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Physics 3rd class in physics any advice?

  1. Jan 9, 2013 #1
    3rd class in final year (2.3 GPA)...any advice?

    Just incase anyone is wondering, a 3rd class is approximately 2.3 GPA http://www.ten-percent.co.uk/conversion-table-for-us-gpa-to-uk-class-degrees

    So I'm in my 3rd year and final year struggling with my degree in physics and just can't seem to take it anymore. I just can't get my head over all this "introductory level" quantum mechanics, particle physics and electrodynamics with all the complex math and problems, as I feel like I have hit the wall now unable to motivate myself.

    Don't get me wrong, I really like physics...ok I admit I really like pop physics and simplified physics documentaries for the mainstream.

    But I'm just finding undergrad level physics an absolute nightmare...

    My first year was ok and I got 64% overall.
    Second year is when I started hitting the wall and fell into depression. I scored 45% in my second year. Since my university doesnt allow retakes if marks are above 40% and I didn't want to repeat the year, I went on to 3rd year.

    Now my 3rd year is worth 5 times more than the 1st year and 1.67 times more than 2nd year - which means its going to amplify any bad grades this year and I'll possibly end up with a 3rd class (roughly 40%, 2.3 GPA) with the way things are going right now...

    Before anyone asks why I didn't change course/drop out earlier its because I thought a physics degree would still be worth more than any other degrees, and also the fact I couldn't decide whether to switch or not...(I could have obessive compulsive disorder but don't know).

    I'm really scared about my situation because most employers and graduate programmes seem to require a 2:1 minimum (I live in the UK).
    2:1 is like 3.5 GPA.
    I was wondering if I can still apply for school leavers programmes/apprenticeships if I graduate with a 3rd? I'm currently 21 years old.

    And what hope is there for me to get a job in this economic climate?

    I wanted to get into defence and aerospace but now it seems that dream wont be possible...My other option was to get into banking/finance but with my grades, theres no chance in hell I'll get into a grad scheme...

    I would greatly appreciate any help or advice fellow physics forum members can provide me.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2013 #2
    Indecisiveness is not OCD. You're just indecisive.

    I'm afraid I can't offer much advice, I just want to ask a clarifying question since many of those who can give you advice will be not be from the UK: you are in your final year, correct? I know undergraduate degrees are usually three years in the UK, but are almost always four years the US and Canada (and many other places). Please just clarify this point, since it will almost certainly affect people's advice—especially about your question as to whether you should just cut your losses and leave at this point—if you only have half a year to go, versus nearly half the degree.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2013
  4. Jan 9, 2013 #3
    Yes i am in my final year. Have about 4 months left till final exams and then thats it. If I pass, i'll graduate by August.
  5. Jan 10, 2013 #4
    No one else has jumped in, so I will just say that in my personal opinion it would be a waste to drop out now when you only have 4 months left. Yes, a third class degree means you will be sifted out by many jobs that won't look below a 2:1 or a 2:2—but it means you'll make the first cut on all the jobs that will just toss out a resume without a degree. I can't imagine there'd be much financial savings to dropping out now since you've probably already paid your tuition.

    Take a deep breath and focus on doing your best the next few months. Take advantage of your remaining time as a student to use your uni's networking opportunities. Most schools have career centres for their students where they will provide help with preparing a resume, getting interviews, and making connections. Use these resources while you can, and do your best to finish strong. A transcript with a small improvement at the end can be a world better than a similar one that also shows you threw in the towel at the end and just mailed it in.
  6. Jan 12, 2013 #5
    Let me add to what has already been said some generic advice, that what you experience is normal and many people hit a brick wall in their studies at some point. Try to get some motivation by giving yourself rewards for small things that you have achieved. Maybe get some counselling. Many universities offer it for free and it won't hurt.

    If that fails see if you can get a time out for a semester (depending on your program) and see if you can motivate yourself again afterwards.

    ...and when all else fails admit to yourself that the horse is dead and unmount. This is not the end of the world. Rather a calamitous end than endless calamity.
  7. Jan 14, 2013 #6


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    Definitely don't drop out. There is no way graduating with a 3rd is worse than not graduating at all.

    You should also make sure to use other resources such as career guidance and placement offices that many universities offer to their students for free.
  8. Jan 30, 2013 #7
    Many people have a second year dip, I was possibly heading for 3rd with my second year results, but obtained a 2(i). So just work as hard as you can, and you may do better than you think. But if you get a 3rd, then that's fine, most people at 21 will not be as well qualified as you.

    Also, remember, the general job market is very bad at the moment, so don't worry if you don't immediately get a great job. Things should pick up in the next few years.

    Thinking of doing apprenticeships seems a wrong move to me, surely you will be over qualified for that, even with a third? Why not pop down to the job centre, or university career office, to see what the real opportunities for those with a third are. Maybe doing a practical MSc would be a good move? Like an IT conversion course... they are aimed at anyone, even history grads, and should be a doddle for any physics grad. Or teaching? I heard a rumour that teachers may need at least a 2(ii) nowadays. But they certainly didn't when I was young, I wouldn't be surprised if you could still teach physics/maths with a 3rd in physics.

    If you like the practical, heavy, dirty stuff & want to make bags of money you could retrain as a plumber or solar energy installer. Or, as you like pop physics, why not aim for that area? If you like writing, why not take a course in science journalism? There aren't any equations in the Guardian!

    You might not get a big job in finance, but why not do like Alan Sugar and sell stuff from the back of a van? There are really so many opportunities for anyone, degree or not! You're in a vibrant, modern country, not Weimar Germany or modern day Afghanistan... that means "no worries". So stop making yourself depressed, stop spending all your time carping on forums, and work as hard as you can on your degree work until after the exams.
  9. Jan 30, 2013 #8
    Hit the books and stick it out to the end. Evaluate your future after the semester grades come in.
  10. Jan 31, 2013 #9
    I can imagine situations where a 3rd might actually be better than a 1st. For instance, if you apply to work in a supermarket then your interviewer is likely to be more Maths challenged than you are and will sympathise with your struggle with really advanced maths, and admire your success with 1st year calculus, when he flunked it! I know one student with a 2(i) who went to work at Aldi and left after 6 months to do research, the manager at that store might now be tempted to hire maths-challenged, hard working 3rd class students so that doesn't happen!

    If you can give the impression at interview that you worked really hard, but the mathematics of quantum mechanics was simply beyond you, then your interviewer is likely to sympathise. So treat the run up to exams as if you were doing a full time job (with overtime). Don't take the typical escape route of drinking your troubles away into the small hours! (That only works for art students :)

    Also, you seem to be overly pessimistic - not *all* the maths is beyond you surely? With 67 % in the 1st year you must be able to tackle the easy chapters of most of your courses? Focus on those early chapters, look at past exams, and get so you can do all the easy questions at the drop of a hat. Then slowly try the slightly less easy questions, then the harder ones, and so on. Working 12 hour days from now to the exam that'll surely give you a good chance of doing better than a third? Surely? If not, you will know that being the next Stephen Hawking is beyond you, without any doubts, and go into an interview head held high, 'cause you know you tried as hard as any human could expect.

    Also don't hide from the teaching staff 'cause you're ashamed of your results, or because you feel ashamed because you just don't get things that others find easy. Go to all lectures, ask questions. In lab classes, get there early, stay there late, you want to show staff you are the hardest working dude on the course, even if you get a 3rd. Go see your tutor as often as you can (without being pushy!) He, I assume, will be giving you a reference. And don't get angry with him 'cause he isn't helping you better (!) Admit, with a smile, when something is just beyond you. You want to leave him thinking - "nice guy, really hard worker, but he just doesn't get the really advanced stuff, still I'll give him a top notch reference for Aldi!"

    Then again, you just might get a 2(i), and staff will beg you to do research...
  11. Jan 31, 2013 #10
    It's not any kind of calamity. The OP, at worst, has just learned he can't handle the mathematics of advanced quantum mechanics. It's the equivalent of learning, in school gym class, that you can't do a standing backward somersault. No big deal, only the class "superstar" could do it... the rest of you just smile at the impossibility of it, and don't even see it as any kind of calamity or failure.

    The OP, like all 3rd year physics students, has found himself in a class of superstars, so not doing the standing back leaves him feeling inadequate. The way round this is to remember where you are! If you were back in your school class you'd be doing a lot better at more basic gym moves than most. In the real world of jobs you are actually back to competing with "everyone", the "whole school class"; you are back on easy street, impressing people cause you can climb a few rungs of a wall bar without slipping.
  12. Jan 31, 2013 #11


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    I think that is rather disingenuous. If you are competing for a specific job, you are not competing with "everyone", but with the other applicants for that particular job.

    IMO The OP is being quite realistic about not getting into a graduate entry scheme for a big UK aerospace/defence company with a 3rd, or even a 2:2. The reason is simply "supply and demand". There are more than enough applicants with firsts or 2:1s to fill the places available.

    I would suggest the OP gets some professional advice (the university careers office would be one place to start) to figure out what transferrable skills he/she has, and what is the complete range of jobs they might count towards. There may be career options that the OP has never even considered so far.
  13. Feb 2, 2013 #12
    My advice in all seriousness is to drop out. The last thing you want is that 3rd class degree. It will be an albatross around your neck that will get you auto-filtered out of pretty much any graduate scheme. You will have to declare it for every job and doing a masters or a second degree will not bypass the auto-filters.

