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Making the Best of a Horrible Situation

  1. Mar 29, 2013 #1
    So I'm taking 5 classes this semester. Three of the classes are math and two are for humanities requirements.

    I'm taking number theory (an elementary course), a second semester of analysis, and an "intro" topology class. I put intro in quotes because, by the admission of our substitute teacher today, we've gone quite a bit farther than most undergraduate elementary topology courses go - for instance our quiz today had stuff on pullbacks, and we've done a little on fiber bundles I believe. I'm not entirely sure because I've missed class lately.

    And that gets to my problem. I'm not doing well. In any of my math classes. I'm doing the best in my number theory class, simply because it's the easiest, but even there I've missed classes due to sleeping late after working for hours on homework for my topology and analysis classes.

    Today is the withdraw deadline at my school, and I withdrew from analysis earlier today as I decided I didn't have a good chance of making a B - and no guarantee of making a C.

    Now I'm deciding whether or not to withdraw from topology as well, or tough it out and hope that I manage a C. The grading is a little ambiguous - as the class has a mix of undergrads and grads, and he grades the two groups separately - but in some grade estimates that I've made, I don't get a C even if I get 100% on the final. Because of that, I'm thinking I should just cut my losses and withdraw from topology as well. I'm a junior, so I would have a chance to take them again next year, but because I'm a transfer student, it might require me to take summer courses after graduation.

    Given all of this, you might doubt whether I could or should go to grad school. I'm not sure either at this point - I would love to, but I'm not sure that I'm cut out for it. I should also add that the only reason I haven't thrown my hands up in the air completely and left math for some easier career - like music (which I'm very good at) or teaching or plumbing (which I'm no good at) - is that I've wasted a lot of time on Reddit and things like that, so I still think that I could truly succeed if I really put my nose to the grindstone.

    So what do you guys think? Is it better to withdraw from topology as well and focus my energy on doing well in my remaining classes, or is it better to stay in the class and hope that somehow I can make a C? (Or a B, if we're being "optimists").
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2013 #2


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    If your life is so disorganized you can't even get up in time for lectures, then start by sorting out the basics: buy an alarm clock.

    "Hoping" or "being and optimist" isn't going to get you anything more than you deserve (which may or may not be a C grade).

    And if you think "music" is going to be an "easier career" - dream on!
  4. Mar 29, 2013 #3
    AlephZero, I appreciate the response, even if it was a bit snarky. I should add that I have 3 alarm clocks and have problems getting up that may be related to sleep apnea. I also only mention music because I'm genuinely much more talented at it, but it interests me less. I wouldn't normally brag about it, but for instance I've played my own original music with the Boston Pops, if that means anything to you. Anyway, my math problems are totally my own fault - I'm simply trying to figure out how to salvage a bad situation, as I said. Unfortunately, changes in behavior will be necessary but not sufficient to fix this problem in the long-term. I'm very well aware of my deficiencies.
  5. Mar 29, 2013 #4
    Oops meant to write *short-term
  6. Mar 29, 2013 #5


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    Ever seen a woman who is abused by her boyfriend get mad and swear she'll never take him back, but a week later he's back? I liken students who have a hobby of 'wasting' time and swearing next semester they'll do better to that scenario. Dropping topology, after dropping analysis, is essentially saying that taking two classes that are rather fundamental to mathematics was too difficult for you. I don't believe this implies you are not cut out for mathematics by ability, but I do believe you are not cut out for mathematics by work ethic.

    Honestly, your best course of action is figure out what you want to do in life and work towards that goal. If you say mathematician, I'll say, you may want that, but clearly not really. As AlephZero has stated, buy an alarm clock. Which I would take to mean, stop making excuses, and justification for a decision you have probably already made. Instead figuring out your goals, and strive towards them.
  7. Mar 29, 2013 #6
    Wow, I was in an almost exact situation freshman year except worse! Topology (the professor claimed to cover more than a graduate course in the subject!), abstract algebra, advanced calculus, mathematical physics, and an honors english course which was tough as hell!

