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Need to change and fast

  1. May 12, 2014 #1
    To make this short I basically feel like I am doomed to being a mostly B with some As student . The problem is I want to go to a phenomenal grad school for physics.

    I'm a freshman going to a standard top notch state science university , originally majored in EE but planning to switch to physics. The first physics course I decided to take was your standard calculus based E and M and I'm almost definitely going to receive a B , no higher , no less . First exam went well and I got a 97%, then an 80, and now a 70 on the last midterm . Basically i feel I put the same effort on all 3 , with maybe most on the last and all I get is wild variance in scores .

    Ending my first year my GPA will probably be a 3.2-3.4 but as courses get harder i can't see myself maintaining let alone improving that.

    Any advice to change my ways or am I just weak and need to work more?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2014 #2
    Sounds like career suicide.

    But you can bring your grades up. Or at least there is insufficient information to conclude that you can't. I did it, starting with grades comparable to yours up to around 3.9 gpa for the last two years, going from EE to math. I'll tell you how I did it. I figured out how my mind worked and how to make the best use of it. Long term memory, visual reasoning skills, that sort of thing. Some of that was learning about the psychology of learning, some of it was following good pedagogical examples of how to think about things (particularly, the book, Visual Complex Analysis), and some of it was just trial and error and thinking about how to study while going through all my EE classes. All that prepared me for a big turn-around when I changed my major to math. Plus, I got really interested in math towards the end, and it really helps to be interested in learning and not just trying to get grades. I may have worked hard, too, but the hard work was really just a by-product of being really interested in it, so I really didn't feel like I was just pushing myself to work through sheer willpower. If anything, I would have had to use willpower to tear myself away from it. I lost that interest towards the end of grad school, though.

    I think there's a bit of a myth out there that it's necessary to forget most of what you learn in classes. I used to be like that, too, so it's not that I don't forget because my memory is exceptional (in fact, I still do forget if I cut corners in my learning process). I have a good memory, but nothing out of the ordinary. I just figured out how to use it. Part of it is just simple-minded repetition and review, which is not encouraged too much by the way courses are structured. But it's not just that. The real trick is to make the material as memorable as possible and understand it deeply.
     
  4. May 12, 2014 #3

    ZombieFeynman

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    Perhaps youll explain why majoring in physics is career suicide? I understand you had a rough time of it in pure math grad school, but I can attest that many from my physics grad program went on to work at large companies with good prospects. Students that went on to Google, Intel, Texas Instruments, military consulting firms, Boeing, Western digital etc seem to actually be in quite fine shape.
     
  5. May 12, 2014 #4
    Can you recommend any good sources to learn about the psychology of learning and what not that aren't expensive textbooks? I feel like I have a similar issue with my grades, and would of course like to remedy that. Thanks.
     
  6. May 12, 2014 #5

    donpacino

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    As you get into more advanced courses you may find that you enjoy the work more, therefore you will put more effort into it and get better grades. At least that is what happened with me!
     
  7. May 12, 2014 #6

    verty

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    It sounds to me like you know the work but your knowledge is not exam-ready. Almost every question you will face in an exam has a very close relative included in your textbook somewhere, with an example showing how it should be done. What you need to do is reach that point where you can give the answer that the book directs. However the book does it, copy that. It sounds silly but it helps the markers give you full marks. Also this (having exam-ready knowledge) helps because you'll have more time in the exam to spend on the more difficult questions.
     
  8. May 12, 2014 #7
    Well, obviously, I was exaggerating. But I've heard of plenty of people struggling to find a job with physics and math degrees.
     
  9. May 12, 2014 #8

    ZombieFeynman

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    And do you have any statistics to back up your hearsay? Or should we just be telling young students they're committing career suicide by choosing physics as a major based on scant anecdotes?
     
  10. May 12, 2014 #9
    I'd probably have to dig to find some of the articles I read, since it was quite a while ago. But if you Google it, you should be able to find some things.
     
  11. May 12, 2014 #10
    Well, the statistics probably say the unemployment rate is low for physics PhDs, but that doesn't tell the whole story. One thing I can say is that physicists face a similar job search to mine. I don't see a lot of things out there that fit me, and tweaking my background a bit to that of a physicist wouldn't make it much better. They may be able to get jobs, but, certain very practical areas aside, I doubt that many of them continue along the same path they were going along. So, job or not, it may not be worth the effort if you end up doing something different.
     
