Proposed Physics Curriculum – New

The Department is proposing a new curriculum for majors entering in 2010. I’d like your opinion, comments, advice, suggestions. If you wish to comment anonymously use an alias and an imaginary e-mail address. The new physics program will have specializations (Astrophysics, Biomedical, Computational, Geophysics, Graduate School in Physics, and Teaching) instead of tracks.
All students will have to take the following courses:
7 liberal learning
3 foreign languages (two for Teaching)
2 math correlates (Calc A & B)
7 physics core courses
1 capstone (research or advanced lab or the teaching capstone)
5 physics options (one of them a lab course)
5 specialization and/or science option courses
2 electives.

The physics core for all majors will be:
General I & II
Modern Physics
Math Physics
Thermodynamics
Classical Mechanics
Electromagnetism I.

The 5 option courses can be any PHY course above level 200 (Quantum, Electromagnetism II, Biomedical, Nuclear, Advanced Geology, Electronics, Optics, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Condensed Matter, and 1 Indep. Research.)
In the Teaching specialization majors would take two of the above plus 3 PHY that are teaching related as part of their 5 options. They would not be required to take, but it would be recommended, earth science or chemistry courses.
Specialization courses may be physics, School of Science, and/or School of Engineering courses. Each specialization (the word concentration is reserved for other TCNJ options) has their own list of options similar to the tracks.
There is a no specialization option, it would be 12 PHY + 1 capstone + 5 SoS/SoE options without following the particular lists involved in the specializations mentioned above.
That is it in a nutshell.

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29 Responses

  1. This is a pretty late response, but I suppose I’ll post.

    I’m a current senior undergraduate here, formerly a PHYH major (now minoring in physics), now going for graduate school in mathematics. Having taken many of the upper-level physics courses (GR, EM1+2, auditing CM), one of the largest criticisms I have for the department is the complete utter deficiency in mathematics proficiency.

    Having taken multivariable calculus and math physics (with Thulsi!), I can say clearly that physics majors who only took PHY 306 are at a complete disadvantage for basically all 400-levels and graduate school. The first 2-3 weeks of every course usually starts with a review of vector calculus or the relevant mathematics, detracting from the overall physical material and such, so what would be the point of only having taken math physics?

    Also, many techniques are completely skipped over that are fundamental for many constructions in modern physics– the residue theorem, basic group theory of matrix Lie groups, Hilbert space theory, etc. These are material that can be covered in a second-semester mathematical physics course, which I feel should be offered by the department. Students that are going into more theoretical aspects of physics should not feel as if their limited mathematical ability defers them away from beautiful physics.

    I agree with a very early post by Kevin, in which a “Topics in Physics” course should be offered each year. For example, in the mathematics department, we usually offer 2-3 mathematics seminars each semester, with topics ranging from differential geometry to Galois theory. By giving physics students a taste of upper-level physics and greater mathematical skills, they would be better equipped for what will await them in graduate school and the more rigorous theories in physics, like QFT and QED.

    Just my thoughts.

    – Calvin

  2. One thing I would recommend is encourage/require incoming Freshman to read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene or a similar type of book. The book does a great job of providing a conceptual framework for the formulae I learned in Modern, Math Physics, and Relativity. As a teaching/Earth Sci track, where I always struggled with was visualizing what the math actually meant.

  3. I am definitely coming into this late, but here’s my two cents:
    1. As much pain as differential equations caused me when I took it at TCNJ, we used it a lot in graduate school. I would strongly suggest that anyone planning on going to grad school for physics take differential equations, and do better at it than I did.
    2. Looking back, I think some kind of introduction to statistical mechanics would have been good. Some of the other grad students had this. Perhaps, rather than adding a Stat Mech elective, the Thermodynamics course could be updated to include some of the entry points into the more advanced work. Perhaps call it Thermodynamics and Introduction to Statistical Mechanics.

  4. I am under the belief that all the optional course should be required. But in reality for people that want to go to grad school EM2 and quantum needs to be required. There should even be two required quantum courses.

  5. As a note to upcoming Sophomores for next year, you should seriously consider taking Mathematical Physics in place of Calculus C. As a student currently in both courses I can say that they overlap quite a bit. Not only do they overlap in the material they teach, but they do so in horribly different ways. Eigenvalues are called Lagrange Multipliers in Calc C. and most other topics so far have been discussed in strange ways.

