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Comps is a go

Posted by Arjendu on January 31, 2010

The public talks phase of Physics Comps (the Senior Integrative exercise) for 2010, or ‘Comps’ as we call it at Carleton for reasons unknown to me, launched last week. Those working in our Comps seminar any given Winter and Spring Term include all the Faculty, and usually all of the Staff, any major who intends to graduate that year, and — very rarely — one junior finishing up Comps early so that she can take the Comps in another major during her senior year (the two examples I know of who did this in the last decade are, indeed, female). Juniors also participate by introducing the seniors and by attending and asking questions. They are usually asked to attend the talks as an ‘assignment’ for their quantum mechanics class (and sophomores for their classical mechanics course). So you can see it’s a process we treat very seriously in the Department.

It’s structured as follows: The seniors write a long paper that goes through 3 iterations with feedback from two faculty members and a peer reviewer; between the 1st and 2nd written version they present a public talk. We heard from two of our graduating seniors this week; the first spoke on the resolution of Maxwell’s Demon’s Paradox through arguments about the physical effects of memory and erasure, invoking one of my favorite phrases ‘Information is Physical’. The second spoke on the physics of building giant structures such as stadia and skyscrapers, particularly when said stadia have retractable domes, for instance. I learned something from both of them, and enjoyed both.

I’m Comps Czar this year (first time) and got to kick off public Comps with a little intro on what we intend and expect from our students for Comps: For Physics Comps we ask our students to learn something (on a topic of your own choosing) that we haven’t taught them, and often, what we don’t ourselves know. We then ask you to educate us about what you’ve learned, through your written paper and your talk. We look for you to have explored your topic to a depth well beyond that of the first couple of years of Physics at Carleton, to have integrated material from more than one course or area of physics, and most importantly, to have mastered the material. I have been jaw-droppingly stunned by the wonderful job some of our students do. And look forward to the same this year as well.

(This, it turns out, is pretty much what I wrote here 2 years ago as well, so it’s nice to know that I’m consistent, if forgetful).

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2 Responses to “Comps is a go”

  1. Ken Wedding said

    Arjendu wrote, “‘Comps’ as we call it at Carleton for reasons unknown to me…”

    In the distant past, when I was a student at Carleton, comps meant Comprehensive Examinations.

    Nearly all departments organized 6 hours of written exams (3 in the morning on courses required for majors; 3 in the afternoon for departmental courses that were optional for majors). That was followed a few weeks later by a 45-minute oral exam, where professors asked students questions about things they’d written on the earlier exams (and other relevant topics).

    All this was done during Spring Term and increased the tension level on campus during April and May. And increased the uninhibited partying for most seniors during the last couple weeks of the term.

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