Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How do you know that you shouldn't bother?

  1. Oct 31, 2007 #1
    I wrote in a thread that I'm not sure of my capability when it comes to math. However, I can't stop thinking about math at times because it's so interesting. I will surely not be able to complete even the first semester of an education specialised in mainly maths - simply because I'm not that good at it.

    I wonder now what path I should choose since I am mediocre or worse at mathematics. Should I bother at all with an education with slightly heavier math? I'm interested in most scientific subjects such as biology, physics, chemistry. Maybe I should skip it and take the train of humanities? I would die of boredom though.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 31, 2007 #2
    Maybe this thread should be moved to the career forum?
  4. Oct 31, 2007 #3
    Your humility is the most valuable tool you have in learning.

    Also, don't be too quick to judge yourself poor at math. For all I know you've never really had a good math teacher but don't realize that fact. There are a LOT of horrendous math teachers out there. I have a theory that math skills and communication skills are often mutually exclusive (but not always). If however you feel you had at least one good math teacher and you still did poorly in that class, then its probably safer to say you are mediocre at math.

    In that case it seems a science field with less math is recommended.

    There is a popular misconception that computer programming and math require similar skills. In practice, its more the opposite that is true. Don't get me wrong. There are real similarities. For example, the difference between learning existing math and creating new math is intimately similar to the idea of learning an existing computer language and writing innovative code in that language.

    But like I said, in practice they really are different. I think part of that difference is that in a typical math career, you must learn a LOT of existing math and your work will involve using that existing math, and you'll be creating little if any new math. Only the real hot-shots know most existing math well enough to see what new math can be created. But in programming, learning a programming language and operating system API (the part of programming that already exists) is pretty quick and easy, and your job will be almost exclusively creating new programming (designing classes & functions, etc.)

    So you can pretty much be terrible at math yet still love programming and do very well at it. Most good programmers I know really don't know much math at all, and many hate math. And many mathematicians I know never really got heavy into programming.

    The other good thing about programming is it blows away all other occupations when it comes to job availability and salary. I often tell people that if they can handle programming (even if they're not in love with it) they should pursue it so that they can make enough money to pursue their real love, whatever it might be.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2007
  5. Oct 31, 2007 #4
    Is that so? I never really thought the teachers mattered. I might have a better chance then if I find a good one, since I haven't had a teacher at all since pre-algebra. I only study at home and do some tests every now and then.
  6. Oct 31, 2007 #5

    Math Is Hard

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Done. :smile:
  7. Oct 31, 2007 #6
    OH come on. WORK HARDER. That's the simple but most difficult answer there is. If you are bad a math, find out why you are bad and work your up way up from there.

    I was a terrible math student. I started out Calc II (For some odd reason, my placement test allowed me to skip calc I.) Anyway, I had no idea how to do the algebra or the calculus, but I worked my ass off and got to the point where I got and A in the class. Although my first 2 test grades were F's, but that didn't matter. I wanted to do math, and I did it. So you can do it too.
  8. Oct 31, 2007 #7
    That was an answer I hope would come. Dedication means a lot, doesn't it.
  9. Nov 1, 2007 #8
    Yep. My experience:

    Back in 12th grade my 1st test in Algebra and Geometry was a disaster. I terribly failed it with like 22%, while everyone got around 80%. The test was on vectors, the arithmetic of which I just couldn't understand. I had no sound excuse for it, and my mediocrity in math was accepted. I definitely cannot blame the teacher who in fact I thought to be one of the brightest, interesting, and fun teachers I had ever encountered. Of this, I can't be more honest.

    So I told myself, how is this possible, because I like math? Am I dumb? Maybe I am not made for it? Well, I persevered a little longer for the next one, which I passed, then better marks for the next one, then ..., my final test (not the exam) was 100%. How was this possible? Maybe the last test was too easy? No chance! Well, my studying habits adapted quite well to the challenge. I was more flexible, and very determined to make myself better. It is very important to realize here that failure can build up character.

    Since then, I haven't looked back. I know myself well enough to admit I have an average intelligence, in addition to being introverted at times. However, this doesn't keep me, for the moment, of running around after that which interests me: math, phys, computers, etc. My studying habits have definitely become more (if not very) efficient. When I sit to study, I put a timely constant effort to make sure I keep my concentration level as high and constant as I can. It takes energy, will, and high love for what you do. This is my trick. Lately, I noticed, the time I spend studying is significantly less than what it used to, even though my university years are advancing. Perhaps that is one of the main factors: discipline. Don't get me wrong however, it is rare now if I study one day for 6 hours, but it took me a volume lot to bring me to this point.

    If you really like something, no matter how frustrating sometimes it may be, i.e you know your love is sincere, then it is really hard to put a leash on you. BTW, now I'm doing pure math and phys double honours, with a comp sc. minor in my 2nd year, and my GP for the moment is 4.0. Just put a lot of character into it, and the next time someone tells you to stop doing something you love because you apparently suck at it, then tell them to f*** off!
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2007
  10. Nov 1, 2007 #9
    From my experience I would say no as well. I had a terrible semester earlier from January to April. I was only taking two math classes and I came close to failing them both. To make matters worse, I have never worked so hard in my life. By halfway through the semester I thought "well dammit I was pretty good at economic maybe I should be doing that." I went to chat with my prof and he told me that it didn't really matter what I was going to in the future because my only goal until the end of the semester was to work my butt off to pass these classes. So I ended with 2 low marks but for some reason signed back up for Numerical Analysis, Modern Algebra and a couple other math classes. This semester I've been getting my highest marks ever and I really feel that after I struggled for a while I overcame and reach a new plateau where things aren't so hard and are much more enjoyable again.
  11. Nov 1, 2007 #10
    practice makes perfect, or at least improvement
  12. Nov 2, 2007 #11
    Find a book that is interesting, don't look at the material as something you have to learn or just won't like before giving it a try. Work at it in small chunks - attack a section at a time. I like to play around with the material I just read to get a better grasp of it. Try some simple examples - get some concepts down.

    No one is a whizz at math in one go - we've all shed some sweat and tears over problems but the solution is where the reward is at!

    Hard work and persistence pays off (damn i sound like my dad)
  13. Nov 2, 2007 #12


    User Avatar

    > How do you know that you shouldn't bother?

    I'd say you need to find your own inspiration and motivation. With the right inspiration the work isn't near as "hard", it's interesting and supposedly gives you the feedback you need to keep bothering.

    To me physics and math has gone hand in hand. Try to analyse the questions you like to answer, and in physics this sometimes lead to mathematical constructs, and that's a good way to find motivation to study the math.

    I remember when I first learn to appreciate the concept integration and it was because I was thinking about the gibbs free energy in chemistry (outside of class as I was chemistry kid when I was younger and spent my freetime doing all kinds of weird things) and I wanted to know how much energy that was actually available in a real reaction where the substrate concentrations were changing during the course of the reaction. This lead me to a differential, and the solution was to integrate. Pretty simple, but it was my first use of integration, and this was before integrals was discussed in the math class. I was lead to a mathematical problem by just analysing a chemistry problem.

    Schoolbook examples are terribly boring, find your own real "private project" and use it to grow inspiration parallell to your studies and you will know why to bother.

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook