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Insights Work Ethic Is a Key to Success for Science Majors - Comments

  1. Dec 15, 2017 #1

    Dr. Courtney

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  3. Dec 15, 2017 #2


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    Uh ... why on Earth would you think it's limited to science majors? It's a key to success for damned near EVERYTHING
  4. Dec 15, 2017 #3
    Well this is PHYSICS forums, so I think tailoring the article to STEM fields would be appropriate?
  5. Dec 15, 2017 #4
    Great write up Dr. Courtney. Saw this when I was at a stop light and bookmarked for when I got home.
    In regards to time management and course load, what would you advise for break periods? I ask because I frequently find myself inconsistent with my study habits. For a few weeks, Ill spend around 6 hours in the library per day studying, writing notes, doing assignments, practice problems, etc. But after a couple weeks of this I start to get a little burnt out and have a full week of minimal effort. Then I spend the week after catching back up.
  6. Dec 15, 2017 #5

    Dr Transport

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    To help find your way and get some techniques on studying and time management, try this website and the writers written books. http://calnewport.com/ I have read 3 of the 5 of them and started to incorporate those lessons into my everyday work and I see some improvements. I also sent these books to my niece and nephew who will be going to college next year as Christmas presents hoping that it helps them get a better handle on their college careers and majors (physics and electrical engineering respectively).
  7. Dec 15, 2017 #6


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    As I am not familiar with the US homeschooling system I found the first two sections hard to follow. Sure, things like "work before play" are easy to understand, but the parts about credits, courses, not courses, required days of whatever and so on all assume that you are familiar with the system.
  8. Dec 15, 2017 #7

    Dr. Courtney

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    As someone else noted, I highlighted the importance to science majors, because of the readership and the people described in the article.

    I've found it useful to interleave humanities with science and math, spending at most 1 hour at a stretch on any given science or math course and then circling back around after time in other subjects. Meals and chores also provide useful breaks. There is not enough time in the week to do things like take breaks for video games or sports between study sessions. Most college students really have to finish work for the day before shifting to those. I certainly did.

    Thanks for the feedback. There are 50 different homeschool systems in the US - one for each state. One common feature is that many require home schoolers to complete the same 180 days of instruction that many public systems have.
  9. Dec 16, 2017 #8
    Yes good article. I believe good study habits triumphs all.
  10. Dec 16, 2017 #9


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    Excellent insight. I may encourage my elder daughter to read it. We have similar rules in our house, and even though she isn't always thrilled about it she usually understands the logic behind it. She has pointed out that her friends often study until midnight or even later, often because they take breaks to watch one (or more) TV shows, or because they are involved in an unsustainable number of extra-curricular activities. Somehow she is usually done with homework and in bed reading well before 10.

    Since there are real limits to how much time they can spend on homework without a break, we have encouraged our daughters to find other important activities like exercise or practicing musical instruments that act to rejuvinate them when they need a break from homework. My elder daughter will usually be more productive if she practices in the middle of her homework time than if she simply tries to push straight through. It is almost as if the discipline of practicing helps her mind focus on academics as well as music.

  11. Dec 18, 2017 #10


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    I couldn't agree more.

    There was this guy who understood the concept of quantum chemistry more than anyone else in the Lab, much better than the advisors, objectively speaking. Everyone called him a genius for understanding them, even though we had the worst quantum chemistry classes possible in which the teachers were completely unwilling to teach anything.

    But I know that this guy stood up late -- sometimes not even sleeping -- for days and weeks in an attempt to understand one certain concept of quantum chemistry, and never gave up until he understood.

    I believe this is pure work ethics.

    So many people out there refrain from studying quantum physics at least in my department because of the peculiarity of the subject when first encountered. Together with the worst quantum physics classes that we had to take, so many people didn't want to study them. I hate it when these people say "I tried my best to understand but I couldn't", because I will tell them that they were nowhere near close to trying their best. The guy I mentioned above, is what I call "real" trying the best. He studied alone without any guidance and yet he has achieved correct interpretation and principles of quantum chemistry by devoting himself to it.

    Now, I don't necessarily recommend staying up all night to understand something. Most people will be unable to think straight doing that and at some point it is going to be waste of your time. You should get at least 6 hours of sleep, and you may still end up with the same outcome in the same given time. However, work ethics IMHO makes up 60% of the success. In my experience, the rest is pretty much talent and environment.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2017
  12. Dec 18, 2017 #11
    Indeed! But working hard is only the first half, the second is working smart and efficiently. Any fool can put in the hours, but you make the biggest gains by studying with a strategy and technique. Also underrated is how important proper nutrition and sleep are to studying. You would not grind a high performance car into the ground using cheap fuel and oil so why do we do it with our bodies?
  13. Dec 21, 2017 #12

    Mister T

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    I wonder how much those percentages he assigned to himself are influenced by the behaviors he sees in his peers. For example, the people he tutors. As you know, our society is filled with a lot of grade-gifted laziness that he never experienced.