    Math Physics counts as a pre-requisite for any physics courses that require Calc C. so there isn’t really any reason to take it.

    On another note it would definitely be beneficial to take Linear Algebra. While Math Physics brushes up on basic Linear Algebra there isn’t much depth which is sad because Linear Algebra is so useful in solving systems with many unknowns which commonly occur in physical situations.

  6. An update on the proposal. Starting with the freshmen class next fall the above curriculum will be applied. Thanks for the input. Your comments will be used for better advisement of our majors.

  7. Will–Not everyone has electives, like those who aren’t in the PHYA track. Again, people seem to be operating under the assumption that only those in the PHYA track are interested in grad school and that isn’t the case. I was in the PHYH track and I had exactly enough courses to take the bare minimum in my major + Emag (which was not a requirement for me), get the minor I wanted, and take all of my liberal learning. I didn’t have an extra 6 classes to play around in the math department, although if I did I guarantee I’d be singing a much different tune right now.

    This isn’t about negativity toward TCNJ–it’s about criticizing the past curriculum so that improvements can be made to benefit future students. Otherwise, the curriculum will become old and stagnant, and nothing improves.

    Yes, other tracks are weaker in physics, especially if students in those other tracks are looking to go into a graduate program in physics. This is because they are taking other courses to fulfill requirements for their specific track (like the biology and engineering courses for the biomedical physics track) instead of taking upper level physics courses. This can’t be helped if these courses are built into the curriculum and leave few electives open to take physics or math courses. However I do agree that they should be revamped and improved–or advisors should push their students toward certain classes on a case by case basis instead of having each of them following a formulated curriculum that may not work for them.

    As for graduate school professors only caring about research… well, this may be the case, but you do still need to pass your classes to actually get to the research.

    In any case, as for actually changing the curriculum, is it possible to offer a broad range of math options, so that people who aren’t interested in going to grad school can take something relevant to their coursework like differential equations, and those who are can take courses like complex or real analysis? Also, is it possible to make quantum part of the core curriculum for everyone (except PHYT, they likely don’t need it, although I’m the wrong person to ask about that)? I feel like it’s a mistake to require thermodynamics over quantum, although that may just be because I will have more quantum courses here than stat mech. Not to say that thermodynamics isn’t important–I think both courses should be taken–but I feel like students would benefit more from taking quantum. Also I think students in ALL tracks should be instructed as to what the best courses are to take if they are going to grad school. It may be the students’ responsibility to do what they need to do to get by in grad school, but we’re relying on the advice of people who have done this before.

  8. Erica, I also received shocked reactions when I said that I haven’t taken a course in real or complex analysis. Incidentally, both of these courses would have been extremely useful, particularly for QFT. A classmate told me that until recently, physics undergraduates here (University of Hamburg) didn’t take nearly as many math courses as they are required to take now. But students collectively felt lost when they moved on to more advanced courses since they lacked the mathematical foundations that support physics. So they figured out what math subjects they needed the most, discussed the issue with the department, and the curriculum was adjusted accordingly. I guess education is really a trial and error process that will (and should) constantly adapt. In my experience, TCNJ’s physics department has been keen to hear the ideas of past and present students, and I suspect the department is always looking for ways to improve. I think it is pretty clear that TCNJ’s physics grad students generally wish they had been exposed to more math. Hopefully curriculum changes can address this to some extent– Please offer a theoretical or mathematical physics track in collaboration with the math department.

    Regarding liberal learning, a broad education may have its values. So does moderation. As a liberal arts college, TCNJ should require some liberal learning classes, but the number of liberal learning courses currently required is ridiculous. However, I think everyone is overestimating the bureaucracy that tells you which classes you can and cannot take. Yes, there are loopholes. Many of them are human, some in the form of rational administrators willing to sign off that an academically valuable course can replace one of several bureaucratic requirements. Also, courses can be offered within the department that technically satisfy certain requirements. (For instance the math department offers a math history course, which I highly recommend to anyone interested.) It may take some creativity, but courses could be offered within the department that are both meaningful and add another check-mark to the paperwork that you trade for a diploma. Good luck restructuring the curriculum. I hope future students really benefit academically from the changes that are implemented.

  9. Liberal learning is a complete waste of time…

  10. First off Chaz, you never go out here at Rutgers, but your writing pages in responses? lol

    Ok so everyone seems to think TCNJ should be MIT, its not!

