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Am I cut out for this? Entering 2nd year undergrad.

  1. Aug 14, 2013 #1
    I'm attending a college in the top 10 in math/physics. I did really well in HS, scored in the 99th percentile, etc. That whole time I guess I'd be considered depressed. I was lazy and slept through all my classes. Never turned in work. I was unmotivated. This started in late elementary school and coincided with some family stuff. I couldn't leave my house much and I became apathetic towards everything.

    College was freedom to me. Freedom especially from my overbearing parents. I got wrapped up in the freedom and partied a lot. I made a lot of good friends. I basically became a way better people person. But I didn't learn how to interact with people in my classes. No one wanted to work with me. Anyway, maybe that was warranted because as the year went on I sucked at math. I think this is reversible. I got a B- average for the year. Didn't improve much in math but I did in my physics class. My test scores ranged from A's to very low F's that pulled my grade down. I guess my major problem was practice and working. I do have an upward curve that would be even more substantial if I didn't freeze up on a few finals.

    So here I am today. My family stuff got a lot better this summer and I've been working on math/physics. Except I still feel like I suck at math. My brain feels awful. Looking at math makes my head hurt. This was my problem for the whole year. I feel stupid all the time. I just don't understand why this is happening. Am I not cut out for it? I wanted to major in math or physics. I still do and I find a lot of math really interesting but I have difficulty with the most basic levels of understanding and I'm worried I don't have the ability to abstract things to the degree necessary to finish undergrad or do anything afterwards. I need some help with the most basic "whys" in math.

    To understand a problem I first have to step back to almost the most basic theorems I know. I've trying to work this summer and I think I'm taking way too long to do things. To learn a concept in high school I would need to know it inside and out and that came easily enough but this year I just rushed through to keep up leaving big holes in my knowledge. Even if the holes don't exist I need to get some confidence. For example, I still don't feel comfortable with delta-epsilon proofs(not really a matter of practice or understanding since I have both). My brain is seriously fried most of the time. During tests I still work fairly creatively but the rest of the time my mind blanks.

    In my first year I took Calculus/Intro to Analysis/Linear Algebra and Mechanics/E&M/Waves. Does anyone have any advice on how I can improve my math comfort level? I don't think it's a matter of teaching myself next years curriculum in advance but I'm not sure what else I could do to cover the fundamentals. Classes start in a little over a month and I'm review last year/looking at next years textbooks right now. Going chapter by chapter through the books doesn't really trip me up but I still have a general feeling of uneasy with my understanding level.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2013 #2


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    You wrote about a lot of things, but you never mentioned how much uninterrupted studying did you put in per day.

    I found that to do well in classes and truly internalize things as an undergrad, I needed to put in close to 6 or 8 hours of uninterrupted, focused studying per day.

    By uninterrupted and focused I mean zero distractions. No internet. No forums. No social media. No TV. No music. No people. No talking.

    Now that I am a grad student, I have found that the time required has stayed the same or gone up. I think it's unreasonable to expect to learn advanced math or physics well without putting in comparable time.

    To be honest, I found that I rarely learned much working with others. It can be efficient to solve problems together, but I always found I learned more alone.
  4. Aug 14, 2013 #3
    Oops, I didn't see your reply and I edited my post. Yeah, my first year was filled with me not studying enough. I know that's my problem. Anyway, I'm working about 5ish hours a day over the summer but there are kids I'm taking care of around. I'll just get more focused. I guess I already knew that was the solution.
  5. Aug 14, 2013 #4


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    No one here can answer your questions for you so--guess what?--you have to answer for yourself. Here are some possibilities to consider: a) You've been partying--and you say you've never worked hard--so maybe it's just a question of attitude and focus. Since math and physics aren't coming easily to you, then try really applying yourself as ZombieFeynman suggests. When I went through school (top 1, or at least top 3, in physics), none of my physics colleagues had a social life. We studied hard, ate, went to classes, and studied some more. b) You've missed out on math fundamentals because of cavalier attitude etc., and now you are lost. If this is the case, you won't catch up until you rewind and relearn what went before (or learn it for the first time). c) Since you claim that self-study is ineffective, think about retaking some classes, or get tutoring even if you have to pay for it. Sometimes upper classmen/women are interested in making some pocket money. I bet you don't spend much time seeking help from professors and TA's, either. d) You never mention working problems, which is a prerequisite for learning this material. Forget reading "chapter by chapter". Work problems to get practice, to find out what you know, and particularly to find out what you don't know and need to learn. Then learn it and work more problems to get it down. e) Some people have a mental block about math. If that's you, then you'll never do well in physics. The brutal truth is that physics requires a lot of math so figure out if this is really your problem. (I'm guessing it's not from what you've said.)

    Which of these problems are yours? (Note that there could be more than one.) You probably already know, and probably already know what to do about it, too
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