1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Schools Self Teaching, and entering University.

  1. May 17, 2010 #1

    I'll start off by introducing myself, I'm a high school graduate who barely passed any form of Mathematics, I struggled even on some of the most basic of Math. My grades never passed the C - range (50%~). I have been self teaching myself for the last 2~ years. I have currently worked myself into the basics of Algebra.

    Is Physics an Innate talent? Do I have any chance of ever preforming on a university level? I have no intention of stopping my interest in Math, even as hard as it it for me. I'm currently entering University for English and Anthropology. But my true interest lies in Astronomy. My fear is that I will be so far behind when I enter that I will have to drop the course.

    Has anyone ever struggled this much with Mathematics and been able to self-teach themselves to a University level? I have no doubt that this isn't possible, my interest in Mathematics is incredible, and most people do not understand why I have such a fervour to understand something that is so foreign to me.

    Does Astronomy contain physics that would be far beyond my current level of understanding?

    Is this a fools task? Or am I on the right track? I can think of no better place to ask.

    Thank you,

  2. jcsd
  3. May 17, 2010 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Not to discourage you, but I would say if you struggle this much with math, you will have a very hard time with physics and astronomy, which use math as a tool for almost everything they do. What part of math is it that is difficult for you? Calculations? Concepts? All of it?
  4. May 17, 2010 #3
    No discouragement here, I know what I'm up against. I would, for posterity say all of it. Although the concepts are slowly catching on. I have trouble with the calculations for the most part.
    Last edited: May 17, 2010
  5. May 17, 2010 #4


    User Avatar

  6. May 17, 2010 #5
    Not to be insulting, but is a degree like that really worth the paper it's printed on? Why would anyone hire someone with an internet degree when there are thousands of grad students around the country looking for work?

    My advice to the OP is stay far far away from anything like the above quoted program. If you struggle with math, get a tutor, read some books aimed at people who need extra help with math, practice lots of problems, but DON'T go for some dubious online degree.
  7. May 17, 2010 #6
    Thank you, I have never considered a tutor.

    Thank you for posting the link, but I, as Mu naught insists, would not consider studying online.

    Would anyone who has any knowledge of the "For Dummies" series of books recommend them? I have thus far stuck to Online resources (A huge thank you to this website)

    I'm open for all criticism, it would seem my teachers did not want to somehow discourage my interest in academia and would tell me I can do whatever I want. Tell me truthfully!

    Thank you advance, and to all who have posted.
  8. May 17, 2010 #7
    It's regionally accredited by North Central Association, which means that its legit. It looks like a decent program to me.

    There are a lot of dubious online degrees, but the one that you referenced isn't one of them.

    Also the problem with reading books on your own is that most people want to monetize their knowledge which is one of the functions of a university.
  9. May 17, 2010 #8
    I've looked at the calculus for dummies book. It doesn't really "teach" you calculus as much as it teaches you how to solve the problems. It also only cover the major topics.

    It summarizes each major sections of a real calc book into a one or two sentence explanation that is very easy to understand.
  10. May 17, 2010 #9

    There is a minimal set of math that you need to do physics research. This involves calculus, partial differential equations, and some linear algebra. One thing about physics research is that it's sort of an "infinite well." No matter how much you know, you end up meeting people that are much better at math.

    One thing about math is that a good tutor makes a huge amount of difference.

    This is one of the things about learning math is that there is a huge emotional aspect to it. Some people do learn math more quickly than other people, but you can get into a bad situation in which you are forced to learn math against a deadline, and that causes enough anxiety so that you freeze. What I'd advise if you run into this problem is to try to get some math classes out of the way before you enter college, so that you don't hit the anxiety barrier.

    If you can get partial differential equations and linear algebra, then you will be able to follow about 75% of the astrophysics research out there. There is some weird stuff that I have trouble understanding.
  11. May 17, 2010 #10


    User Avatar

    I don't understand why you say an "internet degree" is worthless. You can an earn an engineering masters from Georgia Tech and Applied Math masters from University of Washington? Are those degrees just worthless paper too since earned completely online? Also, no diploma states whether it was earned online or not. Employers are going to have to actually dig into coursework, which is rare in the industry I'm in (federal government).
  12. May 17, 2010 #11
    Heaven help you if you mention that you think that internet degrees are worthless in front of some HR person that is or will soon get a degree from University of Phoenix.
  13. May 17, 2010 #12
    Your enthusiasm for sticking with Maths regardless of its difficulties is really refreshing, as long as you are prepared to work at it and keep up this attitude I don't see why you can't give Astronomy a go. You may also benefit from taking a course on Mathematics to strengthen your understanding, it's alright learning on your own but seeking professional teaching shows how much you truly understand and they will be able to advise you on what to work on, etc.

