Physics knowledge advice for a Civil Engineering undergrad

  • #1
tommcgtx
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7
Hi all! I'm currently enrolled in a civil engineering program, and need some advice and recommendations.

I've taken Calculus 1 through 3, and am finishing up Elementary Differential Equations this semester. I've taken Physics 1, and received a B. I'm honestly surprised I made it out of that class with a B, and don't feel I have a complete grasp on the material.

I have a physics lab coming up in the summer of 2025, Physics 2 in the fall of that year, and the corresponding physics lab in the summer of 2026. I felt a little lost during a good bit of the first course, and feel that will only compound in the subsequent courses.

I have time to prepare though, and wondered if anyone had any resources, books, websites etc. that might be useful for preparation, to help me complete my understanding and feel comfortable going forward. Thanks in advance.
 
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  • #2
It would be possible to offer generic suggestions, but do you have much of a sense of what you were struggling with? If you aren't addressing that, more study from books won't help.

The fact that you are struggling despite having mastered calculus far beyond what is required for first semester calculus based college physics makes this particularly puzzling. First semester calculus based college physics would often cover Newtonian mechanics and gravity and maybe special relativity, and a lot of that is just lightly warmed over calculus and trig. Most people struggle with first semester calculus based college physics because they don't have a firm grasp on the calculus and trig that they are now being forced to apply for the first time in their physics class.

Is the problem formulating physics questions into word problems and then turning those word problems into math? Or is it maybe difficulty in visualizing the problems in diagram form?

Is the problem memorizing formulas?

Was the professor or the textbook hard to follow?

Was it just a "life happens" thing where you didn't get homework done and then weren't up to speed for lectures and exams?

I was taking Complex Analysis (i.e. the rigorous calculus of imaginary numbers) once and had a huge thing going on in my personal life and got a C because I showed up to class unprepared without doing most of the homework for a month and then was hopelessly behind. There wasn't anything special about the subject matter or my readiness to take the course, I was just zoned out and needed to start over from scratch.

Getting some handle on what went wrong is in order before starting in on a remedial program. You probably want to eat your pride and spend some time with a tutor to pinpoint the problem if you aren't sure what it is, before spending a lot of unproductive time dealing with the wrong issues.

Another resource to consider turning to is to go to office hours for your physics 1 professor (or a TA in that class) and ask them if they could help you identify what you need to be working on. Professors are often very happy to spend time helping a student who is humble and asks for improvement and help after getting a bad grade instead of begging to have the grade changed for no reason.
 
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  • #3
I think some of it was the textbook, which was Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics. Some of it was difficulty turning some of the word problems into formulas, etc. I had some trouble modifying and or combining some of the basic formulas to fit a particular situation presented in a problem. I should have been able to look at a problem, draw a correct diagram, and apply the proper principles, but often I was not, especially on an exam. Although I thought I had a decent grasp on the concepts at the time, certain problems would make me realize that I didn't, if that makes sense.
 
  • #4
tommcgtx said:
I think some of it was the textbook, which was Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics. Some of it was difficulty turning some of the word problems into formulas, etc. I had some trouble modifying and or combining some of the basic formulas to fit a particular situation presented in a problem. I should have been able to look at a problem, draw a correct diagram, and apply the proper principles, but often I was not, especially on an exam. Although I thought I had a decent grasp on the concepts at the time, certain problems would make me realize that I didn't, if that makes sense.
If that is what was going on, I think you need two things. One is study sets so you can do more homework type problems in the subject, and the other is a tutor or study group to work on them with. Doing more homework problems makes you faster, which can help a lot at exam time.

You can self-study, I taught myself two years of high school math and almost three years of college math and a semester of physics that way. But the kinds of problems you are talking about are precisely the problem that would derail me for weeks beating my head against the wall, when ten or twenty minutes talking to someone who knew what they were doing and going over a couple of related homework problems to reinforce the concepts would have cleared up the problem.

Also, if after doing that, the problem persists in Physics 2, you may want to think about changing majors. Some people aren't excellent at a trait called "structural vision" which basically means manipulating three-D concepts in your head naturally and easily. Most people (even in STEM) can get by just fine being merely a little above average at that. But first semester physics and civil engineering requires true excellence in that aptitude to excel (you can struggle through and get the bare minimum of classes completed well enough no matter what if you try hard enough but it will be a struggle). If that is the real problem and not just a lack of human feedback to get you in the groove, you shouldn't abandon STEM or even engineering, but civil engineering may not be the right major for you within engineering, and you may want to reposition yourself into something like IT, or electrical engineering, or chemical engineering, where more of the math and engineering is linear or abstract or 2D, rather than civil engineering, which is especially 3D in character.
 
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  • #5
tommcgtx said:
I think some of it was the textbook, which was Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics. Some of it was difficulty turning some of the word problems into formulas, etc. I had some trouble modifying and or combining some of the basic formulas to fit a particular situation presented in a problem.
Welcome, @tommcgtx ! 😎

What branch of Civil interests you the most?
How far into that book the taken Physics 1 course reached?
 
  • #6
ohwilleke said:
If that is what was going on, I think you need two things. One is study sets so you can do more homework type problems in the subject, and the other is a tutor or study group to work on them with. Doing more homework problems makes you faster, which can help a lot at exam time.

You can self-study, I taught myself two years of high school math and almost three years of college math and a semester of physics that way. But the kinds of problems you are talking about are precisely the problem that would derail me for weeks beating my head against the wall, when ten or twenty minutes talking to someone who knew what they were doing and going over a couple of related homework problems to reinforce the concepts would have cleared up the problem.

Also, if after doing that, the problem persists in Physics 2, you may want to think about changing majors. Some people aren't excellent at a trait called "structural vision" which basically means manipulating three-D concepts in your head naturally and easily. Most people (even in STEM) can get by just fine being merely a little above average at that. But first semester physics and civil engineering requires true excellence in that aptitude to excel (you can struggle through and get the bare minimum of classes completed well enough no matter what if you try hard enough but it will be a struggle). If that is the real problem and not just a lack of human feedback to get you in the groove, you shouldn't abandon STEM or even engineering, but civil engineering may not be the right major for you within engineering, and you may want to reposition yourself into something like IT, or electrical engineering, or chemical engineering, where more of the math and engineering is linear or abstract or 2D, rather than civil engineering, which is especially 3D in character.
I don't think 3D visualization is a problem for me, and I've been working in the Civil field for a long time. I work for a land development firm now.
 
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  • #7
Lnewqban said:
Welcome, @tommcgtx ! 😎

What branch of Civil interests you the most?
How far into that book the taken Physics 1 course reached?
I currently work in a land development firm for a home builder. My main job right now is designing with AutoCAD Civil 3D. I've been drafting since high school, got an associates in CAD after that, and picked up surveying in the Army. Since then, I've mainly worked for civil firms, municipalities, and in water/wastewater. I'm also 50 years old.
As far as that physics course, we studied kinematics, Newton's laws, gravitation, work and energy, linear and angular momentum, oscillations, rotational motion, and some ideal gas law, from what I can remember.
 
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  • #8
tommcgtx said:
I think some of it was the textbook, which was Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics.
Who are the authors? Textbooks tend to have very generic titles, so people (here at least) refer to them by their authors, e.g. Serway & Jewett, or Giancoli...
 
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  • #9
jtbell said:
Who are the authors? Textbooks tend to have very generic titles, so people (here at least) refer to them by their authors, e.g. Serway & Jewett, or Giancoli...
Raymond A. Serway, John W. Jewett
 
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