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Courses Fear and loathing about coursework

  1. Jan 18, 2011 #1
    Hello. My name is Nick. I'm new to the forum.
    I'm a 26 year old currently enrolled at Kankakee Community College. Ever since I got out of the Marine Corps in June of 2008 and the economy tanked I decided to get into the nursing field thinking it was a safe and reliable job field, though, I've never really had a passion for that kind of work and to tell you the truth, I am starting to despise it as I am currently working as a certified nursing assistant.

    Last July after I quit smoking cigarettes I took the initiative to buy my first telescope as a way to reward myself. I have always been into astronomy but never really let my interest grow. I had an "aha" moment one night when I crudely figured out how long it took light that was being reflected off of Jupiter's clouds to reach Earth. I was pleased with myself. My results were fairly accurate.
    Now, I've never been good at math and algebra, mind you. I always struggled with math growing up. I never made it past a basic alegbra in highschool and I think it took a couple attempts.
    I took a basic physical science class last semester and surprised myself at how much I could learn and how much I enjoyed the math involved, despite the challenge. I had to spend many hours a week in the tutor lab furiously scribbling on a chalk board but got out of the class with an "A".

    My love (and obsession) with astronomy has really sparked a new interest in the quantum world. Even before I started getting heavily into astronomy I was reading about inertial electrostatic confinement fusion and what was happening at the atomic level. I've been reading about particle physics on my free time when I can (very basic introduction on particle physics).
    I constantly think about the quantum world, types of decays, and fusion in stars, so much so that I dream about them (I'm not trying to be corny, here. I actually dream about this stuff).

    I'm pretty sure I'm going to bail on the nursing thing. It is the safest, easiest, and less painful academic choice but I don't think I would be a very happy guy devoting my life to a profession that will crush my spirit.
    I want to pursue a career in something concerning particle physics or nuclear engineering. I want to learn more about and work with the behavior of sub-atomic particles.
    However, I'm extremely intimidated by the advanced math that is involved. Actually, I'm kind of intimidated by the basic math involved.

    I'm currently enrolled in an intermediate algebra class. So far, I'm doing just fine. Where I used to get angry, tired, and bored I now find myself getting excited, euphoric, and satisfied about working on algebra, though, the anxiety and frustration is still there.
    I'm extremely worried about the ridiculous coursework that is involved with any of the fields that are sparking my interest.

    What if my brain just can't handle it? Not everyone is good at math.
    How does one get over their barriers in mathematics?
    Does anyone have advice? Is there anyone who shares in the same anxiety but has overcome it? What can someone do to improve their skills and excell at the math involved?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2011 #2
    This is the key. Keep in mind how cool it is when you figure something out, and really understand what's going on with some math.

    I would contend that no one is born with some sort of innate mathematical ability. Some people find they like it, and so spend more of their time figuring it out and understanding it. It sounds like you are becoming such a person.

    The essential quote:

    "What one fool can learn, another can."
  4. Jan 18, 2011 #3
    I very, very, very strongly suggest that you get your nursing degree out of the way. It's a lot easier to explore the mysteries of the universe when you have something that pays the bills.

    Physics will crush your spirit.

    Get yourself to the point where you can do partial differential equations and a lot of things open up. But it will help a lot if you have a day job so that you can spend a few years trying to understand PDE's.

    You don't. You spend a few years trying to figure something out, and when you hit your head against the wall enough so that the wall comes crashing down, you find another wall there.

    Become an intellectual masochist. Seriously. Be resigned to the fact that you are going to find it painful to understand something, and enjoy the pain.
  5. Jan 18, 2011 #4
    Sure. I quit school in the 6th grade. A year and a half ago, my math skills were even worse than yours. But like you, when I started my intermediate algebra course, I found I enjoyed it. It was like untwisting a knot. Some people find that intellectually stimulating, and some people don't. I don't think I'm anyone special as far as understanding mathematics. I just think I'm motivated. I've gotten an 'A' in every math class I've taken yet (up to calculus II) with only one exception: A 'B' in a 5-week calculus I course. I'm also greatly considering taking the necessary courses to double major in math and my prime degree, aerospace engineering.

    You just have to be motivated, and you have to understand some certain fundamental concepts in mathematics. I mean really understand them; don't just go "ohhh...kay then". Understand things like the basic geometric theory behind integration and you'll be able to apply it to all sorts of things.

    Good luck, mate. Reach for the stars.
  6. Jan 18, 2011 #5
    Thanks for the replies.
  7. Jan 18, 2011 #6


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    Focus on your algebra class for now. It's a good sign that you are enjoying it and doing fine on the work. Keep at it. I have met people who have told me that math was an "acquired taste" for them. It's not unheard of.

    I wouldn't change majors just yet, though. It's a bit too early to make that decision. Stay in nursing for now. It offers good career options should you decide you don't want to continue onto higher math. Continue to take more math courses on the side. If you enjoy and do well in the intro calculus sequence, then I would spend more time seriously considering the change of major.
  8. Jan 18, 2011 #7
    Sure, but make sure you carry a parachute.

    I wouldn't quit nursing right now. You can look on the other threads to see how difficult it is for physics Ph.D.'s to get a job in physics.

    One good thing about math is that you can find ways of applying it to nursing roles.
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