    The big mistake was taking that many classes and thinking I could knock it out of the park, but once I was in it deep (nearly failing several classes, although I wound up with B's in all but advanced calc where I got a C) sticking it out until the very end proved to be a good idea. I just pushed myself insanely hard to make it; literally I studied 30hrs straight before my topology final and nearly aced it, landing me a B in the class instead of failing it.

    I learned a lot pushing myself extremely hard that semester, it may be better to just suck it up and work 10x as hard as you presently are (what I did) and see if you can make it out alive. Otherwise yeah, a W won't be the end of your college career.
  8. Mar 30, 2013 #7


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    Overall, you need to talk to your faculty advisor and the professors of the courses, to get some better informed advice as to what you should do. They know better than we do what your options are and what your state really is.

    You need to figure out how to get sleep and get your work done. If your classes start at 8am, on a regular basis you need to be in bed by XX (pick a time here - I would say no later than 11p or midnight or so). Staying up extra late once in awhile is one thing - doing it regularly will eventually not work, as you are finding out.

    You need to learn time management more than anything, it seems. My advice would be to stop wasting time on Reddit, and turn off your computer / phone for a few hours each day while you do your homework. See if your university has any resources to help students like you who need some help getting time management sorted out.

    Regarding music, given the experience you cite, you have clearly spent MANY hours working at it, and have serious talent. Are you just burned out and need a break for awhile, or did you never like it? In any case, you need to figure out what you want to do.

    Again, talk to your advisor and the course professors. They will likely give you the best advice - they know you and your situation better than we do.

  9. Mar 31, 2013 #8
    Sounds to me like you'd be better off working on your MiddleCmusic, than in getting a MiddleCmath!

    You just don't sound that into it, to be honest. And to do well in these arduous math classes I think you need to have some kind of passion, either for the math or for where the math is gonna take you. I'm not feeling that. What I'm feeling is the beat. If you're good a music, go for it, mon. Get a band together and slug it out local taverns, that's what I used to do when I was younger. Or better yet go on the road.
  10. Mar 31, 2013 #9
    The problem is that a W isnt that much worse than a C. If I was either of you guys I would take less courses or easier courses rather than get B's and C's in them. if either of you guys wants to apply to grad school or med school the guy who decided to take the easier classes is more likely to have got an A (probably got more time for a social life as well) will have a better chance than the student who pushes himself to the near the breaking point.

    If you're planning on going to grad school pushing yourself to take harder classes is high risk low reward proposition as far as admissions. You are better off taking a simpler courseload and using your extra time in a research project with a professor ideally more than 1 over the time of your undergrad to develop good relationships with more than 1 professor.
  11. Mar 31, 2013 #10
    I completely agree with jesse on this, if I had a reroll, I'd have pushed myself far less hard that semester. Granted, I took those classes because I thought they were all interesting, not necessarily out of the egoism of taking lots of hard classes (although my ego definitely got involved!), but being really gutsy and going off the beaten track pays off less than you'd think.
  12. Mar 31, 2013 #11
    If you are missing classes and not doing well, as others said, you need to get organize. In my experience I had tremendous difficulty sleeping normal hours - but I still got my work done. Only a few months after I graduated did I learn that I had a biological problem which affected my sleep and many other things.

    And if you go into music you have to be incredibly talented otherwise you be working dead end jobs your whole life. How is that easier?
  13. Mar 31, 2013 #12
    However, if he lacks work ethic in this area, then why couldn't he also lack it in other areas? If he lacks it in general, then he's going to have trouble no matter what he chooses, since getting good at anything requires a lot of hard work. Mathematics, medicine, music, teaching, computer programming, crafts, art, babysitting, etc. it doesn't matter.
  14. Mar 31, 2013 #13
    But if he doesn't have the work ethic, he's not going to get truly great with music either, as AlephZero said.
  15. Mar 31, 2013 #14


