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Need Some Sage Advice for a 6-year physics undergrad

  1. May 13, 2012 #1
    Last year I re-declared myself a physics major--my "senior" year. Now I will be in school for the next two years striving to complete the physics requirements. I've been thinking a lot about ways to make the next two years worthwhile, and here's what I got:

    - Minor in math and/or geology (I was previously a geology major, and only need two more classes to get the minor)

    - Summer research internships/fellowships (not THIS summer, but hopefully the summer before my senior year)

    - Research during school (Space Grant fellowship/maybe work in a physics lab)

    I've done the last one and hope to continue to do that up until I graduate in SPR 2014. My questions for this summer:

    (1) Should I take Intro to Differential Equations this summer, or should I attempt to self-teach myself this?

    (2) I was also thinking of trying to read over theoretical mechanics (Classical Mechanics by Taylor--required text for theoretical next semester), and intro to E&M (Griffiths--most likely a required text for next semester--E&M is also my weakest subject so I was thinking of obtaining the solutions manual and doing problems throughout the summer)--if I don't take summer school, can I teach myself the above (Differential intro), E&M, AND theoretical

    I don't expect to learn everything outright this summer, but I at least hope to be somewhat ahead of the curve before school starts. What do you think? The reason I ask if it's possible to have a summer and to teach myself all this is because summer school is very expensive--1100+ for three credits w/out book(s), and I try to help my family out by paying for a few bills and for paying for my own books when I can.

    ALSO, would working in a physics lab throughout next semester (if I don't apply/get accepted into the Space Grant program) be advisable with this course load next semester:

    - Theoretical Mechanics (Junior level)
    - Electricity and Magnetism (Junior level)
    - Mathematical Physics (Junior/Senior level)
    - Intro to Astrophysics (Sophomore level I think--first time offered at our school) AND/OR Structural Geology (Junior level + lab).

    Thank you so much for reading, and any help would be very much appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2012 #2
    You're almost in the exact situation as me. For Intro to Diff Eq, that's a required class for most programs so I would double check if you have to take it. If you do, you might as well take it over the summer as it will most certainly help, if not required, for E+M.

    Teaching yourself one of those over the summer will be a challenge, I would go for your weakest subject. If you are not going to take the diff eq class, then teach yourself that as it will undoubtedly be used in just about every Physics class of yours from now on.

    If you take the Intro to Diff Eq class or finish studying it during the summer, get a head start on E+M. It is arguably the hardest or at least one of the hardest classes.

    That courseload looks similar to mine so that seems about normal. Here's mine just for reference.

    E+M part 1
    Thermal Physics (Stat Mech)
    Intro to Biophysics
    Spanish I
    World History

    Totaling 17 hours for me but I don't recommend that much. I'm anticipating the Spanish and history class to be a light workload and I don't work so I have the time to spare.

    To clarify, I DO NOT believe you can teach yourself those three subjects over the summer. If you somehow do get through those books, then it is clear you only have slight familiarity with each subject.
     
  4. May 14, 2012 #3
    Can I ask why you've switched from geology so close to completion of the major? It might be a cheaper/more reasonable long term strategy to graduate, find work, and read the textbooks on your own.

    Without any idea about what your goals are, what you want to get out of your last minute switch-of-major, its not obvious what "making the next two years worthwhile" means.

    As to your summer work, it sounds like you are just trying to read ahead in the textbook to make the semester after easier. Thats reasonable- seeing the material ahead of time usually helps me learn when it shows up in class. You won't be able to get the whole course load in for each of them in during the summer, but you make some headway.

    As to your semester course load, 15-20 credits of physics + research work in a lab is common for a junior/senior level physics major. Also- save money on your textbooks, order the international editions from online companies.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2012
  5. May 20, 2012 #4
    Thanks, Dauden. Your advice has slightly swayed me toward taking summer school. I'm still a tad up in the air due to the cost, and also my mind going about minoring in math (if I go according to the plan I've panned out so far, I'll have to take a 400-series course my last year, and that's the year I'll also have to take quantum 1 and 2 with labs...so that seems kind of iffy--although, those would mainly be the classes I'd need to take and I could just be part-time with those classes--three for one semester, and three for the last).

    Also hearing someone is also on the same boat (except slightly worse because I'm only planning on taking 12 credits) make me feel somewhat at ease--just a bit. Good luck with your studies!
     
  6. May 20, 2012 #5
    I've decided to switch so late in the game because as a geology major I was hoping to get some elective credits out of the way by minoring in math--but the program wouldn't allow it, and instead they wanted me to take geology-focused electives. That same semester I took intro to modern physics and was awe-inspired at what physics by itself had to offer. Originally I was a physics major (freshman year) but switched because I was all "cool, religion and english and family resources" and stuff like that, but I still kept the idea of working for NASA and hunting for asteroids or exoplanets or life on other planets in the back of my mind. Also, I was doing this geology-space-grant-fellowship-thing, and my mentor was telling me how it's easier to go from a hard science (physics) to a soft science (geology) than it is to do the opposite. And also my friend graduated with a degree in physics and astronomy, so I thought "Hey, if he can do it, so can I!" Basically, I wanted something more relevant to space, and hence physics seemed the logical choice (there's no astronomy major offered at my school for undergrads).

    I say "worthwhile" because I feel like I want to be appealing (?) to employers after college, if not graduate schools. I don't want to say "Hey, I've got a degree in physics and I've made smoothies at the same time (I work at a Jamba Juice)." I want to do something so that I can gain some note-worthy skills that (such as programming and soldering and all that good stuff) that would give me something to offer when I get out of college.

    I will try that out. Thanks for helping me clear that up with myself (that sounded weird and confusing), now I shan't stress too much, but rather hopefully and slowly get myself acquainted with E&M (and maybe theoretical mechanics).

    Do I just google "international editions" of such-and-such textbooks? Do these editions come in English? Then what makes them "international"? (Sorry if the previous questions were stupid)

    And also, what's your opinion on taking Intro to Diff. Eqn's this summer? It's really a lot of money for me ($~1100 w/out the book), but it would also be good if I decide to minor in math (I think I only need to take four more classes in the span of two years).
     
  7. May 20, 2012 #6
    What employers? What graduate schools? Do you have any specific long term goals?
     
  8. May 20, 2012 #7
    To jubby, I would try and gain independent study credits with an experimental physicist; I do research in a plasma lab and most of what I've been doing is soldering together electronics, taking data using various detector, digitizer, and spectroscopy systems, programming in python, and am going to start learning vector works (sort of like cad), since my group needs machine setups designed and built for the experiment.
     
  9. May 20, 2012 #8
    Be careful with that--they can have some annoying typos. One of my classmates struggled with a problem for days before he checked his work with someone else and found a sign error in his international edition of Griffiths's E&M.
     
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