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Forgetting what I learned

  1. Nov 14, 2009 #1
    The past June I got my physics degree and because I was working on an important research project on graphenes and had some unexpected results, I wasn't sure If I would finish it on time. Thus, I made my applications for master in the summer and got accepted in Utrecht university for the theoretical physics master (my intention is to follow the path of theoretical condensed matter with computer simulations). The master is starting next in September next year and I will be working till that time (non-physics related job).

    My problem is I keep forgetting things I learned in my bachelor and it's so frustrating.Is this normal? My plan is to read classical mechanics/electrodynamics and quantum theory till next September and maybe also prepare myself for quantum field theory and quantum statistical theory. Any suggestions are welcome :) .
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 14, 2009 #2
    I think it's perfectly normal.
    If i learn something by heart i forgot nearly everything in 2-14 days.

    If i'm trying to understand something and achieve my goal i forgot it sooner or later anyway. But after i forget it, it easier to understand it again.

    Using something i understood in problems greatly extends period in which i remember what i had understood.

    there is a simple rule - if i dont find something useful, i forget it really fast. But there's nothing wrong in that - why should i remember things, that aren't useful :>
  4. Nov 14, 2009 #3


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    It certainly is. Last week a collegue asked me a few questions about some results in a paper. I realized that I didn't understand quite the results because I had forgotten some of the theory behind it.
    It was one of my own papers, I wrote it about three years ago:rolleyes:

    The point is that you are not expected to remember everything you learn, especially if you are not reading about or working in that field for a while. But hopefully you'll remember the fundamentals as well as WHERE (not only in which book but more importantly in which context) you can find the information you'll need. It is also much easier to learn something the second time around.

    The story above is true, but the part I left out was that it only took me about 30 minutes to re-read (my own) paper and check a couple of details in one of my books before I was able to answer the questions my collegue had asked me.
  5. Nov 14, 2009 #4
    I forget almost nothing of what I learn, I find it really strange how people can forget as much as they do. How is it even possible to function properly when you forget that much?
  6. Nov 14, 2009 #5
    that's a pretty good point. I often end up forgetting formulas, as basic as trig inverse integration. But i know how it looks like so when i see a problem which has one or which requires it's usage, all i have to do is lookup for the formula.

    forgetting formulas is even worse in Physics, i can't keep track of all of them, quite frankly i never did. But often i'm able to regenerate them or at least (like you said) know where to find it and in what context to use one.
  7. Nov 14, 2009 #6
    If you don't use it, you lose it. But relearning is easier if you learned it once already.
  8. Nov 15, 2009 #7
    Forgetting is a big problem for me too. I figure out something and after a couple of days/weeks I have to figure out the same thing again. Lots of time wasted. I started sending myself emails so I didn't have figure out twice.
    I found out that I remember things better when I write them down in my own words. So make notes of fundamental things in your field.
    Better yet, try to explain it to yourself or a friend or a class. You'll surely remember.
    When you are explaining it to yourself, ask yourself why is it this way, why that way. It'll help.
    I used to be surprised at how my boss could remember so many different concepts and specifications. Things are connected in a way or he finds a way to connect them.
  9. Nov 15, 2009 #8
    Personally, if i've used something multiple times in the past, and if i have gotten to fully understand what is going on, then even if, at the present time, i cannot remember the formulas/stuff, directly and how it's done, i have no difficulty at all to derive everything from scratch. For example, if some time passes, i cannot remember how to take the derivatives of some functions or integrate a couple others, or trig identities, or many other stuff of this kind. But, i never find any difficulties deriving these things from scratch. In other words, as long as you have a pretty good understanding of the general idea behind something, i don't think you should have difficulties in filling in the details.
  10. Nov 17, 2009 #9
    Thanks for the replies. It is true that when I check the books, I begin remembering stuff quite quickly. It's sad it works like this for other things too, like sports, playing a music instrument or drawing. I guess my frustration mostly comes from the fact that concentrating on something makes you forget something else. Hm, this may have sounded a bit childish. Anyways, thanks for your help again.
  11. Nov 17, 2009 #10


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    Nah. The childish thing would be to just assume that you're stupid and give up in frustration.
  12. Nov 17, 2009 #11
    Look at the bright side - once you forget something, you can re-enjoy learning it again!
  13. Nov 20, 2009 #12
    My professor told me (while working on my mathematics degree) Mathematics is like playing the violin. Practice make's perfect, stop practicing and you have some catch up to do to find the skills hidden in your brain. You don't lose it permanently you jsut need to find it.
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