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Can I be a successful Physicist?

  1. Nov 10, 2011 #1
    Hello all,

    I am currently a sophomore in college, with two declared majors; Astrophysics and Applied Mathematics.

    Next quarter I'll be taking Contemporary Physics, Fundamentals of Astrophysics, Calculus 4 and an Electronics lab. Thus far I have barely passed each Physics class I've taken. I just don't seem to have the mind to get the mathematics behind it, which is odd because I've gotten an A in every math class I've taken thus far [Calc 1-3 and Discrete Mathematics]. I understand all of the concepts well, I can explain ideas to my PolySci roommate in a way she can understand... but when it comes to the math I just... suck.

    I have a passion for Astrophysics more than anything else, but I have a hobby of learning other languages and apparently have a knack for it- all my friends say that I should be a linguist or Foreign language major instead. For reference, I know Spanish, Zulu, quite a bit of Serrano [Mojave Desert Native Americans] and I'm currently taking German and Arabic at the same time, and know a good handful of words/ phrases in other languages. Admittedly my English sucks.

    I will admit I'm rather lazy when it comes to studying; I lack the attention span to read a chapter of my Physics book [but if I do i can't help but laugh at how terribly written it is.] I do suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, which really puts a damper on things... But I do love the subject with all my heart. I love going to department colloquiums, reading scientific articles, browsing astronomy photography and articles, hanging out with Grad Students and Professors. I even help a year long internship working directly with Radio telescopes out in Fort Irwin, CA and helped produce one of the first videos NASA received of the LCROSS impact [sadly there was nothing interesting to see.]

    But yea, back to my original question; do you think I have what it takes to be a successful Physicist? I love it and have a passion for it, but it just seems that I'm not good at it, at least the calculations part... and that is what counts, while on the other hand I like languages and linguistics, am really good at it, but don't have a passion for it...
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 10, 2011 #2
    First of all, you should expect not to become a research professor. Nothing to do with who you are or what your qualifications are, it's just that jobs are so few that no one should expect to become a research professor.

    Second, what career you end up with is something that involves decisions that you have no control over.

    Having said that, if you did an internship and you survived then you can do the work. The fact that you feel that you aren't good at something will help you, because you will always reach a level of your own incompetence, and a lot of people flame out when the reach a level at which they are either average or below average.

    Also, one of the questions that I wonder is how come physics always gets associated with "passion." Passion sucks. Curiously one thing that has helped me a lot over the years is to mix passion with a huge amount of cynicism and dark humor.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2011
  4. Nov 10, 2011 #3
    I suppose I mean passion in terms of curiosity, if that helps at all. Interesting response, though, thank you.
  5. Dec 11, 2011 #4
    Zulu? Are you South African?
  6. Dec 11, 2011 #5


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    I assume by 'successful physicist' you mean you want to get a PhD and then get a job that requires using that PhD. If you're barely passing your physics courses, you will not get into graduate school in physics. It's as simple as that.
  7. Dec 12, 2011 #6


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    If you are "barely passing" it would be a bad decision to plan for a career in physics (which involves graduate school and lots of luck even for the best of the best).

    Grad school in physics requires some tunnel vision which you don't seem to have at the moment. Not only do you have to spend the majority of your time on physics, you have to focus on one specific area of physics. Forget about whether you can or can't do it. Does this sound like something you want to do?

    You are still early on in your college career. Perhaps you should consider whether more of your interests lie in other things, such as language, linguistics, or pure math? Maybe this is what is holding you back in your physics classes? Or perhaps you just need more exposure to physics problem solving and the methods used to apply math in physics? You won't get that if you don't read your physics textbooks. However, this is a conversation you should have with your academic adviser. They will be able to give much more specific advice than anyone on this forum.

    P.S. I agree that most physics textbooks are horribly written. Most textbook writers put all the required information on the page without any regard for how they express that information, which I think is equally important for any good educational text. However, it's not something you can avoid. (There are some gems. Griffith's is a good writer, for instance.)
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