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My interests and skills do not coincide

  1. Mar 15, 2013 #1
    I've always loved learning about Astronomy and many of the amazing discoveries brought on by it as well as Physics. My dream job would probably be working in the field of Theoretical Physics.

    But there's one horrible problem:
    I'm terrible at math.

    I've only completed high school and I had a strong disdain for many of my math teachers after 7th grade which may have kept me from my potential in math. I passed my Junior year with a 68%, I want to say. Took an Accounting class instead in my Senior year even though I didn't actually need a 4th math credit to graduate.

    But when I see those amazing science programs on tv and when I saw Niel DeGrass Tyson speak at a local college, it was amazing. How numbers work in to everything in life. How with physics, things that seem impossible actually are completely possible. But no matter how wonderful these things seem, I can't ever wrap my head around the mathematics of it all. And I really wish I could.

    Is there anyone here who had trouble with math before college or anything? Maybe anybody who has some advise? I'm applying to colleges right now after taking 2 years off after I graduated. I'm most likely going to study economics or I might change to law enforcement. But if Physics actually is a possibility for me, then I want to try and pursue that.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2013 #2
    What was the last thing you did in math? Probably a work habits issue.
  4. Mar 15, 2013 #3


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    You have a wrong impression of physics.

    Neil Degrasse Tyson does a wonderful job popularizing science, but you need to realize that he makes physics seem a lot different and more fun than it really is. You probably are very attracted to issues such as black holes, time travel, teleportation, etc. But the fact is that physics is not just speculating about those ideas. Sure, some physicists think about black holes, but it's a whole lot of mathematics.

    Being a physicist is a lot less glamorous than how you think it is. In fact, being a physicist is a rather boring job and it is very tough. Most of the time, you are making complex calculations or setting up experiments that just don't work the way you want to. There are fun moments that make everything worthwhile, but it's certainly not all fun and games. If you say that physicists are masochists, then you are probably not very far off.

    I suggest you work through some physics texts. Try to get Halliday & Resnick and study that. Of course, Halliday is very far from the physics that actual physicists do, but it's a whole lot closer than what you see on popsci programs.

    You just need to get to know physics how it really is, and not how it is portrayed. Going into theoretical physics because you like Degrasse Tyson is a very very very bad reason.
  5. Mar 16, 2013 #4
    Bad high school grades don't necessarily mean that you're bad a maths. Hell, I didn't even pass high school maths, but here I am doing a physics/maths degree and am doing well. But if you are bad at maths, it may just be because you're not used to doing maths. It might help to go get a book on some highschool maths subjects and to familiarize yourself with the contents. If you find that you struggle with that stuff no matter how much help that you get, then maybe it's time to think about something else.
  6. Mar 16, 2013 #5
    My favorite quote, from a math teacher (engineer school) :
    It is entertaining to read about math, or read about physics, but it is a far cry from the real thing. You get to compete with people who are not merely brillant. They work hard, but not not because they strive to be the best. They work hard because they look forward to it. When they wake up in the morning, they can't wait to tackle whatever they gave up because they had to go to sleep. For instance, it is not uncommon for them to consider a social gathering as a burden, which they go through as a calculated choice.

    I do not believe anyone has the taste to enjoy this. If you are passionate about solving actual math/physics problems (not merely read about them), then you should definitely go for it. If you find yourself during week-ends enjoying to solve problems which are not on the curriculum (nobody told you to solve them, you just really want to figure them out), then you are fit for research. There are very few people who get up in the morning with an urge to get to the office.However, if you do not fall through the above filters, attempting research may frustrate you and not make you happy.
  7. Mar 16, 2013 #6
    I'm pretty bad at math. It took me forever to even grasp the concept of distributing a minus sign through parentheses. That implicit -1 thing just made no sense. People online were even getting upset with me for not getting it. I felt like an idiot.

    After taking 3 semesters of calculus, I just accepted that I'm bad at math, because a lot of that stuff did not make sense to me. Like I could never figure out what to do with trig substitution; I'd always substitute the wrong thing and never be able to figure out what the right thing was.
    But now that I'm taking differential equations, I have a situation where I go to every class, listen and take notes, sit down at home on the weekend and do all the practice problems, write down the ones I don't get, and then Monday go to the teacher's office and get her to show me what I'm doing wrong, and then sit in her office and do the questions completely that I couldn't figure out before.
    There's quizzes every Monday, so I go to her office before class, and after I've started this routine, I've aced all my quizzes, and I'm pretty confident I'll ace the next test. I got a 68 on the first test, btw, before I started this routine.

    So I don't think anyone is really just bad at math, some people just need a routine that works for them. Find your routine and you'll do fine.
  8. Mar 16, 2013 #7
    Do not give up! Please don't, you will only regret it. My situation is a bit different, it seems as if I was just born with mathematical abilities,so its hard for me to understand, but that shouldnt stop you. Keep working at it, not for your teachers but for the Frontiers of Physics. Don't let math teachers get in the way on the road of greatness!!!
  9. Mar 16, 2013 #8
    Thank you for your input, everyone. And I know that I see the more romanticized view of science and physics. But I remember back in high school that I would actually enjoy math when I knew what was going on. For me, it felt great to be able to understand different concepts and be able to find the answer quickly. I would be on such a roll that I would sometimes be a bit disappointed that I didn't have a few more equations to work on. But these cases were few and far between. The last thing I studied before Accounting was Trig. Half the time it only gave me a head ache and it really turned me off from the whole subject. But I still retained a lot of the basic things I learned.
  10. Mar 16, 2013 #9
  11. Mar 16, 2013 #10
    Da Vinci once said that learning never exhausts the mind. I firmly believe this with my soul, the headaches and complications probably came from the environment in which you were working in, not the work itself. Please, I'm begging of you to stay with Physics, you seem to have determination with a mass amount, the world of science and well... The world itself need people like you.
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