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Undergraduate research/competitons/self-improvement

  1. Oct 7, 2005 #1
    I am 19 years old and a freshman at college - physics.
    I have always enjoyed physics and also maths, but on high school never took part on a physics/maths competition, but despite that I was an A-er in maths and physics, and I have never had problems with these subjects (and I hope I wont have any at college).

    As I came to college I saw that many of my fellow students have diplomas from several physics competitions, have already worked on junior scientific rojects etc., which I havn't and makes me feel a bit inferior.

    Now my question is - how to become more "competitive"? I guess that undergraduate research would be fine - but the field I'd like to study - theoretical quantum optics - seems to be pretty difficult for an undergraduate student. What other opportunities of self-improvement are there?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2005 #2
    Bah! I was forced to go to a few math competitions in HS. It was no fun.

    I think you'll do fine without it. If you don't like to do it, then don't.

    Go ask your advisor about things you can do. The field you'd like to study is far far away at the moment, but going to competitions and seeing if your basic physics is 100% won't hurt. Trust me, those questions are HARD. From my experience, the questions they give you in math competitions are NOT what you learn in the class room. Usually they involve some sort of trick they never taught you or something. It just makes you cry that you are in calculus, but you are being stumped by algebra and geometry questions. And while you are in 12th grade, some 9th grader from another school cleans house. Pfft... where's the justice?

    So yeah, ask your advisor. I'm sure he/she will have some info for you. Also, check out the physics and math clubs at your school, I'm sure they know a thing or two also.

  4. Oct 7, 2005 #3


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    There is a difference between this "competitive" and what will make you a good graduate later on in life. I've taken alot of "competitive examinations" like university entrance examinations, scholarship examinations, physics olympiad exams, and I tell you that these kind of exams have little to do with being a good student. You must spend alot of time reviewing questions, ALOT of them. Review them again and again, all kinds of problems. Open every Schuam's outline, every REA's problems solved and keep doing questions until simply, you have exhausted all possible kinds of questions you think the examiners can give you. Most of the time, it's also about being brainy and being good with algebra and math manipulation.

    On the other side. Being a good student and really knowing your stuff is what I think professors would look for in a potential graduate candidate. Having in depth understanding of problems, their solutions, their physical meanings, and also being able to relate between fields that you know. From such an approach you will find that your first year will in fact be the most frustrating year in college, because there will be soo many questions left unanswered as you try to really understand how everything all connects and all comes from. But I think that is in some ways a good thing, it keeps your inquisition going and is better than being "competitive".
  5. Oct 7, 2005 #4
    there is the putnam and the physics university contest(wish i remmeber the name)...as for doing undergrad reserach..just go talk to a prof...your topic doesn't have to be what you want to study but a related topic. like QC.
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