1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is majoring in physics reserved only for the brightest of minds?

  1. May 6, 2013 #1
    Question might be a little vague, so here is some background. I'm transferring from a California CC to a large, reputable university after this semester to pursue a bachelor's in astrophysics. For the most part, I've done, to my standards at least, acceptable in all of my coursework, averaging A-/B+ range through all of the lower division calc-physics (mechanics, E&M, waves, vibrations, and modern physics) and math (calculus 1-3, differential equations and linear algebra). I tend to do better in my physics courses as I can visual the application of theory better than the abstractness of math.

    The thing is, however, I just don't feel smart enough at times. It seems that most, if not all, physics majors who end up getting their degrees in the subject were naturally inclined at it. I've always finished out in the upper-middle tier of my physics and math classes, and have never been in jeopardy of failing. I've also never been in the top 3% either. I feel average. It feels like the students who go on to complete their degrees are the students that never had any trouble whatsoever with lower division coursework (or upper division for that matter) and were able to ace any test thrown at them or understand any concept the first time seeing it with little studying.

    While I do feel like I might be able to complete my degree since I've already come this far, there's part of me that has a lingering feeling that I might just be in over my head.

    tl;dr I'm not a genius, I'm a slightly above average student that's completed all the lower division math/physics coursework. Is getting a degree in physics reserved only for the genius' that are naturally good at physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2013 #2
    If you speak to enough practicing physicists and physics graduates, you will find out that most are ordinary people and some have even had embarrassing pasts in academics, not an easy path.

    A good portion of students in physics work hard. There are also bright people who don't need to work as hard to get the same results (and those that work harder than anyone else), but why should you care?

    Simple answer: no.
  4. May 6, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Majoring in physics is for people who are interested in it.

    That's pretty much it.
  5. May 6, 2013 #4
    That was my thought too. Anybody can major in physics. Well, you have to be accepted to the university first...

    But of course you mean graduating with a physics degree. Certainly the lower tail of minds cannot do it. But anybody a bit below average or above can get the degree if they work hard enough. Becoming a professional physicist is an entirely different matter...
  6. May 6, 2013 #5
    You mean I won't be able to finish? Will my heart stop beating before I take my 3 remaining final exams?
  7. May 6, 2013 #6
    Depends how low down on the tail of "mind brightness" you are. :tongue:

    I dont think a real life Forrest Gump could do it, but maybe he could. There are people out there that are lower on the tail than Forrest Gump though. In the movie his IQ was two std. dev. below the mean IIRC.
  8. May 6, 2013 #7
    Being a little insane helps a bit also in my experience.
  9. May 6, 2013 #8
    Barring mental disability, I don't think the ability to solve problems based on coursework on an exam boils down to performance on an IQ test. Physics and math are subjects to be learned, what an IQ test tests for cannot be taught(although there are ways to cram for this to get a better score, which probably negates it as a serious metric of capability of any sort if the system can be cheated).

    I remember having lots trouble learning my multiplication table and learning trigonometry. Work and repeated exposure fixed that.
  10. May 6, 2013 #9
    If you got accepted to a good university, you can probably handle it.

    The most likely source of failure, I imagine, is psyching yourself out before even getting there.
  11. May 6, 2013 #10
    No, it doesn't boil down to that. But a low IQ is sufficient to being classified as mentally disabled. Lets not kid ourselves with high school platitudes, it does take more than hard work.
  12. May 6, 2013 #11
    I strongly disagree. It really doesn't. Just more work, time and in many cases sacrifices than most people are willing to devote to it. Most want an easy life and there's nothing wrong with that, but let's be honest about it.

    I've seen people take 10-12 years to get their degree, but they got it done. I've also seen complete morons some with addiction problems make it through quite far into the degree, but they still can't get an intuitive grasp on Galilean relativity (the person was baffled how an insect flying into a moving bus didn't suddenly become a part of the bus' and immediately move along with it at the same speed, and no the person was not high). There's always a way to "cheat" the system (if one could call it that) and learn things just to pass most exams in a physics degree, irrespective of natural talent. Believing otherwise IMO invokes a magical quality to getting a physics degree, that's not terribly rational.
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
  13. May 6, 2013 #12


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Short answer: no.

    Longer answer: like others have said, if you've made it this far, you have what it takes to finish. As someone who transferred to a large, reputable university from a CC I will say this: it will be harder there. Not *too* hard but there is a good step up.

    Don't get too involved in extra-curriculars, and get plenty of sleep. You'll do fine.
  14. May 7, 2013 #13


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    I'm not insane, my mother had me tested.
  15. May 8, 2013 #14
    All you need is love to be a physics major. Love is all you need.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook