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MIT student blogger Lulu L. '09

Getting a Physics Major – Part I by Lulu L. '09

I split this up because i need to start studying for finals.

Juniors in physics tend to complain a lot. The more of them there are, the louder the complaining. Sometimes they complain about the cold, sometimes about the yankees, about their radiators not working, or the sink backing up, about someone not flushing the toilet, about the nation’s state of foreign affairs, the overpopulation problem in the world. Mostly, though, I think they complain about junior lab.

It’s best to come into junior physics lab with a bit of preparation. By the end of the first 2 weeks, you are expected to have learned how to operate your first set of equipment, successfully conducted your first experiment on this equipment, learned independently how to program in Matlab, conducted your full set of data analysis in Matlab, learned how to use Latex, written a 4-page research paper in Latex, prepared a 15 minute American Physics Society style oral presentation to give to your professors/TAs, given this presentation, and also completed several assignments equivalent to a normal problem set.

I had worked all summer in Latex and Matlab, and I was pretty grateful for it. At MIT, in certain departments, there are entire courses bent on teaching you Matlab. That was one thing that was pretty brutal about this course, just the level of independence, the extent to which you were on your own.

But where you really needed help- mainly the theory behind the experiments, ideas for improvement, equipment debugging and malfunction, the TAs were invaluable. We couldn’t have gotten something like this working without them.

(I like that cord thats connected to the table– this can’t have been our final set-up :P – yeah actually if you look closely, one of the discriminators – the left blue- has an output but no input :))

Once, a TA, god bless his soul, said to me, I don’t know how you guys do it, I can barely get all this stuff graded on time. (By the way, being a TA for junior lab must really really suck. What a brave thing to do.) The simplest answer is we do it because we have to. For a general physics (8 or 8-focused) major, these are the requirements for graduation, and the order in which I took/will take them:

Freshman Fall:
8.01(2) (GIR) – newtonian mechanics
18.02 (GIR) – multivariable calc

Freshman Spring:
8.02(2) (GIR) – e&m
18.03 – diff eq (most boring class ever)

Sophomore Fall
8.03 – wave mechanics (probably your first hard-ish physics class)
8.033 – relativity (special with a tiny taste of GR)

Sophomore Spring
8.04 – quantum mechanics I (they water this down)
8.044 – statistical mechanics (huuge field, really)
18.703 – abs algebra (you need a higher math class (>18.0x))

Junior Fall
8.05 – quantum mechanics II (formalism: harder than 8.04 – some would say, way harder)
8.13 – lab
8.286 – early universe (w/ alan guth) – this can serve as my “extra elective” but I may actually have that covered…
8.791 – seminar in xray astronomy – i’m not sure what this counts for :/

Junior Spring – now this is where things start diverging (getting interesting)

If I stay 8:
8.14 – lab
8.06 – quantum II
something else

If I go for 8-B (8-flexible)
8.962 – Grad General Relativity (will keep me pretty busy)

Senior Fall
8.09 – classical mechanics II
other stuff

Senior Spring
okay I can’t think this far ahead.

If you look at this link: You can get a more complete idea of what is required of each flavor of physics. I like having the option of 8 vs. 8-B, they are there for people w/ different goals. The degree that you receive is the same either way. If you’re 8-B, you’ll have some bitter 8 majors looking at you like you’re less Hard Core, but dont pay any attention to them. You shouldn’t do things in college because they are easy or because you want a shiny trophy of a second major, but you also shouldn’t do things just because they are hard (somehow, the second major example applies here, too :P). At MIT, kids are actually more likely to have trouble with this second point without realizing it, and take way more classes than they would be happy with. Do what you want, learn what you want- it’s 4 years of your life and your parents’ money, you know. Besides, it’s cooler to be really good at one thing, than okay at 10. Of course, it’s even cooler to be really good at 10 things. Or 20. I’m working on that. Right now, I’m just hoping to be really good at physics. (And cheerleading.)

That digression aside, of course “so we can graduate” is not the ONLY reason we take junior lab. You learn some as well :P Ruth, ’08, from upstairs, thinks it’s the best class she’s ever taken. A more detailed look into my first semester in junior lab, COMING UP NEXT. After my 8.05 final :P

32 responses to “Getting a Physics Major – Part I”

  1. Isshak says:

    Oh my god how much physics can someone get ! BUT every subject that is practical, I kind of like it, so I’m sure the lab should still be interesting right ? (I love labs ! Especially physics and chemistry focused ^^).

  2. Isshak says:

    Oh I totally forgot : good luck on your finals !

  3. Lauren says:

    eeeee Junior Lab. I want to take it. Ahh.


    Really cool stuff.

  4. WOW, Lulu!!! I can’t believe you do all of this?!?! How do sleep? Do you sleep at all? You make it sound like a piece of cake but I know its not to the normal person! Thanks for blogging, see yuh at CPW

  5. Anonymous says:

    Is Physics major popular at MIT or not?

  6. Anon9 says:


    raspberry smile

    Physics Physics Physics smile

    *leap for joy*

    Physics… Physics… Physics raspberry


    Note: By the way, the grin on this ” smile ” is supposed to be bigger >.YAAAY!! PHYSICS!! PHYSICS!!

    raspberry smile

    Physics Physics Physics smile

    *leap for joy*

    Physics… Physics… Physics raspberry


    Note: By the way, the grin on this ” smile ” is supposed to be bigger >.<


  7. Hunter '11 says:

    Physics is probably considered the hardest major, though from what I’ve seen Course 6 is probably the most popular.

