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.
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:
8.01(2) (GIR) – newtonian mechanics
18.02 (GIR) – multivariable calc
8.02(2) (GIR) – e&m
18.03 – diff eq (most boring class ever)
8.03 – wave mechanics (probably your first hard-ish physics class)
8.033 – relativity (special with a tiny taste of GR)
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))
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
If I go for 8-B (8-flexible)
8.962 – Grad General Relativity (will keep me pretty busy)
8.09 – classical mechanics II
okay I can’t think this far ahead.
If you look at this link: http://web.mit.edu/physics/undergrad/majors/degreereqs.html 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