Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The goal of physics undergraduate courses

I do not think the goal should be train or recruit Ph.D students to work on our favourite projects. Most students who take undergraduate courses will not end up doing Ph.Ds or in research careers. These students should be our focus. I hope they will learn a range of concepts, approaches, and skills that will equip them for a range of future opportunities in life.
Key skills students can (and should) learn in physics courses are:
  • to solve problems
  • to make orders of magnitude estimates
  • to think and work quantitatively
  • to think critically and evaluate truth claims
  • to design and perform experiments and analyse data
  • to perform error analysis
  • to perform dimensional analysis
  • to make approximations and estimate their validity
The article Teaching Biological Physics discusses some of these issues.
Perhaps, undergraduate physics courses should not be viewed as a "professional degree" but rather from the perspective of a liberal arts education. A book I really like and mentioned previously is Five Minds for the Future, by Howard Gardner.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I entirely agree (or I don't fully understand your point). The list you write down is exactly the sort of preparation that I would hope for in a PhD student. What other things are there that we *shouldn't* be teaching them as undergraduates? Have I forgotten something?