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Ever had a point where you wanted to quit?

  1. Mar 3, 2014 #1
    Hey all,

    I'm new here and just wanted to say "hey", but also to ask--Have any of you ever been discouraged and wanted to quit pursuing physics? I'd love to hear your stories

    I'm a sophomore undergrad student at the moment. I'm in a very difficult(what I feel as difficult) Astrophysics class. My homework seems so incredibly hard, and I try and ask for help. At one point my professor, who I admire so much, called me stupid. The book(Astrophysics in a Nutshell) has been no help. I've always been a good student, but I'm not sure if I should keep going since I'm still early on.

    Thanks for your inputs!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2014 #2


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    Yeah, my second semester physics class was pretty tough. Didn't do as well in it as I would have liked. Switched my major to computer science, basically. Looking back, I shouldn't have taken a certain paper-writing-heavy liberal arts course at the same time as all the math and physics classes that semester. I would have been full time without it. Wasted too much time stressing over papers. Ah well, I'm back to physics. Now more powerful with programming skills.

    Your professor shouldn't have called you stupid though. He's stupid.
  4. Mar 3, 2014 #3
    In science or math, everybody hits a wall sooner or later. Everybody! For some it is in freshman year of undergrad, for some it is deep into grad school.

    When you hit a wall, you can either give up or you can work incredibly hard and break the wall. The scientists who make it eventually are the ones who go through the walls. It's a lot of effort to pull something like that off though, so it's a completely understandable decision if you just decide to give up. It doesn't mean that you're stupid or too dumb for science, I guess it just means you're not that passionate about it.

    Don't be afraid to ask questions too! Maybe not to your professor since he doesn't seem to appreciate it, but there are other ways. For example, you can form study groups with other students (how are the other students doing in the class anyway?). Or you can ask right here on PF!

    And stop admiring people who call you stupid.
  5. Mar 3, 2014 #4
    Thank you so much. Your comment was awesome. Seriously, I've been so upset because of this whole ordeal, because I'm so passionate about physics. I'd never want to do anything else! The other student(there's only one) says she's lost beyond belief
  6. Mar 3, 2014 #5
    It sounds like your professor should not be teaching. Also, if you don't want to quit sometimes, you're doing something wrong!
  7. Mar 3, 2014 #6


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    I'm a sophomore at the moment as well and I get a fair amount of difficult homework that I need help with more often than not. In fact most undergrad physics majors do. We're all in the same boat so don't worry about it, just keep doing what you're doing, it's perfectly normal to find physics courses difficult and get stuck on problem sets :)

    Your professor isn't allowed to call you stupid by the way. That's verbal abuse.

    Good luck!
  8. Mar 3, 2014 #7
    Well, I can't give much advice since I don't know the specifics. But it seems to me that the problem is more your prof than it is you. Doesn't change much though, you still need to work hard to get through this class alive. But maybe this will convince you that you're not stupid.

    I remember having a hard time in my sophomore probability class. The prof did quite some advanced things and was terrible at teaching. I had to figure out everything on my own. Well, I made it through, and now probability is one of my favorite areas of math :tongue:

    It's normal to feel inadequate at this stage, but just ignore those feelings. They're useless.
  9. Mar 3, 2014 #8
    You guys...I feel SO much better about this class now! Thank you all! :D
  10. Mar 4, 2014 #9


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    Even if it's the truth? (Of course I have no way to tell whether or not it was the truth in the OP's case)

    Political correctness now trumps objectivity in science, I guess. Just give every fool who can get a loan to pay the fees the chance to "follow their passion," and grade on a curve so they all get As or Bs ..... :devil:
  11. Mar 4, 2014 #10
    Yes, even if it's the truth. The professor's job is to teach and guide, not to insult.

    I'm not saying that he should hand out A's and B's and make everything easy. And the professor is perfectly allowed to be honest and say brutally honest things like "if you continue like this, you won't succeed in the course". But that's very different from actually calling somebody stupid!

    Stupid is not constructive, it's just meant to bully the other person and to bring him down. A teacher should not resort to these things.

    And there's a big difference between "you can't say somebody is stupid" and "let's stop being objective".
  12. Mar 4, 2014 #11
    I seem to recall that Albert Einstein was really slow in learning how to speak so, say, a teacher calling him stupid because of it would have been moronic. A teacher should never discourage a student or call them stupid. That's unprofessional and sort of childish in my opinion.

    As stated above not everyone needs an A or a B, but you shouldn't call your students stupid.
  13. Mar 4, 2014 #12
    I didn't just want to quit. I did quit. There was a period in my undergrad when I intended to do a double-major in physics and math and then get a PhD in physics. Then I took intermediate classical mechanics. I did well in the class, but I thought it was the most awful thing ever, so I went in the direction of mathematical physics, hoping to pursue a more mathematical approach to things. I did find what I was missing in the classical mechanics class, and, as I had known from the beginning, I was proven right that there was actually a meaning behind it, rather than just ugly equations all over the place and random, unmotivated concepts pulled from out of hats. So, that was successful, but I got dragged way too far from physics into topology by the department and my adviser and my own mistakes, got disillusioned with math and academia in general, and now I'm looking for work in other fields. I still plan to write/make videos about math and physics on the internet, and in my opinion, that is going to be a lot more useful than an academic career would have been, in my case. So, in a way, I haven't given up.

