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Studying Drop out of Physics?

  1. Aug 30, 2017 #1
    I don't even know what part of programming I struggle with, it's everything. I read through the course material but still feel as if they are inadequate resources when trying to solve a problem. I can't even solve the most basic programming problems, it all makes no sense to me.

    In mathematics, I'm also quite slow, compared to my peers I'm really stupid. I'm also struggling a bit here though it's mostly about Linear algebra as opposed to Variable analysis which I find to make a lot of sense. We haven't gotten to the actual physics, only mathematics and programming.

    Everyone is my class appear to be very smart, they are quickly able to understand and work with the problems whereas I'm struggling with the basics, I don't know why, probably my intelligence.

    What should I do?

    I study more than 3 hours in my spare time EVERYDAY yet I struggle a lot, only a couple of days have passed since we started. I really don't want to drop out. I haven't failed any exams or anything, still too early for that, I'm just very worried about failing in the future, I put a lot of hours to prevent failure but it seems as if that won't happen.

    Any suggestions? I'm studying Medical Physics in another country, it's not the same as the US.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2017 #2
    My undergrad degree in Physics was a 60 hour a week job. 15-16 hours a week in class. The balance working outside of class.

    Sorry if you were misinformed regarding what you signed up for. You do need to decide whether to buck up and handle it or drop out.
  4. Aug 30, 2017 #3
    What do you mean?

    I'm studying several hours outside of class everyday and attending to every lecture. Just seem as if it's impossible for me to learn because of how dumb I am.
  5. Aug 30, 2017 #4
    If you are studying this hard and are feeling that you are not smart enough to pass the class, then the problem is not with you, it is with the education system in your country.
  6. Aug 30, 2017 #5
    I wish that was true but unfortunately that is not the case, other students in my class doesn't seem to struggle that much. They get the assignments done and are able to understand the material thoroughly. I however struggle with the basics, in programming and in mathematics. Less so in math because it actually makes sense to me, just that it can be difficult.

    I'm specifically talking about Matlab programming, it's just incredibly difficult and for some reason it's mandatory we use it.
  7. Aug 30, 2017 #6


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    Are you saying that the educational system should adjust so that anyone can pass the class, no matter what their innate abilities?
  8. Aug 30, 2017 #7
    Of course not. I am saying that the system should not be failing diligent students. I have never come across a student, who was genuinely trying their hardest, and could not pass my class. I have seen other classes though where the material was so pedantic and the lesson plan so abstruse that students, who I thought were very intelligent, were struggling. The OP says he is studying for several hours a day and attending all lectures. I see no reason why ANYONE who puts forth such effort could not learn the material and pass the class.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2017
  9. Aug 30, 2017 #8


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    MATLAB is really not difficult to use once you have a good understanding of matrix manipulation, and the latter is part of introductory linear algebra.

    Practise a lot with matrices (indexing, slicing, matrix-vector and matrix-matrix mutiplication, transposition, etc.) both on paper as well as in MATLAB, and I think you will see steady improvements in both courses.
    Give it time, continue the effort, it is way too early for definite conclusions.
  10. Aug 30, 2017 #9
    It could be the style of study you're using isn't the most efficient/effective. Perhaps a bit of research into your personal pedagogy could have the desired effect. Youtube has many great vids on different note-taking strategies, maybe one of these can improve your situation. Most importantly, finding at least 1 other person in the class you can communicate with about your specific struggles per topic, will help more than any of the aforementioned strats.
  11. Aug 30, 2017 #10
    I have. When they get passed through all their high school algebra, geometry, and pre-calc classes without even basic Algebra 1 skills, they are gonna struggle mightily in college Calculus and Physics. In some cases, it's just a matter of knocking off the rust and addressing some weak areas. But when Algebra 1 skills are completely non-existent passing Physics or Calculus is about as likely as passing law school without being able to read.

    I've been at institutions that expected Physics and Math profs to dumb down their classes enough so that students without Algebra 1 skills could pass. Those are the profs who have sold their integrity for a paycheck - more common in some areas of the country than we would like to admit.
  12. Aug 30, 2017 #11
    This makes no sense to me. If say 50% of the class were failing, then something is amiss with the class. But by the OP's own admission, the other students seem to be doing just fine, so the problem lies with the OP, not with the class. Sometimes diligence just isn't enough. I remember way back in my undergrad days at an elite university, one student transferred in from a community college at the start of the sophomore year [physics major] because his professors at the community college thought he was too brilliant to languish at the community college. Well, by the end of the year, he realized he just couldn't cut it at the level of the other students ... and switched his major from physics to philosophy.
  13. Aug 30, 2017 #12
    I doubt you are dumb. You may have been the victim of gifting grades in earlier math and science courses so you arrived in your current situation without a background as strong as you would like. It happened to me too. As a product of the Louisiana public school system, I arrived in Calculus at University without knowing what a function is.

