Which courses are essential in a Physics degree?Posted: August 29, 2011
My department’s physics majors degree is very minimally prescribed compared to most places. Our students take the standard Mechanics and E&M in the intro sequence and I am putting my question out there for everything beyond that being up for grabs. Which topics, skills or courses are the ones that you think a student absolutely should have if they are to receive a piece of paper saying that they have a college physics degree.
This is my personal list and it is meant to cover either experimental or theoretical interests so there are no real experimental requirements and the theory is as much as an experimentalist would need.
Must have at least intro textbook level
These are topics that the really thick (“with modern physics”) intro textbooks cover at a sufficiently high level that they prevent the students from having severe gaps in their general physics knowledge. These topics show up in 2nd year courses in most programs if they were not part of the intro sequence.
- Mechanics (including intermediate topics such as forced and damped oscillation, but these are covered in the thick intro texts)
- Geometric and wave optics
- Wave-particle duality
- Nature of the atom
Must have at least one upper-year course
Every person with a recent physics degree should take at least one upper-year course in these topics or the majority of physicists would consider this person to have severe gaps in their physics knowledge. These are in addition to the very important math topics of vector calculus, and ordinary and partial differential equations.
- Quantum Mechanics
- Electricity and Magnetism
It seems crazy that a physicist might not have this course (or skill), but I guess they don’t HAVE TO have it
- Classical Mechanics
- Solid state physics
- Statistical Mechanics
- Standard Model
- Skills: computational modeling, experimental design
So my list of must have upper-year courses is only two. It was hard to move stuff like solid state and stat-mech to the “should” from the “must” list, but I did.
What did I miss? What did I put on there that shouldn’t be?
Update September 1, 2011 – Chad Orzel has posted a poll on this very topic using example textbooks to demonstrate the level of the course.