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Weak physics curriculum?

  1. Jul 6, 2013 #1
    After talking with students from other schools and looking around at "typical" physics curricula, I can't help but wonder whether mine is a bit weak... I go to a large state school with a relatively tiny physics department and part of me thinks they have condensed the workload in order to convince more students to major in physics or even double major in it (I'm one of the few students who isn't double majoring in math or engineering). What do you guys think? These are the requirements:

    Undergrad Seminar
    Physics I
    Physics II
    Intro Modern Physics
    Mechanics [Symon]
    E&M I (there is technically an E&M II but I've never seen it offered) [Griffiths]
    Thermodynamics [?]
    Quantum I [Griffiths]
    Advanced Physics Lab
    Capstone (Quantum II, Senior Thesis, Issues in Modern Physics & Tech)
    + 4 Upper Level Physics electives

    Calc I-III [Stewart]
    + 2 Upper Level Math electives

    There is a healthy amount of physics electives offered and some decent research going on.
    http://physics.missouri.edu/undergraduate-program/undergrad-courses/ [Broken]

    Do you think this would be good enough preparation for top grad schools?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2013 #2


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    It looks good to me.
    My undergraduate degree (from a large state university with a large physics department) had similar requirements.

    Of course, getting into a good grad school depends on how well you do in these courses and how well you impress your faculty to get good letters of reference. (If you can fit them in and feel ready for them, you might wish to take some grad courses that are available to you... not necessarily to place out of them in grad school.. but to get a taste of them.)

    [I used to visit the Math Department at UM-Columbia for Relativity talks (hosted by John Beem)
    ... but never got to the Physics Department unfortunately.
    From the number of faculty in the Physics Department roster, I wouldn't call it "[relatively] tiny" (compared to all departments [in a university or a small-liberal arts college] with a physics major). I'd call tiny "fewer than 10".]
  4. Jul 6, 2013 #3


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    Those requirements cover the four core areas that grad schools look for: classical, E&M, quantum and thermo (does it include any stat mech?).

    What do you think is missing from the requirements, and is it offered as an elective? Minimal requirements for the major are a problem only if you actually limit yourself to that minimum.

    Can you do independent study or directed study courses for material that isn't covered in the core or elective courses?
  5. Jul 6, 2013 #4
    Well that makes me feel much better. I've worked my tail off to keep a 4.0 going into my junior year and would hate to be shot down because my program isn't rigorous enough... I don't think I'll be able to fit any grad classes in though, as much as I'd like to. And yes, the physics faculty roster is definitely impressive for a not very well known state school. I guess I meant small by the number of physics majors compared to other programs here.

    Yes "thermo" is essentially stat mech at my school. I guess it just seems that many schools have 2 semesters of modern physics, upper level mechanics, E&M, or quantum as apposed to only one of each. There is a second semester of quantum offered but not any of the other upper level classes. Many schools also seem to have 1 or 2 more lab classes (including electronics) and a 1 or 2 semester math methods sequence. We do have math methods [Boas] which I will take as an elective next semester and I've taken Optics w/lab [Hecht] as an elective. We also have an electronics lab elective..

    I believe there are opportunities for independent study so I guess that is always an option. I'm interested in geophysics but we don't have any faculty in physics so I'll be doing research with a seismologist (with a physics PhD) in the geology department. So I guess that is kind of my "independent study".

    I guess I just wanted to get a perspective on what other people's undergrad preparations have been compared to mine. It sounds like I'm just looking too deeply into this and worrying about nothing. Thanks for the replies guys.
  6. Jul 6, 2013 #5


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    Requirements are the _minimum_ required, as jtbell has noted.

    To stand out among others with similar "requirements", you should
    (probably in order)
    do well in the requirements,
    do more than the required courses (and maybe make that known in your application essay and to your recommenders).

    Unlike small-liberal arts colleges and primarily-undergraduate institutions,
    you have a graduate program there... which means that you have access to
    more electives and more possibilities for independent study (in a wider range of topics), faculty with active research groups (which could offer some research experiences, as well as network connections to other institutions), and grad students who can offer advice to you.

    (It would be good to work in some computational methods into your studies.)

    Yes, the Physics major is generally a tiny-size major (in terms of the number of students) in most colleges and universities. That's distressing because if they get too small, they might get eliminated [e.g. by not replacing retiring faculty] and demoted or absorbed into a "science department"... but that's life, I guess.
  7. Jul 6, 2013 #6
    I will definitely keep that in mind and try to squeeze in as many electives as possible.

    Do you have any suggestions? There is a computational physics course which I am considering. Also I'm going to try to squeeze in a course in numerical analysis or numerical linear algebra (both using Matlab).
  8. Jul 6, 2013 #7


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    A computational physics course would be good.
    (If no such dedicated course existed, I would have suggested trying to doing something numerical in one of your upper level classes.... just to get some experience.)
  9. Jul 6, 2013 #8
    Thanks, I'll just stick to my plan of taking that then. I probably won't worry about taking numerical analysis unless I just have an open spot somewhere in my schedule.
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