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Most valuable graduate courses?

  1. Feb 12, 2014 #1
    Hi - I was wondering what the most valuable graduate courses would be for an undergraduate to take. I am interested in condensed matter and high energy both theory; I still haven't decided which I like more. I've taken everything in the standard ugrad coursework (from em to stat mech to relativity, etc,etc). I still cant comprehend research papers (they seem to be way out of my league), so classes that could make me more literate are definitely valued.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 12, 2014 #2
    If you're planning on pursuing more studies, does it really matter right now? You're probably going to have to take a lot. I'd recommend taking what you CAN take that sounds the most interesting. I mean there's only a handful you could really take; QM, EM, Math methods, etc. Take what sounds interesting and fits into your schedule.
  4. Feb 13, 2014 #3
    You'll likely have to take the class again since you're planning graduate school, but I'd recommend a graduate level Math methods course, since seeing the material again later will likely make it more understandable and it's a class that will help you in all other physics classes.
  5. Feb 13, 2014 #4


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    I work in theoretical electronic structure theory. And the most useful course I have ever taken was Social Psychology I. I am not joking.

    What works for you and what does not depend on your current knowledge and goals. I would not be too worried about research papers. Sometimes no one except the authors can understand them (and sometimes not even the authors). *Not* writing papers like this is an important achievement.

    As far as scientific courses go, programming, numerical methods, and working knowledge of at least one major computer algebra system would be most very helpful auxiliary skills, as would a number of other skills somewhat off the mainly travelled roads (e.g., one of the surest ways of getting established is to become *really good* at scientific writing and giving talks. In practice this is at least as important as the science itself.)
  6. Feb 13, 2014 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    The most useful course I ever took was one on Anthropology of Religions. I am not joking either.
  7. Feb 13, 2014 #6


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    The way to improve your ability to read research papers in a field is to start doing research in that field, and have an advisor and colleagues who can answer questions about them. It also helps to look for survey articles, and lecture notes from "summer schools" or workshops intended for graduate students in the field.
  8. Feb 15, 2014 #7
    For both HET and CMT, classes that are useful and pretty much mandatory to know are graduate level quantum mechanics (Shankar or Sakurai), quantum field theory, and maybe a math methods course. Other useful classes for HET are general relativity, a particle physics/standard model course, and if it's offered, string theory. For CMT, take lots of statistical mechanics. Jackson level E&M will probably the least useful for either.

    Also, it's a good idea to start narrowing in on a particular field as soon as possible, so that once you know what you're interested in, you can look at the most relevant papers/review articles and see what they have to say about required background knowledge. You could then use that to guide the rest of your courses/self-study. But things like QM, QFT, math methods, stat mech will all be useful regardless.
  9. Feb 16, 2014 #8
    I think Math Methods would be best. You will need it for quantum, classical, electrodynamics and statistical. Many grad schools run the course concurrently with the others, but you could get a head start with a math methods course. On the other hand I agree an interesting course might be beneficial too. Maybe a special course you can get from a faculty that would be hard to find in the graduate school. (e.g if a faculty member wants to run a second semester of classical mechanics (rare these days) I say go for it).
  10. Feb 16, 2014 #9

    Please elaborate.
  11. Feb 16, 2014 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    The professor required clear, cogent, and brief arguments with a minimum of fluff. And a lot of them. Furthermore, she didn't care what we thought. She wanted us to be able to tell her what Emile Durkheim thought. It was definitely not an "everyone gets a trophy for playing" experience.
  12. Feb 16, 2014 #11
    Wow, input-output.
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