MIT Society of Physics Students

New to Course 8?

Freshman FAQs

Should I be Course 8?

While we can't tell you whether or not to be course 8, you should consider being a physics major if:

You have a deep, Feynmanesque love for physics.
A lot of people find physics cool (after all, it is!). However most physics majors have a deep interest in the subject and curiousity for current problems in physics. Talk to a few; you'll see what we mean.
You like challenges.
A lot of physics is about solving puzzles — complex, challenging puzzles. Some people say that Junior Lab (8.13) is the hardest class at the Institute. While this is certainly debatable, the fact remains that at MIT, physics is a rigorous major.
You really enjoyed 8.012 or 8.022.
8.012 and 8.022 are at a more similar level to future course 8 classes (8.03, etc) than their counterparts. Thus, if you really enjoyed the level of these classes and their trips into applications and derivations, course 8 may be for you.
You can see yourself doing this for 4 years, and possibly the rest of your life.
We're not trying to scare you into believing that your major will define the rest of your life. It certainly doesn't have to. We just want to remind you that your major should be something that you do find interesting and be something that you see yourself being happy with for at least your undergraduate career. If not, find another major. There's no shame in it. You should do what you love. (See first point).

At the same time, the following reasons do not constitute good reasons to be course 8:

"Physics is hard, and physicists are smart. If I do course 8, then I am hard-core and smart" (or a more toned down version of this statement).
Being course 8 should not be about pride. There are plenty of other subjects that are 'hard'; there are challenges in every other field, and the world needs other problems solved (cancer, energy, ...) just as much as they need answers from physics. Just because Einstein did physics doesn't mean you have to.
"I came to MIT wanting to do physics, and I haven't seen much of other majors, so I'll do physics."
You have your entire first year to explore majors, so explore. Too many people get to their third or fourth year and realize that another subject really captivates them, and they would have discovered this earlier if they had just explored more courses. Maybe take biology and chemistry both freshman year, instead of waiting until senior year. Maybe take an advising seminar first term or use your extra nine units second term to try out another subject. Take home message: explore!

Still wondering what to do? Check out physics seminars (e.g. Thursday colloquia) and events (SPS events, Freshman Open House, etc). Most importantly, go find a course 8 undergrad and talk to them! More than likely, that'll help you decide. Good luck!

Should I take 8.02 or 8.022?

8.022 is a great class if you want to learn more theory and derivations than in 8.02. It will give you the opportunity to see the connection between electricity and magnetism. If you did well in 8.01 and wished it had gone more in depth, 8.022 might be for you. If in doubt, talk to the teaching staff and sit in on both classes for a little bit.

Note that if you disliked TEAL, that isn't enough reason to take 8.022.

What's the difference between the 'flexible' and 'focused' degree options?
On your diploma, there's no difference whatsoever. The flexible option, formerly known as 8B, exists so that you can more easily double major or explore another subject, such as astrophysics or biophysics. There are fewer required classes in course 8 for the flexible option, notably Junior Lab (8.13 and 8.14). The flexible option can also be a good idea for those who would like to substitute regular classes with grad classes or for those who are more theoretically inclined.
How do I get a Physics UROP?
While a full answer can be found on our UROP page, the important thing to remember is that the O in UROP stands for opportunity. Contact professors whose research interests you. Don't settle for just any UROP; find something that you will truly enjoy and learn from.


Upon declaring physics as your major, you will be assigned an advisor who is a professor in the Physics department. Advisors are assigned based on your responses on a preference sheet from the department. The sheet asks about the type of advisor you would like, such as an experimentalist or a theorist, etc. When filling out the form and even considering advising in general, remember this:

For many people, their academic advisor is not their key source of information about what classes to take, etc.
Thus, it's a good idea to talk to other students, other professors or staff.

Thus, it may be helpful to request an academic advisor with interests similar to your own, so that your advisor can help you find a UROP by asking colleagues or address concerns specific to their field. If you think there's a specific advisor you would like to have, go ahead and request him or her. However, remember that even the greatest researcher can be a poor advisor. It's very hard to know a professor's advising abilities until you've talked to other students of theirs.

Advisors are meant to support you, so don't stress over finding the 'perfect' advisor. In the event that you do get an advisor with whom you're unhappy, you CAN switch advisors. Just go talk to Nancy Savioli or Catherine Modica.

And again, remember to talk to your peers and upperclassmen for advice. Even if you have a great advisor, these folks are an invaluable source of information.

Sophomore standing

If you declare Sophomore standing, you will be assigned an advisor from the pool of professors chosen for the year corresponding to the current sophomore class. As we mentioned before, if you are unhappy with your advisor, you can change. Just go see the folks in 4-315.

People and Places to Know

The People

The following folks can be great sources of information. Of course there are lots of other great people to talk to in the Physics Department. If you're looking for someone else, try finding them here.

Catherine Modica — Academic Administrator — cmodica
A great person to talk to regarding degree requirements, transfer credits, specific courses, and much more.
Nancy Savioli — Undergraduate Administrative Assistant — savioli
For all your grading and administrative needs, she'll help you out. She can also help direct you to the right person if you're not sure who to contact about something.
Prof. Krishna Rajagopal — Associate Head for Education — krishna
Curious about the Cambridge-MIT Exchange or double majoring? Professor Rajagopal can help you out.
Jacqueline Blair Carota — Financial Assistant — jcarota
If you're ever doing a physics UROP, she'll be the person to work with you on payroll issues.

The Places

Good places to know are:

Academic Programs Office — 4-315
Home to Nancy Savioli, Catherine Modica, and other course support folks, come here if you have any questions about course 8 or need to take care of any administrative stuff (grading, transfer credit, etc.).
Marble Room, a.k.a. Physics [Undergraduate] Common Room — 8-329
The place for physics undergrads to study and hang out. Most SPS events are held here.
Physics Reading Room — 4-332
Offers a number of physics books and periodicals for in house viewing. Also, a great place to study and look out over Killian. Check hours of operation.
Pappalardo Room — 4-349
Home to various seminars and events. Pre-colloquium refreshments can be found here at 3:45pm on Thursdays.