    You build your own future guys, to an extent you pick the classes and arrange your own schedule… as an undergrad I took 6 mathematics courses and minored in business while at TCNJ in four years, so don’t give me they don’t make you take the math courses, if you want to go to grad school use your ELECTIVES and take them:
    Calculus A,B,C
    Differential Equations
    Advanced Engineering Math
    Math Physics
    -yes you too can chose these as your electives.

    I don’t understand everyone’s negativity towards TCNJ its major benefits are no in its courses its in the fact that you can do research one on one with a professor or go to the APS or reach out to former alumni. TCNJ has presented me with opportunities that no other university would have been able to offer, its upto you to take advantage of them.

    As far as improving the curriculum as a PHYA I am a bit biased. I think the other tracks (I won’t name them but we know what they are) are much weaker than PHYA and those students should be required to take EMAG, Quantum and etc. PHYT’s shouldn’t be forced to take these

    Suggestions
    Quantum should be split into two semesters.
    Digital and Analog Circuits should be two separate courses. One analog and RF, and another digital electronics and their architectures.

    Also as an update, graduate school is going well. Its tough, very tough. And no matter how well educated you were as an undergrad you will feel un-prepared if you go into a science or engineering fields. Especially if you change from physics to EE in grad school :)….

    Take advantage of TCNJ’s strengths, talk to professors and do research. Try to go to the APS, talk to alumni about opportunities, try to do DPX and work connections TCNJ has with other universities such as Princeton. I just went to an interview and I can’t tell you how impressed they were by the amount of research and work experience I had. Build upon what you can do at TCNJ, do some basic research, build on it, and go for a summer internship and build on that.

    TCNJ is not a MIT, you will not see foreigners representing 90% of your class, and you will not be required to take all math’s and no liberal learning courses. I have never felt under-prepared when compared to my peers quite the opposite. Its TCNJ use its strengths, professors care about your education, I can tell you that here at Rutgers graduate professors are primarily concerned about their research and spend little time dealing with students and their courses.

    As a side note: TCNJ homecoming is the best event ever go when you get old and graduate and want to see/drink with all of your old buddies

  11. Maybe a better idea would be, instead of requiring those extra math courses, to make them options.

    Even if they aren’t required or available to take as options, there should be some wiggle room to take a course you feel is necessary even if the College doesn’t. For my final semester, I needed 10 credits but only one physics course. I took statistics, because I felt that would be helpful going forward, and macro-economics. (Side note, a course like macro is where I would agree with Chaz’s assessment of the liberal learning requirements, except that I don’t know that it would have fulfilled any of the correlates – certainly, I was the only non-business major in my section. It was, however, a rewarding and informing experience and I feel better equiped to discuss its topics and make personal and political decisions.)

  12. Oh, and one more note about the requiring more math courses–having placed out of calculus A and B because of AP scores, I wasn’t ever required to take an actual math class. So my last math class was in my senior year of high school. I’ve also gotten shocked reactions when I tell people that I wasn’t required to take diff eq, linear algebra, real or complex analysis, multivariable calc… which tells me exactly how underprepared I actually am.

    In any case, even people who don’t place out of calc A & B will not have had a math course in 3 years by the time they graduate, since they will likely take these courses as freshmen. I truly don’t think there is any harm in requiring a few extra math correlates–certainly students not going to grad school can benefit from at least linear algebra, diff eq, and multivariable calc, since they come in handy for some of the physics options they would have to take anyway.

  13. To Anonymous I–I don’t agree at all. We talk about needing more math because we legitimately needed more math preparation than what we got, whether we were overwhelmed then or not. PHY-A majors are not the only people interested in going to grad school, either. I was in the biomedical track and Frank was in the computational track. Yes, there is only a fraction of the current senior class planning on going to grad school, but what you’re saying is that they’re not going to be adequately prepared for graduate school, and they’ll just have to deal with it because trying to change the curriculum to actually suit their needs would be too difficult, and it may result in the department looking bad for losing people.

    Meanwhile, some of the tracks that aren’t PHY-A seriously need some help as well. I felt that in the biomedical track, I received a watered down version of both biology and physics, and I generally recommend to anyone wanting to take this track to choose PHY-A as their major and biology as their minor, as they’ll be able to take more upper level courses, instead of having a bunch of introductory level biology and engineering options.

    To Anonymous II–there’s nothing the physics department can do about the liberal learning requirements, considering EVERY department is required to have these. I only partially agree with you anyway–most of the liberal learning classes I took were uninformative, but I took a few that were actually fun and interesting.

