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Do you use your college textbooks in your career?

  1. Jan 14, 2012 #1

    I'm debating weather or not if it's a good idea to sell my college textbooks. I'm currently in college at the moment. Have you used your old college books that are sitting on your shelf in your job or do they just collect dust? I'm debating weather or not it's a good idea to sell mine. I sold my non degree related ones in a heart beat don't know if I should sell my calculus book or not and other degree related books.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 14, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    It is not unusual for people to keep some of their college texts after college when they go on to work in the field they studied. Usually your work can get quite specific and you sometimes find you need a quick refresher - even if it is just in how to describe what you do to a layman.

    I've kept my 1st year physics Tipler for eg and I also have a philosophy 101 text and set of excellent notes on classical mechanics and inverse problems. I keep them for their explanatory value. OTOH: I have also sold texts for the very specific courses - like quantum-optics, which was basically all about lasers.

    These days, though, most basic stuff you can get through google.

    I'd say keep the books for stuff you cannot google - not for the facts, in other words, but for how they are described. Or just for sentimental reasons. If the latter sounds silly to you, you don't have to worry about it - but if you've sweated and laboured and crawled over broken glass with the book as a guide you may know what I mean.
  4. Jan 14, 2012 #3


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    I use some textbooks when reviewing some basic theory/information when doing model development. I have also used them when assisting in HW problems at PF and elsewhere.

    I still have all of my math, science and engineering textbooks.
  5. Jan 14, 2012 #4
    I use mine extensively. But then, I had to teach engineering for a number of years before returning to aerospace engineering (in the guise of a rocket scientist). I find I continue to add to the collection because, contrary to popular belief, it's not all on Google and my work needs evolve. And I find that as I get older, I use them more because my photographic memory is developing sepia tones. Your mileage may vary.

  6. Jan 14, 2012 #5


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    I sold all my math and science texts as soon as I was done with those courses, simply because I couldn't afford to keep them. Sell them (with underlining and lecture notes in the margins) quick, before the departments switched texts or editions. Get as much money for the books as possible, and set that aside for the next semester's textbooks.

    Doing chemistry/engineering-type work in a pulp mill and thereafter, the texts would not have been real handy. I had a collection of handbooks, though. Mostly, I needed those little references for fluid mechanics, steam tables, etc, and I would not have wanted to wade through textbooks to find relevant materials. Every engineer in my department had a shelf of such handbooks. They had either kept them from college days, or had gone back to the college bookstore to buy the ones that they needed.
  7. Jan 14, 2012 #6
    Hey nothing wrong with having a personal library.
  8. Jan 15, 2012 #7
    You can sell your current editions (which will be worth the most). Then buy older editions for your archive. The info inside is largely the same, there will be a huge discount, and the currently new edition will soon be old either way.
  9. Jan 15, 2012 #8
    I have used my textbooks a few times since graduation. However, I purchased other reference books since college. I use those too.

    Sell your textbooks if you want. I kept mine and I didn't regret it. However, do note that if you aren't purchasing new references every now and then, you probably need to review what you're using.
  10. Jan 15, 2012 #9

    Simon Bridge

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    I still have a post-grad nuclear physics text, forget the name it's in storage, which I was using when mid-course the definitive evidence came in that neutrinos had mass. The bunch of us had loads of fun going through it and rewriting all the neutrino entries. It's not often you get to literally rewrite a text-book.
  11. Jan 15, 2012 #10
    Or, after significant career experience, you can write your own chapters for text or reference books. It is awesome when you see your own name among the authors.
  12. Jan 15, 2012 #11

    Simon Bridge

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    Good point - I did have the experience of writing an undergrad text-book (only published in house - no royalties but I got a raise) but that doesn't count. It is neat though - especially when you get to watch the student's face when they grok that they are talking to the author of their text.

    Have you ever found that you tend to undervalue your own work?
  13. Jan 15, 2012 #12
    For the OP: While there are exceptions for poorly written textbooks, in general my question would be: Do you ever forget anything?

    If you don't care about remembering anything from university, why did you go in the first place?

    (i.e. only take courses that are worth keeping the textbook for)
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2012
  14. Jan 16, 2012 #13
    If you truly need to refer to a text book to comprehend course material, then you didn't learn very well. The reason I hang on to a text book is for reference material organized in a manner I know well. I can find what I'm looking for in other references, probably in greater detail than what one would have in a conventional text book, but it will take a bit longer.

    I find that after a few years, things have changed enough that I tend to use the newer reference books instead of my text books, and these are only used as jumping off points before and then later after I look stuff up online.

    And regarding Simon's observation: Yes, indeed, I often realize later how undervalued my work can be at times. However, I make up for it with many hours of creative goofing off. Less than 10% of my goof off activity ever finds utility on the job, but the stuff that does is often worth a great deal.
  15. Jan 17, 2012 #14
    I respect your opinion as a professional in your particular field, but surely you cannot really think this? I can only guess that you are not talking about theoretical courses. Topology, Complex Analysis, Real Analysis, Abstract Algebra?

    If you can remember perfectly everything from your textbooks, I envy you. Even still, I won't be getting rid of my Jacobson, Pinter, Axler, Spivak, Bartle, Knuth, Munkres, Needham, or Hungerford.

    Seeing how a master describes an idea, even a simple one, is something worth having on paper, IMHO.
  16. Jan 17, 2012 #15
    If you're building something on a scale or speed that nobody has ever attempted before, or some brand new kind of device, then I can see the value of having such references. Just so you know, I have some of these references. I also have some other references that most practicing engineers know about but few in academia bother with: One example is the Crane Technical Paper #410. It is filled with all sorts of handy equations, graphs, and estimates derived from both theory and actual practice.

    I have two concerns: applicability and boundaries. Derivations are interesting the first couple of times you use such calculations. After that it becomes rather routine. As my mentor told me more than two decades ago: If you're doing anything that requires more than a few minutes with a scientific calculator, you're probably re-inventing the wheel, and the likelihood you'll make a mistake is very high. Don't go there unless there is no other choice.

    And in fact, I have had situations where I took the first derivative of volume equations for a partially filled pipeline on a slope so that I could perform real time volumetric flow calculations based on the rise or fall rate of water in a wet-well (there is an interesting story behind this, but I don't have the bandwidth to explain it right now). One would think a reference somewhere would have such things figured out, but I have yet to see one published, so I derived it myself.

    Again, read this stuff for the first few times you're using it, and keep it around for reference in case you ever have a question regarding applicability of some short-hand estimate. But for most applications, one shouldn't need a reference like this on a daily, or weekly basis. I open these references perhaps half a dozen times a year.

    Your experience may be different, of course...
  17. Jan 17, 2012 #16


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    I kept all of my physics and math texts. I still use some of them, such as Jackson's E&M text, Ashcroft and Mermin's solid state physics text, and Mary Boas's mathematical physics text.

    It all depends what you end up with as your career. If you stay in physics, chances are you'll need some of these texts. If you are out of physics, there's a good chance you won't need them anymore.

  18. Jan 17, 2012 #17


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    I'm still getting an aerospace engineering degree, but I keep and reference all my textbooks.

    Your mileage may vary.
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