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Confusion about skills

  1. Feb 9, 2009 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I have been on a physics degree course for the past 4 months. This semester we have started a practical techniques module.

    In my first semester the classes I took were all theoretical. I had very few problems understanding and implementing the concepts covered and things went quite smoothly; it has always been this way with theory for me.

    However, I've found the practical component of this semester hard going sometimes. I feel so clumsy and occasionally get confused in the lab. I had this problem when I did my A levels at college. I would get fairly good results for my theory exams, but when it came to doing the practical exams I would mess up completely.

    So what I would like to know is, am I the only one that has this issue?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2009 #2


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    I think Rutherford was famous for destroying experiments!
    It was said about some famous theoretical physicist (Bohr?) that while many theoreticians can make an experiment fail by being in the same lab - he could make it fail by being in the same country.

    The secret to experiments is to be prepared. Know what you need to measure, how long it will take and how long you have got. Have a plan for what measurements you need at each point, how many points and where they need to be.
    Then double check that you have recorded everything you need before moving something.
  4. Feb 9, 2009 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Troubleshooting experiments is a learned skill, just like any other. Some people are better than others, same as any other skill. IMO, introductory labs are soul-crushing simply because they are so contrived- if your data does not closely fall upon a pre-determined line, the problem is your data. And if you don't understand how the apparatus works (a fairly common occurence, unfortunately), you have no way to troubleshoot. This leads to frustration. In useful science, there is no pre-determination, the relevant point for experiments is *repeatibility*.
  5. Feb 9, 2009 #4


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    I'm pretty sure that was Pauli :)
  6. Feb 10, 2009 #5


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    It's even named after him! The Pauli Effect:

    I've always wondered about the veracity of this tale, but as a prof of mine once said, "Never underestimate the power of coincidence!"
  7. Feb 10, 2009 #6
    One hint to "get through" this (even if you don't plan on doing experimental work later) is to take steps carefully, and even sit back and rest for a minute or two before proceeding to the next step. In one of my jobs (with the Air Force Research Labs) I had to do some extensive photolithography... and if I messed up certain steps I would lose the work from the previous day or two. I quickly learned it was better to set myself a stopwatch for a minute break in between steps (and just rest on a stool and think about the next step), then to proceed too quickly to the next step (and goof it up). A little technique like that, while slowing down forward progress a bit, prevents what I call "negative progress."
  8. Feb 10, 2009 #7
    It's a problem for everybody. The real world is hard! I recommend not worrying about it, expect it to be hard; and keep on grinding, breaking what you grind, grind again...

    If you want an easy life, take media studies...
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