  14. Hey, so as a current physics undergraduate student, I would have to agree with *most* of the above statements. Many of the courses have disappointed me, and it is definitely up to the students themselves to study up on their own if they want to go to graduate school. Yet, no matter how motivated one may be to go to graduate school, being required to take courses below the scope of one’s interest would be, frankly, a waste of time. To be fair, though, not everyone seeks out a difficult course load, and many of the less detailed courses are quite good at kindling interest in broad topics of physics (I’m specifically referring to the Modern Physics course).

    In terms of revising the curriculum, though, I think we should take a peek into those of more developed departments, like biology, chemistry, business, mathematics, etc.

    The biology department has a “shadowing” system in which entering freshmen, via their 099 Orientation class, can sign up for shadowing a researching professor. This gives them an immediate introduction to topics and methods in the field while also bringing them closer to the faculty–not to mention give them more time to get a feel for what the field is like and for working on publishable material. Applying to the physics department, we could adopt a similar system, in which we perhaps partner students with professors and let them get a taste of theoretical and/or experimental work right off the bat.

    The chemistry department has ongoing seminars for upperclassmen, in which they are taught a variety of valuable skills (i.e. interviewing, resume writing, etc.) relevant for successful transition to graduate school, if not everywhere else in the world. Need I say more?

    To remedy the problem of having not enough time to cover many course materials, we could learn from the business and computer science departments; many departments offer half semester courses or courses that encompass sections I & II in one semester. For example, we could create a new course Accelerated Physics I & II, in which topics in both courses are covered in one semester. Or, accelerated two credit courses could be offered/negotiated, for example, Accelerated Physics I, which could be taken with, a hypothetical Accelerated Calculus I or Accelerated Physics II.

    And, lastly, I would recommend a multi-sectioned “Topics in Physics” course. Every semester, one or more Topics courses could be offered, including perhaps Advanced Mathematical Physics, Biophysics, Quantum Physics II, or, as Tim suggested, maybe even QFT, QED, string theory, etc.

    Of course, these few suggestions are merely a reflection of what I would see as a more ideal curriculum.

    And…that is all. Sorry for the long post!

    Cheers,

    ~Kevin

  15. I see, thank you for the clarification, I was wondering why there was such a strong change of heart in a short period of time.

  16. Chaz,

    anonymous I and II are different

    Also I am curious what PHY-G students think about the curriculum change as they go from a relatively easy curriculum to one that forces them to take classes that are more difficult and entirely not applicable.

    -Anonymous I

  17. I agree with you Ed on the last statement, realistically accessible real world learning experiences are best. The most memorable and rewarding experience I had was working with the children at Katzenbach School for the Deaf for my sign language class, it really challenged my thoughts on communication. The requirement for that course (ASL-103) was roughly 30-40 hours of volunteer work for the semester at Katzenbach.

    But don’t you think that finding out what you don’t want to do is still important? Whether you liked it or not, or thought it was a waste of time or not, at the very least the course still provided you with a way to learn something about yourself that you probably wouldn’t have learned without taking it. In that respect, the courses are relevant to the generic undergraduate student (i.e. not the one who wants to become a specialist after 4 years, but the one searching for the right path) who should have a survey of what other fields are available to help him/her learn what it is they should pursue. Again, I don’t necessarily agree with how TCNJ implements this idea, but I do agree with the idea itself.

  18. I largely agree with Anonymous (II) on liberal learning. Six years after completing the last of mine, I remember next to nothing about any of them. They didn’t really broaden any horizons. If anything, a lot of the courses I took served to turn me off of a topic. It wasn’t that they were poorly taught, but that they provided enough coverage for me to determine that I didn’t have a real interest in it. In my liberal learning courses, I tended to seek out and partner up with other science and engineering majors. I got a better dose of diversity and differing world views from the student groups in which I participated. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s an utter waste of time, but agree that if it’s scope was scaled back a bit, it would be a good thing.

    That said, I do agree with Chaz about the travel. Not all of us come from a socio-economic background that enables pleasure traveling, especially to foreign countries. I now live further from NJ than I have ever visited before last year. (I’m in Colorado)

    Back in the days of Athens to New York and S.E.T., there was a community service component. It was ridiculously light, only a few hours. Expanding that would be better than requiring all those liberal learning topics. It gets students out in the world instead of stuck in a classroom and that will go further towards developing a sense of the world around you than any textbook or essay.