    Kudos to you for helping him become a great person!
  14. Dec 23, 2017 #13
    Here’s my take. Degree of success in any field of endeavor is a function of the following primary factors:

    1. Ability
    2. Resources
    3. Work Ethic.

    Ability is innate and determines the potential maximum level of success that can be realized by an individual. The level of success that is actually realized by the individual depends on the resources available to the individual and on the work ethic of the individual. Resources include, e.g, time, money, teachers, instructional material, and equipment. Depending on the field of endeavor, different weights can be assigned to the above three factors. And, as in most instances of human activity, blind luck (good or bad) is also a factor in the degree of success.
  15. Mar 20, 2018 #14
    Many students start their first semester with calc 1 or calc 2. Beginning with DiffEq, and presumably having similarly alrleady completed other core courses, is a pretty large advantage. Not only does it allow for the lighter courseload you mentioned or the option of progressing further with advanced coursework later, but if you think of how compressed his educational curve was relative to public school peers, in 4 years of secondary school he might very well have accomplished 50% to even double some of them in raw academic knowledge. That means his life was already focused heavily on education in sciences.

    I am of the opinion that as much as work ethic can be taught as a value, it's still equal part if not more reliant on habits. A person can be taught to value hard work through a job or balancing extracurricular activities, but teaching them to associate free time, to derive happiness (alternatively: not derive unhappiness), with scholarly study is still another beast. I've known hard workers who still wouldn't go into STEM because the idea of spending their free time with heavy reading accompanied by the often frustrating trial and error practice with abstract problem solving intimidates them. I'm not a parent, so I don't know how easy this is to instill. Indeed, it might work best in a home school environment. Anyways, I feel there is a subtle distinction between a generally hard working ethic and building dedicated habits for a specific task. The latter you don't have to enforce an inner sense of discipline to maintain; you gravitate toward the material because it is who you are.

    All that said, I do wholeheartedly agree with his impression that work ethic was most important. Speaking from personal experience in chemistry, my one regret in undergrad was not starting research freshman year but waiting until junior year. It would have been incredible for an application, but also for my own knowledge, as well as building relationships with various professors to learn what it means to work in a group and what kind of group I like. Perhaps most importantly, it increases your chances of being involved in a group that publishes. I never made it into the #1 grad school for chemistry, but I remember a successful professor next door telling me that he once tried to send a student there, but was beaten out by a single applicant who had been part of publishing a paper four times to his own undergrad's two times. At that moment, I was reflecting on how I had zero, but that's not relevant to the allegory ;)
  16. Mar 26, 2018 #15
    I'm going to agree on all of the reasons you made that work ethic is a key to success, but I'm also going to have to completely disagree for the following reasons:

    "Success" is a terribly relative term and personally, your son doesn't sound very successful. (while objectively im sure he is, and I mean no insult at all).
    You see, I was once in your son's position and studying my brains out 60 hrs/week with dual enrollment and whatnot, but became miserable and one day I said to myself "what am I really doing? And why am I doing this to myself?". I was losing my large but close near-family of friends because I was spending a ridiculous 60 hr/wk on school. Thank God I realized this starting my junior year before it was too late!

    High-school is where you make most of your friends and make your fondest memories that you hold dearly to your heart and cherish with tears. I continued with the dual enrollment regime and paying attention in lecture but stopped studying nearly entirely, aside from the night before if it was a particularly big exam. My A's and A+'s turned into A's and A-'s... so what??!?

    I turned my miserable 60 hr/wk school life into a life where I was free to spend glorious times with friends playing video games, laughing, drinking, smoking pot, lsd, street hockey, you name it! We even were in a professional gaming tournament for Halo! That definitely kicks butt compared to reading books!! I have Grand memories I can look back on and talk about with those same friends to this very day at the age of 23. I also have my fiancee with whom I share these memories with since junior year and we continue making extraordinary memories. That is what I call successful.

    And for the mundane and materialistic viewpoint of successful, I ended up in University of Michigan with a #1 in the nation nuclear engineering program, on track of graduating with a 3.5 GPA, so I will be making lots of money or whatever it is people chase, and so will my fiancee with her computer science degree job. But that is all nearly worthless compared to my high-school and college memories. I would not give them up for even 100 billion dollars. Ever.

