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Chances of getting into a PhD program after failing Calc III

  1. Jun 9, 2015 #1
    SPOILER: This will be a somewhat depressing rant.

    I like math (or, I THOUGHT I did), but have been feeling incredibly lazy and powerless recently. I'm currently a freshman undergrad, and I just failed Calc III. I've been barely scraping by recently, having gotten a 40 on the first midterm and a 75 on the second. Today was the final exam, but I spent all of last night watching boxing videos on YouTube until 3 a.m. in the morning - I didn't even know what time my test was until my roommate woke me up at 11 this morning and asked me if I was taking the test or not (the test was 11:30). My reasoning was that it had always been at night the previous two times, so I would have some time to cram when I woke up today. It was, of course, bad reasoning! Yesterday I had just turned in a 9-page final paper for a humanities class that I had written in three days, plus I had to put my stuff into storage for next year. I had WEEKS to do those things, but I put them off until the days before out of laziness and absentmindedness.

    I don't know why I'm being so irresponsible. Every day I think about the neglected work, and I feel like sh** about myself. And then I still don't do it. I have a psychological aversion to schoolwork or something, or maybe I'm just undisciplined. I don't know. I was very motivated at the beginning of this term, spending hours on my work and struggling with the problems. Some days I work my butt off, other days I just feel like doing nothing school-related. Recently I've been leaning towards the latter extreme.

    I have a comp sci final coming up tomorrow, and I have to finish moving my stuff into storage. I know exactly what I have to do to get a 100. I WILL work and get that 100 for Comp Sci at least, even though I'll have to take Calc III again.

    But here's my real question: Suppose I recover spiritually/motivationally, and re-establish my discipline (it's happened before, but not for any really long length of time). If I work my butt off consistently for the next three years (and, that's a big IF, though I know now it's up to me), how close to 0 will the chance be of me getting into a decent math PhD program, assuming I choose to apply? I go to a small, relatively unknown liberal arts school; it's not bad in its own right, but it's not really prestigious as far as I know. The teachers are nice, but I think they think I'm lazy - though that's because I've been lazy. To what extent am I already screwed?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 9, 2015 #2


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    One bad semester can probably be overcome. However, you may actually need to reconsider your goals and ambitions. Perhaps you should visit a career guidance department at your college and take some aptitude test and personality tests. These can gage on whether you are pursuing a career that you will be successful in. You simply might not be cut out for an academic life (maybe you are, but are in an academic rut, go see a guidance counselor to help determine your goals and work on that procrastination problem).

    Local smaller schools can certainly provide more personal guidance to their students where as in a large school you might not get the personal attention YOU might need. Do your work in small manageable chunks, not all at the last minute.
  4. Jun 9, 2015 #3
    Thank you for the reply; I'll definitely be seeing a guidance counselor tomorrow. I've calmed down a bit now so I'm not really so down on myself as I was when I wrote this thread. I agree completely with your advice about working in chunks too. Slow and steady seems to be the way to go.
  5. Jun 9, 2015 #4
    Your chances of getting into a grad program are not very significant and this point, but they are not zero. If you apply yourself and do a lot better the coming years, then you might do a lot better. But that's the problem, because I don't see in your post that you will actually change, I just see you trying to change for a few weeks and then reverting back to your old ways. This would be absolutely disastrous.

    This happens regularly to new students, you're not the only one. Face it, a year ago you had to ask permission to go to the toilet, and now you're responsible for your entire future. It seems to me that you are not yet ready for the responsibility. You don't yet realize the importance of this (you know the importance, but you don't realize it). Maybe it would be a good idea to quit school for a semester or two and try your hands at something new like an actual job. This way you can get some more perspective. Maybe it turns out that you didn't like math all that much and you would want to do something different. Or maybe you'll go back and actually try harder.
  6. Jun 10, 2015 #5
    I can relate to being undisciplined upon entering college after high school. It wasn't for me, and my grades and lack of attendance reflected that. It wasn't until years after being in the workforce, working manufacturing jobs, working odd jobs, etc. before I opened my eyes to the opportunities that I had been throwing away due to my lack of discipline. I decided to go back to college and work my ass off after failing 4 of my 5 classes the first semester after high school.

    My advice to you is to step back, collect yourself, and make a decision - a firm one. Have a vision of yourself and where you want to be. There's no excuse to be lazy when you're trying to achieve a goal that YOU want. I wouldn't be worrying about your PhD chances right now when you haven't even applied yourself at an undergraduate level. You're getting the cart in front of the horse.

    Having said that, I went back to college 6 years later and have thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. So yes, your GPA can come up drastically if you decide to apply yourself. Doing well in school isn't THAT difficult. It's about time management, honest attempts to actually learn the material, and most of all...DOING THE WORK. That's it.
  7. Jun 10, 2015 #6


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    You are assuming that the OP will be able to find a job after leaving school, right? So far as I can tell, the OP hasn't given me any indication that he/she possesses any skills or experiences that would indicate that I would be interested in hiring him/her.

