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Should I continue with physics if I am better at humanities?

  1. Jan 9, 2015 #1
    Hi all!

    I'm having quite an internal dilemma. I really love physics and math and my dream for a long time has been to get a science/math phd and become a research professor. However, I just finished my first semester at university and I appear to be better at humanities/social sciences.
    My grades were:

    Philosophy(200-level): A+
    Economics 101: B+
    Physics: B
    Multivariable Calculus: B

    For math, I know that I easily could have gotten a B+/A- if my study habits were better. For physics, I feel that I only actually started working hard enough for a top grades about 2/3 through the class. However, my parents and advisor are really nudging me towards a econ/philosophy double major, and then to law school or graduate school in government/public policy or philosophy. Though I do love philosophy (I want to minor in it), I really want to be a scientists, but I am afraid that I don't have the ability and that I will ruin my GPA forever if I take math/physics next semester. Any advice? Anyone been in a similar situation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2015 #2


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    At the end of the day, picking a major is really about fulfilling a career goal. If you want to be a scientist, specifically one in physics, then you really only have one choice but to major in physics and pursue your PhD. Hence, if that is something you really really really want to do, then you should put considerable effort into learning the subject matter and getting A's. Is it easy? No. However, if you find that you don't have the drive to do your best in your science/math classes for the opportunity to become a scientist, then i'm willing to wager that you can find happiness in some other career goal.
  4. Jan 9, 2015 #3
    Herein lies the biggest issue. Most of us are decidedly average when it comes to mathematical and scientific gifts. And for those of us like you and me, we have to grind harder than others to master these concepts. The truth is if you don't put in the hours you won't get better at physics and math. But on the other hand, if you find it more fulfilling to study philosophy and economics and it comes easier to you, then by all means go for that instead. My advisor gave me a lecture when I started undergrad that if I get a B in physics class I should do something else, because there's too many other people doing physics in the world. I think that's probably the mindset of your advisor. So you have to decide if you want to work harder to pursue physics, or do something more intuitive like law. But don't let others dominate your decision making. It's entirely up to you. And you can always prove them wrong.
  5. Jan 9, 2015 #4

    Doug Huffman

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    I went precisely that way, from honors humanities and liberal arts to nuclear power, whence I retired. And I remember precisely when my goals changed. I was in a debate on some liberal, likely (1970) anti-war, resolution and a incompetent argument carried the day, likely for a populist pleading.

    About study habits, military discipline wondrously improves study habits. In two years of academics, I suffered one week of 'bush' remedial study hours (unsupervised study, contrasted with 'tree', with close supervision).
  6. Jan 9, 2015 #5
    But couldn't it be argued that there are too many people doing each subject available in the world? I don't feel like I would be doing anything terribly original within philosophy or economics, and aren't there way too many law students right now?

    I guess that I feel like if I am not a scientists/mathematician/engineer, that I am of no use to society. I really like math and science but my whole life I have seemed to breeze through philosophy/english/history and though I have always worked pretty hard and persevered, maybe I just have to accept that I'm not a scientist?
  7. Jan 9, 2015 #6

    Doug Huffman

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    LOL Read and understand Karl Popper's masterwork The Open Society and Its Enemies that opens with a strong criticism of Plato and his Republic. He followed up with the more pointed The Poverty of Historicism. These lessons have been largely ignored even though he is praised for falsificationism as a solution to the Problem of Demarcation.
  8. Jan 9, 2015 #7
    That's very much true that there's over-saturation in many careers. The point I was trying to drive home more though was that you have to strive for excellence in whatever you do or else be just another guy with a piece of paper. If you're going to do physics, you have to work harder than most of your peers to compete with them and others when you enter the market. Same is true for law and economics, but you have to decide what you're more inclined to want to work hard on and do well in.
  9. Jan 9, 2015 #8
    I guess I'm just wondering if it is naive or just plain dumb to ignore my obvious inclination towards the humanities in order to pursue the sciences if I'm going to be mediocre anyway... I don't want to realize in a couple semesters that I'm actually not cut out for science but already have ruined my GPA... but at the same time I can't imagine going any field of study that isn't heavily quantitative.

    I also have issues with feeling like I'm letting down the female gender by not adding to our scant numbers in the sciences and engineering...
  10. Jan 9, 2015 #9
    I understand completely, but you got a B in vector calculus, not a D or an F. There's still a lot of time before you're in an irreversible hole GPA wise. I have a professor who contradicted my advisor saying he got a C in Linear Algebra for dumb reasons when he was an undergrad and still got into a decent grad school (though he retook Linear Algebra). But like I said, I can't tell you what to do. You have to decide how hard you are willing to work to do what you want to do. There's more to it than just studying too, you can get tutors, study with partners (this is a big one), come on here with your issues with studying or problems, and use any number of the tons of resources available to aid your learning of physics and mathematics. You don't have to go in alone. And you can improve. Two B's are not the end of the world.
  11. Jan 9, 2015 #10
    This is really funny because I am going through this exact same dilemma. I'm currently a dual major in mathematics and philosophy with a minor in physics. I really enjoy philosophy and also have a knack for it but I also love math and physics but I don't have the same knack like I do for philosophy ( I received B's in my math and physics courses as well.) The route I am looking at right now is studying the foundations and philosophy of math and physics in grad school. I know it's really early for you to be thinking about grad school but take a look at some philosophy programs and see what the professors are working on. I was surprised to see a lot of professors in the philosophy department with degrees in theoretical physics working on problems related to physics. Not just thinking loftily about the problems either but actually doing real work towards problems in quantum field theory and other branches of science. A lot of philosophy departments also have a lot of mathematicians on hand for their logic research. The great thing I see about philosophy is that since it is so broad in scope you can really research what you are interested in and it will still fall under the general category of philosophy. I'm not sure if you are a more hands on scientist though. If you interest is in experimental particle physics then yeah philosophy would not be a great choice. If you are more theoretically inclined like me though then you may be able to find a home in a philosophy department. Just study what interests you and do reading in the subjects on the side. Don't compare yourself to others either. I know it's hard but don't concern yourself with how the others are doing in class. Just do the best you can and seek help from the teachers as needed and use that opportunity to forge relationships with them. Enjoy learning and have fun in your classes. Also as you take more classes and study on your own you will see what you might enjoy doing for the rest of your life and what will just be a hobby. I came into college as a music composition major but I realized that it wasn't something that I wanted to do for a living. I'll always write music and I still practice piano for an hour a day but it will just remain a hobby that I love. Same could be said for math, physics, or philosophy.
  12. Jan 9, 2015 #11

    It sounds to me from your original post that you did not try your best in your physics and math courses, so how can you be sure that you are only "mediocre" at math and physics. Try your hardest and THEN reevaluate your true abilities.

    But I agree with others... If you are not willing to put in the work to excel at math and physics, then change to something you are willing to put the work into such as economics or philosophy.
  13. Jan 9, 2015 #12
    In my original post I didn't mean that I didn't try originally, just that it took me about halfway through the semester to get a handle on my study habits, how I learn best, what time of day I should study, etc.

    I am willing to work hard, but I mostly am wondering (a) are there any famous theoretical physicists who got a B in physics 1 or calc 3? And (b) with the way the economy and job markets are nowadays, should I take the "safe" route? My parents are both artists so they don't really have any advice, and my advisor in general is quite a depressing person... I guess I came on here looking for people to tell me how they got to where they were and I was wondering whether others struggle sometimes?

    (Sorry for the ramble)
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