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Should I still pursue a physics major?

  1. Apr 4, 2012 #1

    I'm feeling a little discouraged lately. I'm taking my second introductory physics course this semester, and although I'm doing excellent with the algebra material, I'm terrible at calculus based physics (our class does both separately, with the calculus being 20% of total grade).

    If I stay in the major, next semester I'm going to take classical mechanics and thermodynamics and I know for sure those will be entirely calculus based (might be a good thing since I'll be more immersed in the math).

    So suppose I master the introductory algebra-based physics but do poorly at the calculus stuff, can I still catch up later on? I heard that some physics majors take only the algebra-based physics and they do well later on, is this true?

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 4, 2012 #2
    All physics majors need calculus in order to be successful in physics and you cannot take most physics courses without a strong foundation in calculus. There is no way around this. What parts of calculus are you particularly having trouble with? How have you tried to addressed the problems you are having with calculus?

    As far as the question you asked which was whether or not you should pursue physics as a major, the answer to that question is that there is no answer because I can't answer that question for you. I cannot answer your question because I don't know your cognitive abilities nor do I know how strong your passion is for physics, nor how motivated you are to improve your weaknesses in calculus so you can understand many areas of physics better.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2012
  4. Apr 4, 2012 #3
    What if I retake the courses next semester (just the calculus part)? I'll go on to CM/thermodynamics and then attend (unregistered) the introductory physics lectures. I'll have to talk to my professor about that.
  5. Apr 4, 2012 #4
    If you are really passionate about learning physics, I would say retake the calculus class if that would increase your understanding of calculus .The investment in taken the extra calculus classes would be worth it, assuming your finances are fine. If you are registering for a calculus class or introductory calculus based physics class at your university that you are paying for, I would not waste money on it , but instead go online and search for online lecture based courses that clearly conveys the material very well too me and save my money. There are many colleges and education institutions, such as MIT opencourseware , ITT, Khansacademy and Patrickjmt, that offer calculus courses for free.
  6. Apr 4, 2012 #5
    I don't have to register again to retake the course, I could just sit through the lectures if my schedule (and professor) allows. But if I didn't do very well this semester (in the calculus part), can I catch up when I take the advanced courses next semester? Assuming I do very well on the algebra material(which I do), at least.

    I'll also have a few months ahead of me to prepare, and I'm gonna take calc 3 over the summer (I'm the only physics-major in class who hasn't taken calc 3 yet, that might be why I'm falling behind). I know that ultimately I'll have to talk to my professor about it, but he's away for spring break so I figured I'd ask here.
  7. Apr 4, 2012 #6
    If your advanced physics courses require you to know calculus and you don't do very well in your current calculus semester course that you are taken, then you probably won't do well in your advanced physics courses if you don't have a strong foundation in calculus.

    How bad are you falling behind in your calc 3 class? If you don't think you are going to passed your calc 3 course or achieve a decent grade in calc 3, then I would retake the class over the summer.
  8. Apr 4, 2012 #7
    No, I said that I've never taken calc 3 before, which might be why I'm doing bad in calculus-based physics. Do you think that's the case? Are surface integrals and flux taught in calc 3? If so, then I definitely need to take it, which I will this summer anyways. I usually do very well on summer courses, so hopefully I'll have time to prepare myself before the fall semester.

    I just took my calculus-based physics exam and I think I failed. And that's weird because I got 100 for the past two algebra-based exams. I don't know what to do. During the calculus tutorials, the professor teaches one thing in class and on the exam it's a whole different beast. I love physics and I really want to be good at it. Do I still have a chance?
  9. Apr 6, 2012 #8
    You absolutely need to learn how calculus and physics relate. My upper level physics (and grad) classes taught me more about calculus than my upper level math classes. Using calculus will show you where all those "algebra" formulas come from. You'll actually be creating the equations rather than using them.

    Although, if you've never learned about surface integrals and flux from a math standpoint then I can understand why you're struggling. I do remember that happening to me in my first E&M physics class because we learned about the calculus stuff for E&M a quarter later than the physics class! That was a very frustrating experience. I went to office hours a lot for that intro E&M class and I would recommend you do the same.
  10. Apr 6, 2012 #9
    That sounds a lot like what I'm going through. All the math that I'm learning in this course is new to me, and we spend too little time on it (1 hour tutorial per week as opposed to 4 hours of the algebra lecture). So could it be that I just need to take calculus 3 first before I revisit this material?
  11. Apr 6, 2012 #10
    Study calculus over the summer on your own so you aren't bogged down with other things, that way you can get a lot more done in terms of conceptualizing the material. Also restudy the calculus portion of physics over the summer as well. You'll know, or have an idea of what's going on and should probably see certain things or relate to certain methods taught that you weren't getting in the semester.

    That is what happened to me at least once I began re-studying on my own, it seemed more easier than what was being taught in class. I'd suggest doing that instead of spending money on a retake.

    But physics II generally requires only a calculus-II based course and not calculus III, although when you get near the middle of the semester you start to learn some of the basics in calc-III as you have mentioned, but a course in calculus-II is more than sufficient to pass the class with an A imo as I have done.

    But from what you stated, your weak area is calculus, so you should take the time over the summer to re-learn or develop a much better competency in calculus before taking calculus III as just jumping into calc.-III w/out having grasped I and II would only hurt you more than it helps you.
  12. Apr 6, 2012 #11
    Hey everyone,

    I will be studying "B.Eng in Engineering Physics"

    What are the reviews for this program ?
    Is it good ?
    What masters does it lead to ?

    Any suggestions/advice ?
  13. Apr 6, 2012 #12
    Yeah, start a new thread.
  14. Apr 6, 2012 #13
    I'm gonna take calculus 3 over the summer either way since I have nothing to do. If I have the courage, I will also retake calculus 2 without registering for it (meaning I'll go to the lectures for free but won't take the exams or get credit for it; I don't know if all schools allow that, but mine does). And then next semester I will also attend the physics lecture (just the calculus bit) if my schedule allows. Whatever it takes!
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