1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Help, going to college soon and need advice.

  1. Jan 1, 2013 #1
    As the title explains, I am soon going to attend college and I would like some advice one can give for an upcoming physics/mathematics major.

    1)What are some things/extracurricular activities/programs/etc. that you recommend a physics student do in his undergraduate years to maximize both their learning experience and chances for graduate school (especially the latter).

    2) What societies/clubs are good for a physics student to participate in to assist with question #1.

    3) What would you advise for questions #1 and #2 for a mathematics student (I am currently a bit undecided between the two.)

    All responses will be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 1, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    It's imporant to try new things, even if they are completely unrelated to getting into graduate school. One of the big reasons for this is because extra-curricular involvement can help you when it comes time to leave academia and pursue a career. It's also important to do what interests you because that's what you're going to really put effort towards. Sure, it looks good to have held an exective position in your undergraduate physics society on a graduate application, but if you don't really DO anyting in that position then it's not really going to impress anyone. It would look a lot better if you, for example, joined your school's competative programming team and won an award at a national competition.

    Depending on your personality it's also important to have some quality time that's completely removed from your major. At different times during my student years I volunteered with our school's first aid team, or as a peer educator at our sexual assault centre and I think those experiences made a big difference for me as they kept me from burning out.
  4. Jan 1, 2013 #3
    A million times yes. Take it from a 4th year that's completely burnt out, I wish I had done this. Do not focus entirely on academics and do something that's good for you (and for the people around you) as well, with the same degree of dedication. Something that comes to mind would be volunteer tutoring at schools in rough, poor areas.
  5. Jan 1, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Relax. Stop seeing every minute of your life as a step on a career path.
  6. Jan 1, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I agree entirely with bcrowell.

    However, just some general and obvious advice.

    Any club that has an active advisor that is passionate about helping his or her students. My math club met once a week and we had no agenda but to solve problems. Our advisor would spend as much time as we wanted in our little room helping us with the problems or giving us his thoughts. I learned a lot of cool math just from tossing ideas around from student to student and having his input.

    If you don't get a sense of fulfilment for a club, don't bother with it. My society of physics student was particularly poor at my school, so it was a lot of talk and not much of anything science related. I realized it was a waste of my time, and quickly stopped attending meetings.
  7. Jan 1, 2013 #6
    There's a very good chance that what you start studying now won't be what you graduate in.

    There's a very good chance that your job is completely unrelated or only partially related to your major.

    Learn as much as you possibly can. Don't accept anything less than your best in classes. If that's an A, that's an A. Sometimes even getting an A isn't doing your best. Sometimes just getting an A in the course is cheating yourself if you don't truly understand the material. Sometimes a B is your best. Don't beat yourself up if you get a B or a C or even lower, if you gave it your best. Math and physics are challenging subjects. But don't accept anything less than your best. Do well in the classes.

    In college, intelligence does start to matter. Now intelligence isn't a simple black/white or even a scale. There's different types of intelligence. A goal of college is to teach you HOW to think. Think critically. Problem solve. You might find in physics or math that you simply don't have the right intelligence (OR the drive). That's a possibility. If that's the case, find what you DO have the intelligence for. Believe it or not, math takes a fairly narrow range of intelligence. So if you want to switch, don't beat yourself up.

    Specific to physics and math. Algebra. Algebra skills are the most important. Basic solving equations, manipulating equations. Learn algebra EXTREMELY well. You use algebra ALL the time. In all math classes. All physics classes. So much. Calculus is built off of algebra. Physics is built off of calculus.

    Also, are you going to a JC or a 4 year? If you're going to a 4 year I'd strongly strongly recommend against that. Unless you have a full ride or something, it's usually a huge waste of money. Take your gen ed and lower division at a JC. Calculus is just calculus. It doesn't matter where you learn calculus, the derivative of x^2 is 2x no matter where you go. And gen ed doesn't really matter. But you save a TON of money, and are able to get your head on straight. JCs are great.
  8. Jan 1, 2013 #7
  9. Jan 2, 2013 #8
    MY school has an "Undergraduate Research Club." Go ahead and join them as soon as you get there, don't be shy. It doesn't matter if you aren't doing research or not, and they will certainly understand because you are a freshman. It will open up a lot of opportunities to network with students and professors and possibly open up a research project for you later on.

    Also, don't goof off in your first year. Those are the easiest classes so you should be able to make A's in all of them. Manage your time wisely (not doing that is what got me 2 B's while I was a freshman).
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook