Physics makes me feel really worthless

  • #1
I’m a 2nd year mechanical engineering student. I initially loved physics and enjoyed watching documentaries and of physics topics and physicist. I wanted to get a physics minor and even go to grad school for physics. But now that I’m taking dynamics which is very physics heavy, I just feel like garbage doing the homework and learning the content. I really wanted a A in the class but now I just wanna scrape through with a 50. Come to think of it I was never all that good at physics, I got decent marks in physics 1,2, 3 but that because I studied a lot not because I was naturally smart. I’m seriously reconsidering my pursuit in physics currently, like I’m tired of feeling like garbage while studying and attempting to learn. If it’s this hard and even harder in the future I honestly don’t think I can handle physics or engineering.
 
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  • #2
hutchphd
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It is certainly not easy. How good is your math proficiency.....?
 
  • #3
Well math I’m good in the sense that I get good marks and can learn the procedure and replicate it. But I’m bad in the sense of understanding what the hell I’m even doing.
 
  • #4
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Dynamics has been a real wake-up for many aspiring engineering students. It is absolutely key for most of the rest of ME, so take this as an indication of what lies ahead.
 
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  • #5
So I guess that means I’m going to struggle a lot in upper year classes in both engineering and physics.
 
  • #6
PeroK
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So I guess that means I’m going to struggle a lot in upper year classes in both engineering and physics.
Like the majority of students. It is a struggle. That's why an engineering or physics degree is worth something.
 
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  • #7
Like the majority of students. It is a struggle. That's why an engineering or physics degree is worth something.
Honestly right now I don’t really know how I feel about the stem field. I started out very motivated and proud that I was working toward something in stem. but now i feel just apathetic towards my degree. I don’t hate it but I also don’t love it like before. I don’t know if it’s because I’m struggling or maybe burnt out but I’m questioning my interest in the major and at times it makes me feel pretty bad.
 
  • #8
PeroK
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Honestly right now I don’t really know how I feel about the stem field. I started out very motivated and proud that I was working toward something in stem. but now i feel just apathetic towards my degree. I don’t hate it but I also don’t love it like before. I don’t know if it’s because I’m struggling or maybe burnt out but I’m questioning my interest in the major and at times it makes me feel pretty bad.
What would you do instead?
 
  • #9
I don’t really see myself interested in anything really. I’m not saying I hate the major just don’t feel super excited as before. I don’t care to much about how much money I make and I do like the idea of making/creating things and perhaps contributing something to science. I’m just not a fan of feeling Like I’m stupid and honestly sometimes I’m kinda really lazy and the workload can get irritating.
 
  • #10
256bits
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I initially loved physics and enjoyed watching documentaries and of physics topics and physicist
They are engaging to some, or a lot of, extent. New stuff. On the edge of the frontier. Dopamine enhancing.

Maybe look at physics the way that enhances your enjoyment of figuring out a problem - ie so that's how they do it - they figure out how far the ball will travel under the influence of gravity --> gee that's related to how they put a man on the moon or send a rover to mars. Hey I can be one of those guys too.
Studying may be less of a drudge perhaps with an overall picture of what physics can do.

honestly sometimes I’m kinda really lazy and the workload can get irritating.
Like 99.99999% of everybody, so we make things to make tasks easier, but we still end up just as busy doing something else with the 'spare' time.
 
  • #11
PeroK
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I don’t really see myself interested in anything really. I’m not saying I hate the major just don’t feel super excited as before. I don’t care to much about how much money I make and I do like the idea of making/creating things and perhaps contributing something to science. I’m just not a fan of feeling Like I’m stupid and honestly sometimes I’m kinda really lazy and the workload can get irritating.
Only you can decide what you want to do with your life.
 
  • #12
Usually I like the idea of challenging myself but recently I’ve been pretty negative. It’s not just in school like when I’m playing games that I’m bad at I give up pretty quickly. Just don’t like the idea of challenging myself right now for some apparent reason.
 
  • #13
Office_Shredder
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Do you know for a fact that you are failing the class? How does your average compare to the class as a whole?

If you're not sure, you can ask your teacher to give you some context on how your work is so far.