    Graduating with a 3rd class degree is worse for employment than not graduating.

    Next, as it seems you find physics too difficult rather than having mitigating circumstances or a poor work ethic, I would advise you to choose a less difficult subject. It doesn't really matter what. Do an Open University degree and get at least a 2.1. You will then be eligible for all the graduate schemes.

    Alternatively, you could learn a skilled trade. That may or may not be a better investment than, say, a humanities degree.
  14. Feb 3, 2013 #13
    I think the advice to drop out is misplaced, how do you know you will get a third? And how do you know you can't get a job that's acceptable to you with a third? Many people do. Working hard and getting a third is more likely to get you the supermarket job, than "just dropped out". Then you can still work for the OU 2(i) at the supermarket.

    I think the advice to get a 2(i) with the Open University is great advice. But, still, finish your current degree, some massaging of the CV can hide that third! For instance, I got five A levels , 3 at grade A and two at grade D. Unfortunately the D's were in subjects closest to the jobs I was applying for! To get round this I just listed the five subjects and put "3 at grade A"... in the dozens of jobs I was interviewed for no one ever bothered to find out the details of my A levels!

    On the CV just stress the 2(i) OU degree at the top, and your hard work at the supermarket, then have a brief line saying something like "2010 Degree in Physics University of Wherever"... which sounds better than "2010 dropped out..." Note, you don't even need to mention the third!

    OU degrees are usually joint, like "physics with computing", so if they ask why you have two degrees you can say you wanted to do some computing... so that's not only a 2(i) but more qualifications than an average 2(i)... If they press you can say you got a third... but I bet they will not often press... they might guess you are hiding a third or an ordinary, but will probably not be bothered enough to ask...

    Note you can count previous course work for the OU degree - enquire about counting the excellent 67% from your first year, but not counting the abysmal second year (!)
  15. Feb 3, 2013 #14
    I think you have had really good positive advice from the other responders. I would just add that last year my taxi driver had a PhD in Physics.
  16. Feb 3, 2013 #15
    Yes but they would have got those jobs anyway.

    Having a degree is a mild negative to work at a supermarket. This is also true of a good degree. They want to know you won't leave (ie. don't have other options) not that you are intellectually capable to stack shelves and operate an automated till. A 3rd may actually tell them that but it has other disadvantages...
    ...the problem is that graduate schemes require a 2.1 or better in a first degree. You have to declare the first degree result, so if you get a 3rd and then an OU 2.1 your first degree result is still a 3rd and the OU degree does not help at all.

    It's a bizarre, messed up system but it is the one that exists in this country.

    EDIT: I would say that I didn't see the OP doesn't actually know he will get a third, with the final year weighted so highly. However it is February so he probably has a good idea by now and the fact that he made this thread...

    Also, a 2.2 is functionally equivalent to a third for these purposes, unless it's in engineering or you want to be a teacher, and since the financial crisis, even this has been diminishing.
  17. Feb 3, 2013 #16
    "First degree" is ambiguous, taking the literal meaning of degree it means "first step in the university awards process". Just as you can reach 0 degrees Celsius several times in a British winter, you can get to first degree level in University awards several times. You seem to take it to mean "first degree taken", but there's no need to take it that way...

    I'm sure I could have massaged the CV in any of the jobs I've applied for (dozens in the last three decades...) Just put down the OU degree as the first degree! Massage the interview (if necessary...)

    I've never applied for a grad scheme. There are *many* jobs available outside such schemes. Not just supermarkets... for instance... University IT support, e.g:


    Having any degree there will help, dropping out will not (I know a second year engineering drop out who got a University technician post... any degree would have got him a "computer officer" post... just as much fun and bags more money...)

    "A third in the hand is worth a two in the bush" Scuse pun :)
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
  18. Feb 3, 2013 #17
    I don't think the meaning is ambiguous and I think they will easily detect that you have a first degree and what the mark is because this is a matter of public record.

    My entire point is that there is a wide class of important circumstances where having a 3rd is not as good as having failed to complete. Even if you want to work as an IT technician then you might be better off with a certificate than a bad degree in a tenuously related subject.
  19. Feb 3, 2013 #18
    It's ambiguous!

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_degree "First degree may refer to: An undergraduate degree or a first professional degree..."

    "I got a first degree from Hull, and then a second first degree from the OU; thought I'd highlight the one I did best at..." Makes sense...

    There may be some circumstances where having a 3rd is not as good as having failed to complete, but you haven't convinced me of that. There are *certainly* circumstances where completing is better than dropping out.

    If you want to work as an IT technician then, I certainly agree, you might be better off with a certificate than a bad degree in a tenuously related subject. I'd go further and say that, even if the degree wasn't tenuously related, you probably wouldn't get the technician job, BUT (big but) it's better that you wouldn't get the technician job because there are better jobs out there.

    I once applied for a technician post in a perfect geographical location, doing exactly the things I wanted to do (running an astronomical observatory!) They obviously thought I was over-qualified in just having a degree... I tried to persuade them the job was "for me", but they (rightly) gave the post to an ace technician. But I soon landed a neat computer officer post, with bags more money, no technician need apply.

    The point is *any* degree lifts you to a whole new level of employability, with less competition, where you can earn a *lot* more money.
  20. Feb 3, 2013 #19
    I would be careful advising OU study on the assumption that it is easier to obtain an OU degree. I have been studying with a variety of institutions, from the OU to Oxford (graduate and undergraduate) and I think if anything studying through the OU can be "harder".

    The OU has to go through the same quality assurance processes as full-time "brick and mortar" universities. The OU's BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences degree (both new "Q" and old "B" Physics Pathways) is of course Institute of Physics accredited.

    So it will not be any easier to get an OU physics degree based on my experience. In fact, if the OP is struggling at a full time school with all the support that comes as part of that process, studying more independently for OU exams can be a bigger challenge, which may require grater motivation and self discipline. This may be especially so for working students.

    Just to clarify: The OU offers so called "Open" degree. They allow students to mix various modules based on their individual interests. This is in contrast to OU's named degrees, which must follow a pre-defined curriculum. Information about the new BSc (Hons) natural Sciences degree (see Physics major/pathway) can be found here:


    The OP would get credit from the OU certainly, and would bypass year/stage 1, and possibly some of year 2 courses.
  21. Feb 3, 2013 #20
    Except you never get to explain that to a person. Either:

    1. You complete the form honestly and your application is deleted by a computer or

    2. HR checks out your background and you are binned for lying (possibly by a real person albeit one earning less than £20k who you will never meet).

    You can pretend the world is not run unfairly by idiots if it makes you feel better, but that doesn't make it so, and it does OP a disservice to mislead him.

    No it doesn't. A degree is useful for precisely two things:

    1. Academia. No way without at least a 2.1 if not a 1st.

    2. Graduate schemes. No way without a 2.1 except possibly in engineering and teaching. Even then only really with a 2.2.

    OP is already out of the running for 1. If he graduates with a third, he puts himself out of the running for 2. as well. The reason it's better not to graduate is that if he doesn't graduate, he merely fails to meet the requirements. If he gets the third he can never meet the requirements no matter what he does later in life.

    I'm advising OU because it's cheaper, not because it's easier. You only get 4 years of state tuition loans in the UK. After that you pay cash, for some subjects at international rates.
  22. Feb 4, 2013 #21
    As already mentioned, there are many more paths to careers than "academia" and "graduate schemes".

    I'm not encouraging anyone to lie on their CV, just to massage it...

    The OU isn't that cheap, it's worth looking at other universities to see if there are better part time opportunities for getting that second first degree.

    Actually there are so many good jobs you can get with "less than a second" that the OP probably will not bother...

    The OU should be easier for the OP as he can move away from physics and choose courses that aren't so Math heavy.
  23. Feb 4, 2013 #22
    There are but those paths don't require a degree. If you Know A Guy or can prove you can program or are willing to work the cash desk at a supermarket as a way into management no one cares if you have a piece of paper in something of no business relevance.

    OU is cheaper than a brick and mortar university.
  24. Feb 6, 2013 #23
    If you want to work as a computer officer in a UK university then you will usually see "degree or equivalent required" on the job offer - class of degree isn't specified. I know many people who have become computer officers with less than 2i degrees. It's *possible* to become a computer officer without a degree, but it's very exceptional (e.g., having many years of relevant computing experience and an incredible CV.) By having a degree, of any class, you can get round having to "know a guy" or "proving you can program really well". Universities *do* care if people have degrees (!) You can't really argue against this mdxyz as I worked for 25 years in a variety of university environment, including some interview panels, and know what I say is true.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2013
  25. Feb 8, 2013 #24
    You missed out the third use, which is actually the use it's put to by the majority of graduates:

    3. Putting you ahead of non-graduates in the queue for jobs which don't really require the skills and knowledge of your degree, but for which a degree has become the de facto entry requirement because of a large supply of graduates.
  26. Feb 9, 2013 #25
    Similar sort of position here. Getting that low class degree doesn't help in any way shape or form. It is a major drawback. Can't get any job. any at all. I've worked in retail for 6 years. Most will reject me straight away unless I have a good reference from someone already there. Not even a second glance. The only way to get a job for we would be to build up a network of friends in high places.
    I also can't get onto any non-graduate training schemes. It really is a bad situation to be in
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