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Physics major - does it get harder every year?

  1. Nov 4, 2011 #1
    2nd year undergrad here. What did physics majors think about the difficulty of their various courses? I took the honors versions of the intro course and did pretty well but I'm in intermediate classical mechanics and it's destroying me... I guess taking six classes might have been a bit too tough for me
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 5, 2011 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    I think I took seven full-year papers in my second year. I think that six was fairly normal - but I didn't do the honors track and didn't really care about my grades. I just wanted to know stuff.

    In NZ, the colleges have to take all comers - so the first year is used to sort out who is serious and bring the rest up to speed. This is where you get the most drop-outs here. But it does mean that if you did well at secondary school you'll find it pretty easy... stuff you've done before maybe a little different in format. The hard part is usually self-motivation... nobody tells you off if you don't get your papers in.

    The second year focusses on deepening the knowledge and getting better tools. This will be mostly new stuff and some new concepts not formally covered before for many students. So it can be a bit of a shock. By the end of this year you will be prepared for the next year so take advantage of every assistance the college offers here and form a study group and focus on meta-skills.

    In my second year I would move between three study groups that met at the same time but were competing with each other - so they didn't talk. I would trade information between them.

    The third year is the make-or-break year.
    Once you've got this far you will likely pass - they are deciding who goes to grad-school. If you want to continue it will be very tough - forget about having a life. Otherwise it will actually be quite easy compared to the last year.

    At grad school it is mixed. There are usually still lecture courses which can be intense: but very specialized. I recall I sleepwalked through about half my grad-school courses, got a nasty shock on the other half, and entered research still running and wondering where the resistance went.

    Research is very easy compared with the previous years. It's an illusion: you want top grades you have to push yourself until you feel the same difficulty as before. It's like being a freshman all over again - nobody looking over your shoulder so you have to make yourself work.

    The main plus of the advanced years is that you get to pick the topics that light you up so you don't feel the work as much. Like the difference between PE in school and playing a sport you enjoy: the first is hard slog and the second you work up a sweat with a smile.

    So - the work gets harder, but you don't mind as much.
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