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Studying A freshmen's confusions in studying for excellence

  1. Dec 21, 2009 #1
    Hi guys,
    I am recently a freshmen studying at Taiwan, very confused by lots of problems. Hopefully anybody would be kind enough to give me a few suggestions.

    First, I realized what school teaching me is FAR NOT enough to reach my goal that is becoming an excellent physicist. One of my sub-goals is to attend an elite graduate school.

    Then, I had started my independent studies. I study Calculus to an analysis degree. I study Introduction to Classical Mechanics to critical degree. But so far, that is not quite successful.

    I have found two tough problems.

    1.)My time is NOT enough.
    while school work is heavy and my physics lecturer teaches very fast. Often I don't even have enough time to do the homework, because 1.) I study my things quite critically. It takes a lot of time. 2.) My studies effectiveness is largely reduced by my health. (possibly improves in the future)

    2.) HOW MUCH I should study.
    I found there seems hardly to be an ending in learning. But I do enjoy the process of reaching the depth. My question is 1.) HOW should I determine the depth of learning regardless of the lack of time? 2.) HOW should I determine the balance of learning between the lack of time and the need in the further?

    besides, I would like to ask:

    3.) Any track for self-studying?

    4.) Possibly other studies methods are more practical? Here is a few I though up: 1.) By doing lots of enlightening problem-sets. 2.) Learn all the basic stuffs first and study critically in the left time. 3.) keep doing it my way, work so hard for IMPROVING my effectiveness directly. That is somthing must be trained.

    Thank you very much for your time and reading! And I look forward to your reply.

    Your truly
    Shing Lau
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 21, 2009 #2
    Often I don't even have enough time to do the homework

    If you don't have enough time to do the homework, maybe you should do less self studying.
  4. Dec 24, 2009 #3
    true, but what if I found the homework is certainly less enlightening than my self-studies?
  5. Dec 24, 2009 #4
    Unfortunately the homework is part of your grade.
  6. Dec 24, 2009 #5
    So I have to give up better enlightenment, knowledge, wisdom, for the grade?
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2009
  7. Dec 24, 2009 #6
    Basically, yes.
  8. Dec 24, 2009 #7
    good grief!!!
    as if students themselves know nothing about studying, why the heck prof force students to do the homework? I don't know what suits me best? I don't know that I am responsible for my own future?

    And the homework, possibly not like your school's, is time-consuming and not-quite-enlightening.
  9. Dec 24, 2009 #8
    It may not seem like it is helping as much as your self studying but in order to get the grades you need to do it. Depending on how / in what way you want to be successful in life you probably need to do the homework.

    Remember: The nail that sticks up has to be hammered down

    Edit: I just read what your goals are, attending an elite grad school etc. so Yes you need to just do the homework and save your self studying for your time off
  10. Dec 24, 2009 #9
    Although...sometimes the nail that sticks up bursts the bubble of stagnant thinking and recreates the field....Just thinking recently of someone like Ed Witten who's early academic career was not very much like the traditional route for an aspiring physicist. Of course...you probably have to be as smart as Witten to do what he has done.
  11. Dec 24, 2009 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    Please, tone down the drama.

    Looking at your messages, I think the thing that's really standing in your way is your attitude, and your replies make it look like you didn't really come here for advice: you came to get your preconceptions reinforced.

    Fundamentally, there are two possibilities. One is that your instructor knows more about what you need to learn, and the other is that you do. Which is more likely? In a related way of looking at this, it's possible that your self-study is more effective than doing the homework, and it's just not reflected in the grades. The other possibility is that it's not more effective than doing the homework.
  12. Dec 24, 2009 #11
    I was under the impression that he is self studying something unrelated to his course work, something which I often enjoy doing. If that is the case he may well gain an edge, or he might not. I know that my self study in math logic made my upper div. math courses pretty easy because I had become used to that mode of thought. However, you have to play the game to win it; you can't just do as you please and expect to graduate with honors. Now, if you are exceptional in your ability, maybe you can just study up on some sub-field of math and publish good work on your own. I strongly, strongly doubt that that is the case. I think that

    Vanadium's advice is good: it is all too easy to be highly self absorbed and arrogant as aspiring mathematician especially if you perceive yourself to be the strongest student in your program (which can happen at small schools, though I am not at all familiar with your school). Realize that mathematicians that were likley much more talented than you are followed a similar path.

    Now, learning on your own is good and should be regular practice for anyone who wants to go into the sciences (math and computer science included), but when it gets in the way of school then it is a problem. You need to learn to balance your activities. I know that that can be difficult, but it must be done. I have a tendency to not want to study anything else when I become interested in something, and that compulsion may well be good for me when I become a researcher, but for now I have to balance that drive to learn on my own with the necessity of achieving a decent GPA.
  13. Dec 24, 2009 #12


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    I think in order to really excell, to be the kind of student who goes to graduate school and makes a significant contribution to the field, you have to do a certain amount of self-studying. You have to pursue the aspects of the field that interest you outside of formal course work.

    The question at hand, I think, is how to find the balance.

    (1) Time not enough? Unfortunately I have two responses to this - neither of which you're going to like. The first is that it only gets worse. The second is: join the club.

    You really have to learn to manage time to make the best of it. There are lost of techniques for doing this and you really just have to figure out what works for you. One recommendation might be to manage your self-study time. Although it's tempting to dive head first into an interesting question, you may just have to limit yourself to an hour a day. Maybe wake up early. Allow yourself an hour for personal investigation and then cut if off. Come back to it only if everything else is complete.

    (2) How much to study?
    As much as you need to. Study to the point where you are happy with your performance. And if you feel that's taking too much time, you have to learn more efficient ways of studying. I wish I had been more efficient in undergrad.

    (3) A track for self-studying?
    If there was a track, it wouldn't really be self-studying would it?

    (4) It sounds to me like you're on the right track. Just keep at it and make sure that you make intelligent decisions with your time alottment. Make use of office hours.
  14. Dec 24, 2009 #13
    I gratefully receive your rebuke.

    Although I am foolish enough to study in my strategies, I am no fool that playing a time-killing drama here(is that what you meant?) . but, pardon me, since English is not my first language(in fact, I don't even understand what the term "tone down the drama" means.). What I dislike is not course neither my prof (in fact, I love almost all my profs), but the forcing and meaningless system of my college.

    Surely, it is more highly possible for me to be wrong. That's why I asked questions here.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2009
  15. Dec 24, 2009 #14
    Thank you so much for your reply.

    I think I understand what you guys mean, time management is really the key.
    And school work is something necessary to be done, for profs need to know how much I know about the course and my attitude.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2009
  16. Dec 24, 2009 #15
    Your problems are analogous with mine.I know some way to overcome them but I don't have time now,I'm going to lunch!I will talk them later.

    Merry Christmas!
  17. Dec 25, 2009 #16
    Thanks and merry Christmas!

    Just wondering how different it was?
  18. Dec 25, 2009 #17
    Hi,I'm a sophomore in China.I major in mathematics.Our university isn't famous.I have concluded that I won't realize my goal if I only follow the university's education.I need to learn more by myself.But I really met some problems.

    Last year,we learned Analysis (1,2) and Linear Algebra.The textbook is written by Chinese.But one of my friend advise me to learn Mathematical Analysis written by Zorich.People in math may know,the books written by Zorich is really good books,it is full of enlightening problems which are very difficult.But the problems are mainly theoretical,not technical and they really chanlleged me.I spend much time solving them but sometimes I can't even get any solutions to some exercises.And I mainly learn them by myself.I rarely go to class,never listen to the teacher.As a result,I didn't do enough exercises in our textbooks and I got a very low mark.

    And I also got low mark in other course(Linear Algebra ,General Physics)
    I'm sorrowful.I worked hard but I don't got a satisfied mark.

    I begin to reflect myself.What's wrong with me?Soon after,I know the problem,i.e. I didn't follow the teacher!I shouldn't use different textbooks,and I should go to class and at least I should finish the homework!This term I change my style and I get good result.
    I'm ambitious in mathematics and I also want offers from America's top graduate schools in math.That means you should at least get high GPA,that's basic.If you are not in top university in Taiwan,you should get very high scores nearly full mark.
    Then you must learn much more courses than your university required.I don't know much about what to learn to be Theoretical Physician,But Hooft's advise is quite good.


    Some advises:
    1.Do more exercise than homework,get high score in exams.Time shouldn't be a problem.I heard that in Peking University,students learn at least 10 hours one day.(I haven't done it but not much less than that)
    2.You should find some advisors,at least one.He (or she)should have got PHD at good university.Maybe there are very much guys in PF fit it.People in this forum can help you very much!
    3.Learn by yourself and you should sometimes determine what you should learn.Maybe you can give up some courses which are meaningless.

