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QFT and GR in graduate school

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I have a question regarding how you choose courses to take in graduate school, and the amount of freedom you have in choosing courses. I'm tentatively planning on applying for admissions to PhD programs for 2012, and I'm planning on applying to a mix of biophysics, medical physics, and high energy theory programs. One thing I would like to do is to take courses in both general relativity and quantum field theory irrespective of what field I specialize in or the nature of my thesis topic.

With my background I think I have a much better chance of admission to top schools in biophysics and medical physics as opposed to HEP. Do schools generally allow graduate students specializing in biophysics or medical physics to take GR and QFT courses? Do grad students generally only take courses that apply directly to their research, or are they expected to have more breadth? How much freedom is allowed in choosing courses? One of the main things I want to get out of grad school is at least a basic, preferably a deep, understanding of the basic foundations of physics, and I don't think I'd be completely satisfied if I was only allowed to take classes in radiation physics, stat mech, computational biology, etc.
 

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eri
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If you're in the physics department with those concentrations, you can take whatever physics classes you'd like to take, no matter what your dissertation topic is. And you can usually take classes in other departments as well with no problem, they just might not count towards your degree.
 
MathematicalPhysicist
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If you're in the physics department with those concentrations, you can take whatever physics classes you'd like to take, no matter what your dissertation topic is. And you can usually take classes in other departments as well with no problem, they just might not count towards your degree.
They won't count for the degree, but their grades will appear in the final transcript.
 
George Jones
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They won't count for the degree, but their grades will appear in the final transcript.
I was allowed to take three graduate courses in pure mathematics (offered by the math department) that counted towards the coursework requirements of my physics Ph.D.
 
fzero
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I was allowed to take three graduate courses in pure mathematics (offered by the math department) that counted towards the coursework requirements of my physics Ph.D.
I was actually required to register for at least one graduate course outside of the department.

It's also important to recognize that you're usually done with required coursework within 2 or 3 years, but it usually takes 2 or more years beyond that to complete your dissertation. It's typical that you still have to register for a minimum number of credit hours because of university or financial aid requirements. Typically there is a course listing corresponding to dissertation research for different units, so if the requirement is 9 credits, there would be a 399, 699, and 999 version of dissertation or some equivalent. As long as you're making sufficient progress on your research, it's generally acceptable to take additional courses and fill in the rest with the appropriate dissertation course.

Advanced courses outside of the department might require the approval of both the instructor and your department's graduate advisor. For example, for QFT, they might want to see that you have an appropriate background in quantum and E&M, but might waive the typically course manual requirements of the graduate level courses in these.
 
MathematicalPhysicist
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I was allowed to take three graduate courses in pure mathematics (offered by the math department) that counted towards the coursework requirements of my physics Ph.D.
I didn't refer to courses which are part of your curriculum, but extra courses.

More than you need to take.
 
Vanadium 50
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I was allowed to take an extra course, although it was pointed out to me that my primary responsibility was to do well in my core courses. It was not an easy quarter,
 
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With my background I think I have a much better chance of admission to top schools in biophysics and medical physics as opposed to HEP. Do schools generally allow graduate students specializing in biophysics or medical physics to take GR and QFT courses? Do grad students generally only take courses that apply directly to their research, or are they expected to have more breadth?
My program--and I'm assuming most others in the U.S. are the same in this regard--requires all physics grad students take a "core" curriculum, but then leaves the remaining units free to take whatever courses the students wants to take. As long as we fulfill the minimum number of units required to get our degree (making sure we get at least a B in each course, of course), take those few "core" classes, and pass the Comps, no one cares if we take QFT or Biophysics or whatever.
 
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Do schools generally allow graduate students specializing in biophysics or medical physics to take GR and QFT courses?
There were no formal restrictions on the courses that I was allowed to take as a graduate student. The only real restrictions were in terms of time and energy.

The problem with taking QFT is that usually most people take QFT after a year of graduate quantum, so you have to end up fitting three courses in your schedule rather than one if those courses are not already part of your curriculum.

As far as GR. It might be better instead of taking GR, you take some course on mathematical methods in physics that is very heavy in differential geometry. Differential geometry is used in biophysics (http://www.biochem.arizona.edu/faculty_b/profiles/hausrath.htm) and once you have a strong knowledge of differential geometry, then you can teach yourself GR.

One of the main things I want to get out of grad school is at least a basic, preferably a deep, understanding of the basic foundations of physics, and I don't think I'd be completely satisfied t if I was only allowed to take classes in radiation physics, stat mech, computational biology, etc.
One thing that I got out of graduate school was that I really ended up questioning whether quantum field theory was more fundamental than statistics mechanics. One subjective impression that I have is that if you look at statistical mechanics and differential geometry, they pop up *everywhere*, whereas I haven't see QFT be very useful outside of associated problems in condensed matter. The gut feeling that I get from this is that somehow there is something in GR and stat mechanics that is deeper than QFT.

But this is all subjective feeling. YMMV.

But I never ran into a bureaucrat that said "you cannot take this course!!!!" The limits that I ran into were more of "too many interesting things and not enough time."
 
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