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Other I'm feeling very discouraged

  1. Sep 23, 2016 #1
    I'm a second year university student, however I switched to a physics major this year. Currently I'm in calculus 3 and the intro mechanics course. I'm doing really well in calc 3 and I'm finding I'd rather do that homework most days because it makes more sense to me.
    I'm struggling with mechanics because I have no idea how to go about solving problems. I understand the equations and I am very good at math in general, but for some reason I look at a problem in physics and just feel panicked because I have no idea what I need to use or even what the problem is asking me.
    I've been interested in physics for a very long time and I'm excited to learn it but I feel like an idiot when I try to do my homework and have to get help for nearly every problem. I'm worried that maybe I chose the wrong major if I can't even understand what's going on in classical mechanics. Our first exam is next week and I just had a horrible anxiety attack because I feel that I have not learned a single thing yet.
    For mechanics, I read the chapters ahead of time, take notes during the lectures, work the problem sets, and then copy the notes again but I still have no idea what I'm doing. I just bought a copy of Schaum's Outlines and tried emailing a tutor. I'm going to go to my professors office hours on Monday but honestly I'm not even sure where to start with what I should ask him about.
    Does it get any easier to understand what problems are asking or did I just pick the wrong major? I'm stressed out because I'm already going to graduate a semester late, and I don't know what I'd do if I needed to switch majors but I really want to stick to physics. Is it okay if I struggle with mechanics as a physics major or does that mean I'm screwed for the rest of my career? I'm honestly just looking for advice and maybe some encouragement that I didn't mess up my life by becoming a physics major.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2016 #2
    I think it does get easier. It may help to just try to understand what the problem is asking for conceptually and then think about the math needed to solve it afterward. Although I struggled through my physics classes too. It may help to find a solutions book and go through their method. Anyway hope that helps.
  4. Sep 23, 2016 #3


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    I had similar experiences. Mathematics gave me the kind of certainty and structure that my physics classes always seemed to lack. As a result I found it difficult to solve physics problems. With mechanics in particular the situation improved when I took a course on its variational (= Lagrangian and Hamiltonian) formulation. It came with the kind of formalism that the introductory course lacked and it gave me the tools to approach problems systematically. I found it beautiful.

    My advice would be to not give up yet, but keep an open eye for the possibility that you may have more affinity with (applied) mathematics than with physics. There is some overlap between the two fields (also in the university curricula), but the approach and "culture" are quite different. See what suits you best and, by all means, do not worry about taking one (or even a few) semesters longer. University is for learning and finding your way, not for racing.
  5. Sep 23, 2016 #4


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    You may be good at math in your current courses, where each problem has a bit of certainty in how you're going to approach it, but that doesn't mean you're good at applying the mathematics. It's a different skill you need to develop to solve physics problems by correctly modeling them with math.

    How do you currently approach physics problems? What's your first step?
  6. Sep 24, 2016 #5


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    I wouldn't be too hard on yourself. I, too, was mystified by classical mechanics and struggled with problem solving in the course. I managed to limp through the course but, remarkably, never quite had the same distressing experience again. At the same time I took modern physics and loved it. Lots of subsequent courses were difficult, but they held my interest enough that I didn't so much mind the effort.
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