If you could design your own physics curriculum...

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twistor
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If you could design your own physics curriculum...

Postby twistor » Mon Jan 21, 2008 8:55 pm

Here is a topic to get everyone's mind off of admissions:

If you could make up the ideal undergradute physics curriculum, what would it look like? To get everyone started, here is how I think it should be:

Core classes:

Introductory Mechanics
Introductory Electricity and Magnetism
Mathematical Methods I (basic topics, vector calculus, fourier series, linear algebra methods)
Mathematical Methods II (advanced topics like special functions, hilbert space, tensor analysis, fourier transform, Green's functions...)
Vibrations and Waves
Modern Physics
Quantum Mechanics I and II
Electrodynamics I and II
Particle and Nuclear physics
Fluid mechanics
Thermodynamics and introductory statistical mechanics
Experimental physics (electronics, instrumentation, design, setup, execution, etc.)
Introductory solid state physics
Introductory astronomy/astrophysics
Molecular physics/spectroscopy
Optics
Analytical Mechanics
Special relativity (Lorentz transformations, four-vectors, relativistic invariants, tensors, dynamics of relativistic particle collisions, Poincare groups, Dirac equation)
Physics research experience guided by a professor

Supplementary classes/Natural sciences:

General chemistry I & II
Organic chemistry

Supplementary classes/EE & CS:

Introduction to programming
Data structures
Circuit analysis
Signal analysis
Computer algorithms

Supplementary classes/Math:

Calculus I, II, and III
Differential Equations
Linear algebra
Statistics
Probability theory
Complex analysis
Numerial analysis
Abstract algebra
Topology
Differential geometry
Partial differential equations

I think the person who completes this program will have the best preparation for graduate school.

N.B. When I posted this to the other forum it didn't show up on the main page. I don't know why, but obviously no one was going to reply to it if they didn't know it existed. This is a re-post so just ignore the other and reply to this one.

Maxwells_Demon
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Postby Maxwells_Demon » Mon Jan 21, 2008 10:16 pm

Hm... I have most of that.

My math is more applied than theoretical, as you posted.
-Maxwell's Demon

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Tue Jan 22, 2008 1:01 am

I counted 42 courses in that list which doesn't include the gen ed stuff we need to take. So it'd be impossible to complete such a curriculum unless we took 6+ courses every semester or stayed 5 years.

Even if you wanted to take 6 classes every semester (I did a few times), if your school is anywhere nearly as disorganized and careless as mine, you could never fit courses from all of those different departments in without scheduling conflicts.

Though I've still taken most of those things.

I would omit organic chemistry since I'd imagine it to be just a tedious brute force memorization of molecules that would chew up lots of time and not really teach us much that's applicable to physics. General chemistry can be useful, however. I would try to combine all the engineering topics into one course called "engineering for physics" and the same thing with the computing courses.

Another thing that's important when designing a program is to make sure each course picks up where the previous courses left off and doesn't assume background the students don't have. The specific topics covered in each course would need to take this into consideration, but this rarely happens as far as I know. Many departments simply pick out a prof and say "teach solid state physics next semester" and the prof just teaches whatever he wants without careful consideration of what students would know coming in. This can both catch students off guard and lead to unnecessary repetition of material.

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fermiboy
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Postby fermiboy » Tue Jan 22, 2008 1:12 am

So you're saying major in physics, take every course in the physics department, pick up minors in chemistry, EE, and computer science, and then top it off with another major in math.

Yeah, you would be prepared for grad school. You would also be 40 years old.

Hey, why not throw in like 6 biology courses as well?
Last edited by fermiboy on Tue Jan 22, 2008 1:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Tue Jan 22, 2008 1:20 am

hahahha yea that's what it looks like....

probably a more reasonable recommendation would be for students interested in theory to take the math and students interested in experiment to take the engineering/computing stuff.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Tue Jan 22, 2008 2:18 am

As a physics and chemistry double major, I can say that organic chemistry is definitely A LOT more than some tedious memorization. I would say that about 20 to 25% is memorization, the rest is some of the most beautiful and interesting subject matter I've had as an undergraduate in ANY subject. It is also extremely useful for anyone who would do experimental condensed matter. My O-Chem knowledge comes in handy frequently, especially with things involving nanofabrication.

Twistor, you're taking some flak on this thread, but I feel where you're coming from. IMO this wasn't meant to be a practical suggestion, but more of a whimsical thing. There is so much out there that is *interesting* and would be *nice* to know. Forget about how long it would take, and ask yourself what you wish you could know with an eye towards your grad school career.