  8. Paul says:

    I kind of rebel against the idea that 8 is the “hardest” major. Of course, it is difficult, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve also heard that 10 (ChemE) is the hardest, that 6 (EE/CS) is the hardest, that 16 (Aero/Astro) is the hardest, and so on – so it’s sort of hard for me to really subscribe to this notion that 8 is, for everyone and for all times, the “hardest” major.

  9. larisa says:

    I don’t think any major can be the hardest major for “everyone and for all times”.
    not 6, not 16, not even 10.
    even within a major, I doubt that there is one specific topic that is the hardest for “everyone and for all times”
    that absolute idea in general I don’t think can really apply to anything.

  10. milena '11 says:

    I’ve heard a lot of people say that 10 is the most hardcore major, but I guess it’s mostly because it is very, very rigid and you can’t really play around with it. From what I can see, there are majors like 18, which are very flexible so you can kinda shop around a little bit and go for the “easier” one out of the n classes you can take to fulfill one requirement. Course 10 is pretty even across the board, as in everybody takes pretty much the same classes.

    And I have also heard that 16 is really hardcore. I’d even say it’s more hardcore than 10, but maybe that’s because my course 16 friend bitches way too often. Unified=Hell (apparently). And they also don’t curve.

    Oh, and take everything I say with a grain of salt. I’m still a freshman so I’m completely misinformed.

  11. lulu says:

    for the number of units (24) Unified is not very hard. the more realistic course 16 people just think it’s dumb, also, engineering majors complain a lot. even more than physics majors, if you can imagine.

  12. Silversurfer says:

    Hey Lulu love your blog, and physics rocks, to some, not to others, you know, in a relative sort of way. wink. Also, Thank you for making me think deeper about being human. (The poem “Desiderata” was phenom I loved it). So, cosmologically change our universe with your studies in physics and keep questioning!


  13. Anonymous says:

    how rigorous is course 14(economics) compared to other engineering and science courses at MIT?

  14. Oasis says:

    The hardest major is whatever you don’t enjoy doing…haha. wink

  15. Hunter '11 says:

    So comments to make…

    I dunno, all I can tell you is that I’ve heard 8 – but unless someone majors in everything (IMPOSSIBLE, YOU CANNOT OFFICIALLY GRADUATE WITH MORE THAN TWO MAJORS, PREFROSH), no one will know for sure. Plus we all have different talents and such. As for 10, 10 has 3 options, and 10-C is incredibly flexible though not accredited.

    But yeah, I agree with the “whatever you don’t enjoy” thing being the hardest. Which is why I could never be course 8….

    … dangit, now I’m going to end up course 8.

    At Anon, I don’t know any Course 14 people, but a lot of people do their HASS in 14 because it’s still math ^.^


  16. lulu says:

    more snow is comingggg

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for giving us a little taste into what’s required of you at MIT Physics. A lil’ daunting but sounds so friggin’ exciting. Wow. Makes me hunger even more for what’s coming up. Love a good challenge.

  18. He He !! says:

    How much do you have to study to get really good marks in Physics (Maj.)

  19. Karen says:

    Physics and I don’t really get along…I think it’s boring and it drops things on my feet. That said, it’s awesome that you love it – it’s something that I will never fully understand, but I suppose a different sort of person is in love with physics as is in love with biology. Good luck with your junior lab, and I’m excited to hear more about it…as I stalk the admissions blogs hoping that decisions will be posted for EA smile

  20. Anonymous says:

    w00t alphas…. or something

  21. Good luck prefroshies, If you get deferred as I did. Don’t sweat it. Just send in a supersweet appeal to Ben Jones showing how you really are that awesome. Otherwise good luck to everyone. And may my birthday present tomorrow be your acceptance to my school.

    Seriously, best wishes to everyone and happy holidays.

    PS. I love Chris Su, and Paul Baranay

  22. I don’t think people should worry too much about how “difficult” a major is considered to be. If you didn’t want difficulty and rigor in your studies, you wouldn’t be looking at or attending MIT!

    We’re here because we’re passionate about what we do. For some of us, physics is the coolest thing in the world, and time spent working on your physics projects and coursework is one of the most enjoyable parts of any given day. Some may enjoy course xy, others may enjoy course yx, but either way, choose a major you like: it won’t feel like work!

    Junior labs in course 8 are something that I’m personally looking forward to!

    Anyways, Lulu, keep us updated on your junior lab!

  23. Lynn says:

    Those courses look so yummy. Lucky you. smile

  24. Inshaf says:

    Hi Lulu.I have a small question to ask.In Part 2,section 3 of the application,there is a question asking students to list any scholastic distinctions won since entering high school.Can this include,for example,honors won in oratory in the annual English-Day competition when in grade 8 or 9?

  25. Timur says:

    Does it make me a bad person if I want to do physics but never take junior lab?


  26. lulu says:

    no, it just makes you 8-B


  27. Lol, Timur, I’m in the opposite situation. Can I be course 18 and still take junior lab?? Haha, is that allowed??

    If yes, then in three years, I might be taking junior physics lab!!!

    Thanks for posting about this class that sounds really intense but exciting!! :-D

  28. Timur says:

    Apparently it makes me 8-FLEXIBLE because they renamed it for some reason for ’10 and up.



  29. vamshi says:

    hi,gud morning all of u,–iam vamshi from india,hoping to join my undergraduation in physics at mit,so guyz plz help me how to get over there n the actual step by step of admission process–n plz remember iam a poor student from india–so how could i i make my dream come true in getting the admission in physics at mit…plz senior students of mit kindly suggest n help me in giving information plz.i value ur suggestions.n my yahoo id is [email protected]