School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

Study Physics?

Those who consider studying physics often have many questions.

We try to answer some basic questions and give some help.

Questions about the study

If you talk to physics students in higher semesters or graduates of a physics program in Wuppertal, you will get mostly agreeing answers to this question: The studies are exhausting and demanding, but it is worth it. This refers both to the educational value of the studies, i.e. the value for the actual professional advancement, and to the educational value.

Physicists understand much of our world that is not accessible to others. It is remarkable that such approval comes from students who were initially not quite sure whether physics was right for them or who felt overburdened at the beginning of their studies.


What are the reasons for this satisfaction with the study?

On the one hand, there is the breadth of the associated training and the personality training that goes with it. One learns to think analytically and precisely, gaining access to ever more complex structures. On the other hand, one learns to observe reality and is prevented by it from slipping into the fantastic.

One gets an impression of what is possible with technical-physical and mathematical-abstract means and what expansion our perceptions have reached through this. And finally: If one takes away the ability for lifelong learning from the study of a subject, then from that of physics.

Among freshmen, one finds those who greatly overestimate their ability and preparation, and others who believe they are "much too bad" to study physics. Both attitudes not infrequently need to be corrected. It is true that the start is a shock for many beginners, in the field of mathematics because of the precision and quality of thinking required there and in physics because of the variety of phenomena and properties to be grasped, but one can get over this shock with benefit. Benefit, because this entry and the subsequent studies represent a versatile mental training that pays off later in ever new areas - even those that do not directly belong to physics.

Incidentally, it has been shown that even poorly prepared beginners can succeed in their studies if they apply themselves appropriately. Missing advanced courses (both in physics and especially in mathematics) can be compensated for in many cases, and school grades are not always a sure indicator.

As far as differences in individual talents and abilities are concerned, within the physics program the range of requirements is broad, so that many will find a specialty that suits their aptitudes and motivates them in the course of their studies.

Those who have reservations can and should seek advice and, in any case, attend the faculty's preliminary mathematics course. Experience has shown that the most important thing is the willingness to work intensively and consistently at the beginning of the course.

In addition to the immediate technical training, a physics degree aims to provide graduates with the ability to solve novel problems. This is not done "abstractly" by philosophizing a lot about the issue, but by concretely dealing with physics and the experiences made in the process. The challenges that have arisen and continue to arise from the problem of uncovering the laws of nature have led to a unique combination of thought and observation, of imagination and technology.

The study of physics introduces students to this complex through a broad undergraduate course and a more specialized graduate course, providing related experiences and skills. One learns to understand general complex issues and to use them to solve problems. One learns to make observations and to interpret the data correctly. One learns to use the computer not "abstractly" and detached from the applications, but by working on concrete problems with the help of the computer (a matter of course in the subject). Accordingly, the study of physics has both a broad training value and a high educational value.

Within the framework of bachelor's, master's or possibly doctoral theses, students advance in a special field to the level of top performance that is at all possible there today. This represents the culmination and conclusion of their education.

The benefit of such an education can also be explained in a slightly different way. Today, people like to emphasize educational goals such as the "ability for lifelong learning". However, this constant "further learning" is only a special case of solving novel problems: It is in each case a task to be mastered to learn and understand something new in a comprehensible, effective and independent way and then to derive benefit from it. Physics students are confronted with such challenges more than once in their studies and learn by practical example how to master them successfully.

Good reasons for studying physics in Wuppertal:

  • Because it is a small department with relatively few students, each student has the opportunity for individual and intensive attention from faculty.
  • The department conducts intensive cutting-edge research in a variety of fields. This pays off in the main course of study. On the one hand, in the quality of what is learned and, on the other hand, in the graduates' job search through good contacts to industry.
  • If you are interested in a stay abroad during your studies, you can make use of the good contacts of the Wuppertal physicists to CERN in Switzerland or to England, USA, Thailand etc.
  • Many research groups have good contacts with different companies and areas of industry. Students who carry out their final thesis in these groups participate in these contacts.
  • The Wuppertal working groups work with and on various aspects of computers: Hardware and software development, networks and parallel computers, data processing and statistical methods. Studying physics in Wuppertal offers the opportunity to actively participate in such developments.

Further Help

How does studying at the university work? What is different from school? What do I have to pay attention to? First-year students can find answers to these questions at the freshman information session.

This usually takes place during the first week of the semester. This is also the week in which the majority of lectures begin. On the one hand, the first-semester information provides information about the course of studies, and on the other hand, the university as a whole and the faculty are introduced. At the beginning of the winter semester, the information about the introductory week is compiled in a brochure. This information is available in good time via the university's internet entrance portal.

Typically, the first-semester information includes the following points

  • A general presentation of the university by the rector
  • An introduction to the subject along with a description of the course of study, especially during the first few semesters.
  • Presentation of the student council, contacts with older students
  • Guided tour of the faculty's working groups and visit to associated experimental facilities.

Of course, this week you will also find out when and where which events of your studies will take place, by whom they will be held and what you have to do.

For more information about the week for freshmen, visit the site of the Students Council.

In the field of physics, individual subject advising is possible and useful at an early stage. It can already take place during school time, e.g. by a subject advisor after appropriate registration.

The spectrum of possible questions is broad. For example: What should I study in the field of physics? Bachelor's degree or teaching degree? The study of physics offers a wide range of possibilities, which allows individual inclinations to be taken into account. Personal counseling often also includes the question of technical preparation for the course of study that complements school work, such as useful reading. Or should one already attend individual courses and exercises during school time? The experiences of the last years indicate that it is more favorable to bring a somewhat broader and more well-founded general education to the beginning of the studies than to take a number of courses in advance, which is also possible. The interested person can also inform himself about this problem area at an early stage.

For non-subject-specific questions, the central student advisory service with its broad Internet presentation is available to first-year students.

The faculty offers a five-week preliminary course in mathematics before the start of the actual studies, which is highly recommended to attend.

Many first-year students have deficits that are particularly noticeable in the area of mathematics. In addition to subject-specific gaps, the training of more general mental skills, such as concentration or structuring and formulating complex issues, also plays a role here. Moreover, at the beginning of their studies, students lack the correct assessment of the competencies that are required and therefore expected for the respective subject studies - this is especially true for the required mathematical skills.

The situation is similar with self-assessment, which can be too high or too low. For this reason, the preliminary course strives to adapt to the ability of the respective students on the one hand, but also to prepare them for the necessities of the field of study on the other hand.

You will find further information here.

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