Heck, part of the reason I got a double major is because I couldn't settle on one thing. If I could freeze time and learn about everything I was interested in, I'd have physics, math, computer science, chemistry, EE, AE, and philosophy degrees!

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Tue Jan 22, 2008 4:58 am

I'm not disagreeing with twistor's scheme, but I just think it's too extensive and idealistic. The content is good, but for the subjects "peripheral" to physics, I think grouping related topics into single classes could reduce the list to a manageable number of courses...

Oh and by the way:

:!: :idea: :P CONGRATS ON REACHING THE 200 CLUB TWISTOR :P :idea: :!:

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:02 am

oh yea I didn't even realize RG slipped in...

:!: :idea: :P CONGRATS ON REACHING THE 200 CLUB RG :P :idea: :!:

oh yea and congrats to myself too :wink:

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:45 am

I counted 42 courses in that list which doesn't include the gen ed stuff we need to take. So it'd be impossible to complete such a curriculum unless we took 6+ courses every semester or stayed 5 years.


There is a simple answer to this. My idealized curriculum would not include gen ed classes. See my posts on liberal arts education.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:56 am

IMO this wasn't meant to be a practical suggestion, but more of a whimsical thing. There is so much out there that is *interesting* and would be *nice* to know. Forget about how long it would take, and ask yourself what you wish you could know with an eye towards your grad school career.


grae313 has the right idea, which was supposed to be that if you throw out the garbage you had to take that was unnecessary (maybe the introductory psych class or that course on Chinese foreign policy, etc.) and replace it with things that are useful for your career, what would they be? I figured people would just have fun with this. Apparently you guys like it the way it is....

I don't expect any school to actually implement such a curriculum. And I fear a "Computer's for physicists" class would be watered down crap by physicists who don't really know what they're doing. Taking CS classes with professionals is really the way to go.

And to understand most modern theories of physics, much of that math really is necessary. You can't understand modern physics without group theory or differential geometry (for QFT, GR and many others). Complex analysis is a practical necessity. Statistics and Numerical analysis are aimed more at experimentalists but every physicist should still understand them. Partial differential equations come up in every branch of physics. Probability theory is useful for QM and Stat mech. The only one I would really drop from my list is topology, but I think if you want to be well prepared for advanced topics you should take it anyway. But remember, this curriculum is ideal, as in "just for fun."

And based on Maxwells_Demon's post, maybe it is possible. He says he has taken most of those courses.

And to quizivex:

Now that I'm in the 200 club, when do I get my membership pack with GRE answer decoder ring?

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Tue Jan 22, 2008 4:45 pm

It is so hard to wait....

tnoviell
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Postby tnoviell » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:04 pm

I think the classes dubbed "garbage" are necessary, personally.

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:09 pm

ok, one good news...
Last year a student got into Cornell with PGRE 680! he/she was admitted to high energy theory. i heard this from my friends.
I don know if this is true! :o

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:10 pm

Thanks, quizivex, n congrats to you too!

tnoviell
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Postby tnoviell » Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:12 pm

RG, I've known students to get into great schools with extremely low PGRE scores, lower than that. A lot of it is due to networking.

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Tue Jan 22, 2008 6:22 pm

I guess I will be a victim of ' null networking". When do we actually start hearing from grad schools, tnoviell?

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Tue Jan 22, 2008 7:31 pm

The whole purpose of this topic was to distract everyone from admissions.

tnoviell
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Postby tnoviell » Tue Jan 22, 2008 8:40 pm

I'll answer the question, then go back to the topic: RG - by this time last year I had heard from all the graduate schools I was going to hear from, but I didn't apply to many. Based on trends in the board, and from my peers back in the day, it seemed more towards Feb/March, I suppose.

Twistor, if it were my ideal situation, I would've taken most classes I took, but I think at my school, programming wasn't stressed enough. I think a computational physics course, maybe 2 semesters, would've been of great benefit.

I think if it were up to me, I'd rather fix the situation in the K-12 system, because times are changing, and the education system isn't changing with the time. Physics needs to be taught sooner in the process, and math needs to be highly encouraged.

There's my two cents in that regard.

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Tue Jan 22, 2008 9:34 pm

tnoviell, you had already heard from all the schools you were accepted to by this time last year? How many schools was that? What does that mean for us poor saps that haven't heard from anybody yet? :? :?

