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Imperial physics

I’m curious on some things regarding physics in general and about imperial. Hope anyone studying there or does physics has any insight.

1) is physics at a degree level significantly harder than the A level version. It is a huge jump in difficulty and does that vary between universities? I wouldn’t say I’m the most enthusiastic person about physics but I wouldn’t say I dislike it. I enjoy physics out of my other A levels and see myself doing it.

2) the maths content, I understand that physics is quite maths heavy but I’m curious, is it more maths heavy than concepts. I see that Imperial recommends taking further maths. If you did not do further maths would that be a huge disadvantage or does that just mean you would have to learn the further maths content yourself or do they go through it but very quickly at uni. Does this apply to every uni or is it more for universities like imperial.

3) Probably the most important point, is teaching hours very high? Do you have any free time what so ever? I’m under the impression that to do physics at imperial you’d likely have to be a study machine and that most people on the course won’t talk to you because they’re all competing for firsts.

Thanks
Reply 1
Original post by Anonymous
I’m curious on some things regarding physics in general and about imperial. Hope anyone studying there or does physics has any insight.

1) is physics at a degree level significantly harder than the A level version. It is a huge jump in difficulty and does that vary between universities? I wouldn’t say I’m the most enthusiastic person about physics but I wouldn’t say I dislike it. I enjoy physics out of my other A levels and see myself doing it.

2) the maths content, I understand that physics is quite maths heavy but I’m curious, is it more maths heavy than concepts. I see that Imperial recommends taking further maths. If you did not do further maths would that be a huge disadvantage or does that just mean you would have to learn the further maths content yourself or do they go through it but very quickly at uni. Does this apply to every uni or is it more for universities like imperial.

3) Probably the most important point, is teaching hours very high? Do you have any free time what so ever? I’m under the impression that to do physics at imperial you’d likely have to be a study machine and that most people on the course won’t talk to you because they’re all competing for firsts.

Thanks

Just a few comments to share.

Physics is a wide subject, covering many interesting but different areas. For example, in optics, you can have geometric optics, non-linear optics, quantum optics, lasers, fiber optics, etc. etc. Some may be more mathematical, some more experimental--I remember seeing photos of researchers setting up lasers on optical tables at IC. I know someone who used to work in IC's solid state group. She said there was a faculty working on (computer) simulation, some experimental research (growing semiconductor materials in clean rooms), and obviously, there were some theorists. For me, it's very exciting--if you find a few areas you like. People who work at LHC/Cern could be doing programming, building detectors, or they could be theorists working on models. What I want to say is, there are a lot of different varieties of work, research, and flavours, even in one big subject area/research group.

I would say, it would be helpful to have done further maths if you are studying physics at universities. There are quite a few models that would be best captured or described by mathematical equations, e.g., for graphing, prediction, or finding how it would setting down to the final/steady states. So maths is essential. e.g., you may need differential equations (so it would help if you already know calculus well), algebra, etc.

I think there are some counterintuitive concepts, too--especially at the small (quantum) scale, and possibly at the large (astronomical) end too.
Besides maths and concepts, there are also models, or modeling. Hope that gives you a better idea.

I hope this gives you a better idea.
(edited 2 years ago)
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Reply 2
Original post by D.Y.
Just a few comments to share.

Physics is a wide subject, covering many interesting but different areas. For example, in optics, you can have geometric optics, non-linear optics, quantum optics, lasers, fiber optics, etc. etc. Some may be more mathematical, some more experimental--I remember seeing photos of researchers setting up lasers on optical tables at IC. I know someone who used to work in IC's solid state group. She said there was a faculty working on (computer) simulation, some experimental research (growing semiconductor materials in clean rooms), and obviously, there were some theorists. For me, it's very exciting--if you one a few areas you like. People who work at LHC/Cern could be doing programming, building detectors, or they could be theorists working on models. What I want to say is, there are a lot of different varieties of work, research, and flavours, even in one big subject area/research group.

