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Discouraged to continue Physics, should I just stick with math?

  1. May 4, 2012 #1
    I love physics, I study it even though I know I am not going to be the next Newton, but this is reality here and in college grades are important.

    So here is my dilemma, I excel in mathematics and the math department knows this (I get all the awards and honorable mentions in my year). In fact they treat me like a king and I feel confident and happy about it too.

    However part of me still wants to be a physicist. What's stopping me are two things:

    1) The Physics department in our university has some very tough profs. Last year in an E&M class, eight people enrolled (our university is small) and four of them failed. The thermodynamics here is even worse, averages at 43% to 50% (barely passing) every year. So the graduation rate is low...the physics courses here can seriously damage my gpa, my pride, and academic future.

    2) The tough profs thing isn't the main issue, one of my biggest concern is my ability to understand some concepts and understand physics problems. I've noticed that a lot times, my intuition is very off (especially in E&M) and I find many physics problems to be "vague", like I always feel it's missing some information (perhaps this is just my excuse of not understanding a problem)

    I am in second year, planned for a five-year degree if I go into physics. If I just stick with math, then I can do it four years and I am sure I could go somewhere decent, if I go into physics, not so sure...

    Most of you are probably thinking "tough profs are just one difficulties in life, if you can't overcome them then you shouldn't even be in college" and "you are asking strangers to decide your future?"

    My answer to both question is I don't want to feel crushed by something you love so much and because I am so indecisive I need to hear some advice from people with more experience than me (or have been though this), should I study something I like (math) and excel in it or study something I love (physics) knowing I will be periodically discouraged?

    This is becoming too apologetic, perhaps to myself.

    Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing from you guys.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 4, 2012 #2
    Have you considered transferring to a different university and majoring in physics there?
  4. May 6, 2012 #3
    If you excel in maths, and I mean excel, then you are already a step ahead of some other physics students.
    Think about it this way.. Time spent by others wrapping their heads around complex mathematical ideas and techniques can be time spent by you wrapping your head around the physics concepts.
    I feel the same way and math is very natural for me, but I love physics, and I want to study physics and really just put my head down and give it my very best.
    I'd say that if you are prepared to do that, then anything's possible. The fact that you have talent is just a head start I guess..
  5. May 6, 2012 #4
    Have you considered just get a math degree, but at the same time take as many physics courses that you like as possible? It is possible to graduate with a math degree but move on to graduate school in physics if you have enough physics courses, or have done physics related research.
  6. May 6, 2012 #5


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    The situation you describe looks pretty similar to the one in Argentina. If the university system works like in Argentina, you could enroll in physics classes and take the tests before the final exam. Since only the final exam count for your mark of the course, you could see how you do in the tests prior to the final exam and then decide whether you want to take the final exam or not. Not taking the final exam won't hurt at all. If you decide not taking any final exam you could continue with your math degree as if you had never taken any physics course.
  7. May 10, 2012 #6
    How many physics classes have you taken? Thermodynamics/statistical mechanics is a fourth year class at my university. Everyone I have spoken to about thermodynamics (with no exception) has said that it tends to be a very challenging course for most students. Also I am taking E&M next semester, but I too have found that it takes a little time and a couple of labs to build intuition with E&M so I wouldn't worry too much about that.

    Discouragement is terrible, I am experiencing it right now...but one good thing about it is it helps you to evaluate yourself and truly focus on what your weaknesses/ areas for improvement are. Then you can work on yourself and better yourself which will hopefully build character :) The important thing is to work out any misunderstandings you may have with the subject matter in a timely manner so your grades and performance will not be impacted.

    Good luck with your decision and congratulations on all of your mathematical achievements!
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