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Physics at Durham Uni
Courses in general
Member Name: rob_writer
Courses in general
Date: 10/12/01, updated on 10/12/01 (485 review reads)
Advantages: I like it, Most other people do, Decent Uni
As I said, I chose to do the four year MSci course in Physics, although I have the option to change to a number of other physics courses at the end of the second year. Although I've only had one term of doing the course, I do remember it was at this stage last year that I had to make my final decisions as to which course I would apply to, so hopefully it may be of use to someone.
Once you've applied to the University the normal system consists of you going down for an open day, staying in your College of choice for one night and having a day being shown around the Physics department. For me this consisted of an introductory lecture, being shown around a few labs, and a mock tutorial with one of the lecturers. Everyone really friendly, and there was a few postgrads to show us round. Everyone was friendly, and I liked the department (although if I hadn't I would have obviously chosen somewhere else). The fact that they were building a new centre for a complicated type of physics (I should know what the word is but I don't) was impressive, although now I wish they'd finish all the building work!
When it comes to the dreaded interview I can't help - I didn't have one. Lots of other people did, while lots of other people didn't. Haven't got a clue why, other than to presume that people who are predicted borderline grades may be interviewed, but that's just speculation.
Providing you get your place, and get the relevant exam grades, then you simply turn up in October and start your course! If you don't quite make the grades you need then don't worry too much - I know a few people who got in on less than the stated requirements.
partment is quite large, having its own 3-floored building with two or three telescopes on the roof. Not that I get to spend much time in there, that is, as most of our lectures take place in other departments (it's all to do with building works and refurbishment of lecture theatres!). The building consists mostly of offices and research labs, as well as all the undergraduate labs, a few lecture theatres and a nice spacious computer room which is only for use by physics students - which means there's never any need to queue at the library. While the decor of the building may not look great, the equipment is all pretty up to date, and the reference library is an invaluable source of information (as well as scaring us at the depth of the 4th year reports we're going to have to do).
The course is quite enjoyable, although obviously this depends upon what you like. Surprisingly though, in the first year you are only required to do 3 modules of physics out of your total 6 modules. You then have to do two maths modules, and have one elective module to choose from those offered by other departments (or indeed more physics if you want!). It's a little annoying to have to do so much maths, especially when it isn't all relevant to physics, but I'll say more about that later.
Foundations of Physics
A double module, this forms the core of the physics course in the first year. It covers a wide range of topics as you might expect, including special relativity, quantum mechanics, classical mechanics and wave phenomena. I know I'm supposed to enjoy all of physics, but it's hard to be motivated by such imaginative topics as springs and pendulums, or indeed balls rolling down slopes. Still, this is compensated for by the interesting topics such as special relativity (despite the fact it's a little difficult!).
Structure of Matter
Does what it say's on the tin really! Deals w
ith the properties of the different phases of matter, as well as particle physics and a few other things. Particle physics is fun, the other bits aren't and often just seem an extension of A-level chemistry which was never much fun to be honest.
Assessment in Physics is done continually throughout the term in the form of weekly problems, which over the year contribute to 10% of your mark. The rest of this is made up from labs, of which you have 3 hours per week, and exams in the summer (I'm looking forward to them already!). The weekly problems are quite a lot of work for the measly 10%, but at least they make you sit down and answer them and help you greatly in understanding the work that you've done in the previous week. If there is one gripe then it would be that marking isn't that consistent, but over the year this is likely to balance out so you get your fair share of harsh markers, and some lenient ones too. Labs are actually quite good fun, with the experiments being set much more fun that the old 'swing the pendulum' things we did at school. In my first term I've used computers to analyse galactic clusters, measured refractive index with a laser and measured the speed of light!
Each week you have a one hour physics tutorial, where a group of around 6 students meet a tutor to discuss and go over the last weeks problems.
The Physics side of things is quite good fun, but it couldn't be that simple, could it? On to the maths.............
When I went to do Physics I had no idea that I would be doing so much maths, at least not maths like I am doing. I don't mind maths, in some cases I enjoy it, but I'm at Uni to do physics and it would be far better if they ran maths for physicists lecture's, then at least I would know what I was doing had some relevance. The two courses are imaginatively called Singles Maths A and B.
Maths A is the worst of the two, as it's pure
maths and often seems like it's maths for the sake of maths. Some of it has relevance to physics, but I'm sure not all of it can. Topics covered so far include trigonometric function and hyperbolics, complex numbers and limits. When I think about it they are actually all relevant to physics in some way, but it's the way in which they are taught that makes them seem pointless. In maths B, which is applied maths, everything is related to physics or engineering in some way. So far we have covered vectors, differential equations and fourier analysis. Both maths modules are assessed both by weekly problems (10%) to be handed in on certain lectures, and summer exams. Maths have 2 hours of tutorials every week, one hour for each module. Of course, the fact that I don't like the maths so much probably stems from the fact that it's so god damned hard! I really would recommend doing Further Maths A-level if at all possible, as it seems to help people greatly!
Exams in both Physics and Maths take place in the summer term, although there are collections in January (practice exam), and in maths a diagnostic test in the first few lectures!
That takes care of 5 modules, which leaves you with one elective module. Quite a popular course is Introduction To Astronomy which is run by the Physics department, although you can do any course from any department providing that the time table fits and you meet the prerequisite requirements for entry!
I end up with 23 hours of lectures a week, which is just about the most of any degree course, apart from chemistry which have more labs. Still, not to worry, I'm sure if I did English and got 8 hours a week I'd be bored!
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