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Worth of self taught courses ?

  1. Jun 18, 2013 #1
    I have just come to the realization that the level of my current university physics program is quite low. Though we use text books like Kleppner for Mechanics and Griffiths/Purcell for E&M, we are not instructed at all to solve the back problems, and instead concentrate on derivations since those are what always come in the exams.

    Also, all the courses offered are Introductory level courses - probably at the Resnick & Halliday level (like I said, even though we might use upper level texts, we do not attempt the problems and often leave out many portions).

    I know that this will be a major disadvantage while applying to grad school - both as an applicant and as a student. So I am currently teaching myself Classical Mechanics from Morin, and E&M from Griffiths (while solving as many questions as I can this time to ensure that that 'upper undergrad level' is maintained).

    My question is, will writing that I did these 2 courses (and more next year probably once I encounter them) on my own be of any significance on my Resume/application? I will continue to study them regardless because I want to improve as a student, but will grad schools be disappointed to see the lack of rigor in my physics course?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2013 #2
    They won't see the lack of rigor in your courses, unless you send them the course description/syllabi or the course titles on your transcript make it very obvious they're very elementary. Take advantage to get good grades and use your spare time to get research experience and fill in the gaps, as you're already doing. Just take the highest level courses your school offers.

    IME, and by reading lots of stories from people getting butchered or having trouble in their first year of grad school, your chances for getting into grad school are better with good grades and easy coursework than with average grades and hardcore coursework.

    Is it worth mentioning you self-studied such and such? Don't know, it's probably hard to take seriously. Do something demonstrable, like a research project with someone and apply for every REU/internship you can find.
  4. Jun 18, 2013 #3
    I see. Supposing I do have to inform them of the level of my courses - do I then state explicitly that I covered the upper level stuff myself, or should I pretend like it was part of my course at college? I see no difference really, because everything I've learned at college has been studied by myself completely.

    For example, University of Heidelberg in Germany (if I remember correctly) asks for the textbook(s) used in each of the courses. Now my course is called Mechanics 101, and like I said, we used Kleppner, which doesn't really count as an upper level book. What should I do then? On their requirements page they quite clearly state that the student must have studied Mechanics at the level of Marion & Thornton.
  5. Jun 18, 2013 #4
    Most school have upper level E+M and Mechanics courses. Those are far more important than your freshman year courses. When they say you have to have studied mechanics at Marion&Thornton level, they mean in the upper level course.
  6. Jun 18, 2013 #5
    Berkley also asks for core textbooks used in their applications. Definitely do not be dishonest here, they can always check your dept. webpage and find out the truth. I personally provided a list of textbooks used (with links to the official course syllabi for proof) attached to my transcript, so the grad departments could see I used grad-level(by US standards) textbooks for most of my undergrad courses. I've heard of cases of grad departments making students with weaker backgrounds take upper level undergrad courses as part of their requirements, so you could be admitted provisionally if lackluster courses are the only weakness in your app.

    I would avoid stating anything that requires the admissions committee to take it on faith. Stick to demonstrable facts, like research projects (with or without publication, your adviser's letter is the proof), extracurricular coursework (ie: you took differential geometry from the math dept., provide your math dept's transcript) and activities, etc. If it's possible, you should try taking graduate versions of certain courses if your department allows for that (either for graduation requirements or extra).
  7. Jun 18, 2013 #6
    @DimReg : That's my question ; what if one's school did not have those upper level courses - would he be disadvantaged ?

    @Lava : Right ; so then is there any significance of mentioning what I've studied on my own (on the resume), or are universities going to ignore it? Because self study is something you can't quite give proof for (unless they give you a test to prove it).