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Tue Jan 22, 2008 10:02 pm

tnoviell:

I agree with you about revising the k-12 system. In America education moves at the pace of the slowest kids in the class. Furthermore, it's very repetitive. I'm not suprised half the country is reverting back to creationism (under the guise of so-called "Intelligent Design"). Science and logic are not stressed enough.

But I really also think that k-12 is the time where you should be exploring your interests, especially in high-school. Maybe you can take a few more math and science classes if that is what you're interested in, but I think college should really be about specialization. Your history class isn't really going to change much from high-school to college, but math and engineering and physics are going to be on a whole different level. Leave liberal arts to the high-schools, I say.

tnoviell
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Postby tnoviell » Tue Jan 22, 2008 11:37 pm

Grae - don't worry about it. You're in a very good position, trust me, all of you people are. I think a lot of you put too much pressure on yourselves when none should exist - you're all very strong candidates.

Twistor - the high school situation is a product of privatization in this country, this is what happens when you decrease the role of your government in your country. I think college needs a few english and history courses, because these classes help you further develop your reading and writing skills. The lessons you learn may not be much different, but the techniques picked up are essential. I know there's a world of difference between my high school and college papers...plus, sometimes throughout the course of the day, I really want to see something other than physics & math presented to me.

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twistor
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Postby twistor » Wed Jan 23, 2008 12:45 am

tnoviell:

Those are all very important skills, but I don't think they should be as emphasized as they are today.

Don't get me wrong, history, anthropology, philosophy, etc. are all important disciplines and the truly educated should have a grasp of at least the basic tenets of all of them. But this should not come at the exclusion to expertise in one's chosen field. When US companies hire candidates they look for advanced knowledge of a particular field. They don't care if US candidates took a year of ancient history along with their discipline if Chinese and Indian or any other foreign candidates are better prepared.

So don't misunderstand me. I don't think those subjects aren't important. I think to remain competetive in the modern world they must be demphasized. This is just the price we have to pay if we want to stay up to par with our friends abroad.

cancelled20080417
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Postby cancelled20080417 » Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:15 am

twistor:
I am sorry, but let us all just talk about admissions only! I cannot think of anything but the admissions decisions, letters, emails and such!


I have stopped reading QFT in my directed studies, coz I cannot concentrate anymore. I do not even know where I am gonna be after 4 months from now which is pretty scary!

WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO SLOW?????? people let us all quit Physics and do Biology instead!

Why the hell do they take such a long time? Do they think they are going to win Nobel Prize just by reading our applications? ( Msg to admissions committees: Hello Profs let us in first, then u will win whateva u want to win!)



this is freaking crazy, insane, stupid!

goodfromfar
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Postby goodfromfar » Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:30 am

RG, you should come backpacking with me around the world! Instead of thinking about admissions, you'll be focused on only one thing...

"please, dear god, don't let me be raped."

of course, the thought right after that is, "I wonder what admissions committees are thinking right now...."

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quizivex
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Postby quizivex » Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:50 am

Now that I'm in the 200 club, when do I get my membership pack with GRE answer decoder ring?


I'm not the president of this club... grae313 is since she got there first... you'll have to ask her.

There is a simple answer to this. My idealized curriculum would not include gen ed classes. See my posts on liberal arts education.


Yeah I'm with you here for the most part but I'll save my detailed explanation and arguments for a later time...

I have stopped reading QFT in my directed studies, coz I cannot concentrate anymore. I do not even know where I am gonna be after 4 months from now which is pretty scary!


Yeah... One of my plans for this easy semester was to catch up on some of things I've forgotten and try to learn a few advanced things... since I'll really need to know it going into grad school... but I haven't done anything yet since I want to make sure I get admitted somewhere first.


Oh yea and if you're backpacking through Amsterdam, the rape wouldn't even be illegal... hehe.

As for admissions, I've always wanted to fill out a fake application with all kinds of sarcastic answers... just to mess with the people.

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will
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Postby will » Wed Jan 23, 2008 2:10 am

Yeah, I thought about doing that too. Then I ended up actually doing it. On all of them.

I really hope I get to go to grad school. :(

goodfromfar
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Postby goodfromfar » Wed Jan 23, 2008 2:57 am

did you really?

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grae313
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Postby grae313 » Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:24 am

no

you can't fool me this time, will--I'm on to you 8)

tnoviell
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Postby tnoviell » Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:36 am

I did the same will, and even on interview weekend continued to fool them. Good times.




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