I would say, it would be helpful to have done further maths if you are studying physics at universities. There are quite a few models that would be best captured or described by mathematical equations, e.g., for graphing, prediction, or finding how it would setting down to the final/steady states. So maths is essential. e.g., you may need differential equations (so it would help if you already know calculus well), algebra, etc.

I think there are some counterintuitive concepts, too--especially at the small (quantum) scale, and possibly at the large (astronomical) end too.
Besides maths and concepts, there are also models, or modeling. Hope that gives you a better idea.

I hope this gives you a better idea.

Thanks for this response,

My main concern is still the difficulty. People are making Physics at university sound very difficult to what I thought. Honestly, it’s making me reconsider because everyone talks about physics like it’s their passion whereas I’m just wanting to do it because it’s the thing I enjoy most out of my A levels. Is physics hard simply because it’s stem or is it because it’s physics? Also, would something like economics be a lot less harder since they do not do lab work?
Reply 3
1) is it a huge jump? no, not initially. The first couple weeks I was bored because they were covering stuff I was very familiar with from further maths. But the difficulty sneaks up on you, and you can easily find yourself a bit out of your depth once term 2 starts. The first exam of first year was on that stuff, and I was not prepared.
But it will absolutely be harder than A-level physics. After all, getting above 80% isn't too hard in A-level, but 80% or above in an undergraduate degree? yikes. But that's true for nearly every degree.
I'm at Imperial, but I think that what I've said applies to a lot of physics courses out there.

2) there's certainly a lot of mathematical methods, so some topics feel like a continuation of A-level maths. Further maths is helpful at the start of the degree, and for the differential equations topics in 2nd year, but by the time you finish first year it doesn't matter much whether you did further maths A-level or not.
Every uni teaches the course from the ground up; specifications vary between countries and they need to make sure everyone's on the same level. Our first lecture involved defining what a vector was, for example.

3) errr... depends on what sort of grade you want to get! What I've always said is that it's a lot of work... if you choose to do all of it! If you just do everything that's strictly required, like showing up to labs, seminars, tutorials and doing your assessed problem sheets, and nothing else, you'll have a lot of spare time. You'll also do quite badly in the exams, but you probably won't fail either.
People aren't competitive about it though. If you want help with a problem, you'll get it. We're not "competing" for firsts, we're just trying our best.
In first year I think I had about 8-10 lectures a week, plus 4 hours of labs a week, plus a 2-hour seminar a week, plus 1 hour of something else - academic tutorial or group project. It was busier right at the start when we also had coding classes.
In second year it was a bit busier - 6 hours of labs a week, weekly assessed problem sheets, but no more than 8 lectures a week.
Third year is the busiest so far.

Original post by Anonymous
Thanks for this response,

My main concern is still the difficulty. People are making Physics at university sound very difficult to what I thought. Honestly, it’s making me reconsider because everyone talks about physics like it’s their passion whereas I’m just wanting to do it because it’s the thing I enjoy most out of my A levels. Is physics hard simply because it’s stem or is it because it’s physics? Also, would something like economics be a lot less harder since they do not do lab work?


Well, if you did economics you'd have to do a lot more essays than if you did physics. But the amount of maths could be similar depending on the uni. Lab work isn't easy by any means, but grades-wise it's fairly safe; hardly anyone actually fails, most people just do alright.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/exam_papers_20142015
here are some Imperial physics exam papers if you're curious. It's the old spec, so some topics will be done in different years now.
Reply 4
Original post by Anonymous
Thanks for this response,

My main concern is still the difficulty. People are making Physics at university sound very difficult to what I thought. Honestly, it’s making me reconsider because everyone talks about physics like it’s their passion whereas I’m just wanting to do it because it’s the thing I enjoy most out of my A levels. Is physics hard simply because it’s stem or is it because it’s physics? Also, would something like economics be a lot less harder since they do not do lab work?