    That makes it pretty hard to understand what the limit definition of a derivative is. I worked very hard. I overcame my deficiencies. I succeeded.
  14. Aug 30, 2017 #13


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    One thing that a lot of students experience when they first get to university is an academic bottleneck. Physics majors tend to have done quite well in high school - especially in physics and math classes. But in high school they were competing with the general population - more or less. In university, the sample they are among are the top ~10% of the general population, most who have a passion for physics. In this situation it's quite common to go from that top 10% to "average."

    It's also important to remember often it can seem like people are smarter than they are. When a professor asks a question, you don't hear much from the 99 students in the class who don't know the answer. You hear from the one or two who do. When students hand in assignments, they're complete. Unless you've worked on them together, you don't see them staying up all night struggling as you have. Some will even lie about how easy it was, so that no one will know that they're struggling too.

    And some students just plain have more experience or have had a better high school education. The first year or so of university tends to be a great equalizer. Sometimes student don't realize how good they've had it until their second year, when they're all of a sudden hit with material that their high school classes didn't prepare them for, and now they don't have the study skills they need.

    So at what point do you decide that it's time to throw in the towel, vs continuing to push on?
    That's a hard question to answer. For me one of the big keys is whether or not you still want to be there. The point of an education is just that - an education. It's not a competition. Things like graduate school admissions and scholarships are competitive processes, sure. And often students are graded relative to one another. But at the end of the day, you're there to educate yourself and it's important to get the education that you want.

    Another major factor to consider is whether you've truly exhausted all of your resources. You've reached a spot right now where you feel you can't improve, but is that because you really can't, or because you just don't know how? Talk to your professors, your TAs, your academic advisors, your university's academic resource centre, your classmates. Figure out if those people who seem like they really know the material are doing anything differently from you in terms of how they study. Experiment with different approaches to your studies. Try reading different books.

    Also you may want to think about what other direction you would want to take if this doesn't work out. If you spend all those extra hours studying thinking about how wonderful it would be to major in history, then you have to consider whether or not you're on the right path for you. If you're still pretty focussed on your current path, it could be the right one.

    Some additional tips:
    • The vast majority of STEM coursework is about problem-solving. Just reading and trying to understand without much "doing" isn't going to cut it. Make sure that you're spending as much time as possible solving problems. Or in the case of MATLAB/coding classes, make sure you're writing actual code until it works and works well.
    • Buddy up with other students if you can. The great thing about being around people who are "smarter" than you is that you can learn a lot from them. If you're the smartest guy/gal in the room, you won't ever get that kind of opportunity. Do make sure that you're trying to contribute at least as much as you're taking though.
    • Take care of yourself. Get adequate sleep and exercise. Eat properly. Socialize. Fit in positive down-time.
  15. Aug 30, 2017 #14


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    Exactly which courses? How are you set with the prerequisites for them? Without knowing more (and have not yet read the posts following the quote), how can you be sure you are studying properly?
  16. Aug 31, 2017 #15


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    I guess that's an admirable philosophy for a teacher, but it is wildly unrealistic/false. Some people just aren't smart enough to learn difficult subjects.
  17. Aug 31, 2017 #16


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    1. Have you taken advantage of all outside-class learning opportunities available? (Visits with the professors, study groups, tutoring).
    2. What did/do you want to do with your life/degree?
  18. Aug 31, 2017 #17
  19. Aug 31, 2017 #18


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    I agree completely. It's like saying that ANYONE who trains hard enough at baseball should be able to make the Yankees.
  20. Aug 31, 2017 #19
    It's not like I'm saying if you study hard enough, you will be like Richard Feynman or get a job at CERN. I'm saying that you should be able to pass the class.

    I am reminded of my Quantum II class in graduate school. I put forth a great deal of effort in the class but my grade was the second lowest in the class. I barely passed that class while others got A's and B's. By the logic I'm reading in this thread, this shows that I am dumb, yet I am usually called the opposite. The reality was that I simply hated everything about how that class was taught, and thought the instructor was both bad at teaching and full of himself.

    I have had the occasional hysterical student in my office panicking because they think they are about to fail. Usually after some questioning of the students difficulties, I am able to calm them down and inform them as to what they need to improve. Most of these students are able to pass. The students who fail almost always do so due to lack of effort.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2017
  21. Aug 31, 2017 #20


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    My suspicion is that there are as many professional athletes in this country as there are university professors.

    [edit: looks like maybe there is a difference of a factor of 10 if we only look at the high-level professional leagues]
    Let me try an only slightly broader analogy: college athletes. Saying "anyone" can be a phd physicist if they work hard enough is like saying "anyone" can become a scholarship Div 1 athlete if they work hard enough.

    I think what you are missing here is the sample selection. You may have been "dumb" relative to your peers, but your peers were not reflective of society at large. Perhaps there is a hidden assumption in your reasoning that your wording doesn't capture: anyone enrolled in a physics class should be able to pass such a class by virtue of the fact that they were selected for it by the university. Now, I wouldn't expect the selection process to be perfect though, and for a less competivie university that means a few unworthy candidates will fall through the cracks and be accepted anyway.
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