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Penn State PHD -- What am I expected to know before Fall semester?

  1. Jan 19, 2016 #1
    My question is directed at anyone who currently is enrolled or was enrolled in Penn States PHD program as well as any faculty. Any other advise though would of course be appreciated. I was wondering what am I expected to be proficient in or to know prior to me starting in the fall semester. Other programs such as Cal Tech I know answer this on their page by stating textbooks you should have studied through. I remember in particular they said be comfortable with Classical Mechanics on the level of GoldStein. Now I have a friend doing his PHD in Philadelphia and he says his first graduate course actually was going through Goldstein. Obviously different programs expect different levels of knowledge which leads to my question.

    I will be pursuing to studying the interfacing of ideas in general relativity and quantum mechanics, cosmology, etc. which at Penn State will be learning towards Ashtekar's Loop theory I would imagine. For instance I will have to go over Goldstein again if need be but have taken a graduate course in General Relativity. I would just like to identify any gaps in my mathematical and Physics knowledge compared to what is expected to be already known.

    Feel free to answer any way you think will help whether its by textbooks or actual topics. Thanks in advance for any help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2016 #2
    Grad school shopper gives a write-up for Penn State with the following: Undergraduate preparation assumed: Marion & Thornton, Classical Dynamics of Particle and Systems, Griffiths Introduction to Electrodynamics, Griffiths Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Reif, Fundamentals of Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics. I think this is reasonable preparation to a graduate degree program in physics.
    The reluctance to "go over" Goldstein because you have taken a General Relativity course is a non sequitur. The two subjects do not treat the same discipline. You can know all of Goldstein and have very little GR (although a section of Goldstein treats W), and vice versa, you can be an expert in GR and know MTW, Wald, or Weinberg, and not know much Classical Mechanics from Goldstein. A first year graduate course in Classical Mechanics should do more than "go over" Goldstein.

    As for Caltech asking the student to be comfortable with Goldstein, I would say naturally. If you are going to use Goldstein as a textbook your first graduate year, you would certainly hope the student has the preparation to feel comfortable with Goldstein as a textbook. This does not mean the student will aready be well versed and proficient in all the chapters of Goldstein. Since the trend among graduate schools in physics to limit the classical mechanics to one semester, it is unreasonable to treat Goldstein completely, in depth, even after your first semester course. You cannot draw the conclusion that incoming Caltech students know all of Goldstein from the request that the incoming students are comfortable with Goldstein.
  4. Jan 22, 2016 #3
    Thank you very much for your response. It was exactly the information I was looking for and should help me be completely prepared for the start of my semester.

    I should have phrased my wording better. I did not mean to infer that my general relativity course should imply I do not need to read Goldstein. I meant to convey my interests lie more along the areas of Gravitational Physics and Cosmology. So due to my passion for it I have prepared myself above what is most likely expected before I enter the semester. After opening a copy of Goldstein I did not feel confident that I would be on the level in Classical Mechanics required if my school had expected me to have studied through that textbook. Also me commenting "go over" Goldstein was in no way meant to disrespect the text. I understand the level of work that must be done to say you thoroughly understand a text of that caliber.
    The Cal Tech students being expected to know Goldstein again was an issue of my wording. I found the web page after posting and it says to have studied at the level of then lists texts such as GoldStein, Dicke + Wittke, Reitz + Milford, and Leighton for classical, quantum, e&M, nuclear, and calculus. "Comfortable" was again a bad choice of words, however, your point still is valid that even with their wording instead of mine.

    Thanks again for the post.
  5. Jan 23, 2016 #4
    I may have nit-picked your choice of words unfairly. You seem conscientious. You may have later experiences with others as I have. I often encounter colleagues who say, "Yea, We covered that material in our physics classes." or our university "covered" Resnick and Halliday or some such textbook in 1 year, rather than 3 semesters or even two years, in equally good (in most times better) universities. I had a professor of electrical engineering that once told me, anyone can "cover" the material. What we are aiming to do is "uncover" the material.

    I imagine Penn State would have you take the core physics courses, and your first year or two would be getting ready for quals or the candidacy exam. As such, you may need to work more on coursework and preparation than general relativity / gravitation research. In addition, I found in my coursework and preparation for quals, I had an inspiring professor in classical mechanics and the same professor in fluid dynamics and transport theory. I turned to plasma physics because of this. I think it is important to remain flexible.
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