I understand what you are saying, but it is hard for others to judge or guess whether you'll find it difficult, right?
Or "is physics hard because it's STEM or because it's physics"?
I mean, is Chemical Engineering/Electrical Engineering hard because it's Chemical Engineering/Electrical Engineering.... I think it should not be viewed that way. Just like it is hard to say whether the violin or the piano is harder. If you are Heifetz, perhaps the piano is harder? James Galway may find playing the violin quite hard!

If you like physics and you are good at maths, you should do physics. Follow your heart.

I would say, for physics and many types of engineering, going from A-level to university, you need more maths (and they will teach you that) and there is more modeling involved. When you do A-level Physics, there is already a lot of modeling, like analyzing the period of a pendulum swing; nuclear decays and half-lives; may be some basic electronic circuits, etc. These are all modelings, using maths as tools to learn, understand and predict. It is a different type of skills required beyond doing calculations.

I suggest you also look at, e.g., some engineering subjects. At A-level, the exposure to different subjects is limited. Since you like Physics, I would guess you are competent with maths and modeling. Those are useful skills in many STEM subjects.

You should judge it for yourself, rather than be affected by what others say. It's just different for different people.
Last, but not the least, if Imperial (or another school) accepts you for Physics, or Engineering, or whatever, it means they think you belong there and you will be able to do the studies there. The system is supposed to place you at where you belong.

A final observation to share. A child first learns arithmetic, division, addition, etc. Then he/she progressed to solving "worded problems." Being able to do arithmetic well, does not mean the child is able to do worded problems (initially, at least). It takes practice. Can I predict who can do worded problems better? No. It is possible that who does arithmetic very well would do better--I just don't know. But he/she has to try, and be trained. It takes practice because it requires a different type of skills (that I can't quantify)!

To Sum. The only advice I could give is, if you are afraid of maths, don't do any STEM subject at university. If you like Physics and you are quite competent at maths, go for it. Remember, the university will accept you only if they believe you could do it and benefit from it. So see what they say. (Also, look into other subjects such as engineering--engineering subjects overlap with different topics in Physics. For example, electronic/electrical engineering also covers semiconductors, E-M waves; mechanical and aeronautical engineering my cover fluid dynamics; mechanical engineering covers statics and may be Newtonian physics; material science; etc etc.)

I hope that makes you think more in the right direction that gives you a better answer.
(Please don't think Physics is hard because it's Physics. Physics is beautiful. But other subjects could be hard too. For some people some subjects are hard, some are less hard. It depends on the person. Find something you like and you could do well at university and have a wonderful time.)
Reply 5
Original post by D.Y.
I understand what you are saying, but it is hard for others to judge or guess whether you'll find it difficult, right?
Or "is physics hard because it's STEM or because it's physics"?
I mean, is Chemical Engineering/Electrical Engineering hard because it's Chemical Engineering/Electrical Engineering.... I think it should not be viewed that way. Just like it is hard to say whether the violin or the piano is harder. If you are Heifetz, perhaps the piano is harder? James Galway may find playing the violin quite hard!

If you like physics and you are good at maths, you should do physics. Follow your heart.

I would say, for physics and many types of engineering, going from A-level to university, you need more maths (and they will teach you that) and there is more modeling involved. When you do A-level Physics, there is already a lot of modeling, like analyzing the period of a pendulum swing; nuclear decays and half-lives; may be some basic electronic circuits, etc. These are all modelings, using maths as tools to learn, understand and predict. It is a different type of skills required beyond doing calculations.

I suggest you also look at, e.g., some engineering subjects. At A-level, the exposure to different subjects is limited. Since you like Physics, I would guess you are competent with maths and modeling. Those are useful skills in many STEM subjects.

You should judge it for yourself, rather than be affected by what others say. It's just different for different people.
Last, but not the least, if Imperial (or another school) accepts you for Physics, or Engineering, or whatever, it means they think you belong there and you will be able to do the studies there. The system is supposed to place you at where you belong.

