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Do I Have What It Takes?

  1. Aug 10, 2007 #1

    I hate to start a thread before making any posts onto other people's threads first, but I really need some advice and am going to circumvent etiquette. Lately, I have been doubting my ability to ever become a physicist, much less a successful physicist and wanted to know if my fears are founded or simply me putting too much stress onto myself.

    I'm a rising sophomore in college, having completed the introductory mechanics and electromagnetism courses and the three introductory calculus courses. However, my grades did not turn out so well with me receiving B's, except in Calculus II where I received a C+. I understood the material well enough to not seek out professors for help (this was maybe a mistake) and work with my struggling friends and help them receive A's in the classes, but for some reason, I just can't handle tests that well (my study habits need improvement, but I am working on that.)

    I want to become an experimental physicist more than anything in the world. I am excellent in labs, writing detailed reports and knowing which analytical and mathematical techniques I need to use to get my results. I have been reading and self-teaching myself physics since freshman year of high school because everything about this profession excites me. I look forward to working 60 hour weeks, helping students as a TA, writing endless streams of code (only to find I made a slight error and must restart five hours of work), being the lap dog of an established physicist until I am able to come out form under his shadow, reading endless lab reports and journals to keep my knowledge updated, and pretty much learning about how this universe works. If I have not made it clear, I am very passionate about physics. During my EM class last year, I had to stop myself from cheering when my professor mathematically showed the class how to combine Maxwell's equations into a wave function that describes both the behavior of electricity and magnetism, thus combining both fields into the field of electromagnetism. Furthermore, I am fairly well-known among the physics professors, so I have developed a network of people to write me recommendations.

    This brings me to my question. Is passion really enough? I'm not sure anymore. Grade-wise, I struggle to compete with the other physics majors. However, I am stronger in my networking skills, science writing abilities, and my ability to grasp foreign concepts and make them understandable. As of the moment, I am going to use my success in my introductory Modern Physics to judge whether or not to continue this path. I have worked this summer towards fixing all the mistakes I have made in previous classes, such as poor time management, lacking study abilities, and accepting help from professors when I need it. So I am improving, but do I really have what it takes in the first place or am I just fighting the reality that I am not meant to be a physicist?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 10, 2007 #2
    if you like learning physics, then learn physics, sheesh... stop thinking about the future
  4. Aug 10, 2007 #3
    Whether you have what it takes is up to you, and sometimes you don't find out until you can look back in retrospect. But your university, like any other, should have the resources available to you so that you can do well and succeed. It's really up to you to find out what is offered and take advantage of it. It also helps to be really resourceful.
  5. Aug 10, 2007 #4


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    what it takes is a modicum of ability and desire, and stamina. i think you have it.
  6. Aug 10, 2007 #5
    No, what you are fighting is your lack of really good studying methods and habits probably. I was the same way in undergraduate classes. I knew I was intelligent, I had no problem ever grasping the idea, its just when it came to tests I would either make little mistakes or forget things. I took my intelligence for granted and did not supplement it with additional work.
    I'll give you these tips that make you basically get a better grade in any class:
    1. Get the book early (2-3 weeks before classes start) and READ IT. Don't skim, actually read. Maybe do some problems in the back. The better you get at teaching yourself material, the better your grades will be.
    2. Read chapters ahead. To be quite honest, most material in undergrad is fairly trivial. The problem is that its NEW. So if you can read a chapter before that day in class, and have a 50% idea of what they're talking about, when the professor explains it it becomes much more clear. There are no surprises.
    3. Do homework. All of it. Don't use answer guides to check your answers until you're completely done with the whole section. If you get stuck on a problem, re-read the chapter. Ask yourself if theres something else you should know. Do NOT look at answers or guides to help you through a problem, as this leads to you learning how to do problems, not how to do physics.

    To be honest, its all about learning how to teach yourself. It does take time, so hang in there. I didn't realize most of these things until it was too late for my undergraduate grades. To get the A's you really have to go above and beyond. If your schedule is this:
    1. Do the homework thats due tomorrow.
    2. (next day) go to class, take some notes.
    3. study for test a day or two before test
    4. Take test and get a 80%, be sorta happy, but wonder why you didn't get 100%.

    Thats how mine was. Once I changed to this I started getting 95%+:
    1. Read Chapter for tomorrow.
    2. (tomorrow) Go to class, take really good notes to help lock in what i'm learning.
    3. After class immediately go do the homework assignment as soon as possible.
    4. Read next chapter, maybe try some example problems.

    Thats all it took. I barely had to even study for the exams. I felt it was the difference between "learning about" the material and truly "understanding" it.

    Grades may not be everything, but they ARE VERY IMPORTANT. Good schools only accept a few dozen grad students each year, and you're competing with the world's best for positions.
  7. Aug 10, 2007 #6
    Oh and the reason I stress doing homework questions is not so you learn how to solve story-problems or simple mathematical proofs/etc.
    Its the problems that you CAN'T answer right away. The ones you have to search through the previous 2 chapters to relearn what it is you're supposed to know. THATS why you do problems. It helps you further develop your ability to research and grasp ideas when needed, as well as to recall them.
  8. Aug 10, 2007 #7
    You remind me so very much of myself at age 20.

    Try to find a chance to do work as a research assistant for someone. Doing "real research" and enjoying it (and being good at it) gave me a huge confidence boost. I postponed the second semester of my sophomore year and worked in an applied optics lab for 8 months.

    It's also good to daydream about a few back up plans. Engineering maybe? It will help you feel less anxious about switching out of physics, in case you decide that's what you want to do.

    Second and third-year coursework is tough. But you've got lots of enthusiasm and you enjoy the work. So go for it!
  9. Aug 10, 2007 #8
    excuse me TC.....but could you POSSIBLY let me know of any good experimental physics colleges? i started a topic a while ago but nobody wanted to help me i guess....im looking for a good college that teaches KNOWLEGDE...not just textbok crap....ive got the grades and scores to go just about anywhere, but you never really know from what they tell you. im guessing you did some searching around and noticed that youre into experimental physics also. so any help would be much appreciated...
  10. Aug 11, 2007 #9
    Thanks for the help ya'll. I will definitely do those things you mentioned, K.J. Healey. I never really studied in high school, so I am a little oblivious to even the simplest of study techniques.
  11. Aug 11, 2007 #10
    You think every successful physicist graduated Summa Cum Laude?

    As long as YOU understand the material that is all that matters.

    Tests are subjective measures of actual learning.
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