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Apprehensive to pursue physics

  1. Jun 14, 2009 #1
    I'm a 24 year old community college student about a semester away from completing all of my general education with the exception of math. I'm a bit behind in math and have to take a remedial geometry course this summer as a prereq for college algebra and trig. That being said, I have at least another 6 months (If I take them concurrently) to a year before I am prepped for calculus and thus a university transfer. My dilemma right now is that I'm a little scared of the math that lies ahead. With the exception of grade school, I don't really ever recall gliding through a math class. I'm even worried about this summer geometry class because I"ve never taken geometry before. And considering that math is the language of physics I'm already feeling defeated because of my earlier struggles with the subject.

    This line of thinking has led to me doubt my future as either an astrophyiscist or an astronomer despite my love for both subjects. Not to mention my feelings of discouragement from already being 24 and not even at the university yet. I'll be lucky If I'm 30 by the time I receive my undergrad (only a part time student). I'm extremely confused as to what academic route I should follow. I do love physics and astronomy (just finished reading " The Elegant Universe") but I'm very worried that the material is going to overwhelm me with difficulty and perhaps I should pursue something less interesting and not as intense (chem, bio). It's also going to be especially tough balancing a full time job with a physics cirriculum (If only I could get a loan big enough to supplement my income). Also, does anyone know a good way to get a foot in the door at an observatory, planetarium or a lab of some sort? All my work experience is strictly in the legal field, and I desperately need a position better suited to my future endeavors (and passion).

    I apologize for the lack of specific questions here but I was more or less just looking to get some general feedback on my situation as a whole. Any advice would be greatly appreciated in this very confusing time in a future scientists' life.

    “Know your limits, but never accept them.”
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2009 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    I think you need to be realistic about how long this will take part time. I'm inferring that you are 3 semesters along, and it will take you 6 years to complete the next 5 semesters. Typically a PhD is 6 or 7 years - call it 13 semesters - post bachelors. At the rate you are going, that will take 16 years, so you'll be 46 by the time you are done.

    If you don't like that number, you're going to have to pick up the pace.
  4. Jun 15, 2009 #3


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    Your Income:
    Could you reduce to part time in your job, and therefore have more study time?

    Community College Advantage:
    Consider taking as many needed courses at the community college that you can take. This is in regard to general education requirements, any and all available Mathematics (except those which may not be offered there), and the lower division science requirements. Reserve all the rest of courses for enrollment at the university.

    Mathematics Selection and Path:
    Geometry in the summer will be tough; consider possibly repeating it in the Fall term, but this is only if you do not pass successfully.
    Did you study Intermediate Algebra? You will need it! Not a degree requirement? Irrelevant - you WILL NEED IT! You then have a choice of either Trigonometry followed by Pre-Calculus, or just the Pre-Calculus course. You might skip the "Trigonometry" course only if you can handle the Trigonometry componant of the Pre-Calculus course.
    Talk to the teachers and the students about what you would really need in order to be properly prepared to study the first semester of Calculus. What I might tell you on the forum might not be exactly what is needed according to your actual knowledge, skills, and your institutions' requirements. Basically, one needs some background in Intermediate Aglebra and Trigonometry in order to be ready to study Calculus 1. The lack of certain prerequisites might administratively impede what you are allowed to do.

    As long as you could continue working (employment), take as much time as you need to qualify for the university, and then to study for and earn your degree in Physics (or whatever you decide to choose along the way) at the university.
  5. Jun 15, 2009 #4

    I've certainly thought about upping the pace, and I'd love nothing more then to reverse my current situation and work part time and go to school full time. However, financially, I'm not in a position where I can make that change. I should clarify though that I'm not just taking 6 units per semester, instead it's usually between 9-12 per semester. Not truly full time but not exactly a snail's pace either. Regardless though, your point is well received.


    First of all, thank you for some great feedback, it's much appreciated. Like I mentioned above, I unfortunately cannot afford to cut back my hours to part time status. Perhaps, with a reduction on my fixed expenses (cheaper apartment, cheaper car) I could work something out, and hopefully I will. I'm also not able to move in with family to save money either, as they live in another state.

    I did complete intermediate algebra, however as a prereq for pre-calc/trig now I have to go back and take this geometry class (why didn't I apply myself in high school??). I'm a little concerned that you think it may be difficult. I'm not sure of your mathematical background but I'm assuming that if you're here then you're probably no slouch in that dept lol. I downloaded a geometry ebook tonight to hopefully get a head start with the material. Class starts in two weeks and I HAVE to pass otherwise I actually can't take it next semester because it's only offered during my working hours. I guess you could say I'm nervous.