    Well,first wrote here.This is only my view and there maybe some problems in it.But what to do should only determined by yourself!

    Sorry for my poor English and my poor Writing ability. ^_^
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2009
  19. Dec 25, 2009 #18
    I forget one thing,which is the most important.That is keep your interest in Physics.

    I have some problems for you.What courses(both in math and physics) have you learn?How did you do in your exams?
  20. Dec 27, 2009 #19
    I understand what you meant.
    Yeah, technical training is important and fundamental. (that happened to me too, I always made the careless mistakes in exam, although when it comes to proof, I am always right.)
    If technical skill is not enough, then one must train it well first.

    But I think
    we still can
    1.) Work more effective.
    so that
    2.) do our own studies in the free time.

    Yeah, I am studying at NCKU, a fair college in tw, profs are inspiring, but the students are not motivated. I started to worry here, since studies peers are important, maybe I will transform to CUHK (actually I am from Hong Kong, and it is not time-consuming for me to returning the college in my home town.)
    I am taking calculus (probably much easier than calculus in mainland China) and General physics too.
    Calculus is totally poorly designed. Prof teaches, and TA prepare the exam and check the answers of ours.
    But the teaching assistance(from engineering departments) do NOT know logic at all, often mark corrections INCORRECTLY, especially when it comes to proof, and you do it different from the textbook.
    Physics is fine, but too fast and too narrow.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2009
  21. Dec 28, 2009 #20
    At last, I have asked some profs in my department,
    let me make a summarize here, so that some of others might find useful/ helpful.

    1.) It is fine to do independent studies, but one should be SURE that he can do his school work well first by focusing on his school work first (see how well he can do).
    2.) Do it at your free time. (it means you have to finish what you asked. quantitatively speaking, at least you are sure you can get at least a B on that subject.)
    3.) Why Don't treat doing the homework as a little research? (given that you haven't read/ study the whole topic completely at freshmen level)

    And I found the another way to look at it:
    4.) treat the first year is the year of discovery your own learning style and method year via scientific method lol

    thanks all of you
    and happy new year =)
  22. Dec 28, 2009 #21
    you may also transfer to a US college if you really don't like your univ.'s teaching style.
    I'm in a big research univ in US and I have a couple of classmates transfered from Taiwan University, and they did pretty good jobs here.
  23. Jan 4, 2010 #22
    thanks, but the US school fee will be too much for me. Besides, won't it be extremely difficult to transfrom to good school like MIT? (given their wealth school fee aid)

    Besides, anyone else can recommend us a book for time management?
  24. Jan 4, 2010 #23

    Vanadium 50

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    I think the bigger problem with transferring to an elite US university is the poor grades you received. You have a difficult case to make - you did poorly because your university was too easy for you, not too difficult.
  25. Jan 9, 2010 #24
    If my time management is recently not good enough for getting into an elite U.S. undergraduate, then I do not feel regretful. Perhaps, I am not well equipped yet?
    Beside, surely I have to take the balance between what I need and what I want. Learning from failure is just my learning style lol.
  26. Jan 9, 2010 #25
    I don't think the one who started this thread is being arrogant. Realistically, learning independently is one of the most important things for graduate school in the first place, since one's goals as a graduate student are not the same as those of an undergraduate. The one thing you should do is perform well enough in courses (getting mostly high grades) to convince graduate schools that there's tangible evidence of your ability in fundamentals.

    After this, try to set up projects where your independent studies actually grow into something that you can offer as evidence of your showing promise to graduate schools.

    I also will have to object slightly to the nature of the dichotomy given above -- it is not so simple as who knows what the student should be studying. An instructor typically will know best what students need to master, but they may not be able to present all this in a course. I would communicate with the professors actively about your study process. Independent study is great if professors can write about your pursuit of it to graduate schools. My personal opinion is that courses and grades are just a baseline, and ideally one would take courses with instructors who make them worthwhile to work through fully. I understand sometimes required courses must be taken for the sake of a degree, however, and what I would do is not worry too much about making your grades perfect, only *high*, so that you do not compromise the rest of your efforts.

    If you do not have enough time, see if you can figure out a way to reduce the number of courses you take in a given term, see if you can get credit for your independent study and balance it with fundamental courses.
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