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Courses Blew more than one course: Is there any hope left?

  1. Dec 11, 2008 #1
    I just failed three 4th year physics courses (classical mechanics, QM and condensed matter). The reason for failure has been a serious lack of discipline. I have had a piss-poor work ethic over the past 8 months, regularly tanking problem sets and having a generally jaded attitude toward my studies. I don't think the underlying cause is burnout or disillusionment - I'm still very interested in learning the theories. Yet I was just unwilling to put in even a tenth of the work my peers put into their studies.

    Assuming I can rid myself of this destructive attitude and show a redeeming performance from now on, is it still possible for me to make it to the Holy Land otherwise known as a PhD program (well, Masters first)? Or will most universities tell me "three strikes and you're out"?

    Alternatively, what would you recommend I do? My primary interest is still physics, but it just might be too little too late. I have read earlier threads about 1-fail successes, but three is really pushing it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2008 #2
    accept your not grad material.

    don't kid yourself, you don't like the work.
  4. Dec 11, 2008 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I think your first problem is not acceptance to graduate school. It's that you are unprepared for graduate school. You'll need to retake the first two and ideally all three. Even had you never taken those classes at all, you'd have a hard time.

    This may actually help you over someone who just failed one, if you get all A's on the second shot - it becomes clear that you had problems in one term and it's not a pattern. Um...it's not a pattern, right?

    Then you get to your next problem - letters of recommendation. Can you get good ones? Having a professor say, "bright kid, but with a piss-poor work ethic and is unwilling to put in even a tenth of the work [his] peers put into their studies" will be very, very bad.
  5. Dec 11, 2008 #4
    I'll have to contemplate this. The most likely alternative to grad school seems to be slaving away my life in a cube 9-5, pecking a keyboard to create the latest garbagety "enterprise AJAX/Web 2.0/BuzzwordTechnologyOfTheMonth" application for a company that sells pet rocks. That absolutely terrifies me.

    Well yes, I'll be staying back another year.

    It is no longer a pattern. I say this with newfound confidence, attained as a result of my epic academic ***-kicking.

    Good point. I'll have to wear a t-shirt with this little story printed on the back.
  6. Dec 11, 2008 #5


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    As Vanadium pointed out, the work ethic problem is more of an issue than the failing grades. Success in grad school (and I assume if you want to get admitted, you want to be successful and actually get your degree at the end of all the work) requires a very strong work-ethic and positive attitude. I actually think the work ethic is more important than the grades, though of course a certain minimum of understanding in your coursework is absolutely necessary. I'm just trying to say that given that minimum understanding, the student with the good work ethic is likely to achieve more in grad school than one who has good book smarts but a poor work ethic.

    Given the bad grades at the end of your coursework, you might need more than just one year or repeating the courses to demonstrate your work ethic has improved. Don't dismiss the idea of doing some of that cube farm work to show you've renewed your sense of responsibility and work ethic if you get wait-listed or rejected the first time around, and then reapply later.
  7. Dec 11, 2008 #6
    I have learned this the hard way.

    I'll probably apply for a research course in the summer or fall. Hopefully the experience of working under the supervision of (another) faculty member will offset this disastrous term.

    Thanks for the replies, everyone.
  8. Dec 11, 2008 #7

    :rofl: :rofl:

    I'm just saying, if you don't want to do the work now why put yourself through another 4+ years? This isn't med school, a PhD is kind of limiting when it comes to work, so you'd better be loving what you study. Those 4+ years could be used to kiss some serious arse and climb up the corporate ladder.
  9. Dec 12, 2008 #8
    Is studying physics what you enjoy the most out of all possible fields of study you have encountered? Does the prospect of developing the the field seem like what you want to do above all else? If not, why do you want to go to grad school? If there is something else you would rather do, do it. If physics is what you truly enjoy in life, you probably would not be failing three upper division physics courses where the material is probably actually interesting.

    If ,however, you really live for physics, tough it out and get at least a 3.5 from now on, go get a masters, ace all the courses and go to a decent phd program.

    I can tell you that as someone who really loves math, I read math books in my leisure time, I work on problems in undergraduate journals instead of playing video games. I talk to my professors and ask for less trivial problems so that maybe I might find some good problems that elicit publishable results because I love problem solving and I want to do it for a living. I also like the prospect of developing theories related to problems in various areas of mathematics.

    I used to have the same passion but for music(specifically guitar). There was a long period where I wanted to do music even if it meant teaching guitar lessons to kids/teenagrs/old men who needed a new hobby(which I tried out for a bit last year, it pays alright when people actually have $75 a month to spend on their kid's lessons) for 30 years trying to live out the dream of creating new music. If mathematics had the same prospects, I would still do it.
  10. Dec 14, 2008 #9
    You can still do it...coming from someone that never took Physics in high school, then failing the first Physics...I have yet to take that one again, but I pave now passed the other two. So, I know it can be done. Not knowing thw material was my problem, and coming from a school that told me and all my class mates we were dumb, I didn't know what college was, and was in for a rude awakening...You will do just fine covariance!
  11. Dec 14, 2008 #10


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    If you're not willing to put in effort during your undergraduate studies, where you have clear deadlines and timescales on which to complete work, then I don't see how you'll have the discipline to complete work during grad school when you have no deadlines. I think it's best to accept that grad school isn't for you.
  12. Dec 14, 2008 #11

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    In re-reading this, it dawned on me that you never mentioned why you want to go to graduate school - just that you don't want to enter the corporate workforce. I hope you have a better reason than that - and I hope you don't think grad school will be easier!
  13. Dec 14, 2008 #12


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    If you couldn't stand putting work into Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics, two of the pillars of physics, why do you want to go to grad school? In grad school, even more work is going to be required of you! You will have to take harder courses in both of those subjects! After you graduate, you'll have to do research in physics, write grant proposals for your physics research, write journal articles! If you can't spend time completing an undergraduate problem set, are you sure you're going to want to do all of this?
  14. Dec 14, 2008 #13
    I think it is important to make a distinction between interest and mental discipline. My fascination with physics has not abated since I started college - if anything, I now have an even greater drive to read pages upon pages of dense text. Unfortunately, I have always been under the mistaken impression that it is possible to learn a subject solely by reading (even though many others warned otherwise). I saw problem sets as a waste of time, and I could not lose this attitude no matter how much I willed myself to. The fact that practice is just as important as principle obviously didn't hit me until I failed these three courses. However I now realize that the problem sets are an essential aspect of learning (especially when questions on the exam are taken from the sets verbatim!).

    The prospect of spending most of my time on cutting-edge research appeals to me. That's as much as I can say. Perhaps I don't have the same burning desire to become a PhD student as my peers do. I really don't know.
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