An aspiring physicist seeks guidance

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About 8-10 months ago my hobby/fascination with astronomy blew up into an obsession with both physics and astronomy. Since then I've been devouring everything I can get my hands on about either subject. I legitimately think physics/astronomy are the two most interesting subjects conceived by the human mind. Upon realizing that I'm obsessed with physics I got a crazy idea: become a physicist. I need to be honest though. I'm 22-years-old, have tried my hand at post-secondary before but dropped out of both of the programs I was enrolled in due to lack of interest and motivation. I'm not stupid, I didn't fail out or anything like that; I just didn't enjoy the programs because the passion for the subject just wasn't there.

The thought of going to school for physics is scary because I've never been good at math (I realize how bad that sounds on my behalf, but please keep reading!). Obviously you need to be good at math to pursue physics and I understand that fully. When I first realized how much I liked physics the idea of becoming a physicist seemed impossible. I'd think about it but quickly remind myself "you suck at math, what the hell are you thinking? You're not going to be a physicist, stop thinking stupid things." The urge to pursue physics has been too strong and I ended up buying these two books online:

http://www.amazon.ca/Basic-Mathematics-Serge-Lang/dp/0387967877&tag=

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0387962018/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

and have been working my way through the basic math/pre-calculus textbook in an effort to learn the things I didn't learn in high school because I was too busy playing Counter Strike. I'm actually quite surprised with my progress so far, I'm still sort of in shock that I couldn't do this stuff in high school. I've always been scared of math but thats beginning to change. I think of math in an entirely different way now. I feel like now that I have something to apply math to its starting to make a lot more sense and its actually becoming enjoyable. I'm hoping to work my way up to calculus in the not-so-distant future.

I have a couple questions:

a) Is what I'm trying to do even remotely possible?

b) Since I've been mathematically illiterate for most of my life, I don't have the requirements to apply to a 4 year university program. Would the best route be to go back to community college and take pre-calculus/calculus/physics/etc to upgrade from high school? Ultimately I'd like to go back to the university I was attending for political science but this time take astrophysics instead.

c) Could anyone recommend a great physics textbook? I'm looking for the high school/first year university level. Since I'm having some success with teaching myself pre-calculus using those books and google; I was looking to get into some basic physics for fun/educational purposes. I have the academic calender to the school I plan to go to and have looked through some of the topics covered in University Physics I and II (calculus based). I was looking for a textbook that had some high school algebra based physics but also covered some calculus based material like Newtons laws. I was thinking the best way to learn this stuff would be to learn the math I need and then apply it to physics in an effort to get even better at it. I want to learn pre-calculus and algebra based physics together and once I'm ready for calculus, learn the basics of that and then learn some calculus based physics at the same time. My main idea is to learn math and then reinforce what I just learned by applying it to physics problems.

Armed with those textbooks, google, a few friends who are finishing up/finished their undergraduate degrees in math, computer science and engineering, and a legitimate interest in physics - I'm optimistic about this.

Thanks for your time

-Mike
 
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  • #2
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I have a couple questions:

a) Is what I'm trying to do even remotely possible?
Yes!! But I'll be honest to you: it'll demand a great effort from you. Most people pursuing physics already know quite a lot of math, you don't. So you need to pick all of that up, and get familiar with the math pretty quickly.
What you're trying to do is not for everyone (physics is not for everyone), but with hard work, you can and will get there.

I'd like to propose a test to you: finish your precalculus things, and after that buy a calculus book. If you're able to finish the book and gain an intuition for the subject, then you're ready!

b) Since I've been mathematically illiterate for most of my life, I don't have the requirements to apply to a 4 year university program. Would the best route be to go back to community college and take pre-calculus/calculus/physics/etc to upgrade from high school? Ultimately I'd like to go back to the university I was attending for political science but this time take astrophysics instead.
If you managed to teach yourself calculus, then I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to attent a university. Again: it WILL be hard work, but your hard work WILL pay off!!

c) Could anyone recommend a great physics textbook? I'm looking for the high school/first year university level. Since I'm having some success with teaching myself pre-calculus using those books and google; I was looking to get into some basic physics for fun/educational purposes. I have the academic calender to the school I plan to go to and have looked through some of the topics covered in University Physics I and II (calculus based). I was looking for a textbook that had some high school algebra based physics but also covered some calculus based material like Newtons laws. I was thinking the best way to learn this stuff would be to learn the math I need and then apply it to physics in an effort to get even better at it. I want to learn pre-calculus and algebra based physics together and once I'm ready for calculus, learn the basics of that and then learn some calculus based physics at the same time. My main idea is to learn math and then reinforce what I just learned by applying it to physics problems.
My suggestion is to learn calculus and physics simultaniously. Questions in physics will prop up questions in math and vice-versa. So pick up a good calculus book and a good calculus-based physics book (type physics for engineers and scientists by Halliday and Resnick). And learn them together.

I have learned algebra based physics first and I hated it towards the point that I gave up doing physics. If I'd learned calculus-based physics, then I'm sure that it would be ten times more interesting!



Anyway, good luck to you! I really hope you make it. You have a genuine interest and you look smart enough, so I think you really have a big chance.
 
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Thanks man! Are you sure Physics For Scientists and Engineers was written by Halliday and Resnick? I found it on google but apparently it was written by Serway and Beichner.

http://www.amazon.ca/Physics-Scientists-Engineers-Raymond-Serway/dp/0030317169&tag=

Is that the text you were talking about?