  12. May 12, 2014 #11

    ZombieFeynman

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    The chance of maintaining an academic career for life is low. This is (or should be) well known. But I think many people in experimental and applied physics continue to do science in industry a reasonable portion of the time. Similarly, many in computational physics continue to at least use a plethora of tools and techniques that they used in graduate school. These are my observations, in any case. It is perhaps different for those pure mathematicians and the very esoteric (and heavily mathematical) regions of theoretical physics.
     
  13. May 12, 2014 #12
    I don't think merely being an "applied mathematician" makes the situation any better per se, unless it is the right KIND of applied math. Probably, something similar might apply to physics. So yeah, I have to admit, it's probably a viable option for some people, but only in certain areas. And you still have to question whether they might not be better off actually studying specifically for the kind of job they'd like, rather than a slightly different subject where some of their skills happen to transfer.
     
  14. May 12, 2014 #13

    ZombieFeynman

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    Here, I can only comment from a personal perspective. I am midway through a PhD in computational condensed matter physics. If I leave academia, I will likely end up in Data Analysis or software engineering, places where some of my colleagues have gone and where none of my physics will be very useful. But, counting undergrad, I will have been able to study physics (and do original research!) for 10 (or if I leave after a postdoc, 12) years! I've had a ton of fun studying physics, and I hope I will always have a ton of fun studying it, even if (or should I say when) I leave academia. Studying condensed matter physics has given me a unique perspective on our natural world that I feel privileged to have.

    Others that I have talked to share these sentiments, though I am forced to admit that I know several people who strongly dislike physics due to their time in graduate school.
     
  15. May 12, 2014 #14
    So, the truth comes out! Lol. I may end up in the same place, if I don't get an actuary job.

    Well, whether you consider it worth it is a subjective thing. The word to be spread is just that if you don't pick just the right area, you might end up doing something different. What your reaction to that is is up to you. And if you have exceptional hubris and you think you can make it as a string theorist in academia, if that's what you want to do, go for it, but don't be surprised if it doesn't pan out. There are risks. And since I fell prey to them (or the analogous ones in physic-sy parts of math), it's my tendency to play the devil's advocate about it.

    Another issue is that you can still study physics, even if you don't go to grad school or are a physics major--you probably just have less time for it, unless you strike it rich and don't have to make a living. I had some fun in grad school, other than the thesis, which I thought was mostly awful. But I could have done that on my own, probably with better results, in certain ways. I think I would have been better off just leaving with a masters.
     
  16. May 12, 2014 #15

    ZombieFeynman

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    I agree that caution is a good thing to have, but I think if you get a PhD is physics or mathematics, it would take some OTHER seriously poor decisions (or seriously, seriously bad luck) not to end up with an upper middle class living.
     
  17. May 12, 2014 #16
    Well, in my case, I'm sure I will END UP with upper middle class living eventually (except for the fact that I'm more interested in saving money than I am in material goods). But it is making for quite a challenge to be able to do a career change. I'm basically socially retarded, so most people should have an easier time than me, but that doesn't mean it will be a piece of cake, either. I may have made poor decisions towards the end of grad school, as far as getting ready to look for jobs, but having to work on my thesis made it very difficult to do anything else. It took everything I had to finish it.

    By the way, when I was midway though my PhD, I was much more upbeat about math than I am, now. It was the final year or two that really finished me off.
     
  18. May 12, 2014 #17
    Another thing that should be mentioned is that there's a big opportunity cost for going to grad school, so it's not only about the end result. Takes a long time. You can get further ahead in life if you don't do that. Typically, you'll be like 28 by the time you have a PhD. Imagine how much more money you could have with a real engineering job for 6 years, compared to grad school. I'll be the first person to say money isn't everything, but it can factor into the equation, especially if you don't end up enjoying grad school all that much, which I don't think you can predict very easily. Who was more pumped up about math than me when I was an undergrad? With 20/20 hindsight, I could have seen that I wouldn't like grad school, but only in hindsight. And that's the one thing that I think the PhD really did for me. Without it, I may have still had some kind of lingering ambition in math. Perhaps, doing the PhD was the only way to kill that desire.
     
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