Importance of E&M for physics grad school

  • #1
Hi all! I graduated last year with my BS in physics and math. I am kind of confused about my choice to do physics in grad school, even though if I get my phD I probably wouldn't want to go into academia. I would like to do research in a government lab. I am comfortable with those theoretical and abstract concepts, and doing computational but not experimental work. Luckily, I heard that theoretical physicists with strong computational skills can easily find jobs in industry. But I want the job to involve physics and/or engineering, so I don't want to work as a programmer or in WS

My favorite physics class was quantum mechanics, one reason being that it used alot of linear algebra, which was also my favorite math class. I didn't take any physics electives, but solid-state physics looks interesting based on what I've read about it. I also liked statistical mechanics, though we barely covered it in my thermo class. However, the physics I enjoyed the least was thermodynamics and E&M. I discover that I am not interested in alot of the concepts in Griffith's E&M, such as problems involving circuits, solenoids, inductance, etc. As a result, I've had doubts of going into grad school for physics, and even related areas such as EE. I heard that Jackson's E&M is the toughest grad course in physics, so thats worrying to me.

My 2 undergrad research projects dealt with materials modeling and a little solid-state physics, and I enjoyed both projects. Also, based on my reading, it seems like theres some interesting research going on in physics such as lasers, quantum optics, and solid-state physics. I haven't looked too much into the more theoretical areas, such as HEP, astrophysics, etc, since I want to have more employment opportunities after I finish my phD. Although I liked my applied math classes, I tend to have a preference for the physical aspects of problems.
Is it vital to really like E&M for physics grad school? I enjoyed quantum and statistical mechanics much more..
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
E&M is nearly inescapable. It describes a huge range of everyday phenomena. Take a look at your QM text to see how E&M is used in the discussion of the emission and absorption of light by atoms. There are also lots of important mathematical techniques that are usually introduced in the context of a E&M course (e.g. Green's functions). A graduate E&M course will not typically involve any circuit theory.

You don't have to love E&M, but you are probably not going to be able to avoid it in most fields of Physics.

A book that might help you to see what a beautiful subject this can be is Principles of Electrodynamics by Schwartz.
  • #3
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You don't have to like it. But you do have to know it.

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