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Courses Help with a motivation problem

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I realize this isn’t really the place to ask for this, but I’ve kind of hit a wall. I came into physics grad school intent on doing theory, and I’ve hit a brick wall in my first semester. I got B’s in Classical mechanics and Quantum mechanics, which looks really bad for trying to get into any theory group. One of these had dubious circumstances with the professor not revealing grade distributions but giving me a B even though I was in the top 50% of the class, the other had some dubious testing circumstances. That aside, I’m feeling really lost. I put absolutely everything that I had into this past semester, and I was actually convinced I was going to get all A’s. I feel like I’ve lost all agency, as in the end the professors just assign grades and there isn’t much transparency, and all the effort I put in just wasn’t enough. I came back to campus early intent on getting a head start on the material (I also did this in the summer) but once I found out my grades, my motivation has been completely shot. I’m questioning what I’m even doing
 

tech99

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Don't give up at the first post because that will make you feel down. Maybe the B grades are given to avoid making you over confident. Get up early and keep trying, because you will lose nothing by doing that. The main issue is not the physics but managing your own sub conscious. Your brain is a good machine which will run more or less on autopilot, and it can achieve the unexpected if you give it a chance.
 

symbolipoint

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You are worried and feel lost because you are earning so far a B, and you are in the top 50% of class? Find out the answer to this: Are you learning what you are studying? Do you understand what you are trying to learn to understand?
 

Vanadium 50

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Do you think 50% of the students should get A's?
 
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One of these had dubious circumstances with the professor not revealing grade distributions but giving me a B even though I was in the top 50% of the class
Top 50% isn't really saying very much, other than you're at or above average.
 

Dr. Courtney

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I think the blame shifting mentality is more likely to hinder your future than the Bs. Likewise, giving into temptation to give up after one unsatisfying semester does not suggest a bright future either.

Physics is hard. You'll need the fortitude to keep going after much bigger setbacks than this if you are going to succeed.
 
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First semester of grad school is a real trick, especially if you've never taken grad-level courses before. I know I wasn't used to the time and effort required for courses where two courses was considered a "full-time load". I did worse than you my first semester, even though I worked easily 40+ hours a week just on two classes. I was also super discouraged and worried about any group taking me in. My second semester I did much better, and I'm now halfway through my third year and doing well. Here's what I realized after my first semester:
  • For weekly problem sets, most students will start 2-3 days before it was due. Use the first 4-5 days getting as far as you can on your own. Try every problem. Write something down. And then, maybe 2 days before the set is due, meet up with others. For us, office hours were usually a day or two before the set was due, so I tried to have specific questions to ask and to be as finished with the problem set as possible by then.
  • Have access to an assortment of textbooks! Our assigned quantum textbook was by Gottfried & Yan, and to be honest, I found it incredibly dry, dense, and opaque. I found Sakurai to be very useful in explaining some topics, and Landau & Lifschitz to be good for others. And for the basics, I still relied on good ol' Griffiths. My second semester I also took solid state for the first time, and would start out learning a topic by studying it in "Solid State Basics", and then I'd move to Kittel or Ashcroft depending on which book I found to have the clearest explanation. Just make sure to be consistent with notation :)
  • Use forums like this one for help. I had a shared PhysicsForums account with a group of students I worked with in stat mech. Most of my questions would be ones that were already solved - from previous exams, or homeworks from previous years, or unassigned textbook problems that we could find solutions to, and we'd simply ask for explanations.
  • Our TAs would never look at the homework before office hours, which I found incredibly annoying at first, but then realized that it was actually great for me! I could gain some insight into how the TA would approach the problem. Maybe he would write down a partition function first and then look at it to figure out what tricks to use to solve the problem, because he's seen similar ones.
Again, this is all specific to me, and might be of no use to you. But hopefully it will at least give you some ideas on how to improve for this upcoming semester. As some non-academic advice that I'm sure you've been given already, find something to do outside of academia. A hobby, or a "fun" class, or lessons of some kind. That was my real key to success - something to distract me from the stress of grad school. :)
 

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