Resources

Planning the Major

Sample Schedules

Traditional Intro Format - No Study Abroad

First Year
Fall: PHY 131, MAT 131
Spring: PHY 132, MAT 133

Second Year
Fall: PHY 232, MAT 215
Spring: PHY 234, MAT 220

Third Year
Fall: PHY 335
Spring: PHY 337

Fourth Year
Fall: Physics Elective
Spring: Physics Elective, PHY 462

Third Year
Fall: PHY 335
Spring: PHY 337

Traditional Intro Format - Fall Semester Study Abroad

First Year
Fall: PHY 131, MAT 131
Spring: PHY 132, MAT 133

Second Year
Fall: PHY 232, MAT 215
Spring: PHY 234, MAT 220

Third Year
Fall: Physics Elective, PHY 335
Spring: PHY 337

Fourth Year
Fall: Study Abroad
Spring: Physics Elective, PHY 462

Traditional Intro Format - Spring Semester Study Abroad

First Year
Fall: PHY 131, MAT 131
Spring: PHY 132, MAT 133

Second Year
Fall: PHY 232, MAT 215
Spring: PHY 234, MAT 220

Third Year
Fall: PHY 335
Spring: Study Abroad

Fourth Year
Fall: Physics Elective, Physics Elective
Spring: PHY 337, PHY 462

Workshop Intro Format - No Study Abroad

First Year
Fall: MAT 131
Spring: PHY 131, MAT 133

Second Year
Fall: PHY 132, MAT 215
Spring: PHY 234, MAT 220

Third Year
Fall: PHY 232, PHY 335
Spring: PHY 337

Fourth Year
Fall: Physics Elective
Spring: Physics Elective, PHY 462

Workshop Intro Format - Fall Semester Study Abroad

First Year
Fall: MAT 131
Spring: PHY 131, MAT 133

Second Year
Fall: PHY 132, MAT 215
Spring: PHY 234, MAT 220

Third Year
Fall: PHY 232, PHY 335
Spring: Physics Elective, PHY 337

Fourth Year
Fall: Study Abroad
Spring: Physics Elective, PHY 462

Workshop Intro Format - Spring Semester Study Abroad

First Year
Fall: MAT 131
Spring: PHY 131, MAT 133

Second Year
Fall: PHY 132, MAT 215
Spring: PHY 234, MAT 220

Third Year
Fall: PHY 232, PHY 335
Spring: Study Abroad

Fourth Year
Fall: Physics Elective, Physics Elective
Spring: Physics 337, PHY 462

For other possibilities, speak with a physics faculty member.

Research

Tips for Finding Off-Campus Summer Research

The Physics Department maintains a filing cabinet that contains flyers about summer research opportunities that we receive. This is a good place to start when looking for off-campus summer research jobs.

A major source of off-campus summer research opportunities is the set of REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) sites funded by the National Science Foundation. These are usually (but not always) major universities or laboratories that have received grants to bring in students from a variety of institutions to work with scientists during the summer. The list of current REU sites as well as information about the program in general can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.cfm. Participation in REU programs is limited to US citizens and permanent residents.

There are, of course, other opportunities but they tend to be harder to find (unless they are in the filing cabinet), are more likely to be given to students of the institution where the work is being done, and are a bit riskier in terms of the quality of the research experience. The most likely ways to find such positions are to know someone or to make lots of inquiries.

Another mechanism for obtaining a summer research position is through an internship (300). The Career Development Office can provide details on the programs that exist, but most require connections to non-physics interests such as public affairs or entrepreneurship. However, the Physics Department does have limited funds to support internships in physics, astronomy, and engineering that are free from these constraints and are not limited to US citizens and permanent residents. Instructions for applying for these departmental internships can be found by clicking here.

Students need to begin the process of looking for off-campus research opportunities early - preferably before the end of the first semester - because some programs have early deadlines. These web sites may provide useful leads:

Science Division summer research page: list of opportunities off-campus

http://www.compadre.org/student/research/main.cfm

http://www.urop.uci.edu/opportunities/frame_offcampus.html

Faculty Research Interests
  • Robert Cadmus - Optical astronomy, observational studies of semiregular variable stars, stellar spectroscopy and photometry.
  • William Case - Fundamental questions of quantum mechanics; electromagnetic theory; linear and non-linear dynamics of simple mechanical systems.
  • Charles Cunningham - Low temperature physics, solid state physics, magnetic properties of superconducters.
  • Charles Duke - Gamma-Ray Astronomy with the Whipple Collaboration.
  • Eliza Kempton - Extrasolar planets and planetary atmospheres
  • Mark Schneider - Experimental studies of the weak nuclear force, beta decay angular correlation measurements, fundamental properties of anti-matter.
  • Paul Tjossem - Experimental atomic and molecular physics, non-linear laser spectroscopy, trace atom and molecule detection.
  • Sujeev Wickramasekara - Theoretical high energy physics.
  • Jacob Willig-Onwuachi - Medical imaging
Curricular Development Resources

Graduate Record Exam Resources

What is the GRE?

The GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, is the generic name for a number of multiple-choice style exams administered by the Educational Testing Service. These are the same people who administer the SAT and Achievement exams you likely encountered in high school. There are two different kinds of GRE exams that you may have to take: the general GRE, and the subject GRE. The ETS maintains a GRE home page that has a lot of relevant information. You can easily get practice materials from them, both free stuff and copies of former exams. GRE Home Page.

The General GRE

The general GRE consists of three parts: verbal, mathematical, and analytical. The verbal and mathematical parts are quite similar to the SAT in material covered, style of questions, and level of difficulty. The analytical part consists of logic questions and puzzles. Most Grinnell physics majors do not have much difficulty on the general GRE, although non-native speakers of English may find the verbal section challenging. In any case, you may find it beneficial to take a practice exam or two before the big day.

It is possible to take the exam either in written form (by filling out bubble sheets) or on the computer. The written exam is administered three times a year, in April, October, and December at 8 am. Typically you need to register by mail at least six weeks in advance of your exam, and you don't find out your scores until about a month after the exam. The computer-based exam is available much more frequently, and you can see your score immediately, but it has some disadvantages you should know about.

In the written form, the exam has two sections of each kind (verbal, mathematical, and analytical) plus one extra experimental section of some kind so that ETS can gather statistical info on new test questions. Each of the seven sections takes half an hour to complete, so the whole exam takes three and a half hours.

In the computer-administered form, the exam takes only half as much time. You answer about 27-33 questions in each of three sections. The computer decides which questions to ask you next based on the correctness of your previous responses. If you keep answering questions correctly, the computer will ask you harder and harder questions until you get one wrong. On the other hand, if you answer hard questions incorrectly, the computer will start pitching you easier ones. Because of this "customization" of the questions, you cannot go back and change any of your answers to previous questions. Another caveat to keep in mind is that, although this exam is offered frequently, you cannot take the computer-administered exam more than once in a six-month period.

The Physics Subject GRE

The GRE Subject test is an extremely important factor in determining where Grinnell students are admitted for graduate study in physics. It is similar to an achievement test, but it is three times as long and much harder. GRE Subject tests tend to cover all of the curriculum that is usually taken by an undergraduate majoring in the subject. These tests are available only in paper form and are administered at 2 pm on the April, October, and December test dates.

The physics subject test covers all of the material from all of the courses offered in the physics major, including electronics, quantum mechanics, and statistical/thermal physics. They also ask questions about typical physics labs and about famous experiments. You have 170 minutes to solve 100 physics problems with multiple-choice answers. You may NOT use a calculator on the exams. You are NOT given any equation sheet. You just have to know all the equations you might need to solve any problem in physics.

The following list summarizes the topics covered in the exam and their relative weighting. Also listed are the Grinnell College courses that are most relevant to each topic.

  • 20% Classical Mechanics (PHY 131 and 234).
  • 18% Electricity and Magnetism (PHY 132 and 335).
  • 9% Optics and Wave Phenomena (PHY 337).
  • 10% Thermo and Stat Mech (PHY 232 and 456).
  • 12% Quantum Mechanics (PHY 232 and 437).
  • 10% Atomic Physics (PHY 232 and 437).
  • 6% Special Relativity (PHY 232).
  • 6% Laboratory Methods (PHY 131, 132, 232, 337, and 462).
  • 9% Specialized Topics, e.g. nuclear, particle, condensed matter, astrophysics, math methods, computational, ... (various courses, esp. PHY232).

Most of the questions on the exam can be answered by somebody who knows first and second year physics really well. However the rapid pace of the exam requires some getting used to. There are some strategies you can follow to improve your chances of getting a good score on the GRE.

Cunningham's Strategies for the Physics Subject GRE

Consider taking PHY 456 (Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics) in the spring of your junior year.

Get the general GRE out of the way by taking it in the spring of your junior year, or by taking it electronically in the fall of your senior year.

Invest an hour or so in reviewing freshman and sophomore physics each day during the summer after your junior year. Start out by reviewing Halliday, Resnick, and Walker, and then go on to your modern physics book. Go through each chapter--including the ones that weren't covered in class--memorize the important formulas, and practice solving problems in the back of the chapter until you can do them in under a minute. You may find flashcards useful for memorization.

In the fall of your senior year, start taking practice exams. Actual copies of the physics subject GRE are best for practice, but there are only two available. You can get a book containing the two exams in the physics seminar room, or you can get your own directly from ETS (but order early because it may take a while to arrive). Be sure to time yourself while you're taking the practice exam to get used to the rapid pace.

Take the exam in October. That way you can study some more and repeat the exam in December in case you have trouble the first time.

Links

Of General Interest
In Preparation for the Future (Students)