Graduate Curriculum Issues Allen Goldman, U of Minnesota

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1 Graduate Curriculum Issues Allen Goldman, U of Minnesota At Minnesota we have been carefully scrutinizing our Graduate Curriculum for a few reasons: Committee on the Status of Women in Physics Site Visit -- suggestions for improvement. Curriculum, but not course content, had not been changed since Complaint by research supervisors of experimental students that students coming through the graduate courses were really not adequately prepared for research. Concerns that students did not have a proper attitude or even interest in physics outside their own areas of research.

2 Approach Surveyed Faculty Surveyed Graduate Students General Questions on: Courses and Content Advising Collegiality and Environment Work load for Teaching Assistants

3 General Matters To reach consensus need to think through what we are trying to produce through the graduate program, especially the courses. There was actually serious disagreement as to what was actually important There were faculty strongly in favor of change as well as many who felt everything was fine. Was agreement on making sure we provide the opportunity for each student reach their highest level of mastery of physics. Students were skeptical that faculty would implement change.

4 What Emerged from Both Surveys There was agreement that the focus should be on the Ph.D. as a research degree. Aspects of our exam structure, both written and oral need overhaul, faculty more than students. Our advising process needs to be focused on getting students into research in a timely manner. We need a core curriculum for the various subfields. This includes the specific content of courses through the highest graduate level. The number of Courses should be minimal and should provide a foundation for independent work.

5 Course issues In the matter of courses, there needs to be a syllabus for each of the core courses. Some of them have become quite idiosyncratic. The curriculum should be standardized (i.e. written down right up through the 8000 courses). We do need to reach a clearer consensus about the content of the more advanced courses. (Above needs WERE voiced by a bit more than a 2 to 1 margin and by the student respondents. Standardized grading scales for 5000 and 8000 level courses. (There could be a different standard for each level, but there should be some standard). We have to be sure that we do not keep people who are "marginal" in classes but stellar in research from getting dissertation fellowships.

6 Faculty wanted the Graduate Course Structure to Mirror What They experienced. What the average faculty member in Physics experienced QM- 1yr E&M- 1.5 sem Stat Mech- 1 sem Class Mech- 1 sem Math Meth- 1.5 sem Exp Physics-1 sem Basic Core Classes wanted (highest level not included) E&M- 2 sem QM- 2 sem Class Mech- 1 sem Stat Mech- 1 sem Exp Physics- 1 sem Math Methods- 1 sem Comp physics- 1 sem Many body/field theory- 2 sem 5.5 year long classes (students take 6 in first two years)

7 Proposed Condensed Matter Curriculum 1 st year- Fall Semester: Analytical and Numerical Methods, Classical Mech., Q. M I. Spring Semester: E. M., Q. M. II, Thermal and Statistical Phys. 2 nd year- Fall Semester: 8-level Solid-State Phys. I, 8-level Stat. Mech. I Spring Semester: 8-level Solid State Phys. II, 8-level State Mech. II I will learn about other curricula proposed for other areas on Monday (Biological Physics, High Energy Physics, Astrophysics, Space Physics)

8 Other Issues Discussed Ph.D. as a research degree focuses on training researchers. What about students who go into other areas and don t become researchers? They sometimes consider themselves to be failures. Should the curriculum include training in skills that might facilitate non-research or industrial employment? How does one ensure that students acquire employable skills? How does one broaden the experience of students and interest them in matters outside of their specialty? Should we require distribution courses? Should there be a course in Experimental Physics at the graduate level? What do we do for the most advanced courses with extremely low enrollments? Can we team up with other institutions and offer distance learning?

9 Other Organized Teaching Outside of Formal Courses Three-week long TA training and and Graduate Student orientation, including ethics issues Departmental Safety Training On-Going Course in Teaching Methods for Teaching Assistants Weekly Meetings for Research Orientation Shop Course Seminar Requirement is not passive. In some areas there is a required presentation each year. Colloquium Course -- students grade colloquium speakers in order to receive credit. Formal Registration for Research Credits to satisfy residency requirement.

10 EXAMS ORALS The oral examination is not uniform in level, and it does not appear to be at the level achieved not too long ago. I'm not sure that the oral examination is administered very evenly. I've recently been on several committees which seemed to have radically different standards. Standards for the preliminary oral seem to vary widely; this is bad for grad student morale. In general, oral exams allow for a better test of the understanding The oral does not test our students physics understanding.

11 Written Exam make a real qualifying written exam. We only test undergraduate material. We never really test at the graduate level. The GWE should be turned into a diagnostic test for the incoming students, while second year students would be required to pass it. Originally the oral exam was supposed to cover grad physics because the GWE was only undergrad. By delaying the GWE, we can make it on grad physics. After the women's committee report I wonder whether we should require students to take the graduate written immediately on arrival failure tends to put off grad students. I would suggest consideration be given to structuring the written examination in sections, which could be passed individually. This might relieve some of the pressure on students, who must take the entire examination each time. Our GWE exams are not sufficiently difficult. Unfortunately, the students have a hard time with them.

12 Advising issues The big issue is early advising. We need to attach our graduate students to an advisor as soon as they arrive. They TA his/her classes, they meet regularly to talk, and they really change from being a student to being a colleague. The main reason for failure in the PhD program, is now failing to make a research connection, and this should be addressed. We need better advising for uncommitted students, mentoring by successful students, pushing people into research earlier. There is not a perceived problem in dealing with different career paths of students.

13 TA Issues I think that we need to examine that scope and depth of TA training. I believe that we could do well with less, and with somewhat less of an emphasis on teaching for first and second year students. Yes, they don't know whether they are fish, fowl or good red herring. Are they teachers (TAs), classroom students, or starting researchers. The teaching load for TA's should be lightened. Though attempts are made to avoid it, the TA's tend to be exploited and overworked as a result of our attempts at undergraduate course reform. One issue is that the pressure on undergraduate teaching leads to smaller grad courses being cancelled or not offered, even though they are necessary for some students.

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15 Minnesota Ph. D. Program Minimum Grade Point Average: 3.3. Course Requirements: A t least 40 credits, including both Physics 5001/2 and 5011/2 must be taken. This number includes the 12 credits of minor or supporting program credits discussed in the next paragraph. You must also take two semesters of a seminar in your research area. Minor Field or Supporting Program Requirement: 12 credits. If you declare a formal minor, these credits must be in the graduate program corresponding to your minor. Alternatively, you may choose the "supporting program" option. A supporting program consists of courses that are not in your major subfield of physics. These courses could be either within the physics department or in another department. For example, if your subfield is condensed matter, courses in elementary particle physics could be considered a supporting program. The core courses such as Physics 5001/2 and 5011/2 cannot be considered part of the supporting program. Courses which are considered part of each subfield and those considered core courses are shown in Table 3.1. Final authority for the designation of what courses can be counted toward this requirement is the Director of Graduate Studies. Course Level: All courses must be at the 4xxx, 5xxx or 8xxx level. At least 6 credits of the courses in your subfield and 8 credits total (not counting thesis credits) must be at the 8xxx level.

16 Graduate Written Examination: Must pass by fall of the second year. See Chapters 2 and 6. Preliminary Oral Examination: Ph.D. candidates must pass the Preliminary Oral Examination. See Chapter 3 for more information. Thesis Credits: 24 (Physics 8888) Writing and Defense of Thesis: Ph.D. candidates must write and defend a thesis in a final oral examination. See Chapter 3 for more details. The thesis must be written and bound according to the Graduate School rules and a copy should be furnished to both the advisor and the School of Physics and Astronomy.

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