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Introduction/What should I do?

  1. Feb 25, 2009 #1
    Hey guys, my name is Michael Zachman, and I'm currently a Junior at Purdue University. I've been thinking a lot about physics and I have some questions, so I found your board here and I'm hoping I can get some other opinions from people in Physics :).

    So first off, I'm sorry that this isn't going to be the shortest message in the world... there's a lot going on in my head. So sorry about that....

    So here's my story.
    When I was young I was home schooled (between 5th grade and junior year of high school), so I got to explore a lot of what I was interested in, and didn't feel pressured that learning or "school" was a bad thing. When I was younger I was also an extremely curious person who asked a lot of questions about the world, and really liked scientific stuff a lot. I used to ask some actually semi-intelligent questions when I was pretty young (one example is when I was something like 10 I asked my mom if you had a sealed cube of infinite strength [aka couldn't expand] filled completely with water if you could ever freeze it? My mom didn't know, and tried hard to find out, but never did. I still don't know that one... lol. Do you?). Anyway, once I started getting older and I went back to school and got filled with the "school and learning is bad" feeling everyone else had, it kinda drowned out my curiosity for the world and learning about it. I kinda just quit caring and got into more of a social life and stuff like that.

    So then came my decision of what I wanted to do when I went to college. I had absolutely no idea. I had forgotten my interest in science (not completely, didn't even think about it as a career, that was more the more business-like stuff), so I didn't even consider that. My dad is a high ranking manager who has worked for some big companies, and he really doesn't like the feeling of being tied down like that, so he talked to me quite a bit about working for yourself, so I decided to start out in Management at Krannert here at purdue. After about a year and a half I switched to Building Construction Management because I kinda liked the idea of working outdoors more, and being slightly more free than an office job (and then starting my own company eventually).

    Then comes the Physics class... First of all, I was always good at math, havent' ever gotten anything less than an A in it.... but never knew how it was really applied... I didn't take any physics in high school, so I didn't even really know what the definition of it was either. Well, BCM requires PHYS 218, the first in a two series of classes for Technology students (forces, momentum, rotational stuff, heat, and stuff like that in that one). I really liked it a lot. I ended up with a 98.xx% in the class, and didn't try very hard at all.... lol. I felt like I had discovered something BRAND new that I didn't even know existed. I literally knew NOTHING about anything we went over when I started... So the next semester I was convinced by someone to take the optional PHYS 219 (electrical/magnetic stuff, and some nuclear and quantum). I did well in that too.... and liked the second half of it (nuclear stuff mostly) even more than the first class.... These were starting to bring back the curiosity and love of science type stuff I hadn't felt since I was young...

    So now, just before my 6th semester I started wondering if maybe I wanted to give up almost everything I had done so far (not much from management and technology transfers to science...) and switch to physics. So the semester started and I looked for people to talk to and information about physics majors/careers. I ended up talking to the physics advisor at the end of the second week of this semester, and she told me that if I was really interested I should take a "real" physics course, PHYS 172, which is the engineer's and physics major's class. So she told me that she could give me special permission to join it even though I'm not an engineer, or in physics. So I canceled another one of my classes and joined that on friday of the second week of classes.... lol

    That was 6 days before the first exam (including the weekend...), and this was a "real" physics class according to the advisor, unlike the apparently dumbed down technology physics classes, so I was very nervous. This meant a possible change in my life's path if i did well. I got 100% with basically no studying. haha. I went over the practice exam once and got everything right and didn't do any more.

    Also, I am helping like 6 or 7 engineers and other people from this class and other physics classes with their homework (and was with a few of them before I started the class too...).
    Now, when I start thinking physics stuff it really obsesses my mind, and even when i don't WANT to think about it, I do. It's actually annoying. lol. I get tired of that, and then just completely stop being interested for a day or two at a time, and then when I feel "relaxed" again I become interested again.

    So here is my question..... What do I do??? I don't even know what physicists do for careers, and what that would be like. Also, I would lose a ton of credits switching over and would basically be a sophomore starting my "senior" year..... Which I don't like. Also, I would have to test out of some calculus, because the calc 1 and 2 classes I took were applied for business (learned all the math and then applied it to econ and stuff like that). Only problem with that is that I can't remember any of it really.... it's been a year and a half since then....

    What do you think about all of this? I've considered switching entirely to physics, double majoring in BCM-Physics, getting a minor in Physics and staying in BCM, and not doing anything at all and just staying in BCM.

    Again, I'm sorry this is so long..... Kinda hard to get the story across without something huge... :\. I really appreciate any thoughtful help with this though.

