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What does it take?

  1. Sep 25, 2008 #1
    what does it take??

    Hey guys,

    I have posted a few times before, as have a lot of others, on being unable to decide on a career in either physics or engineering. As it happens in a few weeks i will have finished my first year at uni, which is great, but now i really am at that fork in the road where i need a specific major in mind for choosing my second year subjects and am still feeling a bit lost.

    I think at the moment i am really leaning more towards a major in physics... One of the reservations i have though is how much harder does it get? I have always had great grades in physics and maths and dont find the coursework particularly difficult yet, but my main question is:

    how do you know whether you are up to doing a major in physics?? How do you know if you have what it takes, not just to be mediocre but good??

    I have huge interest and i guess good ability, but does that cut it? I think i have this idea that you have to be completely out of this world to do really well...???

    Anyway, would love to hear from anyone that felt the same, and their personal outcome. Or simply what people think in general.


    P.S. Sorry for another physics/engineering type topic ;)
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2008 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Re: what does it take??

    "Tell me if I will succeed if I try" is a very difficult question to answer.
  4. Sep 25, 2008 #3
    Re: what does it take??

    The best way to make any tough choice in life is to flip a coin. This absolves you from the responsibility of making the wrong choice, since the choice was not yours. Plus, statistically, you're guaranteed to make the right choice about half the time.

    There are too many factors involved for anyone to judge this. Every school is different. Your interests are different. What teachers you get will impact how much you enjoy the subject. You can't know how you're going to do until you try.

    Unfortunately, how hard your classes are now and how your grades are are only partial indicators of your success.

    Teachers have different standards for their classes. Some treat classes as filters, ideally failing the lowest performers or discouraging them from continuing on. Other teachers reward effort, but pay no regard to ability, passing all students who manage to turn in every assignment with ink on the page. Don't falsely assume that your grade is a fair estimate of your ability, because although that's what a grade is supposed to be, they exist purely to satisfy the needs of the university administration.

    The one thing I can say with certainty is that if you find your classes easy, you aren't performing as well as you could. If you don't push your limits, you won't learn as much as you could. Exercise your mind as you would a muscle. Push it to exhaustion, even if it means you fail a class. As long as you sincerely work towards understanding the material, you will make progress.

    The hardest part is never learning the material. It is coming to terms with your ego. When you fail a test, you feel like ****. You start to wonder whether you are "good enough" or "smart enough" for your major. When the next day of class comes around, you wonder why you bother going. When the next assignment comes around, you get flustered when you can't answer a problem.

    But the saying goes: "what one fool can do, another can." There is no one too dumb to learn physics or anything else they love. Work hard. If you did in fact choose the right major, eventually you'll hit a point where you don't know if you're good enough. When that time comes, be prepared to work even harder, and suck it up if you fail a test. Get some extra help, scrape by, and by the time you graduate, it will all "click".
  5. Sep 28, 2008 #4


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    Re: what does it take??

    Unfortunately I don't think there's any absolute indicator that can tell you whether or not you'll be successful if you pursue physics. From the sound of your post, you seem to have done okay through your first year. This has likely given you a taste of university level physics, and you like it. Stuggling at this level, or simply not enjoying it are indicators that you may not be successful in going further, so you don't have any "negative" indicators.

    When I was at that stage, I made my decision to go on based on the fact that I enjoyed physics more than any of my other classes and as a result I did very well in it. I wasn't perfect, and I hated first-year labs as I went through them although, largely this was due to a lack of proper preparation. I eventually went on to complete a Ph.D. in medical physics.
  6. Sep 29, 2008 #5
    Re: what does it take??

    Let me first say that you can probably get better advice by chatting with someone who knows your work - a professor or a tutor perhaps. I agree with Tic Tac that good grades don't necessarily correlate positively with scientific aptitude.

    Perhaps it is just as important to consider what do you see yourself doing after you finish your undergraduate degree? Would you like to go to graduate school? Teach? Work at a company?

    As long as you find studying physics satisfying you have a good chance to succeed in your program. Feeling as though you are doing a good job is part of that satisfaction, but you will eventually reach a point (if not during undergrad then at some point not so distant) where you really are challenged and struggle. I was chatting with a co-worker the other day and he described the second year lab we teach as an exercise in "frustration management". Part of learning to be a scientist is coping when you can't get the answer right away.
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