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I don't feel like I'm learning enough

  1. May 28, 2013 #1
    Hi all,

    I've just finished my 2nd year of a 4 year course (MPhys) at a UK Russell Group University studying physics, and I'm feeling a little disheartened. In September I will be on exchange at McGill in Montreal for a year and upon looking at the problem sets and the lecture notes of courses I plan to take there is a huge contrast with my current university. McGill's treatment of Physics seems to be so much more in-depth. For example, I'll be taking Quantum Physics 1 which covers the same syllabus I have already done but at a whole new level. It makes me feel as though my course currently is not rigorous enough. I plan on applying for a PhD either in the UK or abroad but I don't feel as though I will be able to compete with other candidates, as their knowledge of Physics will be so much greater than mine.

    At the moment I'm considering studying for a masters, even though my course is already an integrated masters, as I don't think I'm learning enough. We seem to cover all that is necessary for accreditation from the IOP and not much more. I also feel as though we are getting taught the bare minimum of maths. Within the Physics department we cover vector calculus, basic linear algebra, ODEs, PDEs and some very basic real analysis and that's it. There is no option of doing any complex analysis as this module has recently been scrapped.

    It also seems as though the course is being dumbed down. For instance, in our 4th core physics module that covers quantum mechanics, condensed matter and particle physics, the exam was virtually a compilation of past exam questions all of which I had done before making the exam incredibly easy. Only a few questions were original. I feel cheated in a way as it gives me no way of gauging how well I'm actually doing.

    Basically my worry is that I am not getting my money's worth in comparison with other institutions (I almost feel as though Im being held back by my courses) and that I will not compete when it comes to PhD applications.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with this post, perhaps I just wanted to speak my mind so I'll leave it there.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 29, 2013 #2


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    Change schools. See if you can extend your stay at McGill, for instance.
  4. May 29, 2013 #3


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    I can't help you academically , but if you have any general questions about Montreal you can always pm me.
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
  5. May 29, 2013 #4
    Yeah I basically went though the same thing but I didn't realize it until they put the degree in my hand. Now I have to catch up though self study in some topics. Sometimes small departments lose the rigor of bigger physics programs, I'm not sure why, and I know the feeling, probably even more strongly than you do since it hit me after 4 years of "study."

    Get some textbooks, get their syllabus, and go over the stuff they're skipping or dumbing down.
  6. May 30, 2013 #5


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    I understand you, but you have to realize that getting to know your subject is your own responsibility. I would recommend you to chose an area of specialization and learn everything you can about it, on your own. No matter how good your university is, if you know what you are doing, you'll always be more successful if you chose your topics yourself.

    Courses are really only something to get you started in a new topic. They never teach you everything you need to know. While they may be *very* helpful in getting a basic overview over a topic[1], in the end the only thing which counts is how you can use it in your own research and apply it to new sets of problems. The courses you are being taught may well turn out to be useful. But even if they are not, they will still teach you about the state of the field --- which is what you'll have to argue against if you present new paradigms (wow, i said "paradigm").

    In short: Don't let this get you down. Getting a PhD position is not actually that difficult, even if you have an own agenda. If you demonstrate understanding or ambition beyond what would normally be expected, you'll be on the safe side. No one ever asked me about references or transcripts. Just learn everything you can, in your area of specialization.

    [1] I'm still very thankful to some of the instructors I had in undergrad, just because they there that good.
  7. May 30, 2013 #6
    This. If you are feeling under-challenged and have the time, take the opportunity (if you have it) to tack on some extra courses from the math department or self-study topics on your own time if it is too costly or impractical, and do whatever you can to get research experience as the learning experience is way more intense and instructive than a handful of courses combined. I just spent a year at a UK university on an exchange and I know very well what you mean by lack of rigor. Where I was, almost no final year students had taken a semester of Lagrangian or Hamiltonian mechanics and almost nobody knew anything about complex variables outside of what was immediately applicable to basic QM (so no complex integration or discussion on harmonic functions). The few students with more academic fervor (usually foreign born in my experience) spent more of their own time studying things outside the syllabus or trying to get research experience.
    Last edited: May 30, 2013
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