    Thanks guys :). I'm looking forward to possibly talking on here more in the future depending on what I do.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2009 #2
    i didn't read past this but no i don't think you can freeze the water in a sealed container if the container can't expand.
  4. Feb 25, 2009 #3


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    The question you have to ask yourself is the following:

    Will I be happy to keep learning physics on the side and working in BCM. If not, then you should seriously consider switching, since this is the rest of your life we are talking about.

    As for careers in physics, plan to spend ALOT more time in school. In order to get a career actually doing physics you are probably going to want to get a Ph.D. People with bachelors in physics are able to teach high schoolm, work outside of physics or technology, and maybe get an engineering position if they market themselves correctly. Unfortunately, a Physics-based career is going to require more than an Undergrad degree.

    If you do want to work in industry or academia doing physics research, plan to spend ~5-7 years in school beyond what it takes for undergrad. If you do get into grad school, you probably would not have to pay for it, since almost all American applicants (I assuming you are from the states.) get assisstantships if they are admitted to graduate programs. Still, it is a long time and you should be aware of that should you decide to shoot for becoming a physicist.

    As for what a physicist does, well, they do physics! A physicist is a scientist. Theoretical physicists model areas of nature. Experimentalists test those models with experiments. The fields a physicist researches can vary from modelling black holes to studying the possible aplications of high-temperature superconductors. Read some threads here and ask someone in the physics department at Purdue for more information on different fields in physics, research areas, and job opportunities.

    Whatever you decide, good luck to you!
  5. Feb 25, 2009 #4
    Thanks :). I did realize there would be a Ph.D required, and it would be some number of years after I graduated before I got through that. I kinda figured a little shorter than that, but same difference. If it's what I decide it's what I really want to, it's what I want to do. Even if that means extra school.

    One thing I'm worried about is not being "smart" enough. Everybody that knows me thinks I'm crazy, but I don't think so. I have basically a 4.0 (3.98 because of some stupid stuff that happened which caused an A-... anyway, long story like I said), and I would assume that would go down some in Physics, but I don't know how much. I don't really try that hard either.... I just do the homework and go to class (both unlike a lot of people). I usually go over my notes once or twice the night before a test and call if good unless there is something I really don't get.

    This has left me with two feelings. First one is I feel like I'm not using my brain to it's full potential. If I can basically coast through and not try much and keep a 4.0 through 3 years, then I feel like I could do something more, and I don't like that. (I feel like when I look around at my fellow BCM students that I could know something they couldn't... but I don't. lol). The other feeling is fear or apprehension. I *think* I could apply myself and do something harder, but I don't know. I have horrible study habits because things come fairly easily now (physics not excluded), so if I did something harder I worry I wouldn't be able to not because of my mental ability, but because I don't know how to study better.

    Also, like I said, I have, in the past anyway, been good at math too. That is, up to two semesters of Calculus. Past that I haven't done. I like the stuff (when I can avoid thinking about it ALL the time... then I get tired of it), but I worry a lot that things would get too much for me at higher levels for some reason (might be because i've read some of the later stuff and it does confuse me, but then again I have no knowledge base that would let me understand it.... so I don't know.).

    What I'm considering doing is double majoring in BCM and Physics. One nice thing would be that I wouldn't have 100% math and science classes (all my electives are filled already). That would help make it easier. Then I would also have the job security and good career in construction if I decided I wanted to go that way (and a physics degree certainly can't hurt anything). Also, if I do that and later during my degree decide that I really want to focus on physics I can drop BCM completely and go with Physics. I could also do both, and then decide if I want to go to grad school for Physics or get a job in construction management after school.

    Thanks for all the help, and for that answer to my question. That's kinda what I figured, but ever since 10 or whatever I haven't found a solid answer.

    PS, Oh! One more question. You guys would probably know this pretty well. People that do well in the introductory classes... do they usually go on to understand the later material alright? I'm easily somewhere in the top of my physics class now with the engineers and physics majors, and was in my last two also, but I'm worried that even though I get this easier "first year" kind of stuff that I might not understand the later material... Anyway, thanks again.
  6. Feb 26, 2009 #5


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    Unfortunately, that can be hard to predict. Introductory physics classes, even if they're intended for prospective physics and engineering majors, are usually rather different in style than upper-level classes. In the intro classes, homework problems tend to be numerically-oriented: "calculate the acceleration of an object if it starts out at rest and ends up with a final speed of 10 m/s after traveling 5 m." In upper-level classes they tend to be purely algebraic or symbolic: "find [an equation for] the magnetic vector potential around a straight wire segment that lies along the z-axis between z_1 and z_2." (I gave this one to my junior/senior E&M students this week.)

