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Programs Should I switch majors?

  1. Nov 9, 2017 #1

    I’m kinda down in the dumps right now because of school. I’m in my first year of physics and uh I’ve had a couple bad tests for some of my courses and I’m starting to worry that if I can’t even do really well right now, how will I make it through my upper years. I really don’t want to switch out of physics - I’ve spent half of middle school and all of high school to be here, it would be a waste and I like physics too much to not make it my major, but I’m also scared of how I’m doing. I want to keep going though, and not quit. I am at the average I need to be at and can always take easier courses to boost my marks but idk :/ any advice or insight will be helpful!
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 9, 2017 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    If a person asks whether he should pursue physics on a physics forum, what kind of advice is he likely to get?
    - probably thoughts like "Don't get discouraged! Endure! Work problems!".

    To give balanced consideration to the alternatives, it would help if you explained them. If you switch majors, what would you switch to? Is there any reason to suspect courses in the different major would involve easier tests? (Some majors might require that you take the same introductory physics courses that physic majors take.)

    How much of your interest in physics is due to you previous teachers? Sometimes a student has a keen interest in a topic due to having a very charismatic teacher and when the student moves on a different academic setting, the next set of instructors aren't so effective.
  4. Nov 9, 2017 #3


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    There are many reasons you could be doing poorly on your tests, so the first thing I would do is try to identify why you're doing poorly and try to improve in those areas. For example, many students don't get enough sleep, or don't know how to study effectively, or cannot manage their time well, etc. Many are overloaded on course work from trying to take too many courses at the same time (don't try to rush through school. Life ain't that short).

    I would imagine your school has some sort of group or organization devoted to helping students learn so called "academic skills", like how to study effectively, set up a schedule, and often offer tutoring services and various workshops. If you haven't looked into this, then I highly recommend doing so. These services can be immensely helpful.
  5. Nov 9, 2017 #4
    My interest doesn’t have to do with my previous instructors, if it was, I never would have liked physics in the first place. I’m not sure what I would switch to, everything I like has the same courses as physics anyways so it wouldn’t be any easier if I switched out - if I switched out I might go off to atmospheric science if anything, that’s the only other thing I enjoy.
  6. Nov 9, 2017 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. Can you elaborate?
  7. Nov 9, 2017 #6
    I’m trying to figure out what’s up (definitely has to do with my brain health ) but everything just sounds like an excuse :( Dumb mistakes on tests, freaking out, all of that stuff happens too so I don’t know what to pinpoint which is an issue :/ There are group study sessions but they don’t really help me much :/
  8. Nov 9, 2017 #7


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    An excuse is just a reason that's easily correctable. If you're having problems and don't know how to correct them, or the only ways you know how are very difficult for you, then they aren't excuses. They are valid reasons.

    You're unlikely to figure things out in a few minutes or even a few days. Give yourself a little time. When you're studying or doing homework, try to be conscious of any problems you're having and think about why you're having them. If you can barely read your textbook because you can't keep your mind off of sources of stress, then you may need to look into how to handle and reduce stress. That's just one example. They key is to be conscious of yourself, your feelings, your thoughts, and to critically think about why you're having them. Note that this is rarely easy. You'll likely find it difficult at first, so don't despair.

    Also keep in mind that there may not be one single cause. The combination of many smaller things can add up to cause significant problems. Luckily these are often easy to handle once you're aware of them.

    And remember that test scores do not always reflect someone's level of knowledge or ability to understand a subject. Plenty of people understand the material just fine but just make small mistakes (sign errors, arithmetic mistakes, etc) on their exams. Once again, if you know these things happen then you can work on trying to correct them. When I was in calculus, I had to start writing ##a+(-b) +(-c)## instead of ##a-b-c## on my homework and exams just to avoid losing track of my negative signs. If you find that you're making a lot of these kinds of errors, I recommend looking up information on how to avoid them. I'm nearly certain there is a wealth of information out there on the subject.

    I used to have the students I tutored in math and science do fewer intermediate steps in their heads and instead write them down. Doing things in your head is almost always the cause of these kinds of errors in my opinion. Even if you're using a calculator, write out the entire equation or expression on paper. It's far easier to find out where you've done something wrong if you can look at your paper and follow your work from start to finish. "Oh, that's not supposed to be -mg, it's +mg!"
  9. Nov 9, 2017 #8
    I have the average I need in order to continue through my program
  10. Nov 9, 2017 #9
    I wish I thought of the plus/minus thing earlier, I messed up calculations on a matrix inverse (on a mid term)earlier on in the question, lost half of that question, completely screwed up my test (I’m going to start using this, it seems like a really good tip! Thank you!!)

    For calculus I finished with 30 minutes left, took that time to go over my teat - found one major mistake, but missed another one :(

    I know I am stressing and most likely because there are some people in my class who understand the new concepts right away but I have question after question about them.