One of two things is happening here - either you suck at the material and need to figure out a plan, or you just think you suck at the material because it's harder than what you've seen before and need a pep talk. My experience is that people can't tell which one they are in.
 
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  • #14
hutchphd
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I know am certain that you are not the first student to have these feelings. If you are in USA (my only reference point) your advisor would be a good person to see and discuss this. Perhaps referral for some constructive therapy. These challenges and dealing usefully with them are a fundamental part of your education regardless of whether you stay in a technical field. You will be surprised at the good people you will meet who can help.
 
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  • #15
gleem
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I agree with @hutchphd. You should seek help/advice from someone that can look into your issues a little deeper to determine if there are not any things related to your problem other than dealing with the stress of an unexpected challenge. Becoming indifferent to previously planned goals is a bit worrisome to me.
 
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  • #16
Choppy
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I might add that it's really not healthy to tie your sense of self-worth to how you are performing in a class. Everyone who really pushes themselves will get to a point where they feel challenged or even overwhelmed and sometimes burned out.

Also, you could be hitting the undergraduate "wall" - something that happens to most students at some point.

All through high school, those students who have an affinity for STEM subjects tend to do quite well in them, often without much effort. That's because they're more-or-less taking classes with the general population. In that pool it's relatively easy to come out on top through natural aptitude.

Then they get to university and go through a bottleneck because people who didn't do well in these subjects in high school tend not to study them in university. As they move from year to year through undergrad, they keep passing through similar bottlenecks. The course material gets more challenging, their peers get sharper, and the instructors more specialized.

That's not to mention the outside factors of students acclimatizing to life on their own and learning to take care of themselves, or "how to adult" properly. Sometimes, when you have a demanding schedule all it takes is a single wrench in the works to throw you off--noisy neighbors, getting sick, landlord raises your rent forcing you to work an extra shift per week at a part-time job, a professor whose teaching style you don't jive with--and all of a sudden you go from on top of things to struggling just to keep your head above water.

There's also a tendency to get buried by material you "have to" learn about, leaving no time for the material you "want to" read about. All of a sudden your passion starts to dwindle. (One secret to getting around this is making time for your own independent reading. It's NOT wasted time.)
 
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  • #17
caz
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University learning was designed as a social process. I remember sitting down in groups doing homework and being able to ask questions when I came up to something I couldn’t understand. Explaining things to others also increased my understanding. COVID is messing with this. There is also COVID malaise. So you should ask yourself if what you are feeling is COVID lockdown related.

That being said, my sophomore roommate started out as an ME. He is now a professor of philosophy. I can think of others who got an engineering degree and then went to law school. People‘s paths change.

It can be hard to distinguish if you are miserable or if you are doing something hard that is causing you difficulties.
 
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  • #18
I might add that it's really not healthy to tie your sense of self-worth to how you are performing in a class. Everyone who really pushes themselves will get to a point where they feel challenged or even overwhelmed and sometimes burned out.

Also, you could be hitting the undergraduate "wall" - something that happens to most students at some point.

All through high school, those students who have an affinity for STEM subjects tend to do quite well in them, often without much effort. That's because they're more-or-less taking classes with the general population. In that pool it's relatively easy to come out on top through natural aptitude.

Then they get to university and go through a bottleneck because people who didn't do well in these subjects in high school tend not to study them in university. As they move from year to year through undergrad, they keep passing through similar bottlenecks. The course material gets more challenging, their peers get sharper, and the instructors more specialized.

That's not to mention the outside factors of students acclimatizing to life on their own and learning to take care of themselves, or "how to adult" properly. Sometimes, when you have a demanding schedule all it takes is a single wrench in the works to throw you off--noisy neighbors, getting sick, landlord raises your rent forcing you to work an extra shift per week at a part-time job, a professor whose teaching style you don't jive with--and all of a sudden you go from on top of things to struggling just to keep your head above water.