    I've heard good reviews of the Demystified series of books, I believe they offer a Calculus text but I'm not sure what other titles they provide. The level of detail will be a starting point and once you have that book completed you can gradually build up to more advanced topics.

    Hope this helps
  14. May 18, 2010 #13
    Because I believe staring at a screen is no substitute for human interaction in a classroom. It's also just my experience from taking two online classes before that were both garbage compared to normal classes.
  15. May 18, 2010 #14
    @Mu naught
    I've learnt all I know about Physics by myself. My resources were essentialy a few textbooks and a LOT of screen time: from MIT's OCW to individual pages. No teachers. I've reached the fifth place in national physics olympiad (it's true that I had nearly no practice with laboratory/experimental part - which was the reason why I haven't entered the team to IPhO).
    So I must disagree with your commentary - human interaction may help a lot, but the absence of it doesn't make your learning garbage.

    I've found most who succeed in science competitions aren't particularly talented: they were lucky to be in a particular geographical position and a socioeconomic level. But all students I've met who have reached very far in those olympiads are very dedicated. So I've came to the conclusion that putting effort and dedicating yourself matters a lot more to learning physics than having a particular talent/ability (although having them will surely help).

    I've also struggled a lot with math before. I was lucky to have a math teacher who inspired me and constantly gave me challenges. That encouraged me to study by myself and to use my free time to study math. Nowadays, I find math really fun! I wish you luck in your studies! If Astronomy is what you really want to do, go for it. Use your free time to learn more and to get ahead in math - I'm sure you won't regret!
  16. May 18, 2010 #15
    I didn't go through the US public school system, but you should invest in an algebra 1 textbook. Go through it, then get an algebra 2 text and go through that.

    Algebra can be taught/learned in a day. Just make sure you get good definitions and theorems. Memorize those and you're set. This assumes that you've mastered addition and multiplication.
  17. May 18, 2010 #16
    So all your grades were C or just Math? Did you even try?
  18. May 18, 2010 #17
    Didn't you just get through lecturing me how teachers aren't important?
  19. May 18, 2010 #18
    I have an MS in Applied Math from Columbia (earned online), which doesn't seem worthless to me!
  20. May 18, 2010 #19


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think it's great that you're so self motivated. Just curious, have you considered taking math classes at a community college?
  21. May 18, 2010 #20


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Some people may not be able to learn well without human interaction, but that doesn't by itself make online courses worthless. A bad experience with an online course or two also doesn't mean they are all worthless. For example, the department I work in offers an online version of the course I teach. Guess what's offered in the online course? Yep, recordings of the lectures given by myself and the other lecturer in that course. So, the students get the exact same lectures as if they attended in person, but also get some additional online self-evaluation type resources and study aids to help them study when they can't just ask questions after lecture. Plus, they still have the phone or email to contact the person who runs that course and ask questions.

    Of course, it's a different situation when a course requires labs. Then I think there is a need to be in a physical classroom. Still, if someone can take most of their classes online, and then just come in to campus one day on the weekend for lab courses, that's much more possible for the person who really is trying to learn from home.

    Anyway, that's a tangent from the original question.

    If you need to brush up on some basic math courses, in addition to getting a tutor, you can also take a community college course. They always offer those types of courses, for students in similar situations who just didn't learn it in high school for any variety of reasons from not trying/ not caring when young and foolish, to not having the best of teachers, to not having the study skills yet, to just not having the aptitude for it.

    That will be the best way to determine if your struggle with it is something OTHER than aptitude for math that you've since overcome. If you do well in those courses that you've previously struggled with, you'll know you can do it and just needed a few more years of maturity under your belt to be ready to tackle it.

    If it turns out that you really just don't have the aptitude for math, that doesn't mean you NEVER can take an astronomy course, but might mean you shouldn't major in it. Major in what you're better at and take an introductory/survey type astronomy course aimed toward non-science majors (again, this is something you can find at most community colleges if the university you attend doesn't offer something appropriate to your level). That way, you can learn more about a subject that interests you, but aren't overwhelming yourself with needing math skills you just don't have.
  22. May 18, 2010 #21
    I never said teachers aren't important (I've even said human interaction is helpful - quoting myself: So I must disagree with your commentary - human interaction may help a lot, but the absence of it doesn't make your learning garbage.). However, to consider that distance or non-assisted education is garbage, just because you couldn't adapt to it is wrong! Many people perform well with them - so I believe that the if Scribner has enough perseverance, he can succeed in a online course. He shouldn't discard it for your personal tastes, Mu Naugh!

    I think, however, that we have already departed from what the original poster wanted.
  23. May 18, 2010 #22
    As many people here are pointing out that if you have someone who is there to help you learn mathematics, there's no reason why you can't overcome your obstacles and eventually succeed. However, even if you don't have someone in person, you have a community of people here who can and are willing to guide you through your difficulties.

