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Senior year before grad school: what classes to take?

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi, I have one year of undergraduate classes left. I am trying to figure out how best to prepare for my applications to an AMO physics program (hopefully highly competitive).

My first question is: how much importance can one class have? Maybe I am stressing too much about trying to make myself a "perfect applicant."

My second question is meatier. I cannot decide between taking graduate level electrodynamics, graduate QFT (which I wanted to take the most, but might be the least applicable to my future), or undergraduate computational physics or statistical mechanics.

For a little background, I've completed a year long graduate quantum mechanics sequence as well as a lot of miscellaneous undergraduate courses. I have never taken a stat mech or comp phys course, and am wondering if that would knock me back a little in terms of preparedness (or apparent preparedness...).

I can provide any extra information and thank you in advance!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
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I am trying to figure out how best to prepare for my applications to an AMO physics program
They will only be able to look at your first semester. Keep that in mind.
 
  • #3
CrysPhys
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My second question is meatier. I cannot decide between taking graduate level electrodynamics, graduate QFT (which I wanted to take the most, but might be the least applicable to my future), or undergraduate computational physics or statistical mechanics.

For a little background, I've completed a year long graduate quantum mechanics sequence as well as a lot of miscellaneous undergraduate courses. I have never taken a stat mech or comp phys course, and am wondering if that would knock me back a little in terms of preparedness (or apparent preparedness...).
<<Emphasis added>> Thermodynamics and stat mech are typical core courses in most undergrad and grad physics programs. I'm surprised you're able to graduate without any stat mech. At any rate, if you're going on to a grad physics program, you should take undergrad stat mech.
 
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I agree, definitely take thermo/stat mech. You'll definitely need it on the physics GRE, and likely for graduate school.
 
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<<Emphasis added>> Thermodynamics and stat mech are typical core courses in most undergrad and grad physics programs. I'm surprised you're able to graduate without any stat mech. At any rate, if you're going on to a grad physics program, you should take undergrad stat mech.
Let me clarify. I've taken a thermo course that had some aspects of stat mech, but I haven't taken the standalone stat mech course. I'm wondering if the one course is enough or if I should take the dedicated stat mech course. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if it's offered in the first semester, there's only a "mathematical tools for physicists" which would be redundant given my advanced math background.

Thank you for the replies, however. I'm now considering trying to find a more applicable course. On applications, is there a way to indicate you will have taken a course (such as stat mech, in my case) by graduation, even if you're not currently enrolled?
 
  • #6
vela
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I concur with the others that you should take statistical mechanics. It seems strange to me that you can graduate without taking statistical mechanics.

When I was in college, statistical mechanics was a core course, and thermodynamics was an elective. I took both. While some aspects of stat mech came up in the thermo course, thermo wouldn't have been a replacement for stat mech. Maybe the courses as your school differ markedly from the norm, so I suggest you talk to the professors there about your plans.
 
  • #7
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I'll break down how I make a choice: Of the four choices, which am I the most likely not going to read up, and study on in my free time? If you're interested in QFT, you'll have no issue motivating yourself to study it on your own time. Graduate E+M is probably a required course at any graduate school, and unless your graduate school allows you to skip taking the course by taking an exam, I see no reason why you'd take it early. Sometimes slower is better.

Now we're left between stat mech and computational physics. The four core classes required for qualifying exams usually are: Stat mech, Quantum mech, classical mech, and E+M. It might be helpful to have stat mech before seeing it at the graduate level, but I didn't, and I did fine. The other question you have to ask is, do you have any programming experience? If you have none, then take the computational physics course. Even if you have a little, take the computational physics course.

I'd suggest to take the computational course. This will expand the number of tools you'll have in order to tackle problems. Stat mech is just a branch of physics at the end of the day, and you'll have to learn it anyway in most graduate programs. I know I wish I knew more computational techniques, and that I had more practice being efficient when modeling problems! I can't say that I wish I knew more stat mech.

(I'm assuming a computational course will teach you techniques to solve problems numerically in either a programming language, or in an algebraic package like matlab/wolfram)

Good luck!
 

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