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Courses Taking Grad Courses without getting a BA in Physics?

Hi everyone,

I'm currently a sophomore at UC Berkeley. I came in intending a double major in computer science and physics, but I'm definitely way more passionate about physics. I spent freshman year loading up on CS classes so I could declare the CS major, and this semester I decided to focus more on taking physics classes.

Because of a head injury from the summer, I ended up having to limit my courseload this semester; I took Physics 5C(Intro to Quantum/Statistical Mechanics), 137A and 137B(Quantum 1 and 2), relying on my quantum mechanics from online in high school. I did well in all three, but I was quite dismayed by the lack of continuity and the lack of clarity of all three; I got the same impression from the other undergrad courses I took from the physics department, and my sentiments are echoed by other undergrads. On the other hand, I've been impressed overall with the EECS classes I've taken here, and the undergrad experience seems to be a lot more put-together, from the classes to the advisors.

After my head injury got better, since I had a lot of extra time on my hands, I decided to try to catch up to the graduate quantum course, 221A. I started a few weeks late, but the professor has all of his lecture notes typeset, along with homeworks and solutions all online. I talked to the professor, and I did well on the final, so I'm enrolled in the second part of the graduate quantum course next semester(221B). The course was really well put-together and exceptionally clear; I found that a lot of the new concepts that I was learning in Quantum 2 were explained far better in the graduate course. The graduate courses generally get stellar reviews as well, as compared to the generally lukewarm reactions to the undergraduate courses.

So overall, I'm pretty confident in my ability to handle grad courses, and I think that they're run a lot better than undergraduate ones. So I have a kind of ambitious idea for my courses over the next 2.5 years. I want to finish off Quantum Mechanics next semester. Junior year, I want to take QFT 1 and Grad Electromagnetism first semester, and QFT 2 and General Relativity second semester. Senior year, I plan on taking String Theory and "Standard Model and Beyond", both full-year courses.

I want to fit in the CS major alongside these courses, which doesn't leave much room for the physics undergrad classes I need to take to declare. I also don't really want to expend units on courses that are going to end up being mostly review; for example, I have to take introductory linear algebra/diff eq's still, which is four units of problem sets and exams. That's kind of how I felt about the introductory physics series, and it was much more tedious than enjoyable.

So would it be crazy to just get the CS major, take these grad classes, do some undergrad research and then take the physics GRE without actually getting a BA in physics? Where would that put me when it comes to applying for grad school? I'm also not even sure I want to pursue higher education yet; there's also the option of going into industry for CS or something.
Thanks for the thread! This is an automated courtesy bump. Sorry you aren't generating responses at the moment. Do you have any further information, come to any new conclusions or is it possible to reword the post? The more details the better.
A few questions and comments:
1. How did you take two undergrad quantum courses without elementary linear algebra and differential equations?
2. To be clear, your proposal is to take graduate E&M without the undergrad version? Will your advisors even allow this?


Gold Member
I took grad Quantum in the Physics Dept at the U. of Illinois after getting an undergraduate EE degree, so it can be done. I had a very strong multivariable calculus, diff equations and linear algebra grounding, however, so at least the math was not intimidating and I only had to deal with the physics thinking part. If you don't have a strong math background, you may find it hard going, especially E&M. Even physics ppl struggle with grad E&M. I don't know anything about QFT. As far as string theory & other BSM stuff, do you have the math background for it? That's some pretty hardcore math there.
I think it's great you did well in graduate quantum mechanics, so nice job! However, quantum mechanics is usually the easiest of the core courses at both the graduate and undergraduate level. If you have NOT taken a undergraduate upper level E+M class, do NOT take a graduate E+M class. Any other course I'd say do it. I say go for GR, go for even graduate classical mechanics! But I would never, ever recommend taking graduate E+M without taking an upper level E+M course or a SOLID foundation in field theory (which hey, you can get in graduate classical mechanics depending on how the professor teaches the course!)

But let's say, hey, you're a genius and are hell bent on taking graduate E+M! The other issue is, you kind of a dilemma in your courses as well. One of the bigger aspects of QFT is QED! And you'll be taught QED in your QFT course usually at the start, and if you're planning to take Graduate E+M while taking QFT, you're going to be taught one thing in E+M, and then when learning QED they're going to be saying "nah, it actually works this way...". With regards to your plan on taking QFT 2 AND GR, I think that's a huge mistake. GR and QFT are VERY heavy with computations, so if you take both in one semester I wish you luck on having any free time. The algebra alone in problems can take days. And if you make one sign mistake, or write a ##\mu## as a ##\nu##? Have to start over (a little exaggeration, but you get the point).

Overall, I think you're a little ambitious in your school plan, and hey, I've been there. But slow down a little bit when it comes to some of these course. I have no doubt that you *can* succeed, but there is a life outside of school, and if you're planning to take some of these courses along side CS courses, you're setting yourself up for a burn out, and I'd hate to see that.

All the best.

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