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Should I continue whith physics or change majors?

  1. Oct 9, 2011 #1
    I am in my 3rd semester and I'm not exactly sure what to do. I feel dumb in all of my classes and even failed my physics exam. I love physics but I just feel like I'm too stupid to understand it. Should I change majors?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 9, 2011 #2
    Never call yourself stupid. If you don't understand something, doesn't mean you are stupid. Study more, that is the point of college anyway. And there are tons of online tutorials and lectures that explain everything about physics in as much detail as possible.
  4. Oct 9, 2011 #3
    this is going to sound strange but I don't know if studying helps when i do about the same =(
  5. Oct 9, 2011 #4
    Try to understand things. Go from the very basics. If you love something, you will always be able to learn it. Understand the basics VERY well. If you want to be good at physics, you have to have rock solid math. Calculus must be your second language.

    Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.

    To recap, physics is very hard, especially at college level. Not understanding it at first, isn't so strange.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2011
  6. Oct 9, 2011 #5
    3rd semester of physics so you're taking Modern Physics?

    In any case, understanding physics and grasping the material means you need to have a well enough grasp on the mathematical concepts (calculus 1 +) that are incorporated into the course. Calculus doesn't necessarily have to be a second language like someone suggested, but you should be a good (B or above) student, and know the main points well enough to help you.

    From what you posted, you haven't really studied, "...when I do, I do about the same", from what I gathered. Not only that, your method isn't the right method to help you understand the material. Studying isn't just about doing it on your own either, you can see a tutor as well to help you with the things you don't understand.

    Also, if you are using one book, try and get a supplement to the course you're taking. We used University Physics with Modern Physics and that book was the only one I needed really, although I also have Physics for Engineers and Scientists by Giancolli, which is pretty easier to read from. But other than that, I also bought physics demystified for a rather brief introduction to all the major concepts I needed to know.

    Finally, doing practice problems is a good way to help you understand the material. Write out several steps in solving a problem, then try a practice problem following the exact same steps, then a few more, and finally try doing more practice problems without the steps aiding you.

    P.S. If you search the net, you can usually find some preview tests of the same course instead of being blown out of your socks once the paper is passed to you.

    What is it that you don't understand by the way?
  7. Oct 9, 2011 #6
    First off, even if you are actually not capable of excelling in the physics major that doesn't mean that you are stupid and doesn't mean that you can't have a fulfilling career (and life). Second, it's great that you are bothering to ask whether physics is a good match for you this early on and that you are open to switching majors - you stand a good chance of getting something useful out of your 4 years by figuring out early what you want to do after school.


    The first thing you need to do is figure out whether you enjoy and are good at actual physics research. It is very different from physics classes and plenty of people that do not excel in class are productive and creative researchers (and vice versa!). I would suggest using 3 credits next semester to do an 'independent study' with a research group in your department - your department web page probably has links for each faculty member where you can read about what kind of research they are doing. It will mostly be mumbo-jumbo to you but do your best to identify things that intrigue you and find out which faculty members are "student-friendly" (do they advise undergrads, do they have some undergrads working for them?). If you are a sophomore you should also apply for REU's for this upcoming summer for more exposure to research. Since there is no way to tell right away whether this stuff will be to your taste you should keep your options open by pulling the best grades in your physics and math classes that you can - strategies for this are on this forum and probably available from your college's academic support center.

    If you find you do not enjoy and are not particularly good at your actual research experiences then get out while you still can, the physics major is not for you! Remember, you can always read popularized physics and study on your own, no matter what career you end up in.

    If you do enjoy and are good at your research projects, but the classes do not get any easier for you then you have a difficult decision - work a lot harder than your peers for probably less payoff for the rest of your education (through a PhD if you want to do research) OR find something that is easier for you that you still enjoy (maybe try an engineering discipline, chemistry, biology, etc.).
  8. Oct 9, 2011 #7
    A problem I might have with research is that I am not particularly creative. I am considering engineering but the amount of students that are in the program make me skeptical about joining.
  9. Oct 9, 2011 #8
    You should definitely give it a try, it's not quite like anything you've done before. You don't need to be creative in an artsy, express-yourself, stereotypical way - don't sell yourself short until you've tried it. Word of caution: it's hard work and it takes a while to acquire the general knack for it so keep that in mind and don't be too easily discouraged. Don't expect to publish immediately, or at all, as an undergraduate.
  10. Oct 9, 2011 #9


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    I don't think you have given us anywhere near enough information for our advice to be of much use. For instance:

    What are your grades and GPA like?

    Have you discussed this with your academic adviser, and if so what do they say?

    What do you mean by study? How do you study? Does your study revolve around practice problems or something else? How long do you spend studying physics in a given week?

    I don't think anyone can really tell you whether you should stay in physics or not, or give you advice on how to improve without at least knowing some of this information.
  11. Oct 9, 2011 #10
    My grades are pretty much B's and only 1 A (that was Calculus I). I plan on discussing this with my academic adviser sometime this week.
  12. Oct 9, 2011 #11


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    OK. That's something. If you said you were getting all C's D's F's, I may have said to seriously look for another major, but B's are not bad, and you are still early in your undergrad career and can improve. Getting down on yourself is only going to make it harder. Sometimes, it takes a while to adjust to university level Physics, and how you have to study for it.

    Speaking of which- How do you go about studying, and how much time do you spend doing so? Do you focus on doing practice problems?

    Talking to your adviser is a good idea. They will be able to give you the best advice, as they know your situation the best.
  13. Oct 9, 2011 #12
    How would you suggest studying? My way you could hardly call studying because it's mostly looking through notes and the occasional problem which is obviously not working for me.
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