    So I'd encourage you to work out a solution so that you don't burn your bridges behind you (so to speak) until you've gotten to one or two of the upper-level courses.
  7. Feb 26, 2009 #6


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    This is very true. If you're in an intro physics class that's specifically for physics majors, they sometimes gear the problems more symbolically, but the flavor of the class is in many ways the same. The biggest difference is the language they use (i.e a class for physics majors shouldn't shy away from vectors and calculus, whereas a more general course will describe the same phenomenon without these two mathematical methods).

    While it's hard to predict how you will do in upper-level physics courses, if you are doing so extremely well in intro, it is likely that your mind is accustomed to the type of problem solving required in physics, which is the most important thing (imo). If you can think symbolically without specific examples and derive meanings from the abstract concepts, you're in very good standing.

    But as jtbell says, do try to leave pathways open so if you do get to upper level physics class and something happens not to work out, you are not completely screwed.
  8. Feb 26, 2009 #7
    Alright, thanks guys. That's what I was wondering.

    I know exactly what you mean by "a class for physics majors shouldn't shy away from vectors and calculus, whereas a more general course will describe the same phenomenon without these two mathematical methods" too. My first two classes were for technology students, and they were definitely in the first category, but this one I am in now is definitely the second.

    I don't know if the class I'm in now you would consider and intro class or not. It's the first real Physics class for the Egnineers and Physics Majors. It's call PHYS 172: Modern Mechanics. We've done a lot of momentum, energy, and heat stuff. I don't know what else we'll do later.

    And I can actually think that way some already jtbell (like the last question you asked). I tend to think that way (not just look for a formula and plug in numbers like most of these guys). Before I was in the class and learning the formulas I was helping some guys on my floor with their homework and figuring out the answers by coming up with the formulas myself before they found them. I just think more that way I guess. So I guess that's encouraging :).

    So, with the "don't burn the bridges behind you" thing, do you guys think it could be a good idea? I was actually thinking about it for the reasons I said before, and then also what you were saying there.

    Edit: Ok, I just looked at the course description and it does say intro. Here is the course page if you're interested: http://www.physics.purdue.edu/academic_programs/courses/phys172/
  9. Feb 26, 2009 #8


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    I don't think it's a good idea switching over unless you're completely certain that you can handle it and will enjoy it. I suggest a minor, or maybe sample an upper-level physics class first to see if you like it.
  10. Feb 26, 2009 #9


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    I just wanted to note that this is quite a nice course you have there but unfortunately its not quite the upper level classes you spoke of. But the way you speak sound as if you will have no problem doing well in your upper level classes. Grasping concepts in physics/engineering is the main focus, as the previous posters have implied. So if you believe you can openly invite yourself to these (sometimes complex) concepts then go for it!
  11. Feb 27, 2009 #10
    Oh no, it definitely isn't upper level, I know that. It's just not a "dumbed down" version like the classes I took for the School of Technology.

    I think I might investigate a dual degree in BCM and Physics. I have an appointment this coming wednesday with my advisor to figure out next semester's schedule, and I think I'll talk to her about it then. I already talked to the Physics advisor about it. She was very impressed that I did as well as I did after starting 6 days before the exam (she said "You're kidding.... well it looks like you've found your niche" lol), and that all I needed to show her was that I got a good grade in that class and she would approve it.

    So I think that's what I'm going to do. Then once I get deeper into the physics side of it I can make a better choice, and I won't have "burned any bridges" behind me really.

    So thanks for all the help guys. Hopefully by this summer there will be one more Physics major at Purdue :D
  12. Feb 28, 2009 #11
    Talking to the physics advisor is not a bad idea, but I would definitely recommend stopping by room 236 to talk to the students, if you haven't already.
  13. Mar 1, 2009 #12
    Is that the SPS room? I'm guessing it is because I have a recitation across the hall from that and it's 2xx.... (can't remember for sure)

    Are you a purdue student then?
  14. Apr 6, 2009 #13
    Soo..... As far as you were talking the type of problems you have to do in the more advanced classes get more symbolic and algebraic like you said, is this kinda what you meant? This problem is on our homework for this Thursday. It's just about my favorite one we've had to do so far this year.... :)

    A comet

    (a) A certain comet of mass m at its closest approach to the Sun is observed to be at a distance r1 from the center of the Sun, moving with speed v1. At a later time the comet is observed to be at a distance r2 from the center of the Sun, and the angle between rvec2 and the velocity vector is measured to be θ. What is v2? Do not worry about italics. For example, if a variable g is used in the question, type g. Use theta for θ, r_1 for r1, r_2 for r2, v_1 for v1 and m as needed.


    I wish it was a little more complicated (or maybe had another deeper step afterward) because I still got it first try, but I really like the idea of a problem like that :)
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