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Time spent doing independent study as an undergraduate

  1. Jan 19, 2012 #1
    Hi all, this thread is mainly aimed at postgrads. I'm doing my undergrad degree in theoretical physics, my question is this; how many hours of independent study did you do while an undergrad? I've been getting good scores so far, but have only been averaging about an hour a day outside contact hours. Is it worth aiming to get super high marks on all modules or is it a case of a first is a first is a first. I hear they often want to know your module scores when you apply for a PhD. I remember my tutor (we get assigned a member of academic staff as a mentor of sorts) told me how he used to work every weekday till 10pm.

    Also, my degree has a lab component in the first two years only. It's pencil and paper from there on in. Would this be a major problem if I decided to pursue an experimental PhD?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2012 #2
    Do you ask how much you need to study?? The answer is simple, you need to study until you understand the material in and out. For some people that will mean studying one hour per day, for others that means studying 10 hours per day. It's something very personal.

    If you want to do a PhD later on, then you might want to have some undergrad research experience. That will eat up some time as well. And the rule with research is: the more time you invest in it, the more you'll discover. It's your choice on how much you research, nobody can tell you how much you should study.
  4. Jan 19, 2012 #3
    Thanks for your reply micromass. I understand that the time required to fully understand a topic varies from person to person. I guess what I was hoping for was an estimate on how much work they put into their undergrad degree (ideally someone who is now a succesful graduate student). I find that with the amount of work I currently put in, I understand the stuff but often slip up with shoddy notation or a silly mistake due to simple lack of practice.

    Also do you have any opinion on the suitability of my degree (theoretical) for a PhD in experimental physics?
  5. Jan 19, 2012 #4
    I guess for me I would say maybe 3-5 hours a day if you average it out over all 4 years.

    As for your experimental physics PhD question, I don't think it will be too much of an issue since my lab courses were not all that useful. The best way to gain experimental skills would be to do actual research in a lab.

    Hope this helps answer your questions.
  6. Jan 19, 2012 #5
    What is module scores and how does it work? I'm also under the same major but haven't yet started research.
  7. Jan 19, 2012 #6
    Module scores are your final mark for each course/paper. So under the British system we need 70% to get the highest honours (1:1). Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be many opportunities for hands-on research experience. The general impression is that the staff look down on undergrads. As a result they don't really want us running around their labs.
  8. Jan 19, 2012 #7


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    I might throw the first question back at you and ask what you mean by "independent study." I interpret that to mean reading or otherwise learning about material that isn't directly covered in your classes. It's the stuff that you learn about purely for the interest of it. I suspect that not many students spend much time on this at all.

    I suspect however that what you mean is simply study time - and the answer is that it's different for everyone. As far as marks go, my experience (not in the UK) has been that every little mark counts in undergrad. I believe (without any hard evidence to back it up) that high marks generate a kind of positive feedback situation. For example, higher marks increase your likelihood of getting a scholarship. Getting a scholarship means you don't have to work as much at a part-time job, leaving more time for studies, leading to higher marks, etc. Higher grades influence reference letters, and graduate admission decisions.

    As to the secod question, I would strongly suggest a program that includes some kind of senior lab if you're considering an experimental path for your PhD. The labs that I did in first and second year were more-or-less cookbook experiments, designed to assist with learning. In my program we didn't really get to anything interesting that advanced our skill set until our third year.
  9. Jan 20, 2012 #8
    I think the crucial thing is to enjoy learning. One hour of learning, that you enjoy, is better and more advantageous than 10 hours of forced learning.
    It's somehow similar to sports, let's say, bodybuilding. You don't need to train for 8 hours everyday to achieve results, however, what is completely necessary is consistency - you can't be lazy the whole year, then, when the competition is coming (exams), start training 8 hours a day to get in shape in a few weeks.
  10. Jan 20, 2012 #9
    Yeah the advice from US posters to "do some undergrad research" always sounds strange to UK ears. Something like "why not join a marching band?" or "you should plan carefully for the school prom".

    "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." George Bernard Shaw

    Why not ask if you can do the labs that the straight physics guys are doing?

    By the way, I don't think most staff "look down on" undergrads. It's just that they don't have time to molly coddle them. Their career advances through research not pandering to undergrads.
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