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Complaining Undergrad!

  1. Mar 4, 2009 #1
    I need to rant about how disappointed I am with my physics department, and need some perspective, excuse yet another long rambling post.

    I am in intro physics, its going slow and is absurdly easy now that I got that hang of how physics problems work. There's no honors level so I am stuck going at this tedious pace. The test questions where all plug and chug besides one question that had to do with some obscure stuff we barely covered, didn't really demonstrate understand of material either. There is no way to differentiate yourself in the class because the professor doesn't give any legitimately hard or interesting problems. The teacher takes time out of class to teach calculus concepts, very poorly at that, even though this is supposed to take a calculus based course. Class is graded on a curve even though there is nothing to curve, because nothing is hard!! and I am worried it will pull down my grade. In grading they don't seem to be worried about how well you conceptually understand the material, just plugging in number and getting the right answer seems to be all that matters, so even if I show I understand the concepts clearly and use the right equations if I make a slight error in calculation I get the same grade and someone who doesn't understand it at all.

    The lab is even worse, we don't even do anything besides do tedious simple measurements and do statistics, it doesn't help our understanding of the stuff we do in class at all, you can tell they just don't feel like putting in the work to make the labs worthwhile for the students. It's just all busy work. Grading is horrible, there is no continuum of grades you either get an A or if you make a silly mistake like leave out a unit, miss a decimal point, forget to put the scale on your graph, word something weird or anything at all; you get a B, nothing in between. They seems to grade on a scale too but the criteria is unclear, as far as I can tell and what the TA told me, is that if someone did "better" than you can't get an A. I am not sure how a lab report containing the same things can be deemed better? Should I use more flowery language? Do some calligraphy?

    My school doesn't have a strong physics department and has very few undergrads, at this points I realize the material is fun and will get better but I can't stand the way they grade because it seems to highly penalize the type of student I am, someone who get everything does well but might make a mistake, more severely than I think can be justified?

    I don't see how they way there classes are conducted can leave anyone with anything but a bad taste in there mouth for physics. I wonder if this is a result with them realize that almost no one in the classes are physics majors?

    I'm sure some of you professors will think I am just another complaining undergrad but I really went into this with bright expectations. I feel very frustrated that I don't have any opportunities to show my professors and TA's that I get the material very well and deserve the top grades, since all the stuff they assign is so facile and is nearly more of a class in bookkeeping than science.

    Thanks for reading if you did, and leave a comment I need some feedback.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2009 #2
    physics senior here.

    it only gets worse
  4. Mar 4, 2009 #3
    I'm taking the first semester of calculus based physics at a community college, and I really enjoy the class so far. Each homework, the professor assigns a few "challenge" problems to test our critical thinking skills, and he grades the actual physics a lot more heavily than the math. So, if you get a silly calculation error, but get the physics right, it's only a small mark against you.

    In addition, the professor is funny and makes even the dry stuff entertaining. To drive home the point that the "up" direction being positive y and the "right" direction being positive x is completely arbitrary, for one problem he labeled the vertical axis "Bob," and the horizontal axis "sprinkled doughnut." Yes, we solved for motion in the sprinkled doughnut direction.

    It's kinda silly, but he drove home the point about labeling axes, and drew a few laughs.

    So, it all depends on the professor, I guess. It may be worth firing an email to the department chair with your concerns. May not get you anywhere, especially not this semester, but if you phrase it constructively, they may take the issue seriously.
  5. Mar 4, 2009 #4
    This might be opening up a can of worms, but is the professor American or foreign born?
  6. Mar 4, 2009 #5


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    what that have to do with anything?, there's no correlation.
  7. Mar 4, 2009 #6
    My lab TA grader is an international student, my lecturer is foreign but speaks pristine English. I think it could be an issues for the lab grades but in lecture it's just feels like the class is geared to below average students, I so much rather would be taking this style of a course:

    http://oyc.yale.edu/physics/fundamentals-of-physics/content/class-sessions [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Mar 4, 2009 #7
    Oh and my professor is the department chair, so there's nowhere else to go!
  9. Mar 4, 2009 #8

    Please explain...
  10. Mar 4, 2009 #9
    Maybe it would be better if you started to study independently. Can I also ask you why you care about grades so much? Grades aren't always greatly correlated with achievement, and when you focus on grades too much, you learn a whole lot less.
  11. Mar 4, 2009 #10


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    Hi lubuntu,
    I fully understand your deception. But I don't think you got involved with problems related to rigid bodies yet even though you'll cover the subject soon I guess. I think you'll have to use more your brain in order to solve some (probably most of!) of the problems which might be a nice challenge compared to just plug and chug. So I wouldn't lose hope if I were you.
  12. Mar 4, 2009 #11
    it stays just as boring except it gets harder and the professors get worse at explaining it.
  13. Mar 4, 2009 #12
    You know, this post is going to stick out like a sore thumb, and I'm bound to offend someone, but hey, what the hell. Sorry for offending some people.

