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What you learned during your undergrad degree; advice for undergrads

  1. Jul 12, 2013 #1
    Hey guys-

    To all of you out there who have already done your undergrad degree in physics, what have you learned most about the college experience? What are some pieces of advice that you wish you had known when you started college? Any / all comments appreciated. :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 13, 2013 #2


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    More broadly than just for Physics, build-up the Mathematics skill early and extensively.
  4. Jul 13, 2013 #3


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    Agreed, math is a huge issue at university level. You will be better served by strong math skills than knowledge of physics in prep school.
  5. Jul 13, 2013 #4


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    A few things I learned. It's important to take breaks during your course of study to do other interest and have a social life; however, it's also wise to spend some time reading over material you will learn next material, so that you'll have exposure to the content before the first day of class. This helps you see the bigger picture and let's you focus more on the details and see where it is all heading.

    Study groups are your friends. Initially a lot of students tend to study by themselves in a lonely library and when they struggle they struggle alone. I found that if you work in a group that you can bounce ideas off each other. An added perspective on how another person views a problem may be the trigger that helps you solve it. Plus talking to other students and explaining concepts fill in gaps of your understanding and informs you of what questions you need to ask in class or during office hours.

    Lastly, remember to have your personal life organized. School work is stressful enough on its own. Watch your money carefully, be responsible with it, and avoid people who cause a lot of drama in your life. While, it's impossible to avoid hardship during all four years of college, do your best to minimize it and force yourself to study, even when you're demotivated to do so.
  6. Jul 13, 2013 #5
    Wish I started college sooner, so I wouldn't feel rushed to get it done. I've been taking 18 credit hours each semester for the past 3 years, also taking summer classes. If I started college when I was 18, I wouldn't have done that. I recommend taking only 2 physics classes or 1 physics and 1 math class each semester, so you can actually focus on the classes and possibly get A's in each of them, while learning the material.

    If you can take 4 physics classes each semester and make A's in each of them while thoroughly learning the material, then you're a better man than me.
  7. Jul 13, 2013 #6


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    Don't make a habit of cutting into your sleep time.

    Make time to exercise.

    When you start getting behind or lost in a class, address it right away. Waiting will only make things worse.
  8. Jul 13, 2013 #7
    Don't rush through it.
  9. Jul 13, 2013 #8
    Have fun with your studies.
  10. Jul 13, 2013 #9
    1. Learn how to write: It is tempting as a science major to focus only on technical skills, and learn only how to do the math. While that is the path to your best grades, it's not exceptionally useful in most walks of life (being a theorist is an exception). However, you'll find that your success will often be based on how well you write: your statement of purpose for grad school, the papers you publish, documentation, presentations, etc. Writing clearly and quickly is a very useful skill, and a skill that is often neglected by technical majors (while I worked at CERN, a surprisingly large portion of my time was spent writing documentation).

    2. Learn how to code: you don't have to become an algorithms expert, but you should learn the basic skills of coding, such as debugging. There is a good chance that your technical degree will put you in a job where coding knowledge will be useful.

    3. Have fun! Getting drunk at a frat party might seem like a waste of time, but you might meet your future wife/husband there, or at least your future girlfriend/boyfriend. You also might meet future business/academic connections. Honestly, people don't change much in this regard, I've gotten to know several profs fairly well, and most of them are the result of drinking with them.

    Of course, if getting drunk isn't your cup of tea, you can still get many of these same things out of more tame forms of social activity. Many of the more fun moments of my undergrad were also completely sober moments.
  11. Jul 13, 2013 #10


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    1. Take care of yourself first. What I've learned this means:
    (a) Eat right - lots of fruits and veggies, minimize the junk food intake, eat proper portions.
    (b) Exercise frequently and with intensity.
    (c) Sleep well - stick to a routine and get as many hours as you need.
    (d) Make good use of down time. Socialize. Relax. Avoid the time-sink activities.

    2. Chose your relationships (both intimate and friendships) wisely. Try to spend more time with people who have similar goals and less with the emotional vampires who weigh you down with negativity.

    3. Get involved. Yes it's important to get research experience, but it's also important to try new things and have a social network that extends beyond your major. Sometimes the skills you acquire doing these things are the key to a successful career later in life.

    4. Learn how you learn. A lot of kids who come into university with high grades haven't really been challenged yet and so they haven't needed to really develop any study skills and then somewhere between first and second year they hit a wall. Cramming the night before the exam likely isn't going to cut it anymore. Try different techniques and figure out what works for you.

    5. Make time for self-directed, independent study. A lot of students lose motivation because they get so caught up in assignments and studying for tests that they forget to really look into what they're curious about. Read independently.

    6. Do whatever you can to minimize the student debt you take on. Don't get caught up in the landslide of numbers and believe that you're going to have an awesome paycheque that will pay it all back, or that you can't make a dent in it with a part-time job. Summer jobs, part-time jobs, scholarships, and wise decisions about living can pay off big time later on in life.

    7. I disagree with some advice about minimizing the number of physics or mathematics courses that you take. I agree that every student needs to figure out the right balance for him or herself. However, if you can't take and do well in a full load of physics and mathematics courses at the undergraduate level, you may be setting yourself up for trouble once you get to graduate school.
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