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Getting The Info

  1. Oct 21, 2005 #1
    In my entire educational history, never have I been so diligent about my classes than I am now with my physics and math courses. Beginning my physics education, I now have a direction in life and, along with it, a reason to study. When I study physics and math, I study it like I'm going to be using it the rest of my life. In the past I've treated almost each and every one of my classes, especially in high school, as if I was only learning it for the sake of passing the tests. As such, I didn't do very well in high school (yet, strangely enough, somehow I managed to ace my liberal education classes last year, my freshmen year of college).

    Now, there is a lot of information here I could be acquiring in my studies. I mean a lot. Most of my focus goes into learning the things I need to do well the tests, as that is the first priority, but this information is only a small portion of what I could be learning. I also put some effort into acquiring some of the "less necessary" (with strong emphasis on the quotation marks) information. But there's so much of it! Taking all of my other classes into account, I need to be choosey about what I spend my time on.

    A point in case: the last few chapters studied in my Physics I course (which I just took a test on today, and I think I did very well!), which dealt with topics from work, to potential and kinetic energy, to momentum, collisions, and center of mass, there was one small section in one of the chapters that delt with rocket motion (defined in my book as the motion of a system undergoing a kind of "continuous explosion"), that was not included on any of the homework or the tests. In effect, we skipped this section; as to why I have yet to ask the professor about. This, among other things, is an example of the "less necessary" information I spoke of.

    My questions are simple: should I take the time to study this sort of information with the possibility that I might need it later on? If so, how much time ought I spend on it? Also, in the case that there is an excess to the point that I can't learn it all, in what way should I distinguish which of it is most important?

    This last question, I understand, would be a hundred times easier if I knew what sort of field in physics I was planning to enter. However, I am still trudging my way through basic calculus-based classical mechanics, and my knowledge of physics is currently by far too limited for me to decide what fields I would like to go into.

    I can only begin to imagine how vast this science (as well as other sciences) is. Students have asked physics professors about concepts which they have never even heard of. In that, much to my dismay since it is my intention to understand the way this world works, I don't believe it is possible to know everything there is to know about physics. As such, as I mentioned earlier, I must be choosey about what I learn.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 21, 2005 #2


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    The best way to go is to talk to a professor. Tell them your problem. Your problem seems that the amount of stuff they are teaching isn't satisfying enough for you. Tell them you are interested in these less than necessary stuff.

    Note: I understand why the professor says it is less than necessary. It is "less" necessary because it is something you should be able to understand naturally if you completely understand the concepts being taught. The only thing you really do to see if you fully understand concepts is to do the harder questions, and then ask yourself the "what if" or even come up with your own neat questions. I can always think of things myself. As you make your own questions, you will realize that you can not answer them all because of some other thing that gets in the way... and that is most likely another thing you will learn in Physics. Find out what that thing can be until you can solve the question fully... and that my friend is research. Not high level research or anything, but you will acquire a lot of skills.

    Don't discourage yourself if you go into higher physics and don't understand it. I had this problem (with math). I felt like I would never be able to do it. I came to the realization that I need to take it one step at a time, and realize that I'm doing this on my own with no directions. I can't put myself down when I'm going through the hard route. Also, when I don't understand a concept or the text assumes I know it, I look it up somewhere else until I understand it.

    Um... I want to stop typing now because I'm on a laptop and it is annoying as hell. Yes, this is my first time. I'll be back on Sunday/Monday. Have a great weekend.
  4. Oct 21, 2005 #3


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    You are one SMART young person.

    There is no reason to make a definitely choice of what you want to do later on. There's plenty of time for that. Some people at your stage are already seduced by the "sexier" area of physics. They already made up their minds that they want do so-and-so without sampling all the over vast area of physics that MAY, in fact, not only be as interesting, but also <gulp> more employable upon graduation!

    Keep your options open. Keep your grades up. You have plenty of chances to make your choice when you plan on going to grad. school. If you haven't done so, join your local Society of Physics Students, or if there aren't any, to to the AIP website and join there.

  5. Oct 21, 2005 #4


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    Yeah, I agree with ZapperZ.

    I haven't yet made my decisions for what I want to study in mathematics. I know I want to go into Pure Mathematics, but that's about it. Sure I would like to do Number Theory, but as I'm going there I will explore other areas and I am open minded to them. So technically, I have no idea what I want I to focus on, but I hope I figure it out by the time I'm in 4th year as an undergrad.

    Note: I am not excluding the fact that I may change my mind during graduate school (which I think ZapperZ did). I would just like an idea of what to research on during my 4th year of undergrad so I can start looking researching early.
  6. Oct 22, 2005 #5


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    Dollars to doughnuts he/she will say "not enough time" and/or "I prefer to cover _______ instead." In twenty years I have never taught a physics course at any level in which I could cover all of the material in whatever textbook I chose! Textbook authors always include more material than can be covered in a realistic course, because different instructors have different preferences; authors and publishers don't want to lose sales by omitting someone's favorite topic.
  7. Oct 22, 2005 #6
    Well, he didn't "say" it is less necessary; what I mean by less necessary is the fact that I don't need to study it for the test.

    Yeah, I like to apply what I learn to something I do, such as finding the velocity of a paintball using the angle it was shot at and the distance it traveled. It's one of the things that makes this field so great.

    I think it's those "sexier" subjects that draw a lot of us into this field. Sure enough, one of the things that brought my attention to physics would be the exposition to subjects such as black holes and superstring theory, among others. I always like to joke that superstring theory is nothing more than a recruitment device for physicists.

    But sure enough, I can't really decide on a subject to go into when I don't know anything about them! I honestly couldn't imagine how someone could pick a field this early with knowledge as limited as mine.

    Done and done. My advisor had me join it, and it was payed for the first time around.

    That makes sense. Topics such as rocket motion seem a bit too specific to be learning in a lower-level class, where it is essential that we cover the basics so that we aren't in the dark when we apply them to more advanced subjects, and with limited class time, priorities come first.
  8. Oct 23, 2005 #7
    Isn't physics pretty sexy in general?
  9. Oct 23, 2005 #8
    Indeed it is!
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