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Studying Studying Physics at Reed College? Others?

  1. Sep 12, 2009 #1
    Greetings PF!

    I'm a Canadian student currently finishing my senior year of High School, and intensely looking into undergraduate studies around Canada and the US (as I am a dual citizen of both countries), with the eventual hope of going into theoretical physics.

    However, I am also interested in many other scientific fields, and that should be taken into consideration along with the rest of this post (the point being that I want a school where, given I desire to research or study something completely different, I will be able to do so without problem).

    Reed College, for those of you who don't know, is in Portland, Oregon, and is considered one of the most intellectual schools in the country. According to the Princeton Review, it is ranked among the top ten undergraduate schools, with the top overall undergraduate experience in the US. Furthermore, it has an incredible first year humanities program, which I find thrilling (I do not simply wish to ignorantly corner myself into one field of knowledge, such as physics, and limit my scope or vision of the greater truth). It is, of course, and Liberal Arts school, which is also what I desire, however, I do not know if this will put me behind those who study at larger technical institutes, or not. I do not relate to the "science nerd" types at technical schools, though, and I find a LAC population far more interesting and intellectually stimulating than a student body wholly focused on my area of study. Which is better, a large group of people interested in your area of concentration, or a small, tight-knit group of people where you are extremely well known to the professors? (I think at Reed they graduate 12 physics majors annually, which is unusually high for a student body of 1,500). According to the Princeton review, as well, Reed is more academically vigorous than many Ivy league colleges, and is rated equally in academic rigor with Harvard for undergraduates. I don't know how this relates to physics, however.

    My question really is whether anyone knows anything about the physics/math program at Reed, and whether studying there would be conducive to acceptance into the top 5 graduate schools in the world? (with the knowledge that Reed students almost never get 4.0 GPAs, and the fourth year involves conducting independent research in your field of concentration). Furthermore, would such a school still allow for research opportunities in physics throughout undergraduate studies, during the summer?

    How would a school like this compare to a massive university with research background such as McGill or Waterloo in terms of overall physics education/adaptable opportunities for the future (ie. easy transfer from one major to another, prestige enough to get acceptance anywhere, etc.)?

    I am still applying to many of the Ivy league schools and MIT, but they seem not nearly as interesting nor as philosophically grounded as a school such as Reed. What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you have any experience or insight that would prove useful?

    Just for background on myself, I am highly interested in studying physics/engineering, or possibly cognitive sciences or microbiology. I have no past experience in Computer Science, which means I will need to pick up the slack a HUGE amount in University, but with hard-work, I know I can pull it off. In addition, I am incredulously interested in philosophy, and literature, which is why I would prefer a liberal arts school, where the focus is on cultivating the intellect, not pursuing mindless operations in one field to absolute superiority.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 12, 2009 #2
    Can't give any advice here. But you'd be going to the college where David Griffiths teaches. You probably don't know this yet, but he's basically the best textbook author in the observable universe, and is known for his textbooks on Classical Electrodynamics and Quantum Mechanics. That alone makes it worth it to go there!
  4. Sep 12, 2009 #3
    Reed has a very well-known and reputable physics department, so I think you'd do okay.

    Don't put much store by the Princeton Review though. The authors are idiots who have no clear methodology and use anecdotal surveys for everything in the book. They always manage to change things around enough to look fresh and new.
  5. Sep 12, 2009 #4
    Thanks for the advice. The Wikipedia article, along with the physics page at Reed is what really interested me in the school.

    As for research opportunities, how would one do at a smaller college as opposed to a larger one like McGill, Princeton, MIT, etc?
  6. Sep 14, 2009 #5
    It actually looks like David Griffiths is retiring. Does that make it fairly pointless to look into Reed at this point?
  7. Sep 15, 2009 #6
    I only mentioned Griffiths because it's a random, nifty feature of the college. It's certainly not a selling point, and I wouldn't base your decision on whether not he's there.
  8. Sep 15, 2009 #7
    ^ While I agree with that overall, bear in mind that it might have an effect on the faculty since it is a very small group and one leaving is a big difference.
  9. Sep 16, 2009 #8
    In terms of getting acceptance to the best schools in the world, and being prepared for grad school, how would Reed compare to McGill?

    Does anyone have any input in this respect? I am aware of the difficulties in comparison, but it would be nice to have some information provided, however useful it may be.
  10. Oct 4, 2009 #9
    I'm currently a physics major at Reed. It's true that Griffiths just retired, but he'll still be teaching a class a year as an emeritus. Don't worry though, the entire faculty is great.

    Reed annually graduates about 18 physics majors per year, from a student body of about 1400. We also are in the top 5 for PhD producing institutes. http://www.reed.edu/ir/phd.html

    Usually about 50% of physics majors go on to top 10 physics grad schools.
  11. Oct 4, 2009 #10
    Reed is certainly a fine institution. I myself go to Portland State University, but we frequently get Reed students looking to take auxiliary classes that they can't take at the local community colleges on the cheap. They all speak very highly of the school. On the downside it's also very expensive.

    For your undergraduate career I would highly recommend staying local and cheap. I don't see much sense to break the bank for a prestigious school. The highest impact factors on your acceptance to a top grad school are generally things you control ie gpa and gre. As far as research goes, there's no need to wait until your senior year. I'm in chemistry but I've been working in a lab since my sophomore year. I can't see much reason for it being different in physics labs. If you have coding expertise you will be desirable regardless of your physics education.

    My point is basically that whether you go to Reed or Canadian City State University, your chances of getting into a top program is generally dependent on you. You might not have as intimate an atmosphere in classes with your professors, but that's what office hour are for :)
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