Importance of E&M for physics grad school

In summary, the speaker is a recent graduate with a BS in physics and math. They are considering pursuing a PhD in physics, but are unsure about their interest in E&M and their career path. They have enjoyed classes in quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics, and have done research in materials modeling and solid-state physics. They are interested in research areas such as lasers, quantum optics, and solid-state physics, but are also considering employment opportunities after graduation. They are wondering if liking E&M is necessary for success in physics grad school, and are recommended a book to gain a better understanding of the subject.
  • #1
creepypasta13
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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 a lot 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 a lot 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 that's 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 there's 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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  • #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
You don't have to like it. But you do have to know it.
 

Related to Importance of E&M for physics grad school

1. Why is E&M important for physics grad school?

E&M, or Electromagnetism, is one of the fundamental principles of physics and plays a crucial role in understanding the world around us. It is important for physics grad school because it serves as a foundation for many other branches of physics, such as quantum mechanics and solid state physics. Additionally, many advanced topics in modern physics, such as particle physics and cosmology, heavily rely on E&M principles.

2. How does E&M relate to other areas of physics?

E&M is closely connected to other areas of physics, particularly mechanics and optics. It provides a bridge between classical and quantum mechanics, as well as a foundation for understanding the behavior of electromagnetic waves and their interaction with matter. E&M also has applications in areas such as electronics, materials science, and medical physics.

3. What skills can be gained from studying E&M in grad school?

Studying E&M in grad school can develop a variety of skills that are highly valued in the field of physics. These include problem-solving, critical thinking, mathematical modeling, and experimental design. E&M also requires a strong understanding of vector calculus and mathematical techniques, which are essential for many areas of physics research.

4. How does E&M research contribute to advancements in technology?

E&M research has led to numerous advancements in technology, such as the development of electric motors, generators, and telecommunications. Understanding E&M principles also allows for the creation of new technologies, such as MRI machines, solar cells, and particle accelerators. E&M research continues to drive technological advancements in various fields, making it a highly relevant and important subject for physics grad school.

5. What are some potential career paths for those who specialize in E&M?

Graduate studies in E&M can lead to a variety of career paths, including research positions in academia or industry, teaching at the university level, or working in fields such as medical physics, materials science, and engineering. The skills and knowledge gained from studying E&M are highly transferable and can open up opportunities in a wide range of industries and fields.

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