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Programs Should I still try to pursue to physics?

  1. Jan 18, 2015 #1
    Hello, I am currently a third year student at my local community college who is in the process becoming a pharmacy technician for the moment. My long-term goal is to transfer to Michigan State University. Lately I have had some unfortunate situations happen to me. I have passed calculus 1-3 & differential equations with ease, but failed calculus-based physics 1 (mechanics) twice.

    I do not know if it was the way I was taught it or how I approached the subject, lecture was combined with labs in the course. I read the textbook & took notes on the most important points, concepts, figures, equations, etc. I got completely lost towards the end of the semester, especially with oscillations, statics and moment of inertia. Occasionally, I would also get lost with the formulation/creation of your own equations for projects from what you know. Maybe it was not enough practice or something like that? It hurts when you are passionate for a subject & yet you do not have the necessary talent or skills to pursue it. I tried physics out but things didn't work out like I hoped. I wanted to become an astrophysicist where I could do both physics & astronomy. For now, I am pursuing a path to become a certified pharmacy technician or CPhT, I know it's not the best job in the world, but it's better than nothing.

    A question would be, should I still keep trying or would you suggest that I change majors to a field that doesn't involve physics? The mathematics B.S. degree at MSU requires that I take a full year of physics, which I do not know if I can do it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2015 #2
    If you pursued physics, what would you do differently? That's the question you have to ask yourself.
  4. Jan 19, 2015 #3


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    Just how was your physics 1 course taught? Sequence of topics? Most fundamental is you must solve problems by drawing diagrams, assigning variables, labeling diagrams, listing fundamental symbolic relationships, choose the equations you need, form the equations and expressions from the picture and identify what variables you need to solve; then solve the equation/s for the variables, and then substitute the given values to get the solved values. This is not much different from how you would handle other Mathematics courses.
  5. Jan 23, 2015 #4
    @symbolipoint I'm sorry for the late reply. Also, the text book we used was Physics for Scientists & Engineers by Randall Knight, 2nd & 3rd Edition.

    We did this order:

    1. Introduction, motion concepts, vectors, velocity, acceleration, etc.
    2. 1D Kinematics: I didn't really have a problem here, seemed straight forward identifying the givens, draw a dot diagram figure out what you need to find and so forth.
    3. 2D Kinematics: I did get a little lost here, but figured out that this is basically two 1D kinematics problems in one, broken down into X & Y components, however I was completely confused when we covered rotational motion, perhaps because the approach to solving these problems are different since it consists of radians and so forth.
    4. Forces/1D dynamics: Force diagrams were not so bad, again felt a little similar to 1D kinematics.
    5. Newton's 3rd Law: Interaction pairs seemed to make sense to me, but became a little confusing because you would have to find a force equation for X & Y consisting of variables from multiple force diagrams.
    6. 2D dynamics: Similar situation happened here when it came to rotational motion like in 2D kinematics, was also confusing seeing forces in X & Y as opposed to 1D.
    7. Momentum: Didn't seem that bad, felt like I understood the impulse-momentum theorem, collisions, explosions, and so forth.
    8. Energy: Lots of manipulation of equations from experience, conservation laws seemed straight forward, however putting all the concepts together seems to get me.
    9. Work: I became completely lost by this point, didn't really understand this concept much at all, but lecture on this topic seemed very brief.
    10. Rotational motion of rigid bodies: By far the hardest part of physics 1 for me, especially with net torque, rot. kinetic energy, moment of inertia, angular momentum and statics, was definitely a lot of concepts for one chapter.
    11. Oscillations: Perhaps this the part where my trigonometry was slacking the most, amplitude, frequency, etc. some of the material covered here I haven't done since precalculus 2 in high school.

    From my perspective, it seems alot of the problem has to do with rusty trigonometry, radians etc. having not done the stuff in so long; also, rotational motion. I was considering Schaum's Outlines 3000 solved problems in physics, as I've heard good reviews about the book.

    @axmls: My ultimate goal is to first pursue a B.S. in Physics, then a Ph.D in Astrophysics, I really find Astronomy fascinating as well as electromagnetism.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
  6. Jan 24, 2015 #5

    Stephen Tashi

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    That account of your physics course is very useful to any would-be advisor.

    My diagnosis is that you have conceptual difficulties once things get into 2 or more dimensions. If you pursue physics, you have to figure out "the game" of vector calculus as it is applied to physics. Since you've given the course 2 tries, don't give it a 3rd try at a university until you have done some preparation. If you have a strong desire to pursue physics, I suggest you find a tutor and go over the material in 3, and 6 through 11. If you can't find a tutor, try Schaum's outlines.. Ask questions on the forum.

    It's unclear whether you should be a math major. Again, it depends on your conceptual understanding. There are students who can "work the problems", but have fundamental misconceptions about the material. (To be fair, sometimes it's more efficient just follow a pattern presented in examples than to think deeply about the concepts involved.) I'd classify the levels of understanding calculus, from lowest to highest as 1) Be able to apply formulas , detect patterns from examples 2) Have an intuitive idea of the concepts involved 3) Have both an intuitive and "legalistic" understanding of the material -for example, be able to understand epsilon-delta definitions and proofs. If you're going to be a math major your understanding needs to approach level 3).

    You didn't mention taking a course in linear algebra or a course in abstract algebra. Have you taken any non-calculus courses that required you to write proofs?

    How real is your interest in Astronomy ? Do you build telescopes? Do you read technical articles?
  7. Jan 24, 2015 #6
    To be honest, it has been a long time since I've done proofs. I haven't done them since geometry in high school, I'd say my calc & diff EQ classes had more emphasis on how problems are solved, we didn't go over proofs hardly at all. I haven't taken either linear algebra or abstract algebra yet.

    I read astronomy magazines & journal articles consisting of equations and so forth, I find it interesting to know what is going on in the field. I hate to admit it, but I have never once looked in or built a telescope. Some people have told me it would probably be best if I just change majors, but I don't really know what else I could see myself doing.
  8. Jan 24, 2015 #7

    Stephen Tashi

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    My advice is that if you enter a university soon, don't immediately declare yourself a math or physics major. If you declare your major to be math or physics, you'll be required to take several bewildering courses at once. Before you declare yourself a math major, study the material in an abstract algebra book or a linear algebra book. Study a book about mathematical logic. You need to do more that study the first two chapters in a book because the material in the first few chapters in some books is often trivial and might be covered in the first week of class.

    Thumb through a college catalog for the list of majors that are offered. There are lots of them besides math and physics.
  9. May 23, 2016 #8
    Update, I passed calc-based Physics 1 with a 2.5 at my community college this semester and maybe taking physics 2 there as well. The trick that helped me succeed was utilization of my resources, I did practice problems with a tutor every week and went to SI (supplemental instructor) sessions every day before I had class. Now that I passed, I'm still unsure whether to major in physics with as much help as I needed in the class. I was thinking about a double major in physics and astrophysics to be honest and pursuing it in graduate school. Any advice would be helpful, thanks.
  10. May 23, 2016 #9


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    Grade of "2.5" in Physics 1 is less than good but better than bad. This is assuming 4=A, 3=B, 2=C, 1=D.

    To better decide how you should go, see what you can LEARN and DO in the Physics 2, Electricity & Magnetism course. If you earn just a C and have great trouble doing it, then Physics as major field would not be for you. You should at least still look for choices in Science, Engineering, Mathematics areas. Also, could you consider reviewing material which you already studied to earn a grade for? You may find you learn the material better. Even better, could you consider studying material from a course BEFORE you enroll to study that course for credit? These might be practices you need to try if you decide you really want to earn a degree in Physics.
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