A final observation to share. A child first learns arithmetic, division, addition, etc. Then he/she progressed to solving "worded problems." Being able to do arithmetic well, does not mean the child is able to do worded problems (initially, at least). It takes practice. Can I predict who can do worded problems better? No. It is possible that who does arithmetic very well would do better--I just don't know. But he/she has to try, and be trained. It takes practice because it requires a different type of skills (that I can't quantify)!

To Sum. The only advice I could give is, if you are afraid of maths, don't do any STEM subject at university. If you like Physics and you are quite competent at maths, go for it. Remember, the university will accept you only if they believe you could do it and benefit from it. So see what they say. (Also, look into other subjects such as engineering--engineering subjects overlap with different topics in Physics. For example, electronic/electrical engineering also covers semiconductors, E-M waves; mechanical and aeronautical engineering my cover fluid dynamics; mechanical engineering covers statics and may be Newtonian physics; material science; etc etc.)

I hope that makes you think more in the right direction that gives you a better answer.
(Please don't think Physics is hard because it's Physics. Physics is beautiful. But other subjects could be hard too. For some people some subjects are hard, some are less hard. It depends on the person. Find something you like and you could do well at university and have a wonderful time.)

Thank you! I’ll be honest it’s not more of the fact that I’m afraid of maths. Originally I actually wanted to do maths but realized I would find it boring. I would fall asleep everytime we do it and for me it’s a monotonous subject. I enjoy physics because there’s application of that maths rather than just solving things.

My main concern is probably the fact that I am worried that I will come to dislike physics if it gets difficult. I’m seeing people very enthusiastic about the subject (e.g they read articles about it every day) and it worries me because honestly, for me I just feel like a high school kid who chooses to do physics based on the fact that I don’t mind it and prefer over my other subjects of Maths and chemistry.

I’ve already applied for physics so I guess at this moment in time I’m more concerned about imperial. My initial goal was to go there but I’m really scared about the workload and peoples comments on the difficulty and just general depression that I’ve heard circulating. I’ve already received offers from Warwick and kings and I’m waiting on UCL and imperial. Hearing the students here I’m really thinking of picking Warwick/UCL rather than imperial (assuming I get the offers) based on the assumption that people at imperial are working in a pressure cooker and the difficulty is a lot harder there than anywhere else. I feel as if I’m not “in love with the subject” that I will end up failing there.
Reply 6
Original post by Anonymous
Thank you! I’ll be honest it’s not more of the fact that I’m afraid of maths. Originally I actually wanted to do maths but realized I would find it boring. I would fall asleep everytime we do it and for me it’s a monotonous subject. I enjoy physics because there’s application of that maths rather than just solving things.

My main concern is probably the fact that I am worried that I will come to dislike physics if it gets difficult. I’m seeing people very enthusiastic about the subject (e.g they read articles about it every day) and it worries me because honestly, for me I just feel like a high school kid who chooses to do physics based on the fact that I don’t mind it and prefer over my other subjects of Maths and chemistry.

I’ve already applied for physics so I guess at this moment in time I’m more concerned about imperial. My initial goal was to go there but I’m really scared about the workload and peoples comments on the difficulty and just general depression that I’ve heard circulating. I’ve already received offers from Warwick and kings and I’m waiting on UCL and imperial. Hearing the students here I’m really thinking of picking Warwick/UCL rather than imperial (assuming I get the offers) based on the assumption that people at imperial are working in a pressure cooker and the difficulty is a lot harder there than anywhere else. I feel as if I’m not “in love with the subject” that I will end up failing there.

Thanks for writing back and explain. I understand where you are coming from now. Perhaps it's best to see if you get any offers from UCL and Imperial to decide. (I am not that familiar with today's IC or UCL, so I can't comment on that.) I have to say I enjoyed London though everyone's preference is different. I think you have a good start if you are good in maths. Good luck to you!

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