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Inherent Math Ability

  1. Jun 11, 2005 #1
    Hello all. Over this past year, I did an independent study of elementary physics(I acquired a physics book from the teacher to look at on my own since I was unable to take the class due to lack of class space). After exhausting that book, I was immediately hooked. I know that if I major in it in college(I'll be a High school senior this coming up year), I'll be encountering extremely difficult courses. My only deterrent in majoring in physics is I've heard it said that a physicist needs more math than a math major. After looking around these forums, seeing the suggested Maths, and then looking at what those courses contained via class syllabi, I became somewhat worried. I am not one of those people that have an inherent knack for math. I had a 98 average in Pre-Cal for the year, but I know that's not saying much since it's just a high school course, and it was probably my most difficult one. I guess my question is, is it possible to be a successful(~4.0GPA) physics major if one is not inherently good at math. I have enough determination to stick it out with anything, especially if it concerns my interest(as shown by my 98 in pre-cal). But will my dedication and motivation be enough to help me be successful, or is natural prowess in math an inegral ingredient? I apologize if this sounds like an ignorant question, and I will probably be better off just jumping in and sticking it out, but I would just like to get a general idea.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2005 #2
    As a freshman undergrad physics major, I was in a similar position a couple years ago. I can assure you that the math is really no problem. Calc I-IV you will find are deceptively easy courses, and judging by your success in Precalc, which was the same as mine, I think you'll agree when you get there. Also keep in mind that the amount of math you need is dependent on whether you choose to become an experimental physicist or a theoretical physicist. If the former, then you'll only need up to Applied Complex Analysis. For the latter however, a string theorist, Martin Rocek, advised me that the more math, the better. So, in that case, I would recommend going past the analysis classes and taking Differential Geometry, advanced Linear Algebra, Topology, and Nonlinear differential equations. You don't necessarily need more math than a math major, but some physics majors do a double major in math and physics and they are not necessarily gifted at the latter. If you work hard enough, you can certainly be a 4.0 GPA physics major. Remember that no math is difficult to learn as long as you have the right approach to learning it.

  4. Jun 11, 2005 #3


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    It is not accurate to say that a Physics major requires more math then a math major. They require different math. For an undergrad degree there is no differentiation between theoretical and experimental. That separation occurs at some point in grad shcool.

    Any science degree is more perspiration then inspiration, if you are moderately intelligent and willing to work you will do fine.

    At your stage the more math you can take the better. For a high schooler your time would be better spent in Math classes then the high school physics.
  5. Jun 11, 2005 #4


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    doing what you love is a good idea. in most cases, YES, MOTIVATION IS SUFFICIENT TO OVERCOME LACK OF OUTSTANDING ABILITY.

    i.e. outstanding ability is probably necessary to become a renowned researcher in a given area, but to get a college major and even more, motivation is plenty.

    in fact most people in life, even well known personalities in a field, do not have outstanding ability.

    do what you love. if it is not meant to be, it will become clear at some point. do not worry in advance.
  6. Jun 14, 2005 #5
    Thanks a lot guys for the reassurance. I talked to my dad as well. He was a math major in college and tought me last year in Algebra II. He also said I should be able to get all A's(he did and claims I have a better chance than he does). I really appreciate the advise and I'm about 99% sure I'll be majoring in physics(the 1% chance lies in the fact that I like any problem solving subject, and I might change to something more specific).
  7. Jun 14, 2005 #6
    another important thing is to make a niche or group fo people with the same degree or interests..this way you can feed off each other...makes for getting that 4.0 easier. I never had a chance to because i wasn't fully in p hysics nor in psychology so i didn't spend much time with teh people and the people in cs were just stupid.
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