Is it too hard? (physics majors)

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Mathematics is all about understanding and manipulating abstract symbols.Physics is all about understanding physical laws.In summary,This person is a mathematics major who has just completed their first year of college. They like math, but are deeply fascinated by astronomy and astrophysics. They took an AP physics course in high school and got a B in it. They feel like they have to be either a genius or study 10 hours or more a day to be good at physics, but feel that math is easier.
  • #1
I am a Mathematics major and I just ended my first year of college. I really like math, but I am deeply fascinated by astronomy and astrophysics. I took AP physics one in High School and got a B in it. I have heard physics majors are ridiculously hard, I am only pretty good at physics. I may just have a flawed conception about it but I feel like I have to either be a damn genius or study 10hrs+ a day to be any good. Am I crazy?
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  • #2
ShyWheatSeeds said:
Am I crazy?

Yes, the idea you have of physics courses is completely inaccurate.
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  • #3
Hard or otherwise is a matter of preparation, practice, and hard work. You are not crazy, but just inexperienced. "Pretty good at physics" means "Pretty good at Mathematics", too.
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  • #4
I am only "pretty good" at physics too, and not all that intelligent. But with enough hard work and dedication, you'll go far.
  • #5
symbolipoint said:
"Pretty good at physics" means "Pretty good at Mathematics", too.
Really? I doubt this considerably.

In high school, I was pretty good at physics but I was not so good at math exams. I had no problems understanding math textbooks by self-studying but seldom did well in math exams. I usually self-studied math in high school because I couldn't understand what the math teacher taught in his course. I just feel math questions require some strategies to work out. Though I could always understand the math textbooks and could do their exercise questions without problems, I couldn't always work out math questions in exams because they were usually very tricky and far trickier than those exercise questions in textbooks and thus it's often not easy for me to think of those required strategies in the given short test time. But physics is different. I just need to understand physics concepts (this is usually easy for me) then usually I could work out the physics questions because the employment of math technique in physics is straightforward (you don't need extra strategies beyond understanding that math technique).

In undergraduate school, I enjoyed those analytical subjects the most, like theoretical mechanics, thermodynamics, etc. In my department, all math courses were those math applied in physics, so I only needed to understand those techniques then applying them to physics is straightforward. Therefore I felt math in my department is easy. In graduate school, all courses I took are of analytical style and I enjoyed them very much, and my research subject is this way, too. All math courses arranged in my department were those math applied in physics, like group theory and symmetry, advanced math methods for physics, so they are not that hard. However, I suspect math taught in math department should be far harder because they must be quite tricky, as in my impression for math in high school, but I have never taken any course in math department so am not sure.

ShyWheatSeeds said:
I have heard physics majors are ridiculously hard
Based on my experience as described above, I think math is harder than physics because it requires much more strategies. Therefore people who are good at math should have no problem in physics.
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  • #6
I would also disagree that skill in physics =/= skill in math. The math I am doing in physics (and I am only a freshman college student so take my word with a grain of salt) does not feel like the math that I do in calculus. It seems to me to be more a matter of expressing physical phenomenon in a quantifiable way rather than working with intuitive mathematical concepts. It's more like "how can I make this integral pop out the right answer based on laws of physics" than engaging with what an integral is; i cannot associate the quantities in these math problems with something else that let's me see the precise meaning of the numbers. It may be more indepth at higher levels but I don't know at this point.
  • #7
You guys are pretty good at Mathematics AND Physics. One of the important ways of being good at Mathematics is knowing how to use the pieces as tools.
  • #8
The real physics part only becomes obvious when you are alone in the lab, your experiment is doing something odd, and you have to figure out what is going on.
That is completely different from mathematics.

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