What is a proper reply to questions like "Describe your operational knowledge about (some course, i.e. quantum physics)?"

I have taken few courses about quantum physics but it's not a big deal for an M.Sc. physics graduate. Everybody knows that it's essential to take quantum physics courses during B.Sc. and M.Sc. physics.

Should the answer be about the stuff that I learned in that course?


Certainly everyone will have done courses in these subjects, but their level of knowledge and understanding of the topics will differ vastly. Questions like this are generally designed to elicit a summary of the core principles of the subject, and see if you can explain the subject intuitively in a short period of time. When they ask about your "operational knowledge" they are presumably asking about how to apply the principles you learned in the course to problems. They certainly do not want to hear about the "stuff" you learned in the course, and I disagree with the view that you should describe your courses and textbooks. Instead, I would suggest that you demonstrate that this "stuff" you learned has led you to a clear structured understanding of the subject, that you can explain intuitively in a logically coherent order, and that you can apply to problems.

To prepare for these questions, I would suggest that you practice articulating the principles of these subjects to non-experts, and see if you can explain the subject succinctly and clearly to someone with minimal background knowledge. So, for example, what is quantum physics, in one sentence? What does it add to classical physics, and how does it change the principles of classical physics? Can you give one or two practical applications of the topic and how you would apply this topic to those practical applications (i.e., how to "operationalize" the material)? Be ready to reel this information off succinctly and coherently, and take questions on more detailed specifics.

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    Wow. It is very much detailed. Thank you so much. – Luqman Saleem May 30 '18 at 1:46

Not a big deal? Along with general relativity, quantum mechanics is one of the main pillars of modern physics!

You are right that everyone who has done a BSc in physics will have learnt a bit of QM-- the problem is, not everyone will have done the same amount, or to the same level. They probably ask you this question so they can gauge exactly how much you have learnt and so where you stand in relation to your potential classmates.

A good way to answer the question would be to describe the QM you have learnt, and reference what textbooks you used, especially if they are the standard, well-known literature.

  • Thank you. Of course quantum mechanics is base of modern physics. – Luqman Saleem May 29 '18 at 17:56
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    I might interpret 'operational' knowledge to more be about what you might have used QM for outside of a given course, i.e. if you needed it in any research you may have done. But, a mix of course and lab use would be a good answer too... – Jon Custer May 29 '18 at 18:39
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    I'm not a native speaker and not in physics as well, but from my understanding "operational knowledge" means how you can apply what you've learned and which parts of it you did apply. That's a huge step from textbook knowledge. – OBu May 29 '18 at 21:46

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