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  1. Nov 11, 2009 #1
    I don't typically start threads, but my schedule for next semester has been causing me some (a lot of) stress.
    First, my schedule:
    Advanced Differential Equations
    Quantum Mechanics
    Fundamental Concepts of Geometry (basically intro to non-Euclidean geometries)

    Second, my reason for concern.
    I'm currently in Physics I....yeah, Newtonian Mechanics...freshman physics. lol

    I'm in my 3rd semester of an early mid-life crisis return to school for Physics. Because of work constraints my first few semesters, I was stuck taking night classes...which meant there were no Physics I classes I could take and I moved through the math curriculum more quickly.

    I have taken:
    Calc II
    Calc III
    Differential Equations
    Linear Algebra
    Mathematical methods/proofs
    Vector Calc/Complex Variables

    Also, I took Modern Physics last winter (computer glitch not recognizing my lack of pre-recs).

    I'm not worried about the math courses. The advanced Differential Equations will be hard I'm sure, but it's at a course level commensurate with my level of formal math education.

    I am, however, VERY worried about the Physics courses. I'm not taking the courses "on the sly." I was given permission to take the courses from the department.

    I'm having a hard time properly wording my "question."
    My registration has been "sign, sealed, delivered" for next semester and I'm going in to the semester with the naivete that I'll make it through....so telling me I'm an idiot will follow my own affirmations, but will not make me drop the courses (yet lol).

    My concerns are these:
    1) Am I in way over my head and too blind to realize it? I had to be given permission to register for the classes, but I'm worried that my persistence with the department was as much a factor as anything. (I'm a recent transfer so I don't have a ton of experience with the professors)

    2) If I do make it through the semester but my gpa drops because of the courses (I should have a 4.0 at my current university and a 3.9 in total since my return to school), how will that look to grad schools?
    I'm hoping (praying) that if I'm able to maintain that gpa, the fact that I skipped some of the Physics curriculum won't look so bad to grad schools (under the assumption that I must have had somewhat sufficient self study in order to do well in the upper level courses) and it won't affect my acceptance excessively.

    I've wanted to type this for the past week, but imagining my own response to a similar thread from someone else has kept me from submitting. lol

    If it makes any difference, Analytical Mechanics is not offered this semester and if I followed the "proper path," I would not be taking these courses for at least another year. I hope to attend grad school for physics, but I will most likely have many more math courses than Physics courses (I already have more than the requirements for the Physics major).

    I think I remember Physics girl PhD said she took E&M without taking the lower level Electricity and Magnetism course, but my searches haven't found that post? (I may have made it up to make myself feel better. lol)

    Sorry for being the guy that posts the ridiculously long, self-obsessed message.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2009 #2


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    Come on, you'll be fine.

    Sure you might come across something that requires prior knowledge, but just learn it on the fly.

    Ever since high-school I never payed much attention to the pre-reqs of many courses. If you are truly interested in it, you'll spend the extra time getting it right. (If you need extra time, that is.)

    But, if your GPA drops to a 3.9, you probably won't get into grad school. I sure wouldn't accept you. Just kidding. Relax.
  4. Nov 11, 2009 #3
    I'd have a parachute ready so that if you do end up way over your head, you have a plan to figure out what course to drop. Also don't be afraid to drop courses if you have to.

    Generally, challenging curriculum with lower but decent GPA's are better than less challenging curriculum with higher GPA's. However, the thing that you have to worry about here is that you don't get so overwhelmed that your GPA goes from decent to really bad. That's why you should have a parachute ready and not be afraid to use it.

    I don't think it will make that much difference. The important thing is to learn the material. If it turns out that you are a masochist that learns best by having knowledge dumped on them with large amounts of caffeine and stress, then go for it. However, if you find that you are overwhelmed, and not learning any of the material, then you need to pull the parachute, reduce your course load and take classes next semester.
  5. Nov 11, 2009 #4

    haha....I mean if I pull a C in both Physics classes and my GPA drops to the low 3's or something. I'm really trying not to come across like all the posts where it seems that people are essentially bragging about how great they are. I don't have a good GPA from my previous degree (kinesiology 2001) and have worked hard to change that since going back.
    I'm already worried about how my previous GPA will affect me and I won't be in school long enough to really get to know the professors well enough for stellar recommendations or research opportunities.
  6. Nov 11, 2009 #5
    GPA as long as it's not horrible is not that important. The reason for that is that admission committees really have no way of knowing what a GPA means. Something that will get you an A in school 1 might get you a C in school 2.

    The important thing is to learn the material. If you know the material, then you will have an easier time with higher level courses so that whatever happens in lower division courses will get forgotten once you get through a killer upper level course.
  7. Nov 11, 2009 #6


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    You won't pull a C in any physics class. If you already have a previous degree, that means you are probably serious about this one.

    And since you want to go to grad school (and since you are going back to get another degree) you are really interested in physics, and thus, will naturally learn the material easier.
  8. Nov 11, 2009 #7
    Thank you very much for the response. I do have a parachute set up. I've asked about taking a Physics II "problem set" course where you only take the exams for Physics II to show proficiency in the material. The class times conflict with the E&M class...so if it comes to it, I can drop E&M and move down to the "problems" course.

