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Courses Course is too hard

  1. Aug 24, 2011 #1
    Hi! I'm a new undergraduate physics student from Mexico, I study in UNAM. The reason why I posted this here is because of desperately needed advice and support. My first two weeks of school have been pretty hard and I cannot grasp most of the things we're being taught.

    For example, mathematical demostrations in calculus are hell, and we also get to solve differential equations on the introductory physics class...

    My mathematical knowledge is more practical than theoretical in nature, so most of the stuff I thought I knew isn't it anymore. Also, I only took some basic calculus at high school, so I only know some basic differentiation and integration.

    It's my first semester and I've been considering dropping out for the last two days.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2011 #2
    There are a few things you can do:

    - Keep going in the course. Study very hard. Get help from as much sources as possible (incuding this forum).
    - Drop out and study something entirely different.
    - Drop out and take a year off to brush up your math and calculus skills. Start university again with your new acquired skills.

    I cannot decide these things for you. Only you can decide what's best for you. If you decide to keep going, then you're going to face a lot of work. You have to decide for yourself whether this is really worth it.

    How badly do you want to go into physics? If it's your lifelong dream, then you might regret dropping.

    Remember, calculus is not very hard. You just need to work through it. Only you knows if you're up for this.
  4. Aug 24, 2011 #3


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    Hey zip37 and welcome to the forums.

    My advice is to you is to think about what resources you have at your disposal. They could include university faculty (TA's, lecturers, professors) as well as other students doing the same course as yourself.

    You could also post questions on the homework forum. Note that if you do this, you have to follow the rules which say that you post the specific problem you are having and the specific part of the problem that you are having trouble with as all of your work on the problem showing that you have put in the effort to attempt to solve the problem. It's done like this so that a) people can see you have put in a genuine effort and b) people can understand your thinking and help correct it if it is not correct, so maybe that might be a good suggestion as a last resort.

    In terms of advice for calculus and DE's, the most important thing in an application is to understand what the differential is referring to. In most physical problems, the differential is analogous to some kind of physical unit like change in temperature with respect to time for example. If you can describe a model mathematically and know what particular variable set is changing, then it will become very intuitive to see what is going on.

    In terms of solving the DE's, a lot of the computational aspects of this involves transforming one thing to another and so on to the point where you get something that is in the right "format" so that you can find a solution. The key thing is to get a feeling of how to classify a DE according to it's "type". If the DE has no (known) analytic solution, then the universal framework of numerical DE's will be used, and if you understand and meet the assumptions for some particular system, then this will be a straightforward process.
  5. Aug 24, 2011 #4

    This probably isn't what you want to hear but I'm going to say it anyway. Get used to it.

    Physics is a hard. Very hard. You are going to have to use the resources available to you(internet, pf forums, textbooks, etc) to survive, because the professor isn't going to spoon feed you the answers. I would highly recommend forming a study group, because chances are other students feel the same.

    Here's some tips:

    1)Ask questions in class.

    -Don't be afraid. I encourage you to try to figure things out that the professor says that confuse you on your own, but if you can't and are getting behind in your notes, raise your hand. I can almost guarantee that the question you have to ask isn't unknown only by you.

    2)Form a study group

    -Now, working by yourself in my opinion IS important. Certainly don't rely on others to help you solve problems. Working with others also gives you more perspectives on how to approach the problems at hand.

    3)Review your notes after class

    -Studies have shown that retention of material improves if you go over your notes after class. It doesn't take long. Sit down with some friends or go get a bite to eat and graze over your notes.

    4)Go to your professors office hours

    -This is key. Here you can ask all the questions you want and possibly be able to get hints on homework problems, or test material. The closer your relationship with your professor the better.

    5)Manage your time

    -Make time to study during the day/night. I can promise you that you will stay up late many nights struggling to finish homework or studying for a test. Time management is key. Don't wait until the last minute to study your homework/notes before a test. Physics isn't sociology.

    6)Be patient

    -As a physics major myself, I can attest that sometimes I am utterly frustrated in how ignorant this subject can make me feel about even stuff I thought I knew quite well(such as basic newtonian mechanics). If you fail a test, accept it. Move on, work twice as hard next time and you will for sure see better results.

    7)Have fun

    -This may sound silly, but most physics majors genuinely love the subject. Try to not get caught up in all the frightening equations and symbols that you will come across. Remember why you want to study physics. Its a beautiful subject with very profound implications.

    Best of luck in your decision.
  6. Aug 25, 2011 #5
    It's probably worth talking to an academic adviser at your school as soon as possible. It may be that you just really aren't at the level you need to be to start the program yet. An academic adviser who knows your program is a lot more likely to be able to help you decide if you need to just suck it up and keep going or if you'd be better off doing as micromass suggested and taking time to solidify your math skills. Some good advise has been given here if you decide to stick with it.
  7. Aug 25, 2011 #6
    Thank you all for your support! I've been thinking about it for quite a while now, while I'm still not completely sure about it, I think I'll take some time to brush up my calculus skills.

    I also think I may give physics another go, but for now I'm making up my mind... Again, thank you all for your suggestions :). It's quite heartbreaking to know that i was not THAT bad at maths until I took them at a higher level, my entry examination was quite easy and I thought of it as an example of how well I was going to perform.
  8. Aug 25, 2011 #7


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    i think everyone finds calculus hard at first. but we have all eventually learned it and if we did so can you. as sylvanus p thompson famously said" what one fool can do, another can.
  9. Aug 26, 2011 #8


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    No idea about financial side of things, but you have plenty of time to decide to drop out. Doing it just after two weeks would be premature IMHO, give it some more time.
  10. Aug 26, 2011 #9
    If i was in your place i would continue with physics and i will study harder (of course if physics was my dream).

    See what are the mathematical materials that you are facing in physics and make effort to study them, and remember calculus is hard until you get familiar with the way you solve the problem, you need to solve and solve many mathematical problems in the beginning, and the more you solve the more you will find it normal.

    Concerning the proof of calculus theorems, i think(If this is not right please correct me) you will not use them in physics, instead you will use the result of the theory to solve and model your physical problem.

    Give yourself more time, and try to make effort and study harder and see in which way things are going.

    Good luck
  11. Aug 26, 2011 #10
    Problem is, the course requirements were stated for something lower than what I'm being taught.

    I still don't know what a gradient is, but we're checking vectorial calculus stuff in physics intro class. Proofs are almost everywhere, calc ones seem to be the hardest, but they're also in algebra and geometry (the easy ones), part of this may be because we take math classes with mathematics undergraduates.

    And it seems to immature of me to drop out right now, but calculus is giving me such headaches.. :P. I don't feel well until I can get a firm grasp of the stuff we're reviewing in class, and proofs are such stuff.
  12. Aug 26, 2011 #11
    Is your class especially difficult? What topics are y9ou covering?
  13. Aug 26, 2011 #12
    This is the first course in the calculus sequence? Are you doing epsilon delta stuff? I've never heard of gradients being in the beginning calculus course, did you place out of the first calculus course and go straight to the second one? I really have no idea what the school system is like in Mexico, so details might help.
  14. Aug 26, 2011 #13
    From my experience, one of the keys factors for success in university is finding the right books.
    My first year as an undergrad was the most annoying,, its just a challenge that once you get over it then all will be smooth.

    Have a look at the courses syllabi (description) and check the given references.
    Sometimes, I just went into the library and started browsing.

    I never counted too much on lecture notes, books are the best.
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