    If you plan to take intro astronomy courses at your school, there is usually a pre-req to the class. In my experience the basic math require was college algebra. If you're eligible to take college algebra, then take the course first and if you do moderately well, then you should be able to handle the math that is initially required of you to get the basic overview of what astronomy is.

    Then if you wish you can move onto the more advance mathematics - calculus, linear algebra, PDE and see how you fare learning those topics. I'll tell you right now, in Calculus, at the introduction level, a lot of the problems students have is not so much conceptional but algebraic, so by taking time to master your algebra skills now, you're doing yourself a huge favor.
  24. May 18, 2010 #23
    Ok this is so stupid. No offense but people who actually try to teach themselves mathematics by themselves are idiots. Yes it's a respectable "accomplishment" (i use accomplishment for a word i can't think of right now) but i have a question for you.

    When you want to train in mixed martial arts or boxing or brazilian jiu jitsu, do you ask your friends to suddenly say "let's fight in the garage every day for 2 years so we can train to become mixed martial arts fighters." NO! You absolutely do not do that.

    Ask this site www.sherdog.com on the grappling section whether to train at a real bjj gym or self train.

    GO TO A COMMUNITY COLLEGE AND GET HELP FROM THEIR TEACHERS. I could never have taught mathematics by myself. The difference between somebody who gets properly schooled and teaching themselves is huge.

    I literally went back to my highschool (i'm doing a victory lap at the moment) going into a math class with a 50% in the lower leveled math courses and i had a huge amoutn of help. I used all the teacher's time to ask questions. Whenever i was stuck, i asked him and he'd answer back. He gave me immense guidance. He knew where i was coming from and now i'm almost caught up with my peers in terms of mathematical abilities.

  25. May 18, 2010 #24

    Hm, I really think math is a bit different than martial arts, isn't it?
    If learning math by yourself is useless, oh boy!

    Just to quote some of the most famous people who learned a significant part of their knowledge (I'm not claiming all of their knowledge, of course) by themselves. Neither am I claiming that if Scribner has a oportunity to have someone to guide him, he should decline it (he shouldn't).

    What I really mean is that self learning is useful, you may do it with and have great results (I've met one guy who was the absolute winner of national math olympiad learning by himself! - is he an idiot? Where is that huge difference you claimed to exist between him and other students who were coached?)

    I could never have taught mathematics by myself.
    No offense, but if you couldn't do it, it doesn't mean other people can do it, right?
    So don't let people down by letting them thinking they can't do things alone.

    Again, if you (Scribner) have access to someone to teach you, then you should accept his/her help. If there's no one to teach you, it doesn't mean you have no chances: learn by yourself! Do not refrain yourself from doing what you want because you have no one to teach you.

    Quoting from hooft (http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html): [Broken]
    Eventually, whether you like it or not, you will have to obtain some University degree, if you wish a self-supporting career in theoretical Physics. One possibility is to follow a Master course such as the one offered by our University. I don't know about your qualifications, but I suspect that, with enough determination, you may be able to comply.

    This is not a burocratic argument but a very practical one. It is also advisable not to wait until you think your self-study is completed. You must allow your abilities to be tested, so that you get the recognition that you may well deserve. Also, I frequently meet people who get stuck at some point. Only by intense interactions with teachers and peers one can help oneself across such barriers. I have not yet met anyone who could do the entire study all by him/herself without any guidance. ----

    Again, I've met people who have done amazing things by themselves, but I've never met people who learned it all by themselves.

    I simply can't agree with all those posters that say you can't learn a great deal by yourself. You don't need to be a genius to do it well (I'm sure I'm not), you need to be dedicated.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  26. May 18, 2010 #25
    I'm sorry but I must disagree with your sentiment. For two reason:
    Number one, you can't expect a person to not take offense after you call them stupid for trying to learn.
    Number two, I fail to see how it is stupid to try to learn.

    Now, getting more on point. I believe that the more mathematics you intend to learn, the more you need to learn how to study on your own and learn the material on your own. I don't claim to be near that boarder, but it appears to me that as a person becomes more advance in their knowledge, then it there will come a point in time when there doesn't exist a vast reservoir of people who can teach you things and if you expect to show things not known before, then no one can teach you these things. So I believe learning how to work independently and from a book should be a skill set any future mathematician/scientist should learn.

    This is not to say that having a mentor is not helpful or can't help a person learn a lot more quickly. However, I think it is rather irrational of you to criticize a person's effort to simply better themselves because you lack the ability to do what he is trying to do. In short, I stick to my previous statement, that there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to learn Algebra on his own especially with the resources at hand here that can help him grasp the concepts. Naturally, he'll eventually probably need real guidance from a professor and peers to talk to, but it doesn't hurt to self-study.
    Last edited: May 18, 2010
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook