IPSP Part 2 - Preparation phase FAQ.

Congratulations, you got in! Now what?

If you have read part 1 of this blog, you know that everyone who meets the HEQ criteria in the eyes of Uni-assist gets accepted. Contrary to most good physics programs worldwide, the hard part is not getting accepted to IPSP - it’s survival. In my opinion, this is mainly due to three reasons (two of them connected) :

  1. People from highly different levels of educational background come together. The difference in knowledge base between the person with the most and the slightest knowledge is tremendous. (I am comparing something very quantitative, i.e., the foundation/basics of a person in physics/math, not something super subjective like " How smart is a a particular individual “). Depending on which side of the spectrum you belong to (lots of foundations vs. shallow foundations ; If you are coming straight out of high school, this will mostly be set in stone by your high school curriculum), you will have different consequences. In both cases, you can end up performing very well or poorly.

  2. (Connected to 1) The program is highly accelerated regarding the syllabus. You learn and apply concepts in your semester I/II generally taught in top graduate-level schools in USA/Canada (Even MIT). These same concepts are usually taught in semester III/IV if you were in a typical B.Sc. Physics in Germany (Non-IPSP) making B.Sc. Physics already quite accelerated here.

  3. The primary job of professors is to conduct research (This is nearly true in all of academia). Compared to North American schools, the professors have little incentive to do their job by going over and beyond (This is my experience with some of my previous colleagues). This can pose issues - from slight to a lot. Do not come assuming that, “I am at Leipzig. One of the finest institutions in Germany. I’ll pay attention in class, and everything will be alright”. This might be true at times, but it is not always true.

Wrapping all of this together, if you think, “I got in the program, things should be alright,” in most cases, you couldn’t be more wrong! One must understand how the idea of a University differs in Germany from many other countries.

  • Other countries: The university is responsible for trying to make you graduate.
  • Germany: The University wants to benefit you; this is undoubtedly true. But, you are equally or even more responsible for carving your path through the degree. I cannot often complain about this because we pay NO tuition fees. (I could write an entire post about how this plays an extremely crucial role in how a university would function, but before I digress from the current point, I’ll save that for some other day).

Hmm, this sounds scary.. What should I do?

The answer in itself is not that hard. You need to come prepared. Easier said than done, am I right? That is the exact reason for this post. I want to try to guide you in the simplest way to prepare well for a smooth start in IPSP.

(Oh wow, I completely forgot that this post was left hanging.)

Here is the best game plan to prepare well for IPSP. There are two things you master before you come here. Foundational mathematics and a good grasp of how to apply those things. Let us begin with foundational mathematics,

Foundational Mathematics Preparation

  • Step 1. Go to this link. This is the mathematical preparation course given to Physics students joining Heidelberg for their bachelor’s. Thank god it’s in English; it is an awesome resource. A big pro of these notes is that they are catered towards exactly someone who is joining a Physics program in Germany. Any cons? Honestly, none. IPSP is a bit more accelerated than a regular B.Sc. in Germany, but nonetheless, the foundation needed is pretty much the same.
  • Step 2. Analyze what you have studied before in high school from those notes. If you think you have studied everything, revise the parts you feel you lack some confidence in. All the topics mentioned there are crucial when starting your degree. You will be building more and more on these.
  • Step 3. A good way of judging if you have accomplished step 2 is if you can solve problems (Let me make it extremely clear, there is NO escape from solving problems when entering a field like physics. Solving problems is your bread and butter. I sound incredibly blunt, but make sure you enjoy solving problems, or else you will have difficulty pursuing a career in physics. Conceptual understanding can only go this far (imagine me making approximately a foot (the measure for length, not an actual foot, although it was inspired by a standard foot size.. so imagine what you wish) gap between my palms.

P.S. If you feel you are a complete newbie to this level of math. Please take a few months off from whatever you are doing before joining the program, give your everything on understanding the notes, and solve ALL the problems. Okay, ALL may be overkill, but at least the 50%, I won’t go less than that. The syllabus is important, you can choose any resource you want, but as mentioned above, those notes are specifically tailored for students like you.

If you feel you benefit more from watching videos to learn (I assume most of us?), then you could go to Khan Academy and learn the same syllabus as stated in the abovementioned notes. I’ll make a small point here, though. Unfortunately, there is only so much you can learn from video lectures (this is changing as the world evolves). Still, there will be a point in your physics career where you will, unfortunately, won’t always have the privilege of having video lectures. This point probably does not come until you stumble upon your first research project. But then, it’s hours and hours of reading. Of course, there will be concepts and topics in your research for which you can find video resources, but unfortunately, it is only a finite amount. The point of this whole rant is that it is preferable if you get used to sitting in front of books/notes for hours and taking notes if necessary, etc. I recently learnt a new word - Sitzfleisch, google it, this is something you might want to develop as a scientist.

Foundational Physics Preparation

As hilarious as this may sound, the following preparation is secondary to the foundational math prep. What I mean by that is, if you only have time to do the math prep, that is completely alright, you will catch up on the physics in no time as the course begins.

You want to pick up University Physics by Young and Freeman and work through the first eight chapters. It will be things you will learn in your experimental physics I course but at an accelerated pace.

Make sure you know how to hack through dimensional analysis, vectors, energy, work, momentum, etc.

That’s it really. Anything more than that is undoubtedly going to help you further and I can give some suggestions… but on the other hand from my own experience, if I put the suggestions here I would just jump to the cool physics. In order to avoid that, I keep that for some another blog post.

Rohan Kulkarni
Rohan Kulkarni
Aspiring Theoretical Physicist

Just a simple man trying to make a difference.