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Hello! Pick-Me-Up Desired!

  1. Sep 19, 2012 #1
    Hello, all! I've just registered to the Forum after an extensive search for one that I feel will be conducive to my current and future questions. That being said, I'll tell you a bit of where I currently stand in my education.

    Unfortunately the realization of the importance that lies within education came to me rather late; I am 22 years old and have just started, with a committed drive that is, at my local community college. Always being a lover of literature I found the book For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin in my local bookstore and simply couldn't resist. Needless to say, I subsequently fell in love with the idea of studying natural phenomena and continued to purchase book.. after book.. after book. Ending up at Euclid's Window by Leonard Mlodinow. It was time, I decided, to enroll (after four years of abhorrent behavior consisting of musical performances and excessive drinking :p) in the aforementioned community college! As such, I was a bit rusty. I took all the required remedial courses (the algebra of linear functions through that of completing squares) and passed with great ease; amusingly enough ending up as the professor's helper of sorts. This brings me to my current, nearly discouraging, situation. I've chosen to study Physics with a minor in Computer Science as most all experimentation requires the extension of our senses via computing resources (something I believe ZapperZ pointed out so generously in the So You Want To Be A Physicist? thread). This leaves my current curriculum plan (regarding maths) as follows:

    Fall 2012 - College Algebra/Stars and Galaxies (intro to Astronomy) - to which I am currently attenting
    Spring 2013 - Plane Trigonometry/Introduction to Programming (Java)
    Summer 2013- Pre-Calculus
    Fall 2013 - Introduction to C/Calculus I/General Physics I (algebra and trig based) My idea for taking this course is to bear an introduction to the field of physics as to prepare me for the University Physics (calculus based)
    Spring 2013 - Calculus II/University Physics I

    At which time I'll be concurrently finishing up the core classes that will be required to reach my hourly minimum to transfer to UT Austin. This brings me to the questions associated with this thread:

    1.) Despite a former lack of advanced mathematics, what do you believe will be the hardest obstacle for me to complete?
    2.) Do the choices regarding the course-outline reflect ones that you would deem responsible in respect to reaching my educational goals?
    3.) Does the fact that I am starting at a Community College severely hurt my chances of success in this most amazing field?
    4.) What tips do you have for preparing myself, in advance, for the coursework ahead?

    I realize some of my questions may prove redundant as I become more familiar with this community and apologize now for such consequences. I hope this thread does not come off as excessive and am looking for some excellent guidance.

    On that note, thank you! My name is Ryan.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 19, 2012 #2


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    This is impossible to answer for you. It depends very much from person to person. I can only tell you what I found the hardest. It was probably General Physics I or University Physics I. I was always good in math, but I found the transition to physics problems to be quite tough. It required an entirely different mindset. I didn't do bad in the course, but I disliked it so much that I never took physics again.

    Yes. It looks pretty good. However, I don't see any geometry in your course-outline. You're going to need geometry and stuff quite a lot in physics, so you should study it (either in school or self-study).

    No, not at all.

    You need to be prepared to work hard and you need to realize that the road is going to be very tough. I consider physics the hardest degree there is because it require advanced mathematics and some sort of physical intuition. You will hit a wall sooner or later, everybody does. What is important at that point is that your persist and work double as hard. That is the characteristic of succesful people. Do not expect things to be easy.

    You also need to know that physics is probably not at all what you think it is. Right now, you read some pop-sci books which made you interested. This is not bad, but the physics presented in those books is totally different from what physics really is. All I'm trying to say is that it may very well be that you discover you don't like physics (or that you are just not good at it). You have to realize that this is a possibility.
  4. Sep 19, 2012 #3
    1) depends completely on your natural abilities and habits. Don't worry about it - you'll cross this bridge when the time comes. Unless your bridge burns down, then your screwed.

    2) Take linear algebra if you can. Also if you want to program take a C course instead of java.

    3)If you take it seriously and do well then no.

    4) Do your work on your own, don't procrastinate, do what you love.
  5. Sep 20, 2012 #4
    Just a comment regarding your curriculum plan:

    At my community college, taking college algebra and trigonometry is equivalent to taking JUST precalculus. I made this mistake, as our catalog was not clear on this matter. I could be a semester ahead of where I am had I taken precalculus instead of taking college algebra trigonometry. If your background is very weak, though, it may be a good idea to take the two rather than just the one since they cover essentially the same material but over two semesters.

    I'm not sure if this applies to you, but it is something to look into.
  6. Sep 20, 2012 #5
    Probably transitioning from community college to UT Austin. I go to UT Austin for aerospace engineering. I went from a community college much like you. It was.. a shock, to say the least.

    No. Stay and take Physics II and Calculus III. I found myself much better prepared for my later physics classes having taken calculus III. UT Austin's calculus sequence is only two semesters long, and so you'll have to take M408D despite having already covered sequences and series and higher-level integration techniques and applications in calculus II. Calculus III also provides a great deal of treatment given in the first half of M427L (vector calculus), so you'll be in a much better position for acing that course - and acing M427L is essential for anyone involved in physics.

    Another thing: Don't take linear algebra (or differential equations, for that matter) at a community college as someone else suggested. Texas community colleges become much less proficient at these higher levels of mathematics, and topics aren't quite so standardized. UT tailors courses like linear algebra and 427K (diff eq's) to work specifically with physics and engineering majors. Community colleges must consider the possibility of you being a computer science or even a math major, and so their curriculum is not as focused.

    Absolutely not. If you're getting A's in classical and quantum mechanics and such at UT Austin, no one will care if Physics I and II were completed at a community college. And also, like I said, I've done the same thing you're doing but in a slightly different field, so I can say with certainty it won't matter.

    Learn how to integrate very very well when you take calculus. Memorize trigonometric identities in trig/precalc. If you have homework, it WILL take about three times longer than you estimate. Like micromass said, learn every bit of geometry you can get your hands on, because you will need it. I didn't have any geometry (ever), and to this day I'm handicapped because I have to think and reason through steps that other people see automatically. The only reason I've made it this far without geometry is because I'm exceptionally good at thinking spatially and have picked up the important parts as I went along. Perhaps you can do the same thing, but don't assume so.

    Generally, just sit back and enjoy yourself for a bit. This is the easy time in your college career. I'm not saying don't take it seriously, because you should - UT Austin's admission process is strict, and you need good grades and possibly a couple letters of recommendation from professors at your school (I secured two and had a GPA of 3.3 or so). But it's the later courses that will test your abilities and knowledge and intelligence far more than the beginning classes.

    Anyway, feel free to drop me a line if you ever have questions specifically about UT Austin - but keep in mind that I'm an aerospace major, not physics, so I won't be able to tell you how hard quantum mechanics is or which professor is easiest for classical mechanics.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2012
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