  19. By the way I was assuming the last two posts from Anonymous were written by the same person, which is why I pointed out what I thought to be a contradiction in thought toward liberal learning by comparing the two posts. If this isn’t the case then… oops.

  20. Really? I don’t agree, I think liberal learning provided a nice introductory idea of what academia is like outside of the sciences. Some of TCNJ’s faculty in those departments that I mentioned are very good professors (and I’m sure there are some who aren’t, however I can only speak from my experiences). Those courses gave me the opportunity to converse with others who aren’t so scientifically/mathematically inclined, and was an interesting and engaging experience in each class (maybe not so much history of jazz., but the others moreso). Sure they may not be directly applicable to doctoral research in topological insulators or something, but I still feel those courses gave me a broader perspective (relative to how I was before taking those classes).

    Quoting you from above (which is the statement I agreed with regarding liberal learning in my last post),

    “As a liberal arts college, we are required to take liberal learning classes and the fact that those take up incredible amounts of credit hours hinders us at graduate level physics. As a result, however, we do gain a better appreciation of society and become more ‘wordly.'”

    That worldliness is just the reason why they’re important. Maybe the massive load of liberal learning isn’t exactly necessary, as I would’ve liked to have taken a biology course or two perhaps, but I still feel they are very important to the overall development of our young minds. Now you say though that liberal learning is, “an utter waste of time,” which I don’t agree with. Those courses helped hone my writing skills as well. It’s never good if you can’t present your thoughts or findings in a cohesive and understandable manner. Although I must be careful about this statement since a good deal of evaluating the writings was subjective and probably varies with professor, but still, it helped.

    I can’t exactly afford to visit another country at this point unfortunately, so I must save that suggestion for when I have a job or at least until I save enough from the money I’m getting at Rutgers. I do look forward to that experience though, as I’ve heard it’s an amazing thing to do.

  21. As far as liberal learning requirements are concerned, they should not be changed. Each non-core course I’ve taken has helped be more open-minded, lol, what?!?!?try picking up a paper or going out. You will be as well rounded as the next individual those classes teach nothing. You want to learn something go visit another country, and travel to the parts where tourists don’t go. This will make you well rounded

    You can quote me on this,

    Liberal learning is an utter waster of time…

    I do agree that the wide range of physics courses offered at TCNJ make it very attractive, you will learn the math :). Quantum II would have been nice though, you will adapt.

  22. I must agree with “Anonymous” above for the following reasons. The physics department’s broad spectrum of classes certainly made me a more well-rounded individual than the rest of my class at Rutgers. They’re all more advanced in mathematics and in core physics courses than I, but they have never taken a particle physics course, an optics course, or an electronics course for example. To replace those courses with another mathematics course or something else would not allow students to experience the broad range of fields in physics. As recent graduates we of course look back now and think, oh well this and that would’ve been extremely useful, and that the courses were easy, but I clearly recall spending many weekends and weeknights struggling to understand the material. However, I still do believe more Quantum Mechanics should be implemented.

    As far as liberal learning requirements are concerned, they should not be changed. Each non-core course I’ve taken has helped be more open-minded. (Just as a side-note, I’ve taken: Women Culture and Society, World Religions, History of Jazz, Intro Psychology, and three semesters of sign language to name a few.)

  23. I agree that the offerings need to stay flexible. At my first go-round back in the first half of the decade, I was frequently struggling to choose which courses in which I didn’t have much or any interest to take to fill the credit requirement for the major. Courses like Quantum or Relativity don’t have much bearing for a PHY-T or PHY-G.

    As far as the harder Math Physics vs Math Physics II debate. Is it a course that’s offered annually or bi-annually? If it’s annual, would it work to offer it bi-annually in two different formats? The current one offered one year, and a harder one (PHY 307?) for students that want to get a more in-depth study.

    Also, I’m not sure exactly has much has changed in the last 5-6 years, but back then, I felt that the Earth Science track could use a little more direction. I remember it being mainly populated primarily with washed out PHY-T’s. Those that decided that they didn’t want to teach but didn’t really know what they wanted. That was pretty much the situation for me when I graduated.

  24. I do not necessarily agree with the above statements as I think many of you are just fresh into graduate school and are comparing yourselves to students who attended more technical schools. As a liberal arts college, we are required to take liberal learning classes and the fact that those take up incredible amounts of credit hours hinders us at graduate level physics. As a result, however, we do gain a better appreciation of society and become more “wordly.” You made the choice to attend TCNJ and knowing right away that you are attending a liberal arts college should immediately inform you that unfortunately you will be at a disadvantage compared to students from other institutions.

