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Not enough intelligence for physics major

  1. May 19, 2015 #1
    I'm looking for physics majors or grads that may have been in my situation. Recently I started studying physics in my spare time (enter University in a few months) and I really struggled with one dimensional motion...which was the first chapter of the book. It took me days to understand the material, and I still don't feel like I fully understand it. I'm going to go back and do practice problems.

    My question is, have you ever questioned if you possessed enough intelligence to do physics? Especially at the college level or as a career. Maybe like a moment where you got stuck on a concept and thought "Can I do physics? Is this the right direction for my life?" I feel apprehension towards physics because of my struggle to grasp basic concepts like constant acceleration. It really kills my drive.

    Any advice or personal experience would be appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 19, 2015 #2

    e.bar.goum

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    I think this happens to everyone at least once during university, no matter what field of study. Personally, I really struggled with learning about differentiation from first principles.

    Oftentimes, it's likely that it's not to do with your raw intelligence, but more to do with learning types. Did you only try to learn 1D motion from that one chapter? Maybe the book isn't written in the right way for you. There are lots of different books/websites you can check out. Maybe you learn better from lectures? Have a look for some classical mechanics lectures online. Personally, for me, practice problems are absolutely required before I feel like I really understand anything.

    Basically, I don't think you've done enough yet to worry that it's your level of intelligence that's at fault here.
     
  4. May 21, 2015 #3
    I'm only in my last year of undergrad, and I ask myself this question everyday. The first class I took (Physics I, which is Mechanics) I struggled in more than any other class. It was my first physics class, and I did problem non-stop for months and barely scraped by with an A, and only then because the professor curved the class around me. Now, I'm a senior, and have one class left, and still have a 4.0!

    My advice is not to give up yet. It is hard at first, but soon you will learn to think like a physicist!
     
  5. May 21, 2015 #4

    symbolipoint

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    Earning grade of A is not barely scraping by. Maybe it could be if the gap between your A and a D were short - very very very short. Usually, a wider gap exists for getting C or B. Maybe the way you are, you work hard enough and you earn A; a little less work, and then you earn D or F.
     
  6. May 21, 2015 #5

    QuantumCurt

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    I'm going into my third year as a physics major this fall, and physics still makes me feel dumb on a regular basis. It can be difficult, but it doesn't necessarily require any kind of inherent ability. What it really requires is hard work. I personally found 1 dimensional motion to be a bit confusing at first. This was largely due to not having the necessary math background though. I was in calculus 1 at the same time as my first physics class, and not being familiar with things like differentiation and rates of change and such made the physics more difficult.

    This raises a worthwhile question - what is your mathematical background?
     
  7. May 21, 2015 #6
    Typical highschool mathematics (algebra 1 and 2, trigonometry, geometry, precalc). My last semester I took Honors Calculus, which is why I was surprised that I struggled so much with one dimensional motion as I know how to do derivatives. Though I took algebra 1 in middle school, and I completely ignored geometry. I am lacking in a lot of my essential math.
     
  8. May 22, 2015 #7

    QuantumCurt

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    It sounds like you should be at least competent enough with your math, so it sounds like the issue is more in the conceptual understanding of the actual physics. You might want to search for some different material to get some different perspectives on it. When you have a professor lecturing on this material it will get much easier to understand.
     
  9. May 22, 2015 #8

    G01

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    Teaching new material to yourself is not easy, especially in physics and mathematics. I'd suggest you not worry too much just yet. Take the physics intro sequence when you get to university. When you are in a course with more resources, a professor, and other students to work with you might find that it is easier to learn. Physics is usually required for most science and math majors. So if you decide that physics is not your forte, you can always use those physics credits to fill a cognate requirement for another science major or a natural science requirement for a non-science major.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2015
  10. May 22, 2015 #9

    WannabeNewton

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    Dude I still have a year of undergrad left to go and I've already felt stupid countless times when doing my research, not to mention when doing certain psets for classes. I wouldn't sweat it bro, just keep trying until you can solve the problems and the confidence will bootstrap.
     
  11. May 23, 2015 #10

    radium

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    It happens all the time and gets even worse in grad school. You just have to learn that instead of comparing yourself to other people, you should use them as motivation. In a field like physics you never want to be the smartest person in the room, you wouldn't learn anything. It's incredibly rewarding being able to learn from your peers. It's a mutually beneficial thing for everyone. Sometimes someone will say things that allow you to answer your original question but also gain a new way of thinking about something else.

    Actually, the most accomplished physicists I have met have been for the most part incredibly humble (there are a few exceptions to this who I have fortunately not come across). Physics is a difficult field, even for them.
     
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