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Physics- I Feel I'm Over-Worked

  1. May 16, 2008 #1
    Hi everyone.

    I am taking second-year physics. We are currently doing electromagnetism out of Griffiths. According to the book, the first seven chapters should be done in one semester. However, in our course, we are covering the first seven chapters, AND much of chapters 9 and 10, in one term, that is, in half a semester! Is this standard, or am I correct in feeling this is not justified?

    Besides the incredible pace with which we cover the material in lectures, we get weekly problem sets (of course), and we have to lab reports. Now, if you want a decent mark for your lab report, you need at least a 10 page report. This is incredibly time consuming, it takes half a day at least to write a good report. And we do a report every week! So at the end of this semester, we will be tested on 9 chapters of Griffiths, and another book on vibrations and waves(French), all covered in one semester! This is roughly 700 pages of physics in one semester!

    Am I just being a cry-baby: is this the typical work-load? For my other courses, the workload is about 50%-60% of that of physics. I love physics, but if entails this much work, I don't think I will major in it, because it detracts heavily from my other subjects, especially maths, my major. The lecturer said the course was designed that way so most of us would fail. I just cannot agree with this.
    Last edited: May 16, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2008 #2
    If that makes you feel any better, I studied from Griffiths' book for my freshman course on electrodynamics (it was the recommended textbook for the course). We did pretty much everything except angular momentum and retarded potentials. Our semester started sometime in the last week of December and ended in the second or third week of April. And I am studying electrical engineering--the physics course is compulsory for all freshmen.

    That sounds like a lot of work. We had to study linear algebra and complex analysis (contour integration and applications included) along with computer programming in the same semester and also had two laboratory courses, in physics and chemistry. But the difference is that in my college, instructors usually do not ask us to turn in our assignments as the freshman class size exceeds 520. As for reports, there are of course lab reports and a lot of time is spent making them, but looking back I would say that the lab courses do have their advantages. I have to write at least 2 lab reports every week. Sometimes it gets in the way of other work, and you have to optimize weekends. But thats just how it is!

    If you love physics or science, the extra effort put in now will stand you in good stead later. I don't know if the work load you have described is a lot by American standards, but it seems usual from the standpoint of a good science/engineering school. I totally agree that the pace often kills the course and you tend to focus less on learning as a result. Sometimes, the number of problems you need to think about is too large to acquire any real feel for the subject--esp if the theory isn't very clear offhand--and electrodynamics and vibrations certainly have a lot of deep concepts. But if you like the subject, you will be able to get through just fine. Electrodynamics is a very deep subject...a good thing about Griffiths' textbook is that it introduces you to a lot of interesting issues and points you to relevant literature. It takes a lot of time to understand electrodynamics. Since you're a Physics major, you will probably have another course on electrodynamics at the level of Jackon/Phillips, which is when you will find the concepts from your present course very very useful.
  4. May 16, 2008 #3
    No you are not a crybaby, that sounds like a whole lot to me. But I am wondering, which tier is your university at? It sounds like either a tier-1 or your examinator is somewhat optimistic of his students average capability. He could also want to mold you into something of an elite.

    When you are done with the course, you will probably be very satisfied. And when you get older in the game, you will probably be grateful that he didn't quit on you and just "churing out some pass-es and all is well."

    I have already identified quarters in my curriculum that I will have no life. No partying, no women, no nothing but me, a computer, textbooks and solving problems. You need to devise either smarter contingency plans, or just cut down on your social life in times of dire need.
  5. May 16, 2008 #4
    those are the same thoughts im going thru in deciding if i want to major in physics. ill be taking electrodynamics w/ griffiths in the fall and quantum w/ griffiths in the fall. i hear ppl get Problems sets each week and they take 10+ hrs...I too don't knwo if i really want to go thru 2 yrs of work doing this.
  6. May 16, 2008 #5
    You're being overworked. I don't know what school you go to or what professor would expect that much. This is second year, most schools wouldn't even use Griffiths.

    Now the question is whether its a condensed year course or a third year course. Typical schools cover only 3-5 chapters of Griffiths per semester. And they get no labs.
  7. May 16, 2008 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    This sounds excessive. I'm more disturbed by the lecturer's comment (assuming (s)he actually said this) 'the course was designed ... so most of us would fail.'

    I understand the logic of 'weed-out' courses. I also understand that there's a fine line between discouraging underqualified people and alienating capable people.

    If you feel the coursework is excessive, and (this is *really* important) other students feel the same, then the group of you should march into the Chair's office and (calmly) air your grievance. Otherwise nothing is going to change.
  8. May 16, 2008 #7
    Thanks everyone for your responses.

