Should I take Classical Mechanics now or later?

  • #1
I'm a college freshman who might major in physics, but I'm still undecided. This semester, I registered for Classical Mechanics (intermediate, not introductory) but have lately reconsidering this. There are a few reasons for this:
1) I feel a little behind on math. I just started multivariable calc this semester. Part of the pre-reqs was to take multi before taking this class, but I guess the professor was flexible. She told me I would be fine, but I don't know if I could trust her opinion. She only knew me for an hour. We use Analytical Mechanics (by Fowles and Cassiday) and it doesn't look too heavy on the math, especially when lagrangian mechanics is only touched upon in the end.
2) I'm taking a gen chem class with a lab. If I do decide to major in chem, its sort of important to take this class now rather than to wait since the 1st orgo class is only offered in fall (meaning if I take gen chem my 2nd year, I would have take orgo my 3rd year; kind of a late imo).
3) None of my peers in my e&m class last semester are taking this class. Even though I managed an A-, most people in my e&m class got an A- or above.
4) The professor is notorious for being bad at teaching as well as being very difficult. I don't know how true this is, since she seemed pretty easy based on the syllabus and first day, but then again, that was only the first day.
5) I already paid 40 bucks to rent my book. Not a big issue, but like, its money.

I really only see one reason to take this class and that's to get ahead. Would taking more advanced classes even improve my chances for research opportunities? If not, then I don't really see much advantage of taking it early. I could always take it next spring, which is still on track for the physics major.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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If you plan to study physics you will need a solid understanding of classical mechanics. Nearly everything else in physics is based on its tools in one way or another. Lagrangians and Hamiltonians will be used everywhere in quantum mechanics, for example. It doesn't need to be an official course but that is usually the best option.
Would taking more advanced classes even improve my chances for research opportunities?
More advanced in which way? You'll need more specialized classes later, but that's not something for the first year.
 
  • #3
If you plan to study physics you will need a solid understanding of classical mechanics. Nearly everything else in physics is based on its tools in one way or another. Lagrangians and Hamiltonians will be used everywhere in quantum mechanics, for example. It doesn't need to be an official course but that is usually the best option.More advanced in which way? You'll need more specialized classes later, but that's not something for the first year.
I'm not saying I don't plan to take it. Just maybe not now. This class is usually taken in the spring of sophomore year in my school (im still a freshman).

advanced as in non-introductory (200 and 300 level classes). I meant to use it relative to 100 level classes.
 
  • #4
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@imperialchimp said:
5) I already paid 40 bucks to rent my book. Not a big issue, but like, its money.

I really only see one reason to take this class and that's to get ahead.
Course sequences exist for a reason.

What's more important? $40 or potentially performing poorly in a class you aren't well prepared for?
 
  • #5
jtbell
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I'm a college freshman who might major in physics
None of my peers in my e&m class last semester are taking this class
By "e&m class", I suppose you mean the second semester of a calculus-based freshman physics sequence. In that case, how did you skip taking the first semester of that sequence, which is usually mechanics and thermodynamics? Did you have AP credit or something?
 
  • #6
Course sequences exist for a reason.

What's more important? $40 or potentially performing poorly in a class you aren't well prepared for?
Good point
 
  • #7
By "e&m class", I suppose you mean the second semester of a calculus-based freshman physics sequence. In that case, how did you skip taking the first semester of that sequence, which is usually mechanics and thermodynamics? Did you have AP credit or something?
AP credit. I never took thermo though. For my school, that comes during the second year.
 
  • #8
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I really wonder if you should not begin at the beginning, with 1st semester freshman physics which is almost always Mechanics. Even if you pass this more advanced course, if your understanding is incomplete, you will have lost ground. I urge you to literally, "take a step back."
 
  • #9
Dr. Courtney
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Taking more advanced classes does tend to improve your odds at research opportunities, but only if you do well in those classes. So this issues reverts back to whether you are prepared to do well in the classical mechanics course.

You have not had a real intro mechanics course (AP doesn't count), you haven't had Calc 3, and you probably haven't had differential equations either. (Diff eq can be more important than Calc 3 in many intermediate mechanics courses.)

Reading between the lines, I also get a sense that your academic maturity can use more development before you are well-positioned to succeed in a challenging intermediate course in classical mechanics.

These difficulties might be overcome with the proper application of time and effort, but that tends to be more possible with a 12 credit hour course load than with a 17 credit hour course load. It may be of benefit to think of the question this way, "How many classes have you honestly prepared 3 hours outside of class for each class hour though the whole semester?" and "Is it realistic that you can and will work that hard in this class?"
 
  • #10
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So to summarize you have registered for a second semester 200 level Physics class in Classical Mechanics which requires as a prerequisite Physics I and ideally Calculus III and a co-requisite of Differential Equations. You used AP credit to place out of Physics I and are currently enrolled in Calculus II so you're basically 2 courses behind in math and are using a high school AP Physics course as a substitute for a proper college level introductory course.

No I don't think this is a good idea. At a minimum AP Physics might substitute for a general first semester physics course for students intending to major in other fields but is not ideal for students who will potentially be majoring in Physics. Adding on top of this being 2 courses behind in math is not conducive to doing well in this class just on the off chance it might improve your chances of getting research opportunities.
 

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