    A lot of you speak about the need for more math or making the TCNJ physics curriculum more difficult, but I can promise you a year ago many of you were overwhelmed with enough work already that adding more onto to your plate would be overwhelming. I do agree that the curriculum needed some change as students in non PHY-A tracks did not necessarily have the appropriate courses to apply to graduate school. However, in redesigning a curriculum we have to look at the statistics of our class and realize that a large majority of the majors are not PHY-A. A lot of our students are interested in industry, medicine, and teaching. Forcing these students to take mandatory classes and more math intensive classes will simply drive these students to engineering, biology, or to another a school. Students should take the responsibility in their own hands, and if they would like to pursue graduate school in physics, they should be advised to take the appropriate courses. As a small department we cannot simply go from flexible curriculum to one that drives you to graduate school even if you did not want to go. If we look at the senior class now, there are 11 students with only about half as PHY-A. If we were to focus all of our attention to physics graduate school, I would predict that a handful of students would have changed majors, and we would be left with an even smaller department.

    There is a fine balance in designing this curriculum, and I don’t believe this was achieved in this proposed curriculum. Even with the curriculum we have now, TCNJ physics graduates are more than successful in their given career fields. It is ridiculous that we would to change the curriculum so drastically that may potentially lessen our prospective applicants.

    TCNJ graduates are well rounded students and this is the advantage we have over other students. The point that I am essentially getting at is that if we want to enforce these mandatory courses with no flexibility and make our classes “more difficult” so TCNJ physics students can only prepare for graduate school, we are going to lose our department. Students who are not planning on going to graduate school such as PHY-T’s might as well go to Ryder, PHY-H will move to BME or Biology, and PHY-G’s will go to biology. I do agree that change is for the better; however, I feel like the flexibility or the choice is completely gone which was the primary reason I attended TCNJ.

  25. I completely disagree about not bumping up math physics simply because I don’t see the problem with having other physics students not going to grad school knowing a bit more. Out of all of the tracks that are being offered, only one is basically guaranteed not to go to grad school, and that’s the teaching track. Obviously others can find jobs straight out of undergrad as well, but even if that’s the case, what’s the problem with learning a bit more math? So basically we’re saying that even though a person in just about every track has the potential to go to grad school, it’s too difficult to try to prepare them properly, so we’re not going to.

    The real problem is that the curriculum at TCNJ is too easy. There are SO many things that I’ve seen here that other grad students have seen that I never have. Knowing this now, I know that the curriculum could be a lot harder and still be reasonable, which is why I seriously think it’s not a bad idea to get everyone acclimated to more difficult math.

    Also, people will likely not attend Saturday workshops if they don’t need to, and no one will think they need to until it’s far too late and they’re already in grad school, kicking themselves for not attending the workshops.

    I also understand that requiring more math courses implies that these math courses are adequate for what physics undergrads need to succeed in grad school and that may not necessarily be the case. This is where math physics should pick up the slack. Every professor in the department knows what will be required of the students once they’re in grad school, and if they don’t, there are blog posts from grad students saying what’s required of us. I’m not saying that it would be easy to change the structure of the course, but I really think it needs to be done.

    Regarding the courses requiring labs, I know Gen Phys I and II and Modern Phys all require labs, and then there is one more course before Advanced Lab or Independent Research. Five labs certainly isn’t bad, but I do have to say that I was COMPLETELY blown away by how much work goes into Advanced Lab, and so either I agree with Justin and think that two physics options should require labs, or maybe more work can go into lab components of earlier courses to prep people a bit better for it. (I pulled more all nighters the semester I took Advanced Lab than I did through every other semester combined.)

    I like Justin’s idea of the department getting together weekly. We do that at Drexel, too, with the Physics Grad Student Association, where we get together just about every Friday, have lunch together, someone presents a short talk about their research, and then we all talk and hang out. It’s casual and fun, and it’s good so that people get to know each other.

    Sorry that this is long, but once I get on my soapbox it’s difficult to get me down.

  26. Alright, my turn!

    I agree that Calc A&B aren’t enough, but I also understand why they are taking away the Diff Eq class as being required, as the one offered by the math department is not that beneficial for us, and not always necessary for those not going into graduate school. Same story for the comp sci course.