There's also a tendency to get buried by material you "have to" learn about, leaving no time for the material you "want to" read about. All of a sudden your passion starts to dwindle. (One secret to getting around this is making time for your own independent reading. It's NOT wasted time.)
I actually wasn’t a good student in high school purely because I was so into sports. Only in grade 12 was where I managed to get decent grades to get into university. And I’m a pretty competitive guy so even though i know it’s a pretty bad thing to do but I try to outperform and compete with my peers and try to get better grades, and sometimes seeing someone get just seems naturally smarter and gets better grades with less effort kinda just makes me feel pretty bad. But I do admit it’s a bad thing to compete and compare to others.
 
  • #19
caz
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By definition, unless you are the best there is someone better than you. I know people who make me feel stupid and ones that I make feel stupid. It would not surprise me if every person in Physics Forums could name instantly someone who makes him/her feel stupid. It‘s not a useful metric for judging one’s success.
 
  • #20
Choppy
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I actually wasn’t a good student in high school purely because I was so into sports. Only in grade 12 was where I managed to get decent grades to get into university. And I’m a pretty competitive guy so even though i know it’s a pretty bad thing to do but I try to outperform and compete with my peers and try to get better grades, and sometimes seeing someone get just seems naturally smarter and gets better grades with less effort kinda just makes me feel pretty bad. But I do admit it’s a bad thing to compete and compare to others.

"The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself."
- Mary Schmich (as quoted by Baz Lurhman in Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen))
 
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  • #21
I just want this semester to be over as soon as possible
 
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  • #22
caz
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Find someone you trust to talk to about this. The urgent thing is stress management.
 
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  • #23
DennisN
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"The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself."
I agree with that. I think it is very true.

And I’m a pretty competitive guy so even though i know it’s a pretty bad thing to do but I try to outperform and compete with my peers and try to get better grades, and sometimes seeing someone get just seems naturally smarter and gets better grades with less effort kinda just makes me feel pretty bad. But I do admit it’s a bad thing to compete and compare to others.
What I am about to say may be easier said than done, since I believe it is quite natural to either consciously and/or subconsciously compare ourselves to others to at least some extents (but if there is too much comparison, it can become a problem). Nevertheless my suggestion would be to try this simple approach:

If you must compare, compare yourself with yourself and not the others. Forget about the others. :smile:

A personal sidenote:

When I got into university I only cared about grades for about a year. After that, for various personal reasons, I made a deal with myself that it is better to complete the education than to get as good grades as possible. Which I actually still believe. :smile:
 
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  • #24
Twigg
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Hey pip, we hear you. I believe all of us here in physics/engineering have either been where you're at now or watched others suffer through it. You're not alone, and it does not make you worthless. Give yourself some credit for fighting back to get the point you're at now.
In times like this, your best resource is supportive people: be it your advisor, a therapist (which I strongly recommend), another prof, friends, anyone.
Also bear in mind, that you're tackling hard courses during a pandemic without the social life you'd usually have as a resource in undergrad. Life is just harder now, and that's not a reflection on you.
I'm not trying to push you to stick to STEM. There's a time to stick to your guns, and there's a time to make a strategic retreat. Ask yourself what's most important to you, and make the best decision you can.
We're rooting for you, pip!
 
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  • #25
vela
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First, don't overreact. it's only one course. I had a friend who was very intelligent and a good student, but the first quarter of physics kicked her butt. She eked out a C, and the experience shook her confidence. But she regained her bearings and graduated with honors with a BS in engineering.

Second, keep everything in perspective. Even if you don't pass this time, it's not the end of the world. Just take it again. You won't be the first student who ever had to retake a course.

Third, give yourself a break. The pandemic has forced many classes online, and online courses aren't for everyone. Plus you probably don't have the social interaction which can greatly help with your learning and which can make a difficult course more bearable. Just because you're struggling doesn't mean you're a failure.

Based on your posts, I think you might be having a hard time because study habits that worked in the past just don't cut it anymore. You're not alone. A lot of students encounter this problem as they realize more is expected of them. You need to try new methods and find what works for you. You do need to make the commitment to really try new strategies.

My friend's experience is instructive. When she realized she was in danger of not passing physics, she didn't passively hope for the best. She took action. She signed up for tutoring, which she had never needed before, and it helped her get through the course. You'll likely feel better if you take steps to deal with your struggles rather than sitting around beating yourself up.
 

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