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Courses What undergrad electives should be taken when pursuing astrophysics?

Hi, I go to a small liberal arts college and I'm majoring in physics. The college I attend has a VERY unique academic curriculum, with few required core courses, and one can have an oxford style tutorial in almost any area in physics, no matter how advanced.
I want to pursue graduate school in astrophysics, but I’m not sure in what area, I just know I’m not interested in theory.
What would be the ideal courses to take as an undergrad, other than common core courses?
Edit: Literally any course ideas would be appreciated. As mentioned, a tutorial can be made about anything. I want to use the unique curriculum to give myself the best possible preparation.
 
Last edited:

Vanadium 50

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Maybe you should tell us what the options are, unless you want replies like "Shakespearean cooking"
 
[Q50, post: 6158161, member: 110252"]
Maybe you should tell us what the options are, unless you want replies like "Shakespearean cooking"
[/QUOTE]
Any option. Tutorials can be made for virtually any upper level physics topic from undergrad level to grad level. I’m looking for valuable topics to learn for a career in astrophysics, since I have an opportunity that isn’t usually available to undergrads.
 

CrysPhys

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If I desired to pursue graduate school in astrophysics, working mostly in applied areas, what would be the ideal "additional" courses to take as an undergrad?
<<Emphasis added>> Please clarify what you consider to be applied areas of astrophysics.
 

jtbell

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<<Emphasis added>> Please clarify what you consider to be applied areas of astrophysics.
Anything that’s not theory. I’m not sure what area of astrophysics yet, but I want to make the most of my undergrad.
 
Which courses are you already planning to take?
Sorry, I should have clarified. I meant courses in addition to the usual core courses, ie; E&M, QM, optics, etc.
 

Choppy

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Some ideas:
  1. You might want to build up your coding skills. These tend to be quite versatile regardless of the specific projects you get involved in, and translate well into the working world if academia doesn't work out. So depending on what you already have, you might want to learn a popular language or two and then take a numerical methods or computational physics course.
  2. Since you're leaning toward the 'applied' side of things, you might want to take an image processing or signal processing course.
  3. A course that will hone your writing and/or presentation skills. The ability to express your ideas well is necessary (though not sufficient) for obtaining grant money.
  4. If you have the opportunity get involved in a research project. If you don't have specific ideas, ask your faculty if they have any. Or look at what previous students have done and build on those.
 
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Many years ago, two semesters of classical mechanics were the rule. This was especially true in a astronomy, astrophysics program. Now only one semester of classical mechanics is usually offered both undergraduate and graduate.

Most common classical mechanics treatments today give short work (if any) on Euler angles, and angle equations of motion. more on satellite orbits, and missile trajectories. Maybe a little geodesy and potential theory, etc.

A strong background in probability and statistics is also good for astrophysics/astronomy. Kinetic theory can be useful to. Stellar motion can often be modeled like a gas. See articles by Chandrasekhar, Stochastic Problems in Physics and Astronomy.

Aerospace Companies look for skills in Kalman Filtering or Control Theory. I have seen filtering used in near Earth Astrophysics (e.g. Radiation Belts, Space Weather), as well.
 
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If you're not interested in theory, perhaps you might be interested in collection and processing of cosmic data in support (whether confirmatory or refutational) of theory -- e.g. radiotelescopic calorimetry -- one practical application of radiotelescopic data is as source data for entropy pools.
 

CrysPhys

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To OP:

According to your posts:

* You intend to pursue a graduate program in "applied areas of astrophysics"; still not clear on what that means, but you define it as "not theory".

* You have the opportunity for a tutorial course custom tailored to practically anything you want, at any level you want.

* You want suggestions for a topic not covered in a core undergraduate physics program.

* The obvious choice would be a tutorial course in astrophysics, starting from your current background, and then expanding upon it. That way you'll get exposure to the various fields of astrophysics to guide you towards a grad school program (including helping you decide whether a grad program in astrophysics is indeed what you want to pursue).
 
I just finished a dual bachelors in Astrophysics and Physics. The Astrophysics coursework requirement was extremely flexible, but required courses in Cosmology, Planetary Astrophysics, or Stellar Physics, in addition to observational astronomy labs. It also required the core physics courses (QM, CM, Stat Mech, Thermo), but after that anything was fine.

I took General Relativity because GR is pretty cool, but I could have also used a course on differential geometry. With gravitational waves being confirmed, relativity offers more experimental work than before. As a result, a course on compact objects may be beneficial.

Since you are planning on Astro grad school, programming will be a necessary skill. Python in particular is becoming popular due to its ease, but knowing C++ or Fortran will help with legacy code/heavy analysis. IDL is still around and knowing C++ will ease that switch if necessary. I learned basic programming through courses, but most of it came from lab work. A critical skill here is keeping your code maintainable. Good comments, clear functions and variable names, and descriptive document strings are quite helpful, to your future self and others.

If you can, craft a course to include probability and statistics, hopefully including Bayesian statistics. Bayesian stats isn't the only method to determine errors or favored models, but it's somewhat defensible given the open parameter space and unknowns astrophysics deals with. You'll also always need Poisson statistics in a field that's fundamentally about counting photons, though.
 
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Can I opt for E&M, QM?
 

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