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How do you react when you're stuck on something?

  1. May 17, 2007 #1
    I think it's safe enough to say everyone sometimes gets stuck on a new concept or a problem. When this happens, how do you react? Do you just move on, or insist? Do you get frustrated or remain calm all throughout? I for one get very uncomfortable (almost to the point of being tormented), get a little insomniac and, most importantly, very grumpy.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2007 #2
    I usually get pretty annoyed with it and spend alot of time trying to find what I'm doing wrong. If I am crunched for time, or just feel I am missing something real simple I come here for help. :)
  4. May 17, 2007 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    There are two scenarios for the stuck thing -- school and work. I'll leave the school thing alone for now, but I'd like to mention a couple work-related tricks. Very good question, BTW.

    ** When you deal with customers with the same very technical problems and questions over and over, it's best to create and maintain a good KDB and/or a good Troubleshooting Guide. This Troubleshooting Guide document that I wrote a number of years ago has saved dozens of us at my company many, many hours of customer support:


    ** Beyond the basic concepts in the Trouleshooting Guide, and more generally applicable to other types of circuits, when you are getting behaviour that is wrong and different from what you expect, I've found it useful to probe every single node in the circuit, and see if anything stands out. Yes, it's a bit tedious, but honestly if the solution does not pop out at you right away, a systematic and complete survey will very often offer up clues to the problem and final solution.

    I realize that I'm being a bit general here so far. Let me know if you want more concrete examples of what I"m saying.
  5. May 17, 2007 #4
    I know I can get obsessed with problems that I can't solve. If it goes to far, I use the radical technique of asking other people for help... :smile:

    Of course, I'm not working on open problems... I know there is a solution, and if I'm not getting it, it is purely because I'm not looking at the problem the right way. Always good to have someone show you the proper way to look...
  6. May 17, 2007 #5
    I usually spend a few hours on it and try to figure it out on my own. If not, I ask a friend or my professor for help.
  7. May 17, 2007 #6
    1) Use the internet! Get as many different explanations as you can. Keep Googling until you find an explanation that you can follow.

    2) Back up. You might not understand it because it depends on other concepts which you're rusty on. Make sure you reasonably understand the foundations of the concept.

    3) Use pen and paper. I don't think with my brain, I think with a ballpoint pen on a pad of A4.

    4) Be skeptical. You might not understand it because it's wrong. Even if it's not wrong, you can have fun trying to find mistakes.

    5) James Watson said: Don't ever be the smartest person in the room. If you're the smartest person, then you're in the wrong place, because you're not going to learn anything from anyone else.

    6) Give it time. Sleep. Do something else. Come back to it later. It's hard to understand things in one marathon session- it's much better to let it brew in your noggin for a few weeks- to a few years.

    7) Talk to someone/anyone else. It's amazing how once you articulate a problem to another person how the act of communication exposes your own fallacies and provides new solutions.

    8) Find a work-around. Maybe the approach isn't for you. There are several ways to solve any problem- use a different approach which you can understand.

    9) It's much easier to understand something if you have to do it as part of a bigger goal. I never read physics for the sake of it. I only go back to a text when I need to understand something in my work.

    10) Give up! I never really learnt how to do long division. That hasn't stopped me from getting a PhD in physics. If I want to do divide numbers then I use a calculator.
  8. May 17, 2007 #7
    best quote ever.
  9. May 18, 2007 #8
    I sit down and type up, in as much detail as possible, the problem, what I've tried, and reasons why other attempts might or might not work. I usually type them up with the intention of submitting them to these boards or to email my professor or TA. 9/10 of the time, I figure out what I've been doing wrong or come up with something else I can try before I ever send the message.
  10. May 18, 2007 #9


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    Homework Helper

    The one and only solution - get your mind off of the problem and do something else. The solution will then arise spontaneously, by itself.
  11. May 18, 2007 #10


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    :uhh: Really? Calculators are good to save time, but one should not rely on them to do calculations that cannot be done on paper, or in ones head!
  12. May 18, 2007 #11
    I just thought it was a funny quote since this seems to be the case for many physicists...that is why I thought it was the "best quote ever". I
  13. May 18, 2007 #12


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    Hmmm... seems like a sweeping generalisation here-- there are many physicists who are fine mathematicians.
  14. May 18, 2007 #13
    In my defense: I'm taking a pragmatic view. It's a waste of my time for me to be doing long division when I've got access to the technology that can do it so much faster and more accurately.

    This may be considered sacrilege, but I also find it a waste of time to learn difficult integrals, now that Mathematica and other symbolic manipulation programs can do them quicker and more accurately than any human.

    That doesn't preclude me from being a competent mathematician when I need to be. It just means I'm spending my time in more useful areas or research.

    Modern technology can free us to be more creative and less uptight about these things. I'm happy to let Google take the slack instead of memorizing hundreds of completely forgettable factoids. I'm happy to let Mathematica work out that some integral can be expressed in terms of a Gamma function.

    I think we need to start reevaluating education in the light of technology. Another example- do we really need to spend so long on teaching spelling now that every app has a built in spell-checker? It used to be that everyone used slide rules and log-tables. I don't have a clue how to use either and I'm not ashamed of it. I think we're going to find out that a lot of things we think students should know are going to become totally irrelevant in the future.
  15. May 19, 2007 #14
    "MANY" is the keyword. And you can be a 'fine mathematician' yet be rusty in long division, especially synthetic division. :tongue:
  16. May 19, 2007 #15


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    Battling your own ignorance is always frustrating.
  17. May 19, 2007 #16


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    But being rusty is different to not bothering to learn something because one's calculator can do it instead! Mathematicians should be able to divide polynomials!
  18. May 19, 2007 #17

    Well, I was mainly joking. Sorry if I offended you. :rolleyes:
  19. Jun 4, 2007 #18
    my quick fix to overcoming frustration over something your stuck on (granted you've already attempted pulling out your hair after a good hr or so -) is ...

    ... to take a break - put your mind at ease and do something else - filing, clearing up your desk, etc ... then come back to it with a fresh mind and vicious plan of attack on why that problem is giving you trouble.

    have a method - where you check all the nitty griitty - have you read the chapter? Check out wikipedia - see if they slipped in a nice tid bit in their condensed material. Google, ask a friend, and finnally - put more time into pondering. Sometimes it could be the most trivial thing that gave you problems or there may be something fundamental that you're overlooking.

    Hope that helps

    Good luck.
  20. Jun 4, 2007 #19
    there is absolutely no way you have a Ph.D. in physics.

    a thorough knowledge of "forgettable" facts is the substrate from which ideas grow. you need to be able to access these things instantly because it could mean the difference between revelation and completely missing something.

    now when real neural networking exists and you have access to the information on the internet or in a database at the same speed as you do your own memories then maybe you can relax. though i think it still won't be as efficient.

    In responce to OP

    I deal with getting stuck simply, i obsess.
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