Sinnoh
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Right, since there hasn't been one on physics yet but it's a pretty popular one, here's an AMA thread for those who have any questions about studying undergraduate physics at university

This AMA uses a tag system! You can either ask a general question or tag in one of our fantastic volunteers (listed below) if you are looking for something more specific.
Sinnoh - 1st year, Physics, Imperial College London
astrotemp - Graduate, BSc (Hons) Physics, UTAS (2018) + BSc Physics and Applied Mathematics, UTAS (2017)
FEIFEIFEIFEI - Offer holder, Physics, UCL
ClayJensen817- Offer holder, Physics, KCL
a1exander - Offer holder, Physics, Oxford
alelopezz - Offer holder , Physics, UCL

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This AMA is part of the 'Ask a University Student 2.0' initiative. If you want to find out more about other courses or universities, please check out the main list of threads:
https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=6431108
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milliejayne19
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Hey! I'm a year 12 whose interested in studying physics at university. I'm just wondering, do you study any pure mathematics modules as part as your degree? And what is the jump between a level physics and degree level? Thanks .
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username3331778
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(Original post by milliejayne19)
Hey! I'm a year 12 whose interested in studying physics at university. I'm just wondering, do you study any pure mathematics modules as part as your degree? And what is the jump between a level physics and degree level? Thanks .
The old m3 + m4 specifications are probably what have a smoothest transition to first year physics. At the start you will go over all the maths required properly (a progression from most further maths a level courses, lots of vector calculus, linear algebra and differential equations, that kind of stuff but also a broader foundation in most everything else of course). "Purer" subjects such as group theory don't feature much, and, if they do, those that are more advanced are typically introduced only along with the physical rationale of their use (ie introductory courses in general relativity are basically just manifold geometry courses for the first couple lectures).
Of course, every degree is slightly different and many universities offer some combination of their physics and mathematics courses from the get go, usually under the name theoretical physics/physics with mathematics. Physics and mathematics departments are very closely linked, however, and flexibility in course choices later on blur the distinction.
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Sinnoh
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(Original post by milliejayne19)
Hey! I'm a year 12 whose interested in studying physics at university. I'm just wondering, do you study any pure mathematics modules as part as your degree? And what is the jump between a level physics and degree level? Thanks .
For me I'd reckon at least half of my first year so far has been on mathematical methods - what you in A-level might refer to as pure maths. There was also an optional mathematical analysis module that I took which focuses on the more abstract side of maths. University physics is (initially) more like a continuation of A-level maths and further maths than it is a continuation of A-level physics, but with a bit lab work and some applied topics (e.g. electronics, magnetism etc) thrown in.
In fact for the half of the first term it was pretty much all stuff I'd done before, but anywhere you go they'll be teaching the course from the very bottom up - just so they know that everyone's learnt the same stuff.
Later on there may be more actual pure maths topics but this can be dependent on your university.
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CheeseIsVeg
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What's your favourite topic so far in your course? :ahee:
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Sinnoh
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(Original post by CheeseIsVeg)
What's your favourite topic so far in your course? :ahee:
Magnetism has been quite good and it's got my favourite lecturer so far. Classical mechanics was also surprisingly interesting
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GreenCub
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I'm not a physics applicant, but here goes...

What's the balance between theoretical and experimental topics like?

I also saw you mentioned classical mechanics - what specific topics within classical mechanics do you study at uni?
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Sinnoh
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(Original post by GreenCub)
I'm not a physics applicant, but here goes...

What's the balance between theoretical and experimental topics like?

I also saw you mentioned classical mechanics - what specific topics within classical mechanics do you study at uni?
For me, I'd say about half the topics have been on mathematical methods like vector calculus, Fourier, linear algebra etc. The rest are a bit more applied and have included some things relevant in lab sessions, like magnetism and optics. Lab work is a large part of it though.

Classical mechanics in first year had kinematics, elastic & inelastic collisions (surprisingly complex), orbits and rigid body dynamics. In third year here there is an advanced classical module that goes into Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics too.
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IsmailB
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(Original post by Sinnoh)
Right, since there hasn't been one on physics yet but it's a pretty popular one, here's an AMA thread for those who have any questions about studying undergraduate physics at university

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Hi !

What kind of careers can you pursue with a physics degree ?
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GreenCub
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(Original post by Sinnoh)
For me, I'd say about half the topics have been on mathematical methods like vector calculus, Fourier, linear algebra etc. The rest are a bit more applied and have included some things relevant in lab sessions, like magnetism and optics. Lab work is a large part of it though.

Classical mechanics in first year had kinematics, elastic & inelastic collisions (surprisingly complex), orbits and rigid body dynamics. In third year here there is an advanced classical module that goes into Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics too.
Yeah Lagrangians and Hamiltonians are pretty interesting stuff.

Had you always been really interested in/focused on physics when you were at school or did you consider other related courses like maths or engineering at all? If so, how did you decide on physics?

What do you think about the current state of physics teaching at schools in the UK?

What assumptions do people make about you when you first tell them you do physics?
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Sinnoh
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(Original post by IsmailB)
Hi !

What kind of careers can you pursue with a physics degree ?
Finance, IT, consultancy, investment banking are quite common areas. I haven't given it much thought but I'm hoping to maybe do something in the space industry. Engineering's an option too.
There's apparently a shortage of teachers for it too.

(Original post by GreenCub)
Yeah Lagrangians and Hamiltonians are pretty interesting stuff.

Had you always been really interested in/focused on physics when you were at school or did you consider other related courses like maths or engineering at all? If so, how did you decide on physics?

What do you think about the current state of physics teaching at schools in the UK?

What assumptions do people make about you when you first tell them you do physics?
Until quite late in year 12 I was actually quite set on doing aeronautical engineering, but there was a period of about 3 months when I was slowly changing my mind and moving towards physics instead. I was just more sure that I would want to spend 3 or 4 years studying it rather than engineering. Maths I had ruled out, I was good at A-level but really not great when it came to MAT/STEP/UKMT questions.

Current state of teaching - I think the problem lies more with the course content. Teachers do what they can, but it just ends up being about negotiating the pedantry of the mark schemes. At GCSE a good chunk of it is not physics but just things that people ought to know about (car safety with thinking distance and stopping distance comes to mind), and at A-level they refuse to draw a single integral sign. There was a chapter in my textbook about deriving the kinetic theory equations for gases, where from first principles you arrive at the equations. That's great. That was satisfying to learn. That's the most similar thing in there to how physics is taught at uni. I wish there was more of that.

Assumptions - I remember being in a pub with some friends last summer (before I started) where we started chatting to a scouse woman who was there for some reason, she asked us what we were planning to study, I said physics and she said "oh you must be dead brainy then" :lol:
That was an exception, usually I don't know what they think.
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K-Man_PhysCheM
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(Original post by Sinnoh)
There was a chapter in my textbook about deriving the kinetic theory equations for gases, where from first principles you arrive at the equations. That's great. That was satisfying to learn. That's the most similar thing in there to how physics is taught at uni. I wish there was more of that.
Ahaha I remember reading that in my A-level physics textbook and thinking it was a pretty non-rigorous derivation for pV = (1/3)Nm<u>^2, but it turns out they use exactly the same derivation in my 2nd year thermodynamics course haha xD

Out of interest, what topic(s) have you found hardest and easiest?

For me hardest so far has probs been my 2nd year classical dynamics course (it had orbital mechanics, rigid body dynamics, basic Lagrangians/Hamiltonians, elasticity/dynamics of elastic media, and non-trivial fluid dynamics), easiest this year was probably quantum mechanics lol
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Sinnoh
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(Original post by K-Man_PhysCheM)
Ahaha I remember reading that in my A-level physics textbook and thinking it was a pretty non-rigorous derivation for pV = (1/3)Nm<u>^2, but it turns out they use exactly the same derivation in my 2nd year thermodynamics course haha xD

Out of interest, what topic(s) have you found hardest and easiest?

For me hardest so far has probs been my 2nd year classical dynamics course (it had orbital mechanics, rigid body dynamics, basic Lagrangians/Hamiltonians, elasticity/dynamics of elastic media, and non-trivial fluid dynamics), easiest this year was probably quantum mechanics lol
Hardest - Fourier analysis. For me it's been the least intuitive and had left me wondering quite a lot "hang on can you do that with integrals?". Maybe some of optics as well (it includes Fourier optics) but I think that's more down to me finding it really boring and not wanting to bother with it.
Easiest - linear algebra in the first term, I'd already done about 70% of it in A-level. Although if I only include topics that were actually new, I'd say... mathematical analysis maybe? Haven't looked at it in a while though so maybe I'm completely wrong and it's harder than I remember.
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K-Man_PhysCheM
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(Original post by Sinnoh)
Hardest - Fourier analysis. For me it's been the least intuitive and had left me wondering quite a lot "hang on can you do that with integrals?". Maybe some of optics as well (it includes Fourier optics) but I think that's more down to me finding it really boring and not wanting to bother with it.
Easiest - linear algebra in the first term, I'd already done about 70% of it in A-level. Although if I only include topics that were actually new, I'd say... mathematical analysis maybe? Haven't looked at it in a while though so maybe I'm completely wrong and it's harder than I remember.
Ah nice!! Yeah, Fourier methods are really cool, took me a while to get my head round stuff like convolution and correlation functions though! Fourier optics gets easier once you understand the maths, but they can set some tricky problems!!

Ahaha fair enough about linear algebra, it can get quite abstract though a bit later on and you get to apply it to quantum mechanics with Dirac bra-ket stuff!! I wouldn't underestimate analysis, though I don't know how much you've done and how rigorous it was for your course haha xD You'll probably do some complex analysis next year (getting on to stuff like Cauchy's theorem, contour integrals and the residue theorem), which I found a lot more interesting (but also more difficult...)
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GreenCub
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(Original post by K-Man_PhysCheM)
Ah nice!! Yeah, Fourier methods are really cool, took me a while to get my head round stuff like convolution and correlation functions though! Fourier optics gets easier once you understand the maths, but they can set some tricky problems!!

