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Just plain not being able to hack it?

  1. Feb 26, 2008 #1
    What are the chances someone is able to do well in their early undergraduate years, but hit a rock wall the second half of their junior year? I mean I've done really well up until this semester. I've maintained highest honors, done substantial research and been published in a journal as a co-author, and even been a teaching assistant. I then started to get my hopes up of going to graduate school etc, but those hopes are fading now.

    My troubles started a little bit last semester with upper level mechanics, and I only managed to do well on one exam. I ended up with a B in the class because of an enormous curve due to everyone doing poorly. Now, the same thing is happening to me with E&M and QM. I'm beginning to think that I just plain can't hack it in such a difficult major. I don't mind the studying, but I study atleast twice (maybe three) as much as some classmates whom are slackers and still get the same grades as them. I do the homework alone and in a reasonable amount of time, but completely freak out on exams and draw idiotic blanks. It's extremely annoying and as if hard work no longer equals rewarding grades.

    I understand that most things in life worth doing are not going to be easy, but when do you know enough is enough and just plain calling it quits? If my freaking brain full? What the hell is going on? What are indications that you are good enough to keep progressing while still maintaining some form of sanity?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2008 #2
    Its called burned out. It happens around Junior year when your just so *** damn tired of grinding it out day and night with no social life to keep your grades high as your classes get harder and projects more intense. But afterwards, you get to be in grad school, have much less work, get paid, and have free time! So just stick it through and life will get better, I even have time for the gym now!
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 27, 2008
  4. Feb 26, 2008 #3
    To hell with a social life, I just want enough sleep that I'm ever awake enough after classes to have some shot at doing homework in time to get any sleep. Recursive lack of sleep sucks!
  5. Feb 26, 2008 #4
    That too! :rofl: God I love sleep these days.
  6. Feb 26, 2008 #5
    That's the one thing I'm looking forward to about grad school (other than the obvious getting to spend your time learning to do research instead of studying for one exam after another...well, after quals anyway...). From what I hear, you still have very little life outside school (i.e. 60 hour weeks what with time in the lab, grading papers, courses, etc.)...but you can actually *go to sleep* at night and come back to the stuff later. Finally I'll be able to stop regretting that I didn't major in history or some fluffy liberal arts thing like that! :uhh:
  7. Feb 26, 2008 #6


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    Well, I don't know about that: at least, it's not like that for me!
  8. Feb 26, 2008 #7
    Me neither. I dont TA or grade. I go out every weekend and relax with my friends. Unless your getting a PhD, there are no Qualifying exams either.
  9. Feb 26, 2008 #8
    The third and fourth year get tough for everybody. I will admit though, it is a lot easier to get a B in a philosophy class missing a lecture a week that it is in math or physics.

    I do have a little advice to offer up on exams. Normally, I try to figure out places where I may go wrong on exams long in advance of the actual exam. I write reminders and notes to myself to review problems and concepts I think will show up, and a page of reminders about what not to do and review it before I head into an exam. It helps me to focus on weak areas and eliminate them when it counts. It might help.
  10. Feb 26, 2008 #9

    I think quals vary a bit depending on the university / department. But none of the places I've seen without them (yet) are programs I'm seriously considering. I suppose that's one point in deciding to say fark it all and get an engineering masters instead, but I like the research track a lot more than ending up in a cubicle somewhere making shareholders happy.

    Pff, I can get a B in most physics classes without showing up, while philosophy classes usually grade to some degree on "participation" meaning "actually showing up to class". At which point it's hard not to get an A. I just rarely get material in physics/math classes explained well enough (assuming I do show up regularly, and excluding the first year stuff that is easy as pie) to really *understand* the material enough to leave the class feeling like I learned much. Lecture classes often rely on the idea of you doing most of your actual learning from office hours, study groups, department/university help programs...meaning commuter students get boned. It's especially amusing since I've heard our dean of undergrad affairs expressing his concern about the issue, so the college knows it exists, but neither of us have any great ideas on solving the problem it would seem.

    It's all good, I guess...my physics GPA isn't as high as it was before I transferred (4.0 vs ~3.4-3.5) but I keep passing my classes, so maybe I just have higher standards of mastery (or am inferring higher standards) than the school really expects of undergrads? Meh...

    Seriously though, Beeza. Physics is hard stuff, even for the physicists. It looks damn easy when the professors do it because they've been at this stuff for 30+ years and know more tricks for solving various problems than any undergrad could possibly be expected to remember. Most sane physics undergrads go through periods of questioning their abilities, the ones that make it through are mostly too stubborn to give up more than just being smarter than you or some nonsense like that.
  11. Feb 26, 2008 #10
    I too am in your position. I blame most of it on my freshmen year habits. I came in to college having had a wonderful physics class in high school, thus I breezed through freshmen year taking intro level physics 1 and 2, as well as Calculus 3 and Linear Algebra.

    Beginning of this year I still breezed through modern physics number theory and Diff EQ, yet I hit a brick wall taking Real Analysis. (mistake to take those three maths at the same time)

    Now this semester I thought it would get better, I have been breezing through Math Methods of Physics but am struggling with E and M which I am taking this semester due to scheduling conflicts that would have arisen next year. I just never developed the right kind of study habits for exams like AsianSensationK has mentioned.

    I think it just takes some determination. I go through periods of ups and downs but I figure i've come way to far to give up now and switch to a math major
  12. Feb 27, 2008 #11


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    I'm from the UK; we don't have such things as qualifying exams!
  13. Feb 27, 2008 #12
    Yeah, I also hear y'all take a year or three less to get your PhDs too. And don't get stuck taking as much touchy feely stuff as an undergrad that has absolutely not crap to do with anything.
  14. Feb 27, 2008 #13
    I had to take (and pass) "Qual Exams Lite" in a Master's program, so the only-Ph.D. rule is not universally true.

    Still, they were probably 1/4 as hard (if that) as what I would expect in a Ph.D. program.
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