    What the **** do you want from an introductory level course? It's an intro, not a march through the Sahara desert. If people got annihilated before they even were interested in the course, then nobody would take physics except those who took it before hand/were interested. If you're so bummed about the lack of challenge, then take more credits the next semester and move through the system so you can take grad courses early. If you don't feel like you're learning, learn by yourself. That is what you usually do in college anyway, so it shouldn't be a big deal. If you're doing well without much work, hell, take a day off and enjoy life before you are miserably going through grad school.

    Chill man.
  14. Mar 4, 2009 #13
    It's a perfectly legitimate complaint. Not to be disrespectful to anyone of foreign origin, but many universities have international teaching assistants of Asian origin who are accustomed to speaking in phonemes that are far different from English. Many of these graduate assistants are hard working people have a good knowledge of the subject but can't pronounce English well enough to communicate their knowledge with the students, making lab and recitation sessions with them needlessly frustrating. It's hard for anyone to learn anything from someone they can't understand, especially in a highly technical field like physics.
  15. Mar 4, 2009 #14


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    I am talking about the professor.. the TAs yes, that's a special case.
  16. Mar 4, 2009 #15
    Very true at my university and not just in physics, discussion sections with TA's here are a complete waste of time.
  17. Mar 4, 2009 #16
    I wish I didn't have to care about grades so much, I'd rather just learn physics in a stress free environment, I'd probably do much better, but the fact is if I want to go to grad school I need to worry about grades primarily, even if it comes at expense of better understanding it seems.
  18. Mar 4, 2009 #17
    I've noticed that a lot of foreign born professors, particularly those from Asian countries, put an extreme emphasis on being able to do lots of mindless calculations. Learning how to solve a narrow class of problems seems more important to them than teaching the fundamental concepts. The intellectual rigor of their lectures is essentially a joke. What makes the American educational system so great is that we encourage students to be real thinkers, not human calculators. It irritates me that so many people put down the American educational system, a system which has produced more Nobel laureates than the rest of the world combined.
  19. Mar 4, 2009 #18
    What irritates me even more is how America's educational institutions and State governments put a priority on educating foreigners than their own tax paying citizen. Tae a particularly notable SUNY university. Approximately 18,000 enrolled students and only 4,000 of them are Americans. The remainder of the student population is either Chinese or Indian. These students get grants and tuition assistance not just from their own countries, but from New York State and the university itself. 100% of the students live on campus, spend their money on campus and 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999% return to Asia. With crime and poverty so high in America (particularly Western NewYork), and knowing that increasing education decreases crime, poverty, and inner city problems, it is unconscionable for a State institution to ignore the education of it's own citizens and proactively spend tax money educating the students of foreign nations. This kind of behaviour cripples America's economy and makes us weak, not to mention perpetuates the problem of ghettos in urban areas.
  20. Mar 4, 2009 #19
    Brian I observed the same thing even with students in my classes, foreign born Asians in my physics class always ask questions and its clear they want every problem to be exactly like the examples in the books, they just want a formula for solving it and don't really care to understand what it means.

    Mtg3 you are telling me I go to a public university in a big city and we have tons of foreign folks who I am sure take up a lot of financial aid. The administration uses this as an excuse to make a big whoop about "embracing diversity" and "multiculturalism" when really all these minority groups seem to segregate themselves and have no interest in the school community.
  21. Mar 4, 2009 #20
    I wouldn't normally "advertize" my School (Kettering University), and please don't take it as that, but we have an excellent physics program here - people who are completely devoted to teaching their students - professors that stay up until 2:30 in the morning every other night preparing a meaninful lab activity for their UNDERGRADS! One of my professors had me involved in Environmental Scanning electron microscopy analysis, and also pulled some strings to get me an awesome internship at a company he works with. So yeah, I can't complain.

    Granted, it is primarily an undergraduate school, so natually there is a focus on teaching undergrads. But my point of the matter is that if your school is THAT bad that the professors literally don't care about teaching their students, why are you going there? I would not pay for an unsatisfactory education. I'm not suggesting that the solution is to quit...I'm saying the solution is to talk to upperclassmen, professors, etc. about the program to make sure that it is worth it before you continue to spend 4 years of your life there. Sounds like you are early enough in the program that classes will probably transfer smoothly if you decide to go to another university. I would probably of had a much more negative outlook on physics if I was in your position.
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