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Graduate Students at Caltech

arcticshadowarcticshadow Posts: 9Registered User New Member
Hi,

For those of you who are at Caltech, how do the graduate students you've met seem to like it? Are they generally happy?

It seems like the classes graduate students take are ones that undergraduates take as well. Does that work out okay? Is the workload/stress/etc just as intense for graduate students?

Thanks!
Post edited by arcticshadow on

Replies to: Graduate Students at Caltech

  • clownshoeclownshoe Posts: 15Registered User New Member
    i've heard that coursework at Caltech is much easier for grad students (compared to how it is for undergrads there), but i'm not sure how that works out if there are undergrads and grad students in the same class
  • Michael WoodsMichael Woods Posts: 62Registered User Junior Member
    Usually, grad students have an easier time of the courses at Caltech than undergrads. There are two reasons for this: grad students take, on average, maybe two or three courses at a time (undergrads take 6-7), and grad students also have had many more years of preparatory coursework behind them than undergrads (physics majors see grad students in their sophomore-year ACM 95/100 class, and the grad students have had a full undergrad education to prepare them for that class--meanwhile the undergrads have only had a year).

    No surprises, really.
  • tech_fantech_fan Posts: 2,822Registered User Senior Member
    Mostly agree with Mike, but most Caltech undergrads don't take 6 or 7 courses (at least for the usual interpretation of courses outside Caltech) unless I was wildly out of the loop. A typical undergrad schedule has 4-5 real academic classes (at least 1 of which is usually an easier humanities class) and then perhaps 1 or 2 classes that are more like activities -- a PE class like table tennis or an activity like the California Tech student newspaper; it is a bit sketchy to count the latter two as classes. It is rare to see a physics major taking, for example, 4 physics classes (at least normal ones with problem sets and tests). Most people aim for 2-3 serious courses in their field, 1 in a related field, and 1 in humanities and social sciences, for a total of 4 or 5 real academic classes.

    This is still more than average nationally, even at good schools, but I don't want anyone getting the impression that you'll ever see someone taking 7 math classes, for example, while a typical math grad student only takes 2-3 math classes. 7 real Caltech math/science/eng. classes would be entirely impossible to manage. So if anyone does count 7 things on their schedule, half of them are usually fluff. (And if they aren't those people are doing something wrong.)

    By the way, between the lines you can read my advice for being happy at Caltech -- ignore any social pressure you may perceive to take A LOT and take 2 or 3 classes in your field and fill up the rest with stuff you really enjoy in a light way. People who take on too much feel perpetually overwhelmed when they'd otherwise feel fine, and they feel completely crushed when they'd otherwise be merely overwhelmed (which happens to everyone sometimes, even with a reasonable load).
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    Usually, grad students have an easier time of the courses at Caltech than undergrads. There are two reasons for this: grad students take, on average, maybe two or three courses at a time (undergrads take 6-7), and grad students also have had many more years of preparatory coursework behind them than undergrads (physics majors see grad students in their sophomore-year ACM 95/100 class, and the grad students have had a full undergrad education to prepare them for that class--meanwhile the undergrads have only had a year).

    As a current grad student, I have to say that this is definitely not always the case.

    I'm a grad student in the Materials program here at Caltech, and most of us get our asses kicked by the larger classes that have a decent number of undergrads. The main reason? Professors assume we've taken all of the Caltech prereqs which, well, we haven't, and Caltech versions of classes are quite a bit different than what you'll find in school.

    The grad students in ACM 100 may have had four years of undergrad to "prepare" them for the course, most of them haven't actually had a math class in four years and didn't have their math classes styled in the same as Caltech's. I know my undergrad math was very application-based while ACM100 was pretty much conceptual and proof-based (not to mention not having taken any linear algebra classes).

    Of course, the people I know in other fields that don't have to take 15 classes before their quals don't have quite as much stress from taking so many classes outside of their field, so I'd say it definitely depends on which field you're in. People I know in Applied Physics don't have as bad of a problem since many of them were physics majors in undergrad with a lot of math, so the transition isn't as bad. But for those of us with an engineering background going into the more math-oriented Caltech classes it can be a pretty huge hassle.

    As for are grad students happy? The only ones I know in Materials that are really happy are the ones that have passed their quals and get to spend all their time on research.
  • lizzardfirelizzardfire Posts: 1,576Registered User Senior Member
    Maybe it's because I'm just used to Caltech math courses, but I really would consider ACM 95/100 (same course) as much less proof based than most math courses at Caltech. Do other undergrads agree?
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    I imagine it is, I'm just used to having math homeworks be fully instructional in how to apply the material in what you'll use in your other classes, and usually the test would have one or two proofs once you're actually supposed to have learned the material (instead of trying to learn things through proofs, which I think is a style of teaching where the effectiveness really depends on the person).
  • dLodLo Posts: 328Registered User Member
    I agree with you, lizzardfire.

    I've found the applying part come in the classes where you actually need the math. In general, I've found that the sets at Tech are trying to teach you something new, rather than reinforce what you've already learned, which means that it does depend a bit on the ability of the person... or that crazy genius kid that you collaborate with.
  • G2sus4m6aug11b15G2sus4m6aug11b15 Posts: 108Registered User Junior Member
    It is not easy to generalize the difficulty of graduate programs. I know that the Master's in Aeronautics and the Master's in Aerospace are extremely difficult programs. Both require 5 classes each term for a year; in the former, 4 are math/engineering classes (and they're all fairly difficult), and in the latter, all 5 are.

    As far as those specific courses go, grad student performance tends to have a wide range. I've found that that undergrads tend to outperform grads in ACM95/100, and the opposite is true for Ae102. The reason has to do with the amount of preparation the grads have had.

    In Aero, it probably gets easier after the first year. There will still be courses, but less of them, and your schedule will probably be more flexible.
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