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Upper level physics classes, weak DiffEq

  1. Mar 25, 2010 #1
    Is it possible to do well in upper level physics classes with a weak foundation in differential equations?

    I've never taken a DiffEq class. Some of the extreme basics were covered in Calc 2, and there will be a crash course in DiffEq in my Mathematical Methods in Physics class (using the Boas book.)

    I plan on taking Mechanics next semester, but a senior student suggested I take an actual DiffEq class first.

    The problem with that is I'm an older student (27), with a mortgage to pay and a full time job. I can't afford to go to college for an extra year, and putting off mechanics could throw me off my pace to graduate on time. It's only offered during fall semesters.

    Luckily I have a job that allows me to study and do homework while at work, so I'm able to spend some time on the homework problems without losing any time outside of what I would have spent at work anyway.

    Should I be able to pick up the DiffEq I need on the fly? Or is it imperitave that I take the time for an actual DiffEq class.

    On a similar note, are there any good books designed for self-study of DiffEq I could grab for the summer?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 25, 2010 #2
    If our reasonably apt with math I would say just study DE's on your own. Its not that difficult really and mostly about learning computational methods. For self-study I dont know which book is best but also check out the MIT opencourseware videos lectures of DE's, the professor is pretty awesome.
  4. Mar 25, 2010 #3


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    I'm presuming by 'mechanics' you mean the first-year course. No, you don't need differential equations for that. Most first-year mechanics courses are designed to be taken concurrently with calc 1.

    Knowing how to solve DEs will be a big plus in upper division courses, as you will come across them again and again in your studies. It's a useful tool to have in your "bag of tricks" for problem solving.

    Although you might be able to pick up a working knowledge of them by osmosis and self-study, it would be best to take a DE course before your upper division courses.

    Isn't it a requirement for a physics degree at your school?
  5. Mar 25, 2010 #4
    Does the school offer a DE course in the summer?
  6. Mar 25, 2010 #5
    It certainly depends on what is being covered in the class of mechanics as lisab said, but I would confidently go for it if there is no other alternative, and if you see in the firsts days that you will really need DiffEq (which wouldn't surprise me) you can learn them by yourself, which is not really mind-blowing and will help you for a better understanding of the subject. The MIT online courses will definitely help you, they are so well structured and would provide you a full and intelligible framework for the mechanics class.
  7. Mar 25, 2010 #6
    By mechanics, I mean the upper division course. It's a 300-level course.

    My physics program requires an upper-division math course, and recommends DiffEq, but doesn't require it. I'm meeting that requirement now with Probability Theory, which was the only class I could use this semester that fit my schedule. I transferred from a community college, and they didn't let the transfer students register until the last second. All of the DiffEq classes were full.
    As for summer classes: they might be offering it, but if they are it doesn't fit my work schedule. Most summer classes are 4 or 5 days a week. Working 2 days a week would cause me to default on my mortgage. I remember checking to see if it was offered, I can't remember if i rejected because it wasn't offered, or because it was offered at an impossible time.

    Maybe I should sell the house...
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2010
  8. Mar 25, 2010 #7
    Would it be possible to take a night course (or a course during the day if you work at night) somewhere?
  9. Mar 25, 2010 #8
    I work 10am to 9pm 4 days a week. I'm cutting back to 3 days a week next fall, which will be tough financially. Trick is, I'm going to be taking 14 credits in the fall, so adding on another 3 or 4 credits on top of that would be very rough.

    I could see about auditing the class at my old community college.

    For now, I like the advice about MIT's OpenCourseWare. I'll give that a try.

    I'd still be interested in a book recommendation for the summer, to give me something to do at work, if anybody has suggestions.

    Thanks for the responses so far.
  10. Mar 25, 2010 #9


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  11. Mar 25, 2010 #10
    Wow, it is a tough schedule indeed, and you will most likely need to know a bit about DiffEq for a 300-level course, what I can say is that I would at least work the MIT course and maybe some book during the summer as you said (I personally like Schaum's Outlines, they all are very problem-based, to practice a lot, and I'm 100% positive there is one for Differential Equations explicitly). It's not that you gotta master DiffEq, they don't even mark it as a requisite so I'm sure you can succeed on that class, if you understand the basis of DE working on it through the summer;) Don't even think about selling your house!
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