    Also, one of the only professors I've had the chance to speak with at the University is the professor teaching QM. I asked permission to take the class because I thought it was my best chance to get a good letter of recommendation (should I do well in his class).

    Thanks again for the reply.
  9. Nov 11, 2009 #8


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    twofish-quant's advice is the best...have a parachute (or bail-out plan). If you feel like you're getting in over your head, and the courses start out expecting background you don't have, be prepared to drop one or two and focus on the ones you do have the background to do. Put the deadline for withdrawing from courses without penalties on your calendar, and a week before it, take a good hard look at your progress. If you're in danger of not achieving the grades you wanted, drop some of the courses.

    It looks better to have a withdrawal on your transcript when there are clear gaps in prerequisites than it does to have a D or F (and sometimes even a C, depending on your goals). If it comes to that, then you're just going to have to plan to take a little longer to complete your degree. It might not, though. With a solid math background, you might be able to pull them all off just fine.
  10. Nov 11, 2009 #9
    Thanks, I had no plans of grad school my first time around so I really didn't know what a withdrawal actually does to your transcript.
    I'm excited about the material....feels like I'll finally be "doing" physics in those classes so I hope I can keep up with the material.
  11. Nov 12, 2009 #10
    Hey Troponin, it sounds like you are a couple semesters ahead of what I'm doing. I have a prior B.S. (Construction Administration) also from quite a few years back.

    My advisors told me the same thing - That I should have a math methods course and for sure Vector Calc before starting EM and Quant Mechanics. So, for what it's worth you can be the guinea pig (hehe j/k) I think you'll be fine. If anything knowing more math will help you concentrate on the physics, from what is said alot here. Also, your math prep at EM / Quant is exactly what I had planned for when I take those courses, (kinda freaky actually) except for the methods - I was going to take a Computational physics course.

    Same for me for Modern Physics. The Graduate advisor actually teaches it so he gave me a rundown on what I should review prior, (I took physics courses geared more for engineering and he actually called over to my prior University to see what was covered and what gaps there were than made the call). On the flipside the Undergrad advisor told me Vector calc was a must before his class (EM). I don't know them that well either but the bottom line is these guys have been teaching for a few decades so really who else would know better to make the call on pre-reqs for a student? I felt like you do too a little but maybe that is from a decade of "trust no one and watch your back" with peers and supervisors in my previous employment. Being a lowly undergrad has advantages (not a big target - what would someone gain from leading you astray?).

    Mine is too, but I am 3 semesters behind you. Wanna trade? :D
  12. Nov 12, 2009 #11


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    I don't undertstant the question.

    You only have 4 courses listed for the semester, and last I checked 5 was considered full time, 6 was overloading but not too much of a problem. So the workload itself shouldn't be a problem.

    Are there prerequisites for these courses that you didn't take?
  13. Nov 12, 2009 #12
    My advice is to regain your confidence, EM/QM are not particularly hard subjects if they're introductory, in fact with the mathematical background you have you may well have an advantage over classmates. They also need little prerequisite physics, but a lot of maths, so it would seem to suit you well.
  14. Nov 12, 2009 #13
    I think you will be fine because of your math preparation. And you say you took modern physics. Assuming you did well in that, I'd say that's an indication that you already know a lot of what is taught in physics 1.
  15. Nov 12, 2009 #14
    The long and short of it is that I'm in Physics I this semester and I'm going to try to take E&M and Quantum next semester.

    Or, in other terms: I'm in the lowest numbered physics course of the undergraduate curriculum this semester and I'm taking the two highest numbered courses in the undergraduate curriculum next semester.

    That is my concern, not the course load. I'm a recent transfer to my University and don't know many professors. I don't know of another place where multiple professors and physics students can give me their insight into my concern.
  16. Nov 12, 2009 #15
    Hope you enjoy being back in school! I've been very happy with my decision to go back. I was too stupid to realize what I was wasting my first time through school.
  17. Nov 12, 2009 #16
    I pretty much agree with this. For EM, make sure you know your vector calculus well. For QM, make sure your linear algebra is up to par.

    I wouldn't worry about taking these courses before a real classical mechanics course. What you learn in one is not really required to take the another. Based on some current thinking, it may be better to take quantum mechanics first anyway.

    The issue you're going to run into most likely is lack of time to do homework problems. Hopefully the weekly due dates will be staggered so that they won't all be due on one day. Personally, I liked that so I could prioritize.

    I'd say just give it a shot and see how you do. If its too tough for the first couple weeks its not going to get any easier later in the semester. A good sign you should drop one.

    Either way, best of luck!
  18. Nov 12, 2009 #17


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    Ah, so you're concerned because you're skipping the intermediate courses. In general, I would advise you to reconsider and take the intermediate ones (nothing is 'signed sealed and delivered until you're about a month into a semester). I'm sure some people can get away with skipping them. But then, some people can jump right into graduate level course work without batting an eyelash and be fine. Personally I would have been quite lost without the intermediate stages because they gave me the conceptual grounding I needed to go on to the more advanced stuff.
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