    The switch to more general school of science, if I am understanding it correctly, seems like it could be very good. From appearances, this means that we would not have to take chemistry if not desired, but could instead take a course or two from engineering, to round out some applications of physics. In concept, I think this could be great, but making it work in practice is going to take a lot more advising and talking with the student about their direction and what will be best for them.

    Loopholes in liberal learning are very unlikely to happen… I would like students and professors to put together lists and suggestions of liberal learning classes for our students to take or to stay away from: things that might have some sort of positive influence on what we do, or perhaps more importantly, noting certain classes that we should avoid, perhaps due to bad relations with certain professors and our department….

    My issues with the above plan are first, I don’t think any major should be able to get through with only one lab course, as is proposed above. Particularly if they skip the general physics course, the student will only have a single semester of lab work before the Advanced Lab course, and then going on to whatever is after undergrad. I feel that you should try to push it to require majors to take two lab courses (if the point is that all students shouldn’t have to take electronics and optics, then maybe add a lab to one of the others?). Also, is it possible to make an independent research a requirement for those bound for graduate school?

    Lastly, suggestions: Math Physics is not adequate for the graduate bound physics major, but is satisfactory for most others, and should not be bumped up to make these others suffer. The idea of a “Math Physics II” course has been tossed around, but deemed impractical due to course scheduling difficulties and getting someone to teach it. Obviously if this course could be put together, giving elements of diff.eq, linear algebra, and everything else mentioned above (less detail, but to summarize everything) it would be incredibly valuable. My idea is simply to, in an effort to make it more practical, put together a mini-“workshop” for these mathematical concepts. Each semester, choose one of these major math ideas, and put together either a few 1-hour lectures or a single 3 hour (maybe on a saturday- if students want this, they will come!) where you go through some of the main concepts and give them some problems to try and work out right then and there. This way it is not a big time commitment in any given semester, but the students can gain some familiarity with the ideas and learn everything over the course of their undergraduate years.

    My other suggestion is concerning Tim’s idea above about a course for further ideas, such as string theory and beyond. I think having a course in this is not very practical, as it will be very difficult to put together, give constant lectures on, give homework, tests, etc. However, what might be easy to do would be a lecture/talk series, sort of like the orientation. My thought is this: what a required 2 credit pass/fail “course” every 4 semester, required for juniors and sophomores, where every other week, one professor gives a short paper or resource for people to read in advance, then gives a 30 minute or so summary lecture/powerpoint about the concept or idea, and then another 30 minutes of discussion and questions? The purpose would really be just to let students know about the major theories or work being done right now. Each professor has their area of specialty and likely keeps up with the major questions and research being done in their field at current. By presenting these big questions and where the research fields are going to the students, it could really help the students see what interests them and what they might like to do. Again, I’m not 100% on how possible this is, but it seems from my remote position that it could be put together so that each professor only has to put together a 30 min talk once every four semesters, that have a discussion with students about the research being done and what opportunities are there.

    Random idea too: One awesome thing we do here is have cookies and tea in a conference room once a week for all students to come and talk/hang out. It works pretty well with getting the students to come out and meet the faculty. Not sure if this is something that would work at TCNJ, but it is interesting.

    Sorry that was so long, and hope it proves helpful! I’ll keep thinking about other ideas.

  27. I completely agree with Erica’s comments above regarding Mathematics and Quantum Mechanics. For most specializations, Quantum Mechanics should be mandatory. Also, a second semester of Quantum Mechanics would be wonderful. To maintain the flexibility of the proposed curriculum, Modern Physics could be made optional for students who take courses in all the subjects Modern Physics introduces. In terms of mathematics, I would highly suggest requiring more than just Calc A and B. Physics can be understood much more fully and concisely through mathematical formalism. Calculus C, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations should definitely be part of the curriculum. Any students considering graduate studies in theoretical or mathematical physics should be encouraged to take Abstract Algebra as well. I am currently in a mathematical physics program and all courses rely heavily on algebra. It seems that everyone who studied physics in undergrad, no matter where they are from, is far behind (or completely lost) when it comes to this subject, largely because we have never been exposed to the vocabulary of the subject. On the other hand most of the former math majors are having no trouble at all with this topic.

    Previously, there was discussion of starting a theoretical/ mathematical physics track in collaboration with the math department. Please try to offer this track.

