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Programs Trouble with Physics, Keep going?

  1. Oct 16, 2016 #1


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    Hey all. I have a bit of a dilemma.

    Over the past year at university, I've been feeling more and more unhappy (for lack of a better term here). I've been taking 20 credit hour semesters (which is overload -- limit is 18 per semester) and I feel burned out.

    I'm in my junior year for my plan of acquiring a physics and mathematics double major. I take high level math and physics courses. Additionally, I work on research relating to astrophysics. Essentially, I'm not retaining the information, I'm not learning properly anymore, and every day is a fight to get to the next day.

    Here are my three routes:

    Route 1: Continue Onwards.
    If I choose this route, I would try to accomplish what I came to university for... a physics degree (as well as get my math degree). The problem here, is that this would be a 2 year plan (graduating Spring 2018) which features an intense workload. Taking Quantum Mechanics + Electromagnetism together for a year as a senior amongst other courses. As it stands, I am starting to see my grades slip. I got a C (first C at university) in Physics IV (wave, fluids, introduction course), and having extreme trouble this semester (had to withdraw from Electromagnetism I as I just was doing too much, also having serious issues learning Physics Thermodynamics and probability, but I'll probably pass it with a C, B, or even an A if lucky).

    I'd love to go this route as if everything worked out, I'd be heading to graduate school to study astrophysics, which would be pretty awesome.

    Route 2: Just get the math degree and graduate early.
    If I choose this route, which is sounding more appealing every day, I would be able to graduate an entire year earlier. Additionally, my math grades are phenomenal (only one course without an A). The issue here is that I'd be letting go of my physics dream for at least a while (I could always come back, but being realistic.... $$$$ ). I also am unsure of what I would do after getting the degree. I am very interested in grad school, but at this time, if I were to graduate next semester, do I even have time to prep and apply? I'd have to take a GRE I assume.
    Or, do I just enter the industry, and if so, what are my options for $$$? I am around $40,000+ in debt, so I'd have to focus on repaying that, which is not the biggest issue as long as I can get an OK job.
    I would be okay taking some time away, working away some debt.
    I would be happy to go to graduate school for mathematics.

    Route 3: Take an extra year
    This is the least likely of scenarios, but in this scenario I would add an extra year of college to 'make it easier' for me to take in all the information. In this scenario, the goal would be in depth learning of the material since I would not need to take 16-18-20+ credit hour semesters of high level math and physics. In a perfect world, this is the ideal scenario, however, this is also time and money. Doesn't seem to make much sense to through another $10,000+ into the pot and another year of my life (I'm already 27) towards this.

    Essentially, I'm leaning towards the second route, as I think it is where I am the most successful. However, I know, deep down, that I'd be letting myself down a bit if I choose that route over route 1.

    I'd appreciate any guidance to sway me one of the ways.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2016 #2


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    My first thought is that 20 credit hour semesters seems like a lot. In the system I went through, a full course load was considered normal and anything greater than 18 was considered overloading. In some cases ambitious students attempt to overload and do just fine, but those are very few and very far between. The thing is, you need to put a certain amount of time in per course to really learn the material. On top of that, a lot of the true learning in STEM courses comes from really wrestling with hard problems. If you're just jumping from assignment to assignment, you don't have time to really do this. Further, the more courses you have the higher the chances of running into assignment or exam congestion problems (having three things due on the same day). Managing a course load like this requires a precarious balance and any little perturbation can run things off the rails.

    Given that your grades are slipping, it sounds to be like you might need to drop down to a lighter course load. I know that's probably not the best thing financially, and probably not what you want to hear, but realistically, you're not going to get into graduate school with only Bs and Cs. As well, you're paying all this money and putting all this time into these courses, so you want to make sure that you're doing your best to understand them. What's the point of finishing early if you don't understand what you've done?

    Another thing you might want to consider cutting is your research commitment. I know research is important, and often it's one of the most interesting aspects of an undergraduate education, but not at the expense of grades. All the research experience in the world is not going to help you if you don't make the GPA cutoff for graduate school admissions. And you would still have your summers (although it's worth also using that time to minimize your debt load if possible).
  4. Oct 16, 2016 #3


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    The junior year is generally the worst time to take on too many courses. It's the year that classes get substantially more difficult. It seems pretty clear you need to cut back on your workload.

    You could go ahead and spend two years to finish the math degree and take a bunch of physics courses on the side, perhaps earning a minor in physics. Even though you won't have a BS in physics, it may be enough to qualify you to get into grad school in physics if that's ultimately what you want to do.
  5. Oct 16, 2016 #4


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    Thanks, @Choppy, I really appreciate the thoughtful response.

    The one major thing I realized from your post is that 20 credit hour semesters are just not something that I can continue doing.


    In regards to this, I am almost at my math degree. All I would need is one more semester (compared to 3 more semesters for physics + math) to get my math degree. In fact, I already have enough courses for a physics minor.
  6. Oct 18, 2016 #5


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    I wanted to update this thread with a new and exciting "route."

    I've taken enough courses in earth and environment science where I can continue with my plan to graduate in Spring 2018 and get a double major in Mathematics and Earth and Environmental sciences, with a minor in physics. This would be a slightly easier course load and, in general, I do exceedingly well in EaES courses.

    Now, I'm not sure if this route would fix my current lack of motivation or willpower, but it would be nice to be more of a 'top dog' rather than barely making it in physics. I feel like I could be more successful (financially and academically) going this route.

    I feel like I would be a strong candidate for graduate schools in EaES with a resume of a double major (math + EAES) with great grades (compared to a physics major with sub-par grades) along with a minor in physics. Additionally, the research work would translate well on my potential graduate application.

    It's just a matter of how to get me motivated again.
  7. Oct 18, 2016 #6


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    Out of curiosity, does anyone know if my Physics Professor that I do research in will want to continue research if I switch majors to Earth and Environmental Science?

    Also, will he be disappointed?

    It looks like I am about to drop my other high level Physics course for the semester. A disapointment as I went from 20 credit hours to 12 credit hours, but something had to give this semester and if I can salvage 4 A's in Japanese, ODE, Relativity, and PHY Research, the semester will be a net positive to me.

    Additionally, if I go the EaES route, I can graduate a semester earlier than expected (instead of Spring 2018, it would be fall 2017) given me more off time prior to graduate school in EaES.
  8. Oct 19, 2016 #7

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    You're asking us what he thinks. How should we know? You should ask him.

    Again, you're asking us what he thinks. How should we know? You should ask him.
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