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Sequence Question: Taking E&M and Mechanics at the same time or no?

  1. Nov 4, 2008 #1
    Hello again everyone. I have yet another question: this semester, I'm a tad behind in terms of math. This semester I'm finishing precalculus and next semester is calculus I. Given that I can't start any physics courses until I've cleared calculus I (and no, taking calculus I and physics at them same time isn't allowed. Calc I needs to be finished first), I'm a bit behind. Most students in physics start mechanics either now or next semester and I've been toying with different options on how to fix this.

    One option would be to go along the normal route and take mechanics next year and E&M the following semester. The second option is to take mechanics and E&M next year at the same time. I've asked a few advisors and some have been reluctant to give me advice. The general consensus is that it's possible but they don't know if it's advisable.

    Given, there is on advantage that I have and that is that all of my general education requirements (the English classes, languages, history, etc.) are finished versus spaced out between the four years like the sample schedule recommends. I could conceivably catch up later on and take physics courses when my peers are taking their gen eds but I'm afraid I'll go crazy taking three or four physics classes per semester. Any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2008 #2
    This would be MY advice.... maybe because I'm willing to give it. (I can't be held accountable because I'm not an advisor at your institution!):

    I would NOT take introductory calculus-based mechanics and E&M at the same time. Chances are, problems in E&M will often include mechanics questions (i.e. how does the electron move in a given field?).

    I'd actually count your blessing in that your school requires calculus I before mechanics. This is the smart way to do it... to "be ahead" in math, rather than "behind." While I COULD have taken Calc I with mechanics, and Calc II with E&M, I'm glad my original major (Chemistry) didn't schedule me for this. It made my later choice (as a physics major) probably much easier... so I could think about the physics and use math as a tool... rather than get bogged down in the math.

    What I would suggest instead is to catch up on your third sequence physics class (presumably a third semester is required?) in summer school. Maybe, as you take it, you can also find someone in your program to work for part-time.... to gain research experience. Or, if your major is engineering, you can take the third semester course when you intern at a company.

    If summer school isn't an option, it also might be better to take a third semester class with the E&M, rather than the E&M with mechanics.

    If your schedule needs "filling" during any of these terms (since you've completed gen-ed courses), how about taking some complementary classes, like chemistry classes, astronomy classes, etc.? It would be a good time to start to pick up a "minor" in a complementary field.
  4. Nov 4, 2008 #3


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    Do Calculus 1, first. Take both Calculus 2 and Fundamental Mechanics Physics during the next semester. Do your Calculus 3 and Fundamental E&M both during the semester after the one which had Calc 2 and Mechanics.

    As just described before, the E&M course relies on both newer ideas and on ideas from Mechanics. Also, getting stronger on the Mathematics and Calculus is very important, and becomes much more so in your Electricity and Magnetism fundamental course.
  5. Nov 4, 2008 #4
    Typically, college physics sequences have them one after the other. It all boils down to how much you're willing to work. I took both Mechanics and E&M (the AP course offered in high school) concurrently and placed out of those two classes, but as with what physics girl phd said, I had to teach myself a few mechanics concepts in E&M. Ultimately, it depends on how your professors/teachers teach it. My physics teacher taught both courses, so she was able to eliminate most Mechanics-prerequisite E&M material by adjusting when she taught certain concepts.
  6. Nov 4, 2008 #5
    If you took physics in high school I think you ought to be fine taking mechanics and E&M at the same time. You only use very basic mechanics in E&M such as acceleration, velocity, and conservation of energy. Otherwise it would probably behoove you to take them separately.
  7. Nov 5, 2008 #6
    Thank you everyone! The general answer seems to be that taking them both at once is possible but not recommended. I didn't have very much quality instruction in physics in high school, so I'm reluctant to wing it and try to take both courses at once. It sounds like a headache waiting to happen and if I screw it up it has serious consequences (since both are major fundamental, base-of-the-pyramid type classes).

    The typical schedule double and triple-stacks a lot of physics classes in the junior and senior years, I'm assuming that is doable?

    Physics girl phd: Thank you for the suggestion, I was considering taking some elementary computer science and engineering classes to see if I could fit in a double degree so that works out well :)

    Thank you everyone for your suggestions and help, again!
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