    I also think it would be great for the department to offer a prep course for the physics GRE. I don’t think this test should matter much as it has very little to do with physics, but unfortunately grad schools seem to take it rather seriously and many other universities offer prep courses for the test. Since TCNJ students will be competing with students from those universities, it could be a bit of a handicap if they don’t have access to the same type of preparation.

    I know these last proposals will be considered impractical, but I doubt you’ll find that very surprising. First, I would suggest offering a course that introduces various theories in modern physics: QFT, QED, String theory, and anything else that seems important. The course could address the motivation for each theory, core ideas and postulates of the theories, and the general mathematical framework of their construction. Differences in assumptions, specific predictions, and any incompatibilities between theories could be discussed. I don’t expect much detail on any topic, but I think it is important to have a basic idea of significant and promising theories if you really want to learn physics– and it could guide students to pursue one field of graduate study or another. I realize that this would be asking quite a lot of any one professor, so I propose that it be taught by a team and each professor choose a topic they are somewhat familiar with or interested in learning. Lastly, I know there has been a lot of debate about the Mathematical Physics course. I personally really enjoyed the course, but maybe that is irrelevant. I don’t think it can replace a whole slew of other courses, as Erica explained above. If most students find that too much material is covered to retain much of it, perhaps more math courses could be required and the Math Physics course can be adjusted to meet the new needs. Then an Advanced Mathematical Physics course can be added as an option for upperclassmen looking to attend grad school. And if I have suggested more courses than can possibly fit in the curriculum, I suggest finding loopholes in the liberal learning requirements… maybe getting advanced physics courses to satisfy World Views and Ways of Knowing or something of the sort. A broad education is valuable, but to require physics students to take 10 courses that are in no way related to science is a bit absurd. Hope all is well. Best of luck.
    ~Tim

  28. I definitly agree with everything Erica said. Linear Algebra and Complex Analysis should be required if you plan on going to Grad school. I’ve heard, “As you know from elementary calculus from kindergarden” waaaaaaaayyyyy too many times, to describe something I’ve never seen before. I know that maybe the math isn’t really needed so much for undergrad, but it is very useful for grad physics, and a lot of the other people here have already had these courses. A lot are also math minors/majors.

    I didn’t get to take classical mechanics at TCNJ, so you may cover this, but I really suggest going over Lagrangian stuff. Its actually a lot of fun. Pretty east to do. I would have liked it in general Phys 1. Just thought I would throw that in there.

    As far as programming goes. I would suggest taking CSC220 instead of CSC215. I don’t know anyone that really learned anything useful from CSC215. I think I learned most things you would need to know to do just about any programming you will ever need to do in CSC220, and the classes after that are pretty much different aopplications, or ways of forcing you to continue learning. But after CSC220 you will know enough to find any information you nmeed to programming anything. Also they teach you Java which is a good starting language and is an easy switch to any other language, especially C or C++. At Drexel they use python because it is fairly easy to learn, but I dont really like it, it ahs a weird structure that, while it amy be easier to “pick up”, after you know how to program in C its all pretty useless, and it runs slow.

    So ya, definitly go for CSC220. Theres no reason to introduce how to program in MatLab and C++ and VB in one course and only do a mediocre job, because if you can program in one language really well, its an easy switch to any other language, just minor syntax changes.

  29. As someone who didn’t take the quantum mechanics course because it wasn’t a required core for my specialization (biomedical) and is sorely regretting it, I would strongly suggest at least pushing students to take it if they are planning on going to grad school, whether they are in the “grad school” specialization or not–no matter what your specialization might be, you still need to get through 2 years of classes which will include quantum!

    I would also strongly recommend requiring more math correlates beyond Calc A and B for those serious about grad school. Math physics may touch on a lot of the material, but it just isn’t possible to cover material from multivariable calc, linear algebra, differential equations, real analysis, and complex analysis in one semester and expect to go into the same detail you would were you to take a semester for each of them–and at least from what I’m experiencing now, we’re expected to know a lot more than just “touching on each subject.” My suggestion is either require more math correlates, make the math physics course more rigorous, or make it a two semester course.

    I don’t know if this is possible, but offering a programming course that is more rigorous than the CSC215 that we were required to take would also be incredibly helpful; alternatively, having more programming assignments in the current courses would also be helpful. There wasn’t nearly enough programming covered in the comp sci course to prepare for what we have to do now, and overall, there weren’t that many programming assignments given throughout the curriculum.

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