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    You're assuming all things are of equal difficulty for everyone and thus require the same work ethic. I can watch a baby with a lot less effort than it takes for me to solve a physics problem. It's simple, set timer for feeding/nap times, roll on floor, make sure baby doesn't choke, rinse and repeat. Anyway, I think the main point is that currently, he lacks the work ethic to do well in mathematics and any other field that does require a good deal of effort. I'm sure he can become a great fry maker, but i'm sure he doesn't want to do that. So instead, I encourage him to figure out what he really wants to do with his life and learn how to commit to that goal. Sure that isn't a radical idea?
  16. Mar 31, 2013 #15
    OK then, remove "babysitting" from that list :) But what if whatever the thing he wants is still something that takes work ethic?
  17. Mar 31, 2013 #16


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    Once again, if he chooses something that does require a bit of work ethic, he'll have to learn how to commit to it. I believe working hard is a skill that can be learned and if he decides he wants to do science, math or anything that requires serious effort, then he'll need to learn this skill. So when I stated he wasn't cut out for mathematics due to his work ethic, I did not mean to imply he never would be able to do it, but rather he has to reorganize and refocus himself before he tries again.
  18. Mar 31, 2013 #17
    He said he is good at music and presumably it is because he at some point he had a passion for it. If you put a biologists in a physics class he probably isnt going to put in the same work as a biology class. Passion for a topic isnt an independent variable for work ethic.
  19. Apr 1, 2013 #18
    Well, hey everyone. While I appreciate (I think) the discussion currently being had about my work ethic, I thought I'd clear up a few things.

    1) I never said I thought I wasn't cut out for math due to my work ethic. I have a good work ethic in general, but it's been tough lately because I was having so much trouble understanding that the work was beginning to feel pointless. I was actually musing that I might not have the ABILITY to do higher-level math, and hence might not be cut out for it. Not everyone can rotate geometric figures in their head (coincidentally another thing I can't do).

    2) Again, I have an alarm clock - I just often unwittingly sleep through it because I'm so tired. This has been an issue since high school.

    3) I only have middlecmusic as my username because I chose it long ago when I was more into music. It is not indicative of my current priorities. During the semester I often go a week or more without playing at all, while I'm doing math at least 4 hours everyday (and it would be more, were it not for my problems with procrastination)

    4) Some people mentioned that I was making excuses for myself. While I see that the alarm clock thing is an excuse to some, I'm not sure how admitting my issues with time-wasting and procrastination is an excuse. That's me admitting my own flaws. Not an excuse. As far as ability is concerned, I think everyone here knows that someone can be better at one thing than another, hence the work that they put into it is well-spent or not. The question I haven't yet answered for myself is which category math is in for me. If I had worked harder over the years it would be easier to evaluate.

    5) Thank you to those who have given me advice with sincerity - I know it's probably annoying listening to me whine about my problems and I don't have any ill will toward those who were less "kind".
  20. Apr 1, 2013 #19
    And thank you for the advice about W's and harder vs. easier classes. I only wish I had thought more about making sure I was prepared well enough to really excel at the material in the past. Then again, I don't really think the material itself was the issue - just my work ethic (in math) and my ability.

    Oh, and I did end up withdrawing from both classes. I know that it looks like crap to a grad school, but a D or an F would have been worse. (A C would have been crappy but better than a W probably, and I would have maybe stayed in both if I thought that was definitely attainable.)

    I did get my Putnam results back today - I got an 11... which obviously isn't anything special, but better than a zero.

    My plan now (which isn't much different than it was before, but hopefully I stick to it better) is to do really well in my remaining classes,

    then study really hard over the summer (I'm also taking two summer classes to make up some of the credits lost)

    and prepare well enough for my fall classes that I can spend most of my time figuring out proofs instead of learning definitions/theorems/etc.

    Then after college, I hope to do an REU

    as well as take a year off from school to study and work

    and do really well on the math GREs...

    and I'll see how confident I feel about math and make a decision then whether or not to apply to grad school.
  21. Apr 1, 2013 #20
    Oops. I realized that I wrote about doing an REU after college. Anyone know if there ARE any that allow post-undergrad students to participate if it's just after graduation? I'm guessing that's a "no", in which case, scratch that part.
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