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The edge of insanity... I may just jump in...

citrusbreath95

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I share a profound interest in physics as well as astronomy. In fact, I want to major in theoretical astrophysics in college. Though here's my ultimate dilemma in this aspiration. I have a natural gift more towards writing, English, and comprehensive thinking. I am not bad in math, nor average, I am above average in comparison to most of the students at my school; however I struggle with concepts of it. I find that I can grasp how to do it, but I don't grasp the context of applying it to situations. In other words, I don't fully understand the logical reasoning behind using that method of work in given situations. I am taking physics this semester and am actually making C's and D's on quizzes and such because I confuse myself with the steps involved in the process. I am of course, the youngest in the class; and I haven't even finished a required math class to get into it, but the problem remains. So here are my questions. I have a passion for the sciences and maths but yet my drive to actually go "out there" in my school work is very stagnant. Even with my physics homework, I just can't find myself to sit down, concentrate, and work them out carefully. I have an enthusiasm for the topics discussed in these areas, I enjoy working the math out when I get it, and the challenges that come from it, but I just can't find myself to focus and apply myself directly and efficiently. Could it be possible that I have a passion for a topic I could never grasp? Striving to achieve something that at best I could only be average in? Or am I merely not trying to my full potential to grasp it, and that's where my difficulty derives? Am I just missing previous, necessary steps that I haven't learned yet; and thus am withdrawing from my work as a mechanism of uncertain apathy?
 

Trebuchet

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I majored in astrophysics, but I confess I never actually got employment in that field. Instead I have done a lot of teaching and other stuff. A physics degree is challenging enough to get, and generally applicable enough, to be useful in many different jobs. That is good because jobs in astrophysics are few and far between, and all require a Ph.D. just to sweep the floors. Study astrophysics for love, but not for money.

If you are good at writing, it will help you in science, and studying physics won't stop you from enjoying English. In my opinion, your plan is perfectly reasonable if...you pass a class in calculus first. My high school didn't offer it, so I was always playing catch-up in physics. Better to get this completely out of the way at some local college, before you apply someplace to study physics.

If you can't do that, then either your math or motivation aren't sufficient to get a degree in physics. It really is hard work and a lot of math.

On the other hand, you may choose to do something other than astrophysics, in which case there is no reason in the world why you couldn't still own a telescope and enjoy the universe as an amateur. There is no shame in that, and astronomy is the one science where amateurs regularly contribute discoveries. I like going out with my little scope much more than I ever enjoyed research sitting in an observatory dome measuring variable stars.
 

Kuu

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Paragraphs. Use them.
 

Melllvar

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Even with my physics homework, I just can't find myself to sit down, concentrate, and work them out carefully. I have an enthusiasm for the topics discussed in these areas, I enjoy working the math out when I get it, and the challenges that come from it, but I just can't find myself to focus and apply myself directly and efficiently. Could it be possible that I have a passion for a topic I could never grasp? Striving to achieve something that at best I could only be average in? Or am I merely not trying to my full potential to grasp it, and that's where my difficulty derives? Am I just missing previous, necessary steps that I haven't learned yet; and thus am withdrawing from my work as a mechanism of uncertain apathy?
Completely possible, I'm kind of in the same boat as I majored in physics at two different universities (but never graduated). Just because you find a subject really interesting doesn't mean you necessarily have natural talent in it (enough so to really go places, I mean). In my case it's more that I like knowing physics more than I really like doing physics, I think. Conceptually it's awesome, but the mathematics and problem solving *can be* tedious and boring - it can also not be, if you find the problem very interesting, of course.

In any case, your success in physics will be directly proportional to your mathematical ability. Don't underestimate this statement. If you want to be good at physics, ignore the actual physics for a while and just learn as much math as you possibly can - start with the required stuff for all physics majors and then pick up anything else you can. E.g.:

Required stuff:
- calculus
- differential equations
- partial differential equations
- linear algebra
- complex variables
- vector analysis

Everything else:
- abstract algebra
- group theory
- differential geometry
- tensor analysis
- lots of others
(There really aren't a lot of branches of mathematics that don't apply. You might get less out of some than others though, e.g. combinatorics or number theory, although I expect even they have their applications too.)

Basically, if you really want to do physics you'll have to get over a lot of this stuff. Get really good at math and learn to enjoy doing it, or else just pursue it as a hobby and don't try and do it academically or for a career. You can do this with practice, it's just a question of how badly you really want it and how much time and effort you're willing to put in, assuming you aren't in the natural-math-genius crowd, as I wasn't.

Personally I gave up on the academic/career route, it was just depressing and was making me stressed out and miserable. I still study it on my own, and I've probably picked up more than even a lot of actual (bachelor's level) graduates know. So, that's that, it's really your call. You might ask on physicsforums.com too, but I expect they'll be a lot harsher and more discouraging than I am. When people ask the same questions you ask there, the PhDs and professors usually just say, "Give up. You don't really enjoy physics." I disagree, but whatever.
 

citrusbreath95

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Thanks you guys, I appreciate the advice. I think the main problem I am having is that I completely rushed into a topic I wasn't ready nor mentally mature enough to handle yet. I haven't even finished an algebra 2 course yet (I'm in the process of completing it.) I think I let my desire for learning a topic I was interested in get in the way of a more reasonable view of reality. I took an honors senior class without a complete basic mathematical outline of the objectives that should be known upon entering. So I'm most definitely going to struggle for the greater half of the year, but after some other math courses and my own independent studying perhaps it may come easier to me.

(Paragraph break; Kuu, just for you :rolleyes:)

@Mellvar: I think you're exactly right on this. I was focusing more on the conceptual aspects of physics. (In honesty, I didn't know what I was getting myself into.) I have a friend in that class who is probably doing the best and she had taken many of the courses you mentioned. In fact, I believe she is in the middle of calculus two right now. But I think I'll do that; focus on the math and then apply it to the objectives presented in this topic.

@Trebuchet: Concerning the local college idea you mentioned; are you suggesting taking courses there for a year or two and then transferring to another university once certain credits are obtained?
 

Trebuchet

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@Trebuchet: Concerning the local college idea you mentioned; are you suggesting taking courses there for a year or two and then transferring to another university once certain credits are obtained?
Yes. It would be a very good idea. Especially if the credits for the basic classes (calