Academic year starts in March and each semester lasts for 16 weeks. Summer and winter breaks are 10 weeks each. From the academic year 2014, the Department of Physics will take XXX freshmen through a very competitive admission process. During the freshman year students take introductory math and physics as well as writing and English. Currently there are 142 undergraduate physics majors. A Large fraction of male students take leave of absence for 2-year military duty after sophomore or junior year. Roughly a quarter of students are women and the fraction is increasing. The University is strongly encouraging double majors, but still most of the physics majors graduate with a single major. Most of the graduates go to graduate school for at least Master’s degrees, either at KU or some other institutes both in Korea and abroad.
Curricula &Degree Requirements
Curricula at Physics Department are not much different from those at major universities worldwide. Required courses include Classical Mechanics, E&M, Quantum Mechanics and Math for Physics for two semesters each, Modern Physics and Thermodynamics for one semester and 4 Lab courses of 2 credits each. The required courses total 38 credit points. In order to obtain BS in Physics, students have to take only 4 more credit points in physics. The University lowered the requirement to encourage students take classes in other disciplines. In practice most of the students take far more physics classes than the degree requirement dictates. Physics Department offers all the standard courses, e.g. Statistical Physics, Nuclear and Particle Physics, Optics, Condensed Matter Physics, Basic Electronics, Computational Physics with Lab, Advanced Lab, and Teaching practice for those who want to become a high school teacher. There is no thesis requirement for a BS. However, some of the faculty members offer intern programs during summer and winter breaks, and interested students can take part in on-going research projects or carry out simple projects of their own.
Faculty members of all rank are required to teach 6 credit points (two classes of 3 hours per week) each semester. Although Physics Department has the lowest student-to-faculty ratio in KU, most of Physics professors end up teaching more than that. In addition to the graduate courses, the biggest teaching load is from the Introductory Physics classes. There are 1,300~1,400 students taking Introductory Physics course each semester, and they are divided into 15 or so classes of less than 100 students. Consequently, most of the Physics faculty members have to teach at least one Introductory Physics course. The recitation, exam, and lab courses are, however, managed by a single professor who supervises 60 teaching assistants.
Lectures for both Introductory and major courses are largely conducted in a traditional manner. Recently, however, multimedia lectures using a power point file and a tablet PC with internet connections have become common, especially among young faculty members. Many of the lecture rooms are equipped with facilities that can capture tablet PC files and voices simultaneously. These facilities can upload the files to the University Portal, e-KU so that students can play back the lecture through the internet connection. The e-KU Portal site offers many teaching options for Q&A, report submission and group discussions. During the last few years the University invested rather heavily on undergraduate Lab equipment including the Introductory Physics Lab, and the Lab facilities are upgraded to high standards.
Grades scales are A+, A, B+, B, C+, C, D+, D, and F. Distribution is restricted by the University regulation with A less than 25%, B less than 35%. Students are required to maintain above 1.75 out of 4.5 points and a warning is given to those with below 1.75 points. Three consecutive warnings result in expulsion from the University.
After spending one year in course work, most student devote full time to one project. Typically it takes 4 years to receive Ph D after entering the program. Because of the low student-to-faculty ratio of roughly 2, there is usually close interaction between students and supervisors. However, there are few postdoctoral trainees in the Department and there is lack of daily mentorship from more experienced person. Lack of instrumentation staff and secretarial support is also a drag in research, especially in the experimental field. Research group in each subfield is still relatively small, and it keeps students from learning related research areas. With support from BK program we try to mend the situation by employing more postdoctoral level researchers and sending students to international conferences and overseas laboratories.
Outside the lecture room there are not much interaction between faculty members and students. We have tried a few things to change that with mixed results. We have opened “Physics Cafe” at the corner of the physics floor where a few faculty members volunteer, and all of the TA’s for core courses are required to have an office hour each week so that students can talk with professors more freely. We also have a University-initiated Mentoring program, which asks each faculty members to supervise 10 or so physics majors from sophomore until graduation. In addition there are Department outing and sports events organized by faculty members.
Currently there are three graduate programs in Physics Department:
• A 2-year Master’s degree program (27 students as of Apr. 2013).
• Ph.D. program for those who finished a Master's degree program (47 students).
• The combined program for Ph.D. as a terminal degree (63 students).
Each student can choose one of the subfields offered at KU Physics, which are particle, nuclear, condensed matter, optics/atomic physics, and biophysics. For the most parts, our curriculum and education system are molded after the U.S. system. Course requirements, qualifying exams, and thesis requirement and defense procedures are all similar to those of the leading U.S. institutes. There are some differences, however, because we have a large fraction of students for Master’s degree, and Ministry of Education wants to set the rules even for the graduate schools.
Master’s Degree Program
Students with BS can enter the Master’s degree program both in March and September. The admission process takes place twice a year and consists of the review of manuscripts and other documents and an interview. Due to the declining popularity in physics nationwide it is not very competitive and the quality of applicants is also declining. However, more than half of applicants are KU physics undergraduates and they are generally well prepared. Tuition for one year is ∼USD 10,000 and scholarship from TA, RA, and BK21+ program provides ∼USD 16,000. Roughly half of Master’s degree recipients go to industry laboratory, mostly in display or semiconductor business. The other half either switch to the combined program for PhD after finishing one year or finish the program and proceed for a higher degree in KU or abroad, mostly in the U.S.
Required courses for a Master’s degree include Mechanics, E&M I, and Quantum Mechanics I. In addition, Math for Physics for theory students and Experimental Physics for experiment students are required. Moreover, one course from each student’s subfield and one from outside the subfield are required. There is no qualifying exam. Instead they are required to get B or above grades for the core courses before graduation. There is a thesis requirement and a student is supposed to publish their research result in an international conference. The thesis must pass a committee review and an oral defense.
Typically a Master’s program student spends their first semester taking core courses. During the second semester they spend half of their time in learning basic research skills and during the last year they concentrate on their thesis projects. Because the core courses are offered only in Spring semester, schedule for those entering in September is somewhat disrupted. Because of the large demand in teaching assistants, especially in Introductory Physics course, each student is expected to do TA throughout their enrollment. One year of research experience is not enough for students to become independent researchers, and they tend to graduate before they become.
Students with a Master’s degree can enter the PhD program both in March and September. Most of the entering students are from KU Mater’s degree program. Tuition requirement is for 2 years and during which scholarship from TA, RA, and BK21+ program provides ∼USD 18,000. After that scholarship from the BK program is provided for one more year, and RA and optional lectureship provide enough extra stipends. Career paths after receiving PhD are diverse. Postdoctoral training in foreign institutes is preferred, and industry positions or national lab positions are available in many cases.
Required courses for a PhD are E&M II, Quantum Mechanics II, and two courses from each student’s subfield and one from outside the subfield. There are written and oral qualifying exams. Some of the students have had trouble in passing the written qualifying exam in time. Recently we introduced a new regulation that requires passing the exam for receiving a scholarship. At the same time qualifying exam will be conducted based on open problem bank so that students can use the exam as a chance to master basic knowledge in physics. A PhD candidate is supposed to devote full time to one’s research and produce original result of academic significance. A thesis is reviewed by the 5-member (including one outside member) committee and the student gives an oral presentation. The student is also required to publish at least two papers in major journals as either a first or a corresponding author. Students of particle or nuclear physics experiments, the first-author requirement is relieved.
After spending one year in course work, most student devote full time to one project. Typically it takes 4 years to receive PhD after entering the program. There is usually close interaction between students and supervisors. However, there are few postdoctoral trainees in the Department and there is a lack of daily mentorship from more experienced people. Lack of instrumentation staff and secretarial support is also a drag in research, especially in the experimental field. Research group in each subfield is still relatively small, and it keeps students from learning related research areas. With support from BK program we try to mend the situation by employing more postdoctoral level researchers and sending students to international conferences and overseas laboratories.
Master’s degree students can enter this program after finishing the first year if the grade average is high enough and recommended by a supervisor. There is no thesis requirement for Mater’s degree. Other than that degree requirements and other procedures are the same as the PhD program. We have started this program only two years ago. It is more effective than the Master-PhD program for those who want PhD as the final degree, and we try to expand the program.