    IMHO, if the OP is having issues with laziness, then there really isn't anything that the OP can do to salvage anything until he/she addresses that critical issue. If one is not prepared to work and be organized and disciplined at anything, then the only path I see is failure, in anything (whether it be work, school, or anything else).
  8. Jun 12, 2015 #7
    Thanks, this struck a chord. What's funny is that I came to the exact same conclusion coming into college from high school (but unfortunately I forgot the "spirit" of this realization sometime mid-year).The school year has just finished, and after some reflecting I've realized that at some point during the year I lost my internal sense of confidence/peace and FREEDOM in doing math and became obsessed with the idea of being outwardly "successful" in the sense of getting degrees from fancy schools, getting a prestigious position somewhere, all that stuff. I thought I HAD to do these things, I HAD to or else I would fail and forever be miserable, which only made me more paralyzed and uncreative and depressed. But today I realized that I can't predict the future (in not only a bad sense, but also a good sense!), and this has freed me. I may not end up a professor at a prestigious school or even getting a PhD, but that does not mean I'll end up as a depressed, unemployed bum either. Things are not so binary. There are many dimensions to life if one lets there be, and the important things in life are ultimately not based in outward reality as they are on inward reality; the love and memories of friends, family, and beautiful things, and MEANING, which is not strictly physical - and, on a deeper level, the appreciation of nothing, which is abundant and omnipresent!

    I have five concrete plans for next year, since I will finally be living in my own dorm for a change, free of distraction:
    (1) Talk more to my professors during office hours-much more. I'll be getting help when I need it, and they at least won't think of me as being lazy and incompetent, which I fundamentally am not.
    (2) Fantasize less about doing math, and instead DO math.
    (3) Find a study partner to keep me motivated and sane.
    (4) Keep a physical, printed-on-paper schedule to follow.
    (5) I realized through reading some of the responses on this thread that strangers' mental ideas of me are much more malleable than the mental image I have of myself (since strangers have a very small sample size of my behavior, they will tend to assume that I am like whatever I appear to be when I first meet them). So I will also have to be careful how I present myself, and not let my occasionally bad moods make me seem incompetent or crazy (though I fear it's already too late with these people in this thread, so what the hell! Might as well let them think I'm incompetent and crazy then, if that's what they want - I can't stop people from thinking what they want to think).

    Anyway, before I go off onto too much of a tangent, I understand your point perfectly, and agree.

    It's hard to gauge how you meant this; maybe you are just "giving it to me straight" out of tough love, figuring I need the news broken to me honestly. I hope I'm correct in giving you the benefit of the doubt.

    Anyway, your point about discipline is correct. It is the exercise of discipline in one's own life that is difficult, and is a mark of maturity. With that said, I will try to prove your opinion about me wrong in the coming school year (but this decision, if carried out successfully, will likely be independent of fear and negative feedback - I will do it for my own pleasure and freedom).

    This evaluation of me is mostly fair, but I'm not planning on quitting school to get a job. I was, after all, not representing my positive side at all in this thread (I wrote it in a funk- nobody posts their life's problems on an anonymous forum while emotionally happy and sane). TBH I was in a bad mood and just wanted to rant a bit- feel free to delete the thread if it wasn't a good one.

    "I don't see in your post that you will actually change, I just see you trying to change for a few weeks and then reverting back to your old ways."

    I don't think this post is a good representation of me as a whole. I will try to prove you wrong in the coming school year by shining. I will upload a pic of my transcript for next term if this thread is still up, and then I will celebrate - and hopefully the people who see this thread will share in my celebration.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2015
  9. Jun 12, 2015 #8
    This sounds like a solid plan.

    I will hope that you will prove me wrong. I am looking forward to your transcript.
  10. Jun 12, 2015 #9


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    Keep in mind that I was taking your thread you posted at face value, where you had stated that your teachers are nice, but think you are lazy, and you stated "that's because I've been lazy." I was not aware that you had written your thread in a middle of a funk (indeed, how could I be?), and the point I was trying to emphasize that if you have issues with motivation and discipline, those are things you need to deal with it.

    I saw your subsequent thread and from what I can tell, you've set up a good plan. I wish you all the best, and that you will indeed prove me wrong.
  11. Jun 13, 2015 #10


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    You're getting ahead of yourself. You're a freshman who is (presumably) majoring in physics, math, or a related field, and you're failing calculus III. This obviously is not a good thing, but it would be essentially as pointless for a freshman who was acing all of their classes to ask for their chances of getting accepted into a PhD program. However, this certainly isn't a good foundation on which to start this path. You can retake calculus III and get a better grade. Alternatively, you might want to assess your preparedness for calculus III. Are you struggling with the actual work, or is it simple laziness? You may ultimately benefit in the long run by stepping back to calculus I or calculus II. If it is simple laziness, then this may not be necessary or even beneficial.

    I think the question you really need to be asking yourself is why this laziness has become such a problem in the first place. Calculus III is a tremendously important course that a lot of later physics and math classes will rely on heavily. As you say, perhaps you don't like math as much as you thought you did. Or perhaps you're just in a bit of a rut. In either case, improving your current academic performance and doing well in the rest of your undergrad is a far greater concern right now. Figure that out and start doing better in your courses. Then worry about the PhD.
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