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How do you know if you're smart enough to handle upper division physics?

  1. Jul 22, 2005 #1
    how do you know if you're smart enough to handle upper division physics?

    i think i might want to do biomedical engineering for a career. but im considering doing physics for undergrad w/ a BME minor.
    i enjoy physics and believe it would increase my problem solving skills.
    the only problem is that i am absolutely pararnoid that i might not have the brain power to do it. i know i would be able to do well in engineering (judging by my competition w/ my classmates going into engineering) and still be properly challenged, but i am really interested in furthering my physics education.
    im currently about to transfer to a UC this fall as EE major from a community college.

    i got all A's in my math & physics courses, but then again they were from community college and tests were not rigorous at all. (many ppl in my class felt the tests were not challenging in physics)

    how did you know you were smart enough? do a lot of ppl who want to major in physics drop out after their junior year. physics much much harder than engineering?

    any insight on my situation would be greatly appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2005 #2
    Honestly, physics is something you just feel. You work at a level until you feel comfortable with it, and then you move forward. Thankfully, "forward" isn't as arbitrary in physics as it is in other majors; the subject is a fairly linear sequence. If you're confident with your math and lower level physics, you are definitely ready to step up to bigger fish.

    Brain power has little to do with it, though. You have to be willing to really plod through a subject and really comprehend it well. There have been times with higher level physics books that I would progress at a rate of one page an hour. You have to be willing to make the time commitment required to really understand the subject.
  4. Jul 22, 2005 #3
    I'm a bioengineering major, I can tell you that the courses are quite challenging and enjoyable. You apply the laws of physics and ideas of engineering to solve biological problems.
  5. Jul 22, 2005 #4


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    if you can do the math, everything should be fine
  6. Jul 22, 2005 #5
    i would disagree....i can do math but i could do quantum, however i was able to do astrophys. Maybe its cuz i didnt' believe in quantum...or had trouble conceptualizing...

    if you want to see ifyou understand write the GREs practice exams. They are usually aimed foir 3rd year physics.
  7. Jul 22, 2005 #6
    I am also going to be majoring in Physics this coming fall. I don't know about other people, I don't know really how "hard" it is going to be or whether I would need to be "smart enough" to be doing it. Ofcourse things can get hard,tough questions would usually twist your head around and make you spend countless hours just to realize that the solution could be incredibly easy, with just a little bit new insights. When I get stuck on some problems, whether its physics, maths or general life problems, I would take a bit of time then pull back to see the "big picture" which more than often helps me to solve them.
    But the key reason that took me to physics is my passion, interests in nature and curiosity to find out about things. Previously in hi school I was very bad in mathematics and science in general, that is because I lacked the enthusiasm to learn about it, I wasn't questioning things, I was not very curious. Although I always had interests in science and technology, I wasn't fully equipted with physicist's surival tool, Curiosity.
    Ofcourse, I was interested in things, but so are other people who were interested in things like cars or fashion. But what really helped me to progress in physics is the curious part in being "interested in things". I stopped taking things for granted and started doubting many things, from how the MRI works to why hot gases go "up". It probably is the curiousity that got me going, once I started finding out something, it started getting fun and I couldn't stop trying to find out about how things work. Somehow, when curiosity takes over your purpose of life, you just find that you couldn't stop exploring the vastness of universe, just realizing how small and young you are, its even more challenging because you would know that the game is not over, there are many things to be discovered.

    That is my motive in going to university to do physics, I don't really care about what people say whether its gonna be hard or that the employment opportunity seems pretty rare or the rumours that the amount of mathematical training that would be needed. But one must be able to "give in" a bit of oneself in order to succeed in seeking what would be a worthful, higher purpose. I don't believe that there are many "lives" that we can actually live, unfortunately, but there are so much to be discovered so I would like to spend my life discovering nature
  8. Jul 22, 2005 #7
    when i first took mechanics i was kind of slow (relative to my math classes), i would take about 4 hrs to get thru a 20 page chapter on torque & angular momentum.
    then i took elec & magnetism that semester was a lot harder. i remember one time i spent 12 hours on 25 pgs. Recently i just finished light, optics, waves, quantum, and nuclear physics. this last semester was actually quite easy, maybe my brain got used to physics a little more. Nuclear was a bit fuzzy for me since the teacher rushed through it. on average i would say i spend about 3-6 hrs per chapter(20-25pgs) depending on the complexity of the topic. afterwards when doing the problem sets i ususally get about 70-80% w/out looking at the solutions.

    one more thing, after i study the subject, get quizzed, and tested on it in lecture & lab; I usually own the subject.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2005
  9. Jul 22, 2005 #8
    If your education isn't hard, you are not doing it correctly. I would say that is a good guideline to keep in mind.
  10. Jul 22, 2005 #9


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    well, you'll definitely have some competition (as long as you're going into an accredited university), the grades won't be easy
  11. Jul 23, 2005 #10
    If you can handle the basics you can handle the more difficult matters. It just takes dedication and work. What amazes me far more about practicing physicists (let's say a ph.d. that's been in the field for 20 years) is the sheer amount of knowledge they posess instead of their ability to solve hard problems. I'm about a year away from getting my masters degree and I already know I can handle the hard stuff given enough time to work with it but what freaks me out is that I still have so many different things to learn. And assuming my career choice holds I'll probably feel the same 20 years after this too.
  12. Jul 24, 2005 #11
    Typically, as others have said, the limiting factor for physicists is the math. I'm not sure how much math you've used in your physics classes so far. Speaking from an undergrad-in-progress' point of view, things like spherical (general multivar.) integration, partial differential equation methods (separation of variables), and basic linear algebra/vector analysis are the biggest hurdles for an undergrad physics major's math requirements. Of course, I'm a bit biased, since I learned most of those skills in physics classes (not a good idea). It's important for a physics major to be able to reason based on mathematics.

    I don't know if physics is harder than engineering. I've heard that EE is the most difficult engineering major (that is, it varies depending on what sort of engineering). You have to consider that most engineers only get bachelor's degrees, so they have to learn a lot more in less time. Also, engineering majors cater their skills to fairly specific application, so there is also much more competition. I often think that people consider physics difficult because few other fields require all the math that physicists use. It's more esoteric than difficult. Sure, I'd like to think that being a successful physics major would warrant the title of 'highly intelligent,' but somehow, I think it's just wishful thinking.
  13. Jul 24, 2005 #12
    For example if u r a nuclear engineer, u have to do a lot of physics, electrical engineering ahs to do a lot of maths, and although both of us ae having physics and maths, but they have to do in math while we have top do it in physics, true that maths expresses physics but they r 2 different branches, and both have a different eye on things...

    I guess it would be what u feel comfortable doing more, i've chosen nuclear engineering cause it seemed to be a lot of physics there...I loved physcis, and so far i guess i was right!
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