...as long as it's theoretical physics!). I understand theoretical physics to be pretty competitive, so I want to do whatever I can to attain good credentials.

    I've got to end up doing work for a reasonably-respected theoretician. Hopefully, when I ask to do work for them (at whatever school...incidentally at some big-name institution), I won't be passed up as a dunderhead.

    Hence, my conundrum: how do I build up a good CV and still do what my advisor tells me to do? I guess my advisor wouldn't steer me wrong, and I ought to trust him, but I have this nagging doubt that I might be sabbotaging my career. (P.S.: I'm getting my Physics M.S.--you can actually do that, thank God, in a few schools with M.S.-only programs).

    Any recommended courses of action?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 17, 2009 #2
    While I have no first-hand experience in this at all, I'd listen to the advisor. The advisor obviously does have experience in these matters.

    Plus, I've read (in ZZ's sticky up top) that it's expected to only take one or two courses at the graduate level.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2009
  4. Aug 17, 2009 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    If you have a half-time teaching or research assistantship, two courses is the normal course load. At least that's the way it was when I was in grad school.
  5. Aug 17, 2009 #4


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    Education Advisor

    It's not unsual for graduate students to take only 2 courses. The problem sets at the graduate level tend to be more involved, so you're likely going to spend a lot more time on each course than you did in undergrad. A lot more weight is placed on research performance than course work at this level too. Likely, your advisor wants you to have time to focus on your project.
  6. Aug 17, 2009 #5
    My first year of grad school I took three courses, which was the load that almost all grad students took. My second year I took two courses my first semester, and one my second. I've stayed at one ever since.

    It's normal to take two courses if you're doing research. But here's what I'm wondering: why are you doing research your first semester? Typically PhD students only start on research in their first summer, after the first year. If things are different at your school and you start research right away, two courses is perfectly reasonable. If you've got only teaching responsibilities, it may be a better idea to take three so you can get them out of the way more quickly.

    Of course, you should listen to your advisor rather than random people on the Internet.
  7. Aug 17, 2009 #6
    Just a suggestion: you could always audit more courses without actually registering... and if you decide that it's not that bad, then next semester, you know you can take more, and you can justify it to your professor.
  8. Aug 17, 2009 #7
    Thank you all very much. It always helps to get perspectives other than my own. : )
  9. Aug 17, 2009 #8
    If you actually have the time to take three courses at once then something is wrong. My university won't even let you take more than two courses at once unless you petition for it.
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