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Feeling inadequate

  1. Mar 20, 2015 #1

    I am a high school student trying to persue a career in the physical sciences but I am getting hindered by the feeling of incompetence and being stupid. What would be the most logical solution for this problem? My teachers have noticed great improvements in my cognitive abilities but for some reason I do not notice them.

    This is considerably annoying considering I have high standards, one day I can do maths and physics easily but the next day I can not.

    What can I do about this? Should I simply convience myself of not being stupid and continue learning or what? Does not seem to work when I am trying it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 20, 2015 #2


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    Most people have days like that from time to time. Math and science are like excercise. It's hard to see the incremental benefits but one day you look back and wonder how you got so good. There are days when you struggle but those are the ones that can provide the most satisfaction.
  4. Mar 20, 2015 #3
    If you're teachers are telling you you're improving, but for some reason you don't think you are, do what any scientist would do: look at the data. Are your grades suffering or improving? Are you studying regularly or letting it slide for days at a time? Are you able to explain a concept of physics to yourself or someone else without looking it up? If you answer these honestly you may surprise yourself. Everyone has off days (or weeks). I went into an exam today and beat my head over this integral for 15 minutes before I realized it was something very easy. I have to look up solutions or get help with hard problems in my honors physics class frequently. And I always feel like I could be doing better. But at the end of the day, what makes me feel intelligent and dedicated is the fact that I work harder than most of my peers at my work, I continue to improve my understanding of physics, and I never leave a problem unfinished if I can help it. Whether or not those ideals would help you feel smarter or less stressed I can't say. But anecdotally, I know from my own experience and seeing others struggle that if you put in the time, interact with your teachers and other students, and surround yourself with people you love and respect, that grades tend to follow an upward trend.

    TLDR: If you're putting in a lot of time, asking the right questions, and receiving positive feedback from people who know way more than you, then you're doing everything right. Keep it up.
  5. Mar 20, 2015 #4
    I feel that way sometimes too. The best you can do is not be so hard on yourself. If your teachers recognize your great improvements, then you are heading in the right direction! Math and Physics are subjects that do not always come so easily, but one has to practice practice practice ( solve problems, read, talk to other people who enjoy it too).

    It's okay to start a problem and come back to it later , even if it is a couple of days later. That's a very common thing to do unless if you left it till last minute.

    The fact that you are on here and care so much already means that you have the motivation to keep going. Tell yourself that and keep at it! Good luck!
  6. Mar 20, 2015 #5
    I couldn't have said it better myself. There will be many days where you sit down to do homework and realize you don't know how, so you try some different homework but you can't do that either, so you try to get some research done but you don't know how to do that either. I always feel like I'm some sort of impostor, making it into advanced physics classes when I feel like I can't even do basic physics. I also always feel like I don't know nearly as much as my professors think I do.

    You know what though? You'll have days where it's all worth it. Where someone comes to you for homework help in a class you took a couple of years ago, and you'll help them without thinking twice.

    TL;DR- If you don't feel incompetent, you aren't doing it right! :)
  7. Mar 20, 2015 #6
    If everything you're doing came easy to you, then there'd be no point in doing it. Challenging yourself is how you learn.
  8. Mar 25, 2015 #7
    High standards for yourself can be your worst enemy, and your best friend. On the one hand, they may turn a simple assignment into a 10+ hour ordeal, make you hate yourself for a B, and keep you from turning in barely incomplete assignments (especially when you opted to spend 10+ hours on them). Those same standards will cause you to become an excellent learner. By, for example, turning a simple assignment into a 10+ hour ordeal, where you spend the majority of your time building formulas from first principles instead of pulling them out of a book. Let those standards force you to keep asking yourself why you are struggling, what you are missing, how today is different from yesterday. Those standards will beat you down, but they will never let you quit.

    As a side note. I find building math skills has been particularly helpful, although often somewhat difficult, in developing how I think. If you're like me, the hardest thing you'll ever have to do in your academic career is learn how to learn.

    A degree in physics is a degree in problem solving. The hardest problems are the ones nobody gives you.

    Resources: 4 years of personal experience as a Tutor, SI, TA, grader, research assistant, and terrible student of undergraduate physics.
  9. Mar 26, 2015 #8
    I second what Borg said.

    From my perspective a logical solution is to cultivate a stronger mindset.

    To that end I suggest you begin by reading this.
  10. Mar 26, 2015 #9
    Thanks for the help everybody.

    I seem to relate to the article you linked to me, I will usually compensate for my stupidity by working much harder as a way of feeling better. Maybe I should not try to combat this emotion as it is quite helpful in my school life.
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