Ahaha fair enough about linear algebra, it can get quite abstract though a bit later on and you get to apply it to quantum mechanics with Dirac bra-ket stuff!! I wouldn't underestimate analysis, though I don't know how much you've done and how rigorous it was for your course haha xD You'll probably do some complex analysis next year (getting on to stuff like Cauchy's theorem, contour integrals and the residue theorem), which I found a lot more interesting (but also more difficult...)
Out of interest, in what year of uni do you start the quantum mechanics with the bra-ket stuff etc? I've been self learning some quantum mechanics recently.
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K-Man_PhysCheM
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(Original post by GreenCub)
Out of interest, in what year of uni do you start the quantum mechanics with the bra-ket stuff etc? I've been self learning some quantum mechanics recently.
Probably depends a bit by Uni, but we did it in 2nd year (after having had an introductory QM course in first year). To be honest, it seems like 2nd year would be appropriate (you don't know enough maths in 1st year, and it would seem a bit too late to first encounter it in 3rd year)
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K-Man_PhysCheM
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(Original post by GreenCub)
Out of interest, in what year of uni do you start the quantum mechanics with the bra-ket stuff etc? I've been self learning some quantum mechanics recently.
Oh I stalked you and you're gonna do maths at Cambridge. In that case you won't encounter it until part II (3rd year). The part 1B maths tripos quantum mechanics course is in terms of wavefunctions and (partial) differential equations rather than dual vectors in Hilbert space.
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hxhu
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(Original post by Sinnoh)
Right, since there hasn't been one on physics yet but it's a pretty popular one, here's an AMA thread for those who have any questions about studying undergraduate physics at university

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Obvious one here, not sure if its already been asked but...

How hard is a physics degree?

I'm curently in 3rd/5 set GCSE maths, I am top of my class and targeted a grade 5, but at the moment I am consistently getting a grade 6 (I got the offer to move up, but I declined as I like the pace that 3rd set went in- a lot slower than sets 1&2 so its easier to understand!) I am saying this as I understand a bulk of the course is mathematics, how well can I ease the 'Maths (& Physics) Transition' between GCSE, A Level & Physics Degree. I feel like I would understand the 'processes' (e.g. Birth of stars, Energy, that kind of thing) more, but I have always struggled a bit with my maths and have to work extra hard to keep a good grade! Do you think I'll be able to cope? Do you think I'll be able to get a first (Or is that too optimistic lol)?
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GreenCub
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(Original post by K-Man_PhysCheM)
Oh I stalked you and you're gonna do maths at Cambridge. In that case you won't encounter it until part II (3rd year). The part 1B maths tripos quantum mechanics course is in terms of wavefunctions and (partial) differential equations rather than dual vectors in Hilbert space.
Oh right - I didn't initially have the Cambridge maths course in mind when I asked that (I was thinking of physics courses in general), but that's good to know. You're at Cambridge right?

I did notice that quite a lot of the derivations using bra/ket-vectors and even the derivation of the time-dependent Schrodinger equation in the book I'm working through weren't the most rigorous of derivations, using first order approximations and infinitesimals which I've heard is more common in physics than maths. I'm guessing the way they'd cover it in a maths course would be more rigorous?
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K-Man_PhysCheM
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(Original post by GreenCub)
Oh right - I didn't initially have the Cambridge maths course in mind when I asked that (I was thinking of physics courses in general), but that's good to know. You're at Cambridge right?

I did notice that quite a lot of the derivations using bra/ket-vectors and even the derivation of the time-dependent Schrodinger equation in the book I'm working through weren't the most rigorous of derivations, using first order approximations and infinitesimals which I've heard is more common in physics than maths. I'm guessing the way they'd cover it in a maths course would be more rigorous?
Fair enough haha. Indeed.

"Derivation of the time-dependent Schrodinger equation" is always gonna be non-rigorous because it's one of the postulates of QM rather than something that can actually be derived, but there are some heurestic derivations where you go "classical waves are like this, let's use de Broglie, E=hf etc... to "translate" it into quantum".

First order approximations are very common in physics, probably also in applied maths. You might be interested to see David Tong's excellent lecture notes for theoretical physics topics: https://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/tong/teaching.html

Indeed, I would imagine maths tripos is more rigorous than NST haha. Incidentally I will be doing part II astrophysics next year, which includes two courses straight from the maths tripos ("Principles of Quantum Mechanics" and "Statistical Physics"), I have been strongly recommended to brace myself for some intense maths in those modules haha. Sadly David Tong hasn't written notes for the "Principles of QM" course, but rather for another part II maths tripos QM course which is done in the term after the "Principles" course is lectured.
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