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Studying How to allocate time/how to prep for grad school

  1. Jan 14, 2018 #1
    Feel free to skip to bottom to read the questions. Below is some relevant background.

    I'm currently an undergraduate freshman in EE. I find physics exciting (not sure if I like it because I'm good at it, or I'm good at it because I like it), so I'll be taking most of the courses that a physics major would take. I'm, however, aiming to do EE in grad school, not physics. After grad school I currently intend to go into industry.

    For EM and some other classes, I recently decided that I would do ~30 textbook problems per chapter/week (currently using Purcell, previous course used Kleppner), or until i feel confident that I'd be able to come up with a solution to any of the remaining problems decently quickly.
    However, there's an issue with time consumption. As most of you know, problems from these two books can sometimes be mind bogglingly frustrating and hard to solve (until you solve them!), and may end up taking up much of my time.

    In the Mechanics course, I effectively did all the problems in Kleppner, and ended up setting the curve for both midterms and the final. However, I wonder if this level of mastery is worth it?

    Question 1: is it worth it to spend the additional time to master the material of every class (physics or otherwise) to this extent, rather than allocating it to, say, engineering clubs or research(more on this)?

    Question 2: what are the things you would tell a freshman to start doing if he is aiming for Grad school? Should I be getting into research as soon as possible? Focusing on courses and building a strong foundation?

    I attend one of the stronger UC campuses. (so USA based, in case location is relevant)

    As always, I thank this forum for being such a great resource.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2018 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Your plan seems rather odd to me. You want to get a BSEE and go on to EE grad school (which is a professional, not research-based program for the majority of students), and move on to industry. But you want to know whether to focus on harder-than-required physics problems or research instead?
  4. Jan 14, 2018 #3


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    Do you want to do a PhD or masters? If you want to do a PhD then the only relevant things are your coursework and research experience. These are both important and you need to be able to efficiently allocate your time to both. A lot of students planning to go to grad school will start research the summer after their freshman year, which I think is a very good time. If you are just getting a master’s, I don’t think research is weighed as much, but I know much less about that.
  5. Jan 14, 2018 #4
    Clarification: I'm completing my EE major in four years, I just have a rather large amount of left over class space, with which i can either choose to rush to grad school, or taking additional classes.

    1) regarding physics: I've found that being good in physics translates to mathematical intuition that has helped me in my math classes, also, I know that in certain fields, deep knowledge about physics is very useful. I plan on graduating in four years, but came in with credit for 5 math classes, so I have some empty spaces where I can relax/take more physics/try for math minor, so it's, in a way, an elective class that I'm taking for "fun".
    2) I do intend on going into industry, eventually, but I'm still strongly considering a PhD. Since that seems to be where valuable experience is built up.

    The reason I wonder whether or not I should do "harder-than-necessary" questions, is that I have taken a look at the curriculum at MIT, Caltech, and Berkeley, and it seems like they're either going faster, learning from a more rigorous textbook, teaching extra topics, or all three. This makes me worry a little bit about "missing out" on what students at better schools are learning. I may do well here, but if I were moved to a harder school, I'd probably find myself average or even below average.
  6. Jan 14, 2018 #5

    Dr Transport

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    how do you have left over time while doing an EE degree......
  7. Jan 14, 2018 #6
    If you meant this figuratively, then I could complain about how I have no time left after studying.

    Logistically, at UCLA to complete an EE degree you have to take 4 classes per quarter (3 classes for 2 quarters). I came in with 5 math classes fulfilled, taking two physics labs over the summer at UCSD, and skipping Chem because i scored well enough on the AP test. This leaves me with at least 2+5+2+1 = ten 3 class quarters. I do also plan on taking several five class quarters while classes are still easy. I can also just take a five class quarter with 4 normal classes, and one GE taken as pass/no pass. So this leaves me with about 10-15 extra spots, if I were to graduate in four years. (which I plan on doing. no point in rushing, I'd rather build a broader knowledge base)
  8. Jan 14, 2018 #7

    Dr Transport

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    Exactly, you don't have time done after studying, why would you want to take more coursework. If you plan on going to grad school in EE, why not take more engineering courses, there are most likely classes in your department you haven't taken prior to graduating. Taking extra physics courses for grins isn't going to impress anyone just because you have time to sit in them.

    You just said you don't have time left after studying........
  9. Jan 14, 2018 #8
    I meant that more as a offhanded joke. I'm taking a four class quarter right now and it seems fine. I have enough time left for clubs, and ballroom dancing on the weekends. I have a spreadsheet for tracking classes that I plan to take, and it already includes the EE classes that I don't need to take to graduate, but I am interested in.

    Fair point though, I'll do some more accounting with regards to EE classes.

    your quote is hilarious
  10. Jan 14, 2018 #9


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    It sounds like you may be interested in applied physics. There is a lot of overlap with areas like ME, EE, and MSE.
  11. Jan 14, 2018 #10
    Ah yes, my faculty mentor said I'd be interested in such a major, but turns out my school doesn't offer the major. I just gotta make do with what I have haha.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018
  12. Jan 14, 2018 #11


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    It would still be worth thinking about it for grad school though, I believe I know people in applied physics programs who can from such backgrounds as undergrad. The reason I mention this is you seem very focused on physics coursework. The strategy you currently describe should actually work best for someone who wanted to go to grad school in some field of theoretical physics. While it is important for experimentalists/engineers to have a strong grasp of the fundamentals and think like physicists, coursework is not as relevant to what they do everyday.
  13. Jan 14, 2018 #12
    I will keep this in mind when the time comes. And as I'm looking for research. Thanks.
  14. Jan 14, 2018 #13


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    Don't let all these responses that are suggesting you limit yourself get you down. You're young. You don't know where you're going to end up. If you have the time, as you seem to do, seek breadth to discover interests and depth to be sure of them. Don't choose classes so much for what the subject is but rather because of who is teaching them. That is, find the best professors and take whatever it is they are teaching. Go to office hours and talk to professors and grad students. If there's something specific that interests you, get a favorite professor to do a reading course with you. And don't worry about credit -- given that you have enough to get your degree it doesn't really matter much,

    Enjoy your education. Work hard. Challenge yourself. Figure out how you can best enjoy your life. Seems to me you're on the right track and asking the right questions.
    At least in the case of Caltech, likely all three. It should be easy enough for you to find some equivalent course there and look at online course notes and homework. But be aware that it's only the best students at Caltech that can do the homework by themselves; usually people work together, helping each other out. It's pretty much impossible for most students to do otherwise.
  15. Jan 15, 2018 #14
    thanks for the encouraging words.

    As I am. I am taking Signals and Systems this quarter but the professor is somewhat mediocre, so I'm watching the series by Oppenheim while working along that textbook instead. It's rather unfortunate, however, that my school splits the topic into continuous time and discrete time courses, while the MIT course teaches them in parallel to more easily highlight the differences.
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