    I was in my physics tutorial today (really fun tutorial!) and our professor was rolling objects down a ramp, we had to guess why and which object would reach the bottom first - through out the tutorial I kept thinking of mass distribution around the Center of rotation and rotational velocity, rotational inertia, etc

    Turns out, our professor really wanted us to think in terms of energy - and I don’t know why but that’s what he wanted and some students figured it out right away, where as I ended up confused and tried to figure out how my idea would fit into this because I know that different shapes depending on how far or close masses are to the Center of rotation, have greater or lesser rotational inertia

    When I asked if what I said would effect anything, he didn’t seem very confident - he didn’t turn down what I said (he never does even if you’re completely wrong), he just said “umm it could” and then elaborated on that by stating a scenario where it could but obviously that wasn’t the point of our demonstration.

    Just not being able to figure things out and do that critical thinking scares me and all of a sudden it’s like “oh no you’re struggling to understand and find solutions!!”
  11. Nov 9, 2017 #10


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    You clearly thought about the situation in terms of mass distribution, which is perfectly fine. It's directly related to the energy of the objects. Don't stress too much about whether or not you can quickly identify the connection between two concepts. What matters is that you can learn those concepts and then apply what you've learned. If you ever get to a point in your physics career where you are developing a new law or theory, you absolutely won't do it in 5 minutes. Heck, you'll be lucky if you can do it in 5 months.

    Ah, but do their accomplishments reflect on you somehow? Almost certainly not. So why worry about if they can do things a little faster or easier than you can? Will that knowledge change anything for you? Nope. Not a thing. So why worry? You have no idea if they are actually better than you or if they simply have more experience. I spent about 4 years as a member of PF before I ever started a physics class, so I was far better prepared than most of my classmates. I was already familiar with most of the basic physics concepts and, importantly, I was already familiar with the terminology and structure of scientific laws and explanations. That's a powerful advantage that has very little bearing on if I'm actually good at doing physics. I just had a head start in the journey.

    Even if they are better than you, well, get used to it. If you pick a task or skill, any task or skill, I guarantee that you'll be able to find someone in the world better at it than you are. Like I said, their abilities and accomplishments are not reflections upon your own. So if you find someone who's better at something than you, praise them (everyone likes praise) and move on.

    And don't feel bad if you find that you keep judging yourself based on how your peers are doing. That's built right into us. But we have the choice to recognize this and to try to change ourselves. It just takes time and effort.
  12. Nov 11, 2017 #11
    It sucks a bit to feel behind when everyone else gets it but then again, I guess I’ve always been this way, I learn something, take a break from it over the summer, get back to it when school starts and everything makes sense automatically. We are learning some stuff that is new to me (conservation of momentum; angular motion). Conservation of momentum isn’t brand new but I’m calling it new because my teacher rushed through it in high school, and whenever I asked questions, they really weren’t answered last year. (I had a whole list of questions about conservation of momentum that my prof answered this year - great guy!)

    As for angular motion, I understand it- but only by drawing it out and thinking in terms of geometry and math rather than the physical situation, so I don’t have the same understanding as everyone else - I’m hoping I can begin understanding it the way I’m supposed to be.
    Also, I think you’re right - from the answers and discussions those students have, I think they do have more physics behind them to help them out- they have conversations about modern physics and such - things that I never learnt yet.

    Thank you so much! The change deadline ended and I never ended up giving in the form- it would be a shame to drop out of something because I’m struggling, I’m sure everyone has struggled at one point in time.

    I keep comparing how easy I was understanding things at the beginning to now, and the reason why I probably understood things better in the beginning was because grade 11,grade 12 Physics, and grade 12 calculus all had similar dynamics and kinematics concepts so I was exposed to them 3 times over the 2 years, versus conservation of momentum which I’ve barely learnt once.
  13. Nov 11, 2017 #12


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    There is no such thing. Everyone is different. It may happen that something "clicks" one day and you understand it far better than you did before, but that's not the way you're "supposed to understand it" more than any other way.

    Also remember that college is not high school. You will almost certainly need to put more time and effort into learning college level subjects than you did for high school. So if you think it's difficult, then you're right. It is. But if it wasn't, then everyone would do it.

    I feel I need to clarify on my method a bit, as I think I misspoke.

    Let's say I have a formula such as ##v_1+v_2+i=0## and I solve for ##v_1## to get ##v_1 = -v_2-i##.
    Then, elsewhere, I solve for ##v_2## and ##i## and get ##v_2=-5## and ##i=3##.
    In my first formula, I'd write down ##v_1 = -(-5) - 3 = 5-3 = 2##
    So here I've done several things. I've written down the intermediate step of replacing the variables with their values, I've made sure to keep my formula identical to its original form, and I've written down the intermediate step of adding ##v_2## and ##i##. This way I avoid the highly error prone method of doing two or three steps in my head and just writing down the result. I can also track my work, so when I get an answer wrong I can look back and understand what I was doing instead of spending time going, "Where did that 2 come from???"

    I can almost guarantee you that writing down the little intermediate steps will help you avoid arithmetic and sign errors.
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