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Trying to self-learn undergrad calculus & physics?

  1. Oct 15, 2009 #1
    I have finished my undergraduate degree in OCEANOGRAPHY where we used equations (but did not have to derive them) and I read up on maths concepts (e.g. fourier transforms) but didnt learn them in class. I am looking to take a MASTERS in physical oceanography. I have not formally studied maths since GCSE, and to do the masters I need to know CALCULUS and PHYSICS. I looked into taking courses but could not find any suitable for me to do within a few months.

    I have UNIVERSITY CALCULUS (Hass,Weir & Thomas) and UNIVERSITY PHYSICS (Sears & Zemanskys , Young and Freedman) which were bought for me by my professor who has encouraged me to improve my maths and physics because he thinks I am capable of doing well in physical oceanography. In addition I have bought SPIVAKS CALCULUS book after reading the reviews online and have just started with the 1st chapter. Should I study maths and physics together, or one before the other?

    Does anyone have any advice for me as I am starting out? Any other stories from people who had to self learn maths?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2009 #2
    For a physics text I would recommend Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Krane. Note that there is a Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker, but the books with Krane are the earlier editions, which from what I hear are the better editions (and cheaper). The physics book you have might be good, but I don't really know, as the Halliday/Resnick book is the only basic physics book I'm familiar with.

    What I would do is study them simultaneously and by the time you get to the part of the physics text that uses basic calculus, you will probably be far enough in Spivak to be prepared. If not, then just pause on the physics until you've learned enough calculus to understand the material. I can't remember when calculus comes into play in the Halliday/Resnick book (I learned from the Walker book).

    The Spivak book will give you excellent preparation in calculus. There is also a calculus book by Richard Courant which gives a lot of physical intuition that would complement Spivak well.
  4. Oct 16, 2009 #3
    correct me if I were wrong, in doing physical oceanography, I suppose fluid mechanics and thermodynamics are what you see everyday. If that's the case, then you should get yourself a solid background in multi-dimensional calculus and partial differential equations. On the physics side, get a thorough understanding of mechanics and thermodynamics, and pick up a book or two on fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and heat transfer, something that are being used in the Mechanical Engineering Dept, go through them and learn how to derive the equations yourself.
  5. Oct 16, 2009 #4


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    Spivak's calculus book is unsuitable for you. It is a caclulus book for mathematicians which is actually about real analysis.
  6. Oct 16, 2009 #5


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    Excuse me, but it is hard to believe that a college would offer a bachelor's degree in Oceanography, or any science, and not require Calculus or even Differential Equations. I had a friend once who, in grad school had to take Calculus because he had majored in Agriculture and was going into Agricultural Economics but that is quite different from Oceanography. Sounds to me like your undergraduate college let you down.
  7. Oct 16, 2009 #6


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    Definitely drop the Spivak's book. Not for you as dx stated.

    I've had some success and failures doing self-study. Beware that it's a lot of work, probably more so than learning in a class environment. You must organize your own plan to learn the material. That's a lot of work. A good plan is going to help you a lot. If you plan on just reading the textbook and doing problems here and there, good luck and hopefully that works out.

    I am "self-studying" Chinese and I put a lot of work into just the planning. I put quotation marks cause I get tutored 3 times a week. I'm the one who directs the lesson. Everything is what I planned. I ask all the questions of why this and why that. I put my own sentences together and they point out errors if there are any, and learn WHY I made those mistakes and why the correct way is appropriate.

    Hence, I think you should step back occasionally and ask yourself WHY to just about anything. Answers may not come right away. I know when I asked myself "Why are we looking for roots of the derivative? We've done this a million times already with a regular function." And I was welcomed with more than one answer later on. Yes, I self-studied Calculus... but only Calculus I. To imagine Calculus II on my own... oh man...
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