My Department – Physics – is preparing to modernise its entire syllabus at all levels, from undergraduate through to graduate courses. We are looking at what material should be taught, as well as methods for teaching that material. This will be a significant, multi-year project.

I have found plenty of accounts of how others have changed a single course, or a few courses. However I’ve not come across an account of a department changing its whole programme of study, root and branch, in the manner we are contemplating.

Do you know of any physics – or similar – departments/schools which have gone through such a major renovation?

  • Although it usually doesn't result in this big an adjustment to the curriculum, most academic departments in the US conduct periodic (e.g. once every five years) "Program Review" of their undergraduate and graduate degree programs. There are many books and articles on how to conduct a program review. – Brian Borchers Apr 26 '15 at 3:04

You might want to take a look at Germany (and possibly other countries an Europe). Due to the Bologna reform, physics departments (and many other ones) were forced to switch their curriculum from the old diploma system to a bachelor–master system somewhere around 2005 (the exact year depends on the university).

At least my university used this for some restructuring of the contents and, e.g., did the following (just to give you an idea):

  • Introduced separate math courses for physicists (before, students of physics and mathematics attended the same courses).
  • Introduced special courses each for IT, presentations and numerics (before, students were supposed to learn this by themselves on the way or when they actually needed it)
  • Moved theoretical mechanics and electrodynamics one semester earlier.
  • Merged the courses on atomic physics and condensed-matter physics as well as the courses on nuclear and particle physics.

Other universities might have undergone even more radical changes.


It's not physics, but a cousin at least: if I remember correctly, the MIT Mechanical Engineering department went through a major restructuring of its courses about 10-15 years ago, in which they changed nearly the entire undergraduate curriculum. I can't find any material about it online, but you may be able to to contact people who were involved to find out more.


My answer is only tangentially related to your question, but you may want to see if there are documents produced by some of the relevant professional organizations that outline how a modern curriculum should look like. For example, in Computer Science, this is the normative document: https://www.acm.org/education/CS2013-final-report.pdf . If such a document existed for physics, it might very well make your task vastly simpler because at least it already outlines what most of your courses should be about.

  • Such documents exist in engineering fields because of the horrible business of accreditation of engineering (and CS) departments. There's no organization accrediting physics departments, as far as I know, so I expect there's no curriculum guidelines to follow. – Peter Shor Apr 26 '15 at 20:18
  • Let me revise my comment: there is an accreditation process for physics departments in the UK, and the documents are here. They may be of help to the OP, at least in deciding what material needs to be taught. – Peter Shor Apr 26 '15 at 20:27

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