I found Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday, Resnick and Walker

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0471105589/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

Any other opinions are welcome as well.

Edit: I just noticed the textbook forum. I apologize for making this thread here.
 
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  • #4
lisab
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Thanks man! Are you sure Physics For Scientists and Engineers was written by Halliday and Resnick? I found it on google but apparently it was written by Serway and Beichner.

http://www.amazon.ca/Physics-Scientists-Engineers-Raymond-Serway/dp/0030317169&tag=

Is that the text you were talking about?

I found Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday, Resnick and Walker

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0471105589/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

Any other opinions are welcome as well.
The Halliday and Resnick text is widely used, you can't go wrong with that.

Edit: The Serway text is used quite a lot too. I used the H&R in one class, transfered schools and used the Serway in a different class. Not a huge difference between the texts, IMO.
 
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  • #5
a) Is what I'm trying to do even remotely possible?
It is indeed possible to accomplish these things. I was in the same boat as you were 5 years ago. All throughout high school and my first year of college I wasn't very focused in school, and math definitely wasn't my best subject, but I've always had a keen interest in astronomy. So, I dropped everything and decided that physics and astronomy would be my pursuit in life. Everyone told me I was crazy, even my family, but I didn't listen. But don't get me wrong, it took me a long time to rework my math background, and now after all that hard work, I will graduate with a double major in physics and math in Fall 2012. Nothing is impossible, with hard work, you will pull it off :smile:

b) Since I've been mathematically illiterate for most of my life, I don't have the requirements to apply to a 4 year university program. Would the best route be to go back to community college and take pre-calculus/calculus/physics/etc to upgrade from high school? Ultimately I'd like to go back to the university I was attending for political science but this time take astrophysics instead.
I did the same thing, I had to get my gpa back up at a comm. coll. from my previous major and take remedial math courses to be at a level acceptable for study at a 4 year university program. I would recommend the same route for you.

c) Could anyone recommend a great physics textbook? I'm looking for the high school/first year university level. Since I'm having some success with teaching myself pre-calculus using those books and google; I was looking to get into some basic physics for fun/educational purposes. I have the academic calender to the school I plan to go to and have looked through some of the topics covered in University Physics I and II (calculus based). I was looking for a textbook that had some high school algebra based physics but also covered some calculus based material like Newtons laws. I was thinking the best way to learn this stuff would be to learn the math I need and then apply it to physics in an effort to get even better at it. I want to learn pre-calculus and algebra based physics together and once I'm ready for calculus, learn the basics of that and then learn some calculus based physics at the same time. My main idea is to learn math and then reinforce what I just learned by applying it to physics problems.
I also recommend any physics textbook by Halliday and Resnick. Currently, I am using the fifth edition of Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Krane to study for the physics GRE. However, the problems may be challenging, you will need a decent background in trigonometry and calculus.

I hope this helps, and good luck! Follow your dreams! :smile:
 
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It is indeed possible to accomplish these things. I was in the same boat as you were 5 years ago. All throughout high school and my first year of college I wasn't very focused in school, and math definitely wasn't my best subject, but I've always had a keen interest in astronomy. So, I dropped everything and decided that physics and astronomy would be my pursuit in life. Everyone told me I was crazy, even my family, but I didn't listen. But don't get me wrong, it took me a long time to rework my math background, and now after all that hard work, I will graduate with a double major in physics and math in Fall 2012. Nothing is impossible, with hard work, you will pull it off :smile:



I did the same thing, I had to get my gpa back up at a comm. coll. from my previous major and take remedial math courses to be at a level acceptable for study at a 4 year university program. I would recommend the same route for you.



I also recommend any physics textbook by Halliday and Resnick. Currently, I am using the fifth edition of Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Krane to study for the physics GRE. However, the problems may be challenging, you will need a decent background in trigonometry and calculus.

I hope this helps, and good luck! Follow your dreams! :smile:
Pretty much made my day. Thank you.
 
  • #7
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Hi lockem :)

I HIGHLY recommend you read ZapperZ's "https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=240792"" essay.
a) Is what I'm trying to do even remotely possible?
Absolutely!!
b) Since I've been mathematically illiterate for most of my life, I don't have the requirements to apply to a 4 year university program. Would the best route be to go back to community college and take pre-calculus/calculus/physics/etc to upgrade from high school? Ultimately I'd like to go back to the university I was attending for political science but this time take astrophysics instead.
It sounds like you qualify to go to a university. If you are going to start community college at pre-calculus, then I think you are fine with going to a university.
c) Could anyone recommend a great physics textbook? I'm looking for the high school/first year university level.
I'm going to be in first year physics next term and we are using Serway/Jewett, but I've seen Halliday/Resnick recommended so much I really want to check it out!

Your story really reminds me of myself :) I never thought about going back to school for physics/ astrophysics until one of my friends said "GAAAD you spend so many hours researching all of this space stuff, you should really get your degrees in it" lol. I decided to go to community college because of the convenience of online classes although I qualified to go to a university. All of my online stuff is done this term, and I should be transferring to the university January of next year as a Junior :D. I had to re-study all of the math I took in high school a month before going to college, but I was placed in Calculus I, and am now finishing up calc II. So I 100% believe that you can do it!
 
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