    I totally agree with you about staying at the CC level as long as possible. This will certainly save me from huge debts in the long run. I plan on finishing up through calculus at my CC for math as well as any other lower division required, then transferring for completion of my upper division. The only problem I'm having however is my anticipation in wanting to get to the University level. Frankly, I shouldn't care how people perceive me as a CC student, but It would feel so good to tell people that I'm at a 'real school' for once. I realize this isn't reason enough to break my plan to stay put, so I suppose I'll just have to keep reminding myself of the money I'm saving down the road.
  6. Jun 15, 2009 #5


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    You have a frustrating set of conditions to progress through. In practice, you need Intermediate Algebra or College Algebra, and Trigonometry or Pre-Calculus; in order to be able to effectively study "Calculus 1". By the official prerequisites enforced at your institutions, you must first struggle with Geometry. Geometry will not be the most important course leading to your qualification to enroll in Calculus 1, but YOU are not permitted to avoid it.

    If you did study Geometry in high school, then at least not all of it would seem new to you; you might do reasonably well, depending on your being an algebra-person or a geometry-person. The summer session is just too short a term during which to study a course like that. My suggestion is to begin studying it no later than one or two weeks ago using the syllabus of your course and the exprected textbook. Maybe, you could be strong enough academicly to study ahead and stay ahead during your whole summer session course of Geometry.
  7. Jun 16, 2009 #6
    It is frustrating indeed symbolipoint! I kick myself everyday for putting in such little effort during my high school years and not properly preparing myself for higher education. I'm truly paying for it now.

    On a more positive note, I have taken your advice to begin studying the material in advance. I downloaded a very helpful geometry program that appears to cover everything, with interactive lessons, and practice quizzes. I put in a productive couple hours tonight and plan on doing the same the rest of the week until class starts next monday. However, it is a little annoying that I don't have a syllabus yet, so I'm basically going to have to cover everything just in case. So far I find plane geometry to be kind of fun and strangely beautiful in an abstract sort of way. It's funny, ever since I've become fascinated with physics and astronomy I've started looking at math in a whole new way. I'm really starting to appreciate it a lot more.

    Anyway thanks again for all the helpful suggestions. I should probably get back to studying!
  8. Jun 19, 2009 #7
    Wow, so my geometry class was cancelled today without any indication as to why. As a result I started looking for the class at other schools and it appears that none of them even require this class as a prerequisite for Trig/Precalculus like my school does. In fact, of the other 3 CC's around me, mine was the only one to require this class in addition to intermediate algebra in order to take College Algebra and Trig. Since I've been studying geometry lately and have gotten a grasp of the general concepts, I figure I might as well save myself this extra vested time/stress this summer and spend it instead focusing on more algebraic concepts to prep for College Algebra. This is a huge relief as I wasn't to stoked about spending 16 hours a week in a remedial class, which mostly involves very elementary logical concepts. However, now I'm screwed out of taking other classes because they are all full. I hate the idea of wasting an entire summer and not advancing my lower division requirements.
  9. Jun 19, 2009 #8


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    Spending the available time in summer reviewing Algebra 2 is the right thing to do.
    Also do not be so mislead by "very elementary logical concepts" of Geometry.

    The remedial Geometry course (which is really the same as college preparatory Geometry from high school) is a tough if not at least demanding course to study. It was probably cancelled at your school because maybe not enough people enrolled. At least you know to do something productive during the summer - study Intermediate Algebra.

    Not surprisingly, the neighboring community colleges near you do not use Geometry as one of the prerequisites for College Algebra + Trigonometry. You should ask your Math department or the instructor who will teach College Algebra + Trigonometry if he would allow you to enroll. If your Algebra skill is good enough, you would be reasonably qualified for practical purposes.
  10. Jun 19, 2009 #9
    If your Geometry course was anything like the course I recently took (advanced college prep course) at my high school, I would not put it off as "intuitive" and easy. It was by far and away (atleast 2x harder) than any of my other courses and required minimum of 3 hours per night, and I still barely pulled a B (yes I slacked at some times).

    Geometry can be an extremely difficult subject (yes I know considering some of the kids in my class and I have extremely good PSAT scores etc.) it is just not the thing most people are used to. It is nothing like any other math you have taken, but is pretty valuable long term.

    As to what to do now.... well I don't know. I am currently 17 and while I love physics I just could not see myself doing it 10-15 years down the line and I am more interested in Chemistry/Economics anyways. I think if you buckled down and really tried you would do fine (but be aware I do not beleive it would be in any way easy). Hope I could help.
  11. Jun 19, 2009 #10
    You do not seem to be understanding this; you NEED geometry. It doesn't matter if it was a requirement at some small CC, it is a requirement at almost all major colleges and for a good reason. I've seen so many well-meaning people prance in, decide that they could screw around with the prerequisites and get away with it, and then fall flat on their faces later. It is a common condition amongst people who are in lower-level math to just want to run straight into calculus and 'real math' but without the proper prerequisites, it's like running straight into a wall.

    You CAN learn the necessary math outside of a course but very, very few people have the discipline and realistic attitude to do it properly, so the odds are not in your favor. Take geometry and for god's sake, don't try to run through your math classes by taking every single shortcut.
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