    Keep in mind, when you know a subject, a lot of things seem easier to you than they actually are. There's a social psychology experiment you can do to demonstrate this. Tap the beat to a song. Tell one group of people what song it is, and don't tell another group. Even if the song is very famous, chances are the people who were not told will have a hard time guessing what it is, but they seem almost stupid to the group who has been told. So, there is this effect, and maybe that's why you seemed stupid to the professor. He's not in a good position to judge that very well, really. He can compare you to other students, but I think he might still not be on very solid ground, anyway, because who knows what the reason is that you aren't getting it.

    Another way to think of it might be something like this. Say you meet someone who has never heard of the Pacific Ocean. That's pretty shocking (I have actually heard of such a person, though I can't remember which ocean it was). Maybe they were living under a rock. But you can just tell them what it is, show them a map, and then they are back to normal. So, it seemed really bad, and it was, but it's not that hard to fix. Of course, you'd suspect that they are missing a lot of other stuff (and maybe had some kind of underlying memory problems, as well). But if they applied themselves and made sure to retain the information, which is really just a matter of applying yourself and knowing a thing or two about how memory works, they could become a normal person again, if they put in the effort.

    On the other hand, I remember in elementary school, being introduced to algebra for the first time, and a bunch of people said it was hard, but I was wondering what they were talking about and thought it was really easy, despite not having any more starting knowledge than they did. Even this advantage could be a bit of an illusion. When you give people enough practice to fill in the holes in their background and build their skills up, these sorts of differences can disappear to some extent. Sometimes, people who are actually pretty good just run into some stumbling blocks and then don't do well until they are overcome.
  14. Mar 4, 2014 #13
    Ah. I've never really struggled in school before until this. I'm here at my university on full scholarship. I've always been quick to get and apply my knowledge. I'm just scared that maybe physics isn't my calling in life. I'd appreciate any useful websites or books you'd suggest that could explain better information.
  15. Mar 4, 2014 #14
    It may very well be that physics isn't your calling in life. Even the brightest and smartest drop out of physics because they just don't like it.

    But don't decide whether physics is for you based on one class. If you enjoy the other classes and if you're doing ok in there, then that's pretty good.
  16. Mar 4, 2014 #15
    I've only had physics I&II(classical mechanics)
    I really enjoyed these classes. I'm now in Biophysics(four hundred or four thousand level) and Astrophysics(Three hundred or three thousand level). I really don't like Biophysics because there is so much biology. I love the subject matter of Astrophysics, but for some reason, I'm just not grasping all of the concepts
  17. Mar 4, 2014 #16


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    This *might* be the issue with regards to why you're struggling. You should look into taking more advanced physics courses like sophomore/junior level classical mechanics (e.g. at the level of Taylor) and an equivalent level of classical electrodynamics (e.g. at the level of Griffiths). These are the courses where you'll learn to become more comfortable with physics problem solving unless your physics I&II classes were honors classes in which case you would already be acquainted with a lot of standard physics problem solving techniques. Also I don't know how advanced your astrophysics class is but thermodynamics and statistical mechanics are generally a very, very important aspect of astrophysics so keep that in mind.
  18. Mar 4, 2014 #17
    Umm might I ask?
    What do you mean by the level of Taylor? and Griffiths?
  19. Mar 4, 2014 #18


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    Oh these are the standard textbooks at most (US) universities for the aforementioned courses .
  20. Mar 4, 2014 #19
    Welcome to the forum! I'd want to start of by saying your professor himself/herself has a bit of a loose head. Maybe you should gift him/her a book on teaching guidelines.

    Most of the sciences are generally hard. But many people are physicists, and everyone is born naked and stupid, so you have an equal chance to succeed as a physicist. A big problem could be that you have used bad textbooks or have had a bad teacher. I have experienced that and the best solution for me was to get a textbook and study independently. You can even try tutoring. Also, as WannabeNewton said, try going through more advanced classes. Just Classical Mechanics doesn't fulfil the prerequisites of astrophysics where I am at. Along with that, don't be discouraged by comments of your seniors or peers.

    As for AlephZero's comment, I can't see why giving an opportunity to "Follow your passion" is a in any shape or form a bad thing. Everyone should be given an opportunity to follow their passion. As for the marks, if the student has no passion for learning, he will inevitably fail despite whatever mark he got.
  21. Mar 4, 2014 #20


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    Yes, I understand exactly what you mean here. I know that I don't have that special quality that good teachers have: I can't figure out where a person's misunderstanding is.

    And someone who teaches for a living should have that quality, or know how to compensate for it.

    OP, there were so many times in my education I wanted to quit. One particularly stands out in my memory. I had just started upper-division classical mechanics (a required class), but I had no idea how I was going to pay for it yet. I had the book (Landau and Lifshitz, Mechanics) and I'd been to one class so far. I didn't do well the quarter before and I was wondering why I was putting up with all the crap that goes with getting a physics degree.

    I was in the library and I thought, what the hell, I'm probably going to drop this class and drop out of college but I'll start this homework anyway. The question was hard, I thought about it a long time, and it took about 3 pages to solve.

    And, well I'll be damned, it was right.

    It made me realize, sometimes the only difference between succeeding and failing is just staying in the game.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2014
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