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Non-Traditional Physics Education at the Graduate Level

  1. Dec 30, 2015 #1
    I'm sort of confused how to go about finding my educational path. I've been studying alone for some time, quantum field theory, quantum mechanics, relativity and I am struggling. I went to school graduate actually in mathematics, studied general relativity, some quantum. I have a degree in math. But at the graduate level I really found there was too much stress. I tried taking a graduate course in quantum and felt it was way too fast. Of course, I was lacking the preparation of other students, but it gave me the impression I wouldn't be learning as much as copying and computing, without understanding what some concepts mean. I know I could get through a graduate program simply dealing with the equations and computing, but that is not why I am there. I want to understand quantum field theory and the standard model and particle physics in general. I would like the lab experience, in fact I might even be interested being a professional physicist, but I don't know how to find the right program for me that isn't going to eat me alive. I'm smart and bright and no teacher has ever told me different, but I'm often stubborn and don't like to just memorize things, I ask a lot of questions. I find the pace of grad school where I went at California State University system, was just too overbearing. So are there any programs or recommendations to help me learn? I tried looking up some grad programs in my area, but they just seem so heavy in requirements and so structured, I want something a little more relaxed in terms of structure and requirements. I don't mean easy, I just mean something perhaps catered towards non-traditional, non-linear type learning. Right now I'd just like to sit in on a particle physics or something but I don't live near a university that offers these things. So I'm kind of stuck, and I realize I might have to move to get what I want. The only thing I've seen that is somewhat like what I am asking for is UPenn has a program for non-traditional students, where you take grad classes without being in a degreee, but it is extremely expensive and I don't like how it doesn't feed into the PhD program. I feel I really need a custom program that is flexible enough for me because of my non-traditional background. I've studied Dirac's principles of quantum, some mathematical physics, some differential geometry, but it's bits and pieces.

    Also, aside from being told I'm smart and good at math and physics, my grades from undergrad are only around a 3.2 or so, I didn't try that hard. I have a different attitude now, but because of that my confidence isn't very high for getting into a good program. I took the math gre and did terrible. I imagine I'd probably do terrible on the physics gre as well. I'm just not a very competitive, cut throat student in general. You might say I have a lazy attitude, I don't know. I just want to learn deeply these things, I don't care about grades so much. It's unfortunate centers of learning are more centers of testing these days.
     
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  3. Dec 30, 2015 #2

    Student100

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    I'm sort of confused by your post, you believed there was too much stress in your mathematics graduate program, but somehow believe physics is gong to be different? You want a program that is non-traditional, but feeds into a PhD program? I don't think what you want exists.

    Further, I don't understand how getting good grades and good test scores makes you cut throat or competitive? It's just a measure of how well you did, not how cut throat you are.

    The first thing you should do is work on your communication skills, these are very important for graduate programs in the US.
     
  4. Dec 30, 2015 #3

    jtbell

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    How much undergraduate-level physics have you studied? Graduate-level physics courses generally assume a strong background in intermediate- and upper-level undergraduate physics courses, such as a physics bachelor's degree holder should have.
     
  5. Dec 30, 2015 #4
    I took the undergraduate lower division engineering-science sequence of mechanics, modern physics, and electrodynamics in college. Then in the math department I took a mathematical physics course where we studied the structures of quantum theory, we treated the harmonic oscillator and computed commutators of different observables and learned the general theory. Then in a PDE class we solved the Hydrogen atom. The rest of what I know is from studying on my own, I know the basic axioms of quantum theory, the schrodinger equation, group velocity, commutators, observables, poisson brackets, lagrangian and hamiltonians, the field theory. But I never took any upper division course in the physics dept as an undergrad. I feel like I don't belong in undergrad or grad courses. When I've been in an undergrad course I feel like I shouldn't be there because I know most of everything they are saying, but when I'm in a grad course I feel they are going too fast. The only solution right now I am thinking of is to focus more on problem solving, and finding a graduate level tutor to help me fill in gaps.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2015
  6. Dec 30, 2015 #5

    Student100

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    Do you mean you "solved the Schrodinger equation for the hydrogen atom"?

    You've never taken any upper division courses in physics, but feel like you don't belong there because you know everything? When did you take upper division/graduate courses in physics?
     
  7. Dec 30, 2015 #6
    Yes, solved the schrodinger equation for hydrogen atom.
    I sat in on electrodynamics and classical mechanics upper division classes in undergraduate, but left because it felt too basic. Graduate course, I tried quantum but stopped when we got to the Clebsch Gordon table and nobody was able to explain to me what we were doing with that. I think the next material then came too fast and I felt that I was drowning and the other students seemed to be doing fine. I did fine the first month or so. I took general relativity graduate course and did fine.
     
  8. Dec 30, 2015 #7

    Student100

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    Okay, I was just trying to clarify as it sounded contradictory in your post above.

    Do you remember what texts were used in the upper division CM/E&M courses you took? How long before you left?
     
  9. Dec 30, 2015 #8
    Classical Dynamics by Marion and Thornton, and Griffiths Electrodynamics. I don't remember how long, I think it was during the first or second week. I didn't have long to decide before I would have my transcript marked with something and mess with my records and enrollment.
     
  10. Dec 30, 2015 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    The purpose of graduate school is to prepare one for independent research. That includes that nasty linear thinking and those icky calculations. It also includes the idea that you need to be prepared before you start hence those requirements and structure you find objectionable. So I don't think you're going to find what you are looking for.
     
  11. Dec 30, 2015 #10

    Student100

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    I would have dropped the one using Marion's book too. Garbage.

    One week is too short to really know if the course was too basic for you, it's likely they didn't cover anything other than a brief review of lower division mechanics/E&M. Have you tried reading Griffiths text, and maybe picking up Taylors to see if you understand the material in the book? If you feel the graduate classes were too fast, it's likely you don't have a complete grasp of the prereq's.

    If you did well in grad GR and QM up to the coefficient table, you should check your understanding in CM/E&M/Thermo and take the physics GRE after brushing up on the lower division texts. I don't think a nonstandard pathway to a physics PhD exists that you were looking for. It will also be more difficult to get accepted into a standard program with your GPA and bachelors degree not being in physics.
     
  12. Dec 30, 2015 #11
    Ok I'm going to follow this advice and try to study these books all the way through to prepare. Thanks.
     
  13. Dec 31, 2015 #12
    I've started studying classical mechanics. Is there an order I should do this? Classical must be first, but what about after, Electro, Thermo, and Quantum? It seems like at least in historical order it should be thermo and then electro and quantum last, but thermodynamics usually covers quantum statistics right? So maybe thermo last?
     
  14. Dec 31, 2015 #13

    Student100

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    You should make sure you can find a program that meets your needs first, I don't think you will have much luck.

    Thermo last is fine. QM/CM/EM in whatever order.
     
  15. Dec 31, 2015 #14
    thank you all for your help.
     
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