    Maturity is when you discover happiness over the distractions that this monetized society continually throws your way. Don't lose track of what is important to your life, your feelings, and your thoughts.
  17. Mar 26, 2018 #16

    Dr. Courtney

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    Who said anything about working 60 hours a week in high school? That is too much. My son worked closer to 40 hours a week in high school and had plenty of time for his favorite recreational activities.
  18. Mar 27, 2018 #17
    Agreed. And to add, I think 60 working hours a week is too much for anyone to enjoy their life at any stage; high school, college, career.

    But you also wrote:
    "My rule of thumb for success in college is that students should spend 2-3 hours outside of class for each class hour per week. A 15 hour course load translates to a 45-60 hour work week (15 hours in class, 30-45 hours preparation outside of class). If one has done that, one can safely say, “enough.”"

    I certainly agree if you had to choose a number that would guarantee A's with a 99.7% confidence, then this would be an excellent rule of thumb. Especially if one was in a circumstance where they ABSOLUTELY NEEDED to get A's. You're certainly correct that one can safely say 'stop'.

    But, this many school hours + work + sleep, would make enjoying your life almost impossible. Id perhaps say a rule of thumb for success in college is to study only enough to reasonably confidently get A's and then make the best out of the limited time you have to enjoy college.

    Like I've said, you make some great examples and reasonings that I agree with. I'm here to give the reminder that many of us forget what being successful actually means.
    A junior high person says "cant wait until high school to have fun", then, -> "cant wait until college to have fun" -> "cant wait until I graduate to have fun" -> "cant wait until I work and pay off bills to have fun" -> "cant wait till my kids are moved out to have fun" -> "cant wait till I retire to enjoy myself".
    And then your whole body aches and you look back and realize, that you forgot to live the one life you were given.
  19. Mar 27, 2018 #18


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    I completely disagree. When I was a young engineer at NASA it its early days, I was very annoyed that I had to stop work for such boring things as eating and sleeping. I did later take on a more balanced life style but none the less, I think that for short periods (a few years) at least, you are wrong.
  20. Mar 27, 2018 #19

    Dr. Courtney

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    Well, a student certainly has other options to a 45-60 hour work week in college STEM majors:

    1. Sign up for less than 15 credit hours per term. Using the rule of thumb above, a 12 credit hour course load translates to 36-48 hours of academic work per week. By working hard enough in high school to earn 30 credit hours, many students can still graduate in 4 years with less demanding course loads each semester of full time college.
    2. Be content with mediocre grades. And for students aspiring to graduate school, Bs are mediocre. My son aspires to a top 10 graduate school (as do many students on PF.) I'd be lying if I suggested a 40 hour work week was likely to get them there.

    But I certainly had my fair share of fun in college in spite of averaging close to 60 hours a week of work (academic work plus paid research) during the semesters. I became very efficient at daily living tasks, and had lots of fun after 10 PM, on weekends, and during breaks in the semester. (Remember that most college semesters are only 15-16 weeks long, that leaves 20 weeks a year of non-academic time. I was careful to avoid summer school.)

    Majoring in Physics, I graduated first in my class at LSU (GPA 3.95/4.0), co-authored two scholarly physics papers, did 3 internships at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and was offered free rides to grad school at Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and SUNY-Stoneybrook. I almost always had at least one girlfriend I dated regularly (occasionally as many as 3 at a time), went out drinking and partying more than I should have, attended more than my share of basketball and football games at LSU, visited family in New Orleans often, played in a campus rock and roll band (including gigs at campus bars), and was active in pickup basketball and Ultimate frisbee games. Later in college, I stopped partying as much and started attending church a couple times a week. So don't tell me 60 hours a week does not leave enough time for a social life or for fun. It's not true.

    Secrets of success: no TV, no social media, no video gaming, no other time wasters.

    Agreed. A week has 168 hours. With a 60 hour work week, that leaves 108 hours. 56 hours for sleep (8 hours a night) leaves 52 hours for stuff like recreation, transportation, eating, laundry, and administrative overhead. Waste less time, and it is workable. Not recommended for decades at a time, but certainly workable for short stretches (a couple 16 week semesters each year of college, starting a career, etc.)
  21. Mar 27, 2018 #20
    Ohhh I see the difference in our calculations! But I did say "But, this many school hours + work + sleep, would make enjoying your life almost impossible." in my post. I had to work around 35-40 hours per week to pay for rent, gas, and food and stuff :/ I always forget for some people being a student is their job lol. So yeah 52 hours of recreation is awesome and totally good! I was left with like 12ish hours of recreation per week which is like having one single day off and working round-clock all other days lol. So I just cut out most of my studying and *poof*, I had plenty of time for fun while maintaining A's.

    That is AWESOME! If you found a job that you actually love and would actually rather work than do other things, then you made it to the top! You will be so much happier than most of the world! My whole-hearted congrats to you for finding your calling :)
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