    The universities I'm looking at don't seem to offer undergrad courses in grad school, which means I'm on my own, and I most probably will be rejected if I don't somehow tell them that I've done more than what my college offered. My current school does not have a graduate program, nor does it offer us the opportunity to take courses other than the ones specified in the course list sadly - if I did, I would surely have taken courses for extra credit.
  8. Jun 18, 2013 #7


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    dreamLord the mechanics course at the level of Thornton&Marin (Taylor etc.) is a basic requirement for a bachelors at nearly every US university I've seen. Are you sure you don't have an upper level mechanics class?
  9. Jun 18, 2013 #8
    I'm pretty sure we don't have one - I'm not from the US, perhaps that's why.
  10. Jun 18, 2013 #9


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    Oh well perhaps you have an equivalent (or more likely harder) mechanics course required in the coming year(s) before you get your bachelors? A friend of mine went to Germany for undergrad and his mechanics course used Landau and Lifgarbagez for example. I just find it hard to believe a university would let their students get a physics bachelors without at least mandating a second year of mechanics.
  11. Jun 18, 2013 #10
    I'm not either, but I'm in a 4-year bachelors. Are you attending a 3-year BS in the UK or Germany? If so that would make sense, especially in the UK from what I've seen. Elsewhere, it is typical to have at least one mechanics course at the sophomore level (I had two in sophomore, analytical mech). If you're applying to grad school coming from a 3-year BS, unless you're coming from a very high profile university and have really good grades, I think you would be a good decision (if not obligatory) to get a MSc first.

    I just realized you may be using the term "grad school" interchangeably with masters, I'm using it to refer to doctoral studies.

    Also check your 3rd year syllabi, some universities in the EU stick a first or second course in analytical mechanics there (I know Copenhaguen does, and mine formerly had it in the 3rd year but it got switched to 2nd year).
  12. Jun 18, 2013 #11


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  13. Jun 18, 2013 #12
    I'm from India guys. We have a 3 year bachelors, as you said Lava. Also, it has many courses which are not core subjects of Physics, or sometimes not related at all, like Chemistry, English, Computers ; all to make us more marketable I assume. The downside is that 2 out of our 4 courses each semester are non physics core subjects, which makes it difficult to have any sort of upper level courses in the period of 3 years.

    And yes Lava, I actually refer to M.Sc as grad school. That is the path I intend to follow. A 2 year M.Sc
    followed by a PhD.

    This is the link of my university's syllabus, if you guys can take a look and tell me how it compares to a standard US 4 year degree, I'd be very thankful.
    http://www.du.ac.in/fileadmin/DU/Events/BSc_Physics_Hon_482010.pdf [Broken]

    Bear in mind that these are all proof based courses with all concentration on derivations, so they're all low level courses even if the textbooks say otherwise.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  14. Jun 18, 2013 #13
    Then yes, coming from India a MS is usually an explicit requirement I've seen in most American grad schools unless you come from one of the top IIT's. I don't know enough about MS programs in Germany or much of the EU to help you,

    Looked at your syllabus: beyond freshman, you've got only 1 QM course and 1 EM course (as opposed to two). It's good you have a separate stat mech course, some universities just cram it into a thermal physics course. Your 3rd year is nearly identical to the 3rd year of the BSc at University College London.

    It looks like a lot of what would be taught in a sophomore mechanics course (elementary Lagrangian mech, HJ theory, etc.) is taught in your MPII course, so that's ok, I think there are no real worries about not having a dedicated sophomore mechanics course.
  15. Jun 18, 2013 #14
    What about the quality of the course though - like I said, it's all proof based. I read on PF that kids at Harvard have to do questions from Morin as homework while I'm learning something I already learned in high school! But it's a bit of a relief that at least the content isn't as incomplete as I made it out to be.

    Yes, I agree, a MS is a must. IITs themselves have a 5 year program with an integrated MS, so it's basically the same thing (time wise). Anyway, I have always preferred Europe to USA, which is why I'll be trying for universities in Germany, Switzerland and all for MS, then preferably Europe again for PhD else my own country.

    Thanks for the help Lava. May I ask where you are doing your bachelors from? Do you plan on going to grad school after that?
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