    The lecturer did actually say "The course is a filter course, the Physics Department designed it so most of you wouldn't pass". He should know, he's the head of the department. The course has been like this for years. Only like 30% of the students actually pass each year. Therefore I seriously doubt the course will change. Even if a bunch of us did go to the head's office, nothing would change, because the department head is our lecturer, as I mentioned. It's probably his idea. He even makes jokes about it "If you don't follow the instructions correctly in the exam, it's going to be a big hassle for the people marking, so they'll just give you zero, because you'll probably get very close to zero anyway."

    I just don't want to whinge about it because other had/have to do the course too. Thanks for responding everyone. I guess I just have to knuckle down and get on with it. I guess I just really wanted to complain about it to someone, thanks for listening guys :tongue:
  9. May 16, 2008 #8
    I hear you. I have my Physics II - Electromagnetics final on Monday.

    I go to a community college, and the course is taught by an Electrical Engineer with an MS in Education. He covered an insane amount of material this semester, and even went beyond the book. Many of the problems we do in class he takes from 200 and 300 level texts. If the math exceeds our Calculus II capabilities, he has us use Mathematica (I was fortunate to have been taking Linear Algebra concurrently - 1 of 2 out of 30 students which made solving things like systems of linear equations for loops easy).

    We used the Halliday/Resnick/Walker "Fundamentals of Physics" 8th Edition text as our reference, and I have about an inch of hand-outs that covered things not included in the book (Ion Propulsion problems from NASA's site, P/N Semiconductors, and more).

    Now that classes are over, I plan to re-read the entire text over the summer - as much of it went by in a blur. There were days that we did 3 chapters/75 pages in a single lecture. This was in addition to 10 labs, and having to learn Mathematica.

    I'm on track for an A- or possibly an A, but I feel like I was dragged through the mud. Compared to what UMass did (down the road from me), we finished their entire Physics II curriculum with a month to spare.

    But - we did have some benefits. He told us that we would be doing very difficult things at a very fast pace - just like in the actual engineering field. So we were allowed to use notes on the exams, and the labs only required data, calculations, and short-answer explanations. He told us that in the real world people face seemingly unsurpassable challenges, but also aren't forced to memorize everything, and we would be treated the same.
  10. May 16, 2008 #9
    In response to the original post, yes, that is a pretty hefty workload, comparatively, but physics is hard and sometimes being clever isn't enough to solve a problem, and is definitely not enough to get you a grant or a job. I don't mean to be entirely negative though; after the weeding out classes at my school at least, the physics courses gradually got easier in terms of workload and orders of magnitude more fun.

    So put up, eke out the passing grade, and pat yourself on the back - you'll always have more character than the actuarial science majors.
  11. May 16, 2008 #10


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    From qsspeechc:
    How can the school or department justify that as a main instructional goal? Is that included in the course description? Is it included in the course syllabus?

    That one truely is of instructive value. One of the important qualities to develop is the quality of precisely following instructions. The evaluation about this is very simple; read instructions carefully and follow them exactly, and student gains score credit. This is sometimes necessary as a technical behavior in the real-life working world. In the real world, sometimes the actual instructions are not clearly written, but they are inferencially understood.
  12. May 17, 2008 #11
    I would have serious difficulty generating respect for a lecturer with a philosophy as that set out in the above. Setting any course up so that people fail isn't difficult at all. Anybody can compile, say, an exam paper that's impossible. What purpose could it possibly serve to design a course that most people would fail? There are other, better ways in ridding a class of the riff-raff.

    I know this input won't help your situation at all, but I just had to voice my opinion on this one. Good luck though.
  13. May 17, 2008 #12
    We also have courses that students refer to as weed-out courses, but teachers never refer to them as such at my college.

    I would think this would be completely unethical when a teacher is there to teach - not create failure.

    My community college is one of the few that offers Multivariate Calculus, Diff-EQ, and Linear Algebra (the latter two alternating and taught every other spring), but we also have remedial mathematics courses that focus an entire semester on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division along with decimals and fractions. This is followed by 3 semesters of gradual introduction into algebra and problem solving followed by pre-calculus. After taking five years off from my initial attempt at engineering, I started back in pre-calculus despite the credits I had in Calculus I. With a few years of maturity I recognized the difference between gaining intimate understanding and gaining a letter grade (although the latter tends to come with the first). There were six people in my Linear Algebra class this semester, and I believe 3 of them started at the college 3 years ago at the first algebra sequence level. I believe 2 out of 3 of them got A's.

    I'm going to miss going from a school like this.
  14. May 17, 2008 #13


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    Did the teacher say "we designed this course so that the majority of students don't pass" or did he say "we designed the test for the course such that the majority of students don't pass"? The former implies that it is just a really really hard course, and you should go for it and try and be in the small subset that passes. I don't see anything wrong with this, since there should be a certain level that all students must pass to remain on a degree program.. your college seems to just set the bar really high. There is something wrong with the latter, however, since it implies that they intend to write an unfair exam for your course.
  15. May 17, 2008 #14
    cristo just said it better, I failed to make that distinction :smile:
  16. May 18, 2008 #15
    Just curious--what college do you go to?
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