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Physics Does a career in physics make sense for me?

  1. Dec 14, 2009 #1
    OK, so recently I've had a bunch of revelations in the way I think. I used to be an arts person (I still am!) who was mostly into music, english, film, etc. I thought I wanted to definitely go to school for those things. My math was not great, but I've always been good in science. I suddenly started thinking that I can probably write books, make films, and compose music even if I don't get a degree in them, the only interest I can't fulfill without a degree is my interest in science, mainly theoretical physics. I've been thinking that maybe now I want to go to a really good school (as opposed to a music conservatory) and get a Ph.D in physics with either a double major in music or a minor in music.

    The problem here is this: I'm not great with math. It's not that I don't understand math, but my math facts, are very off. On every single test I take in math I would get 100% (really 110% because of bonus questions), but I always do something stupid like saying 12-3 is 8 and then I end up with a 90-95. I am in accelerated math though, so I did skip a year, and plan to skip pre-calc next year and take AP Calculus. My science is good though (I think). I won honorable mention for the DuPont Challenge and I'm doing great in honors chem (my teacher really teaches it like AP Chem, friends of mine who are in college say that their chem class is the same as mine) with a 99% average.

    So, basically my question is this. I'm not an average physics person. I'm completely right brained, a creative and emotional thinker. Does a career in physics make any sense for me? I really do love math and physics now, I love the feeling I get when I solve a problem, but I'm afraid I'm just not good enough. Am I right in thinking this?

    Thanks in advance!
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2009
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  3. Dec 15, 2009 #2
    That's also rather common. Personally I'm *terrible* at arithmetic, and most physicists and mathematicians I know are.

    One thing that this does impact is how college physics tests are scored. One thing that is common, you are given a 100 point test, and the highest score in the class is about 60. What happens in these situations is that you lose a few points for math errors, but you lose a lot of points if you miss the whole point of the question.

    Subtracting 3 from 12 and getting 8 is less bad that it sounds, because in a lot of situations you know that the two numbers are "about" 12 and 3, so the answer is "about" 8. If you are doing anything precision, then it's a matter of subtracting 3.342343 from 12.3423465 and you are going to need a calculator to do that anyhow.

    Trying to get 100% is something that people in high school care about, and one thing that college teaches you is to get out of that mode of thinking. This is why teachers give tests in which the highest score in the class is 60%. You never getting 100% in "real life" and most of the time, you are just doing what you are trying to do to barely pass.

    What's interesting is that in real life, you often don't know what the score really is.

    (I should point out that this is a perfect example of "hidden curriculum". The way that the tests are scored teaches attitudes toward testing that can sometimes be more important than the subject of the test itself.)

    You really are. People that go into physics ending "feeling numbers". This is also why there are lots of people in physics that are also skilled musicians.

    Depends on how you define "career in physics." There are *lots* of jobs in which being able to "feel numbers" is a useful skill. Just give up any hope of being a tenured physics professor at a research university and you'll be fine.

    Remember what I said about the hidden curriculum. My guess is that you are worried because you have been in an environment in which 90% is bad, and getting 60% is totally the end of the world, and it's an example of "feeling numbers."

    Something that you'll learn in college is that *Yes, you are not good enough*, but that's not a problem because *no one is good enough*. In most real world problems, you are going to mess up badly, but that's fine. This is why teachers give tests in which the highest score is a 60% and in which they themselves would be lucky to get a 50 on.
  4. Dec 15, 2009 #3
    I just wanted to echo this. I'd estimate that a significant majority of people in physics are right-brained. It's just, unlike most right-brained people, we are also good with numbers. I'd also estimate that a significant majority are terrible at arithmetic.
  5. Dec 15, 2009 #4


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    Maybe I don't understand the high school system any more, but you're getting 90-95% in a subject, the marks you lose are due to errors that you understand and could easily correct, and you think you're no good at it? What defines a person who is good at it?

    I would suggest that if you're interested and driven to do so, pursue physics. Take a first year university program that will allow you to pursue a physics degree, but balance that with some arts courses. By the end of your first year you'll have a better idea of what's really involved in each path.
  6. Dec 15, 2009 #5
    Huh, that's surprising. I thought most physicists were left brained.

    I know that in real life you won't really get 100% on anything, but in school you need to or else you won't get into college. I'd be fine getting a 60% on tests in college, but I need great grades to get in there.

    The reason I've always thought I was so bad in math was because all my teachers told me I was. It's only this year that I started getting good grades. I used to be getting year averages of around 75. I found out though that the reason was because I didn't have glasses, so I couldn't see the board and didn't learn the material. When I sat down with the test I had literally not seen any of the stuff before.

    A life that I would be very happy with would be to be a highschool teacher, to write novels, to compose music, and conduct research. I don't know if the last part is feasible or not, but I hope it is :biggrin:.
  7. Dec 15, 2009 #6
    I use to think I was a pretty clever person until I took up guitar. One of the most humbling experiences of my life. I find music very frustrating but enjoyable. I have a whole new degree of respect for the time it takes for music majors to learn their craft after trying to actually play. I believe the physics thinking mind would be your left brain since analytics would be opposite of your dominant hand. As someone who enjoys physics but works in a non related field (business); I can tell you that the practice in problem solving skills I learned in physics have helped me in almost everything analytical I do.
    With regards to persuing a particular degree, I believe being a music major and a physics major would be impractical. The two fields do not share anything in common (no prerequisites) and with the practice needed for both fields I believe you eventually would have to make a choice between one or the other. My advice would be to take university physics as your science requirement in college and see how it suites you. Don't think too far ahead. Once you actually start attending college you'll find your pursuits may change several times.
  8. Dec 15, 2009 #7
    Well, I wouldn't be going to college for performance, I'd go for film scoring. I'm in AP Theory now and I plan to take AP Physics next year along with AP Calculus, so that should give me a reasonable taste of each. Or is a first year college course much different from the AP courses?
  9. Dec 15, 2009 #8
    You do have to be careful here because the idea of left/right brain is this incorrect idea of brain functioning.

    Having said that, most physicists I've met tend to be intuitive rather than logical.
  10. Dec 15, 2009 #9
    I'd say they are intuitive and logical. NT types for those that understand the mbti.
  11. Dec 15, 2009 #10
    If you're interested at all in acoustics you might be able to combine your two interests.
  12. Dec 15, 2009 #11


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    Ditto. I minored in math while I was an undergraduate - a fact that I keep to myself. I've been in so many situations where someone was trying to do some mental math in their head and then looked at me and was like "hey, you did a lot of math in college! What's one third of 3/5 minus 1/2?" or something like that. I would then always go on a rant about how much I've always been terrible at doing arithmetic in my head no matter how much I practiced and that my background in math has only made be better in figuring out how to break down and analyze complex problems and whatnot.
  13. Dec 16, 2009 #12
    Not at all :tongue2:. I'm interested in cosmology for the most part.
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