Physics 351 - Physics Research Seminar
Instructor: R. P. Springer, 208-A Physics, 660-2676, firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting: Wednesdays 7:30pm to 9:30pm Faculty Lounge (234
Plus Departmental Colloquia
evening seminars lasting approximately two hours; members of the
physics department present topics of their research or currently
interesting subject matter, at the level of entering graduate
students. General Physics Colloquia attendence
Audience and Prerequisites All entering physics graduate
students must attend; other graduate students, undergraduates, as well
as faculty and staff are welcome to attend.
To become a
scientist you must learn how to write papers and proposals in collaboration
with others. In this
course you will practice such skills by writing short expositions
based upon the presentations. As the semester progresses, it
should take you less and less time to complete each week's writing
assignment. Even initially it may take less than two hours per week. Let
me know if you are spending more time than this.
13 weeks of presentations. For most of these weeks, there will be two
presentations per week. We will call these presentation A and
presentation B. For each week, you will be matched with a writing
partner (see Writing Matches) for the
Randomly, half the pairs in the class will be assigned to write
on presentation A, and the other half will write on presentation B.
You will not know which assignment you have until the end of the
One person from each writing pair will write an "introductory"
paragraph on the subject of the presentation (A or B, as assigned).
The other person will write a paragraph on a more specific problem,
gleaned from the presentation itself and/or by going to see the
speaker and/or by reading from the speaker's papers. After each member
of the pair has written his/her assigned paragraph (the introductory
or the specific), he/she will provide it to the other member of the
pair who will edit, critique, etc. Then the members of the pair will
come together to create an exposition consisting of an introductory
paragraph and a specific example paragraph. Make sure that that the
two paragraphs form a coherent story, are matching in style,
etc. Aim for an audience at the level of incoming graduate students.
Due each week will be: (1) The original
paragraphs written by each member in the pair and (2) the completed
two-paragraph project, as modified and made into a coherent work. I
may ask you to re-write a project if it is not satisfactory. I will
meet with students individually throughout the semester to give feedback
on their writing. I expect to see extensive modifications to the original
paragraphs. Note that both people in each pairing are responsible for
forming the total coherent work.
Asking Questions Another important skill you must learn as a
scientist is how to ask questions during a seminar or colloquium.
Each of you will be expected to ask a number of questions of our
presenters during the semester. If this idea tends to make you
nervous, you might want to prepare a question in advance. You can do
this by looking up the topic of the presentation and doing some
advance reading (or simply web-site perusal) on your own. Do not be
afraid to ask stupid questions. Set yourself the modest goal of
asking five questions during the semester.
Attendence Because class participation is a crucial part of
this course you are expected to attend each class meeting. If you
anticipate having to miss a meeting be sure to notify me well in
advance. Typically a student will be expected to make up a missed
meeting; for instance by doing individual reading and writing a report
on that reading. Of course, illness and accident will happen. If you
miss a meeting for which you do not have a valid excuse you risk not
receiving credit for the course and having to retake it.
A Word About Plagiarism
The writing assignments from Physics 351 have highlighted two serious
issues. The first is the issue of outright plagiarism. The lifting
of sentences -- even if minor modifications are introduced -- from a
source which is not referenced is unethical. Those who do this will
be (and have been) put on probation. I am required to report
suspected plagiarism to the Associate Chair. Plagiarism can result in
expulsion from Duke.
The second issue is slightly more subtle. Even if a source
referenced, if you have clearly done extensive copying, then you are
not completing your assignment. Your assignment is to study a
collection of sources; the evening presentation itself, subsequent
discussions with the presenter and/or other research group members,
reading from Physics Today or of other journals at a similar level,
and/or reading articles produced by the group. Summarize from those
in your own words. That is the only way you can
demonstrate -- to yourself and to others -- that you have understood the
topic. This work need not be extensive, but it does require
independent understanding and independent thinking on your part.
Some of you are learning how to write scientific descriptions for the
first time. This may result in early attempts which contain
physics concepts which are not that deep, and sentence structure which
is not that sophisticated. That is O.K. You are expected to improve
as the semester goes along. Read the corrections that I make on
the assignments I return to you and try to understand why I made them.
Come talk to me if you are unsure. Then, try to incorporate similar
improvements into your subsequent submissions. The best way to learn
how to write clearly (and eventually with greater ease) is to practice
For some of you, English is not your native language. This will likely
be apparent in your submissions and I will correct whatever problems I
see, but note that your primary task is to demonstrate that you
understand and can explain clearly a set of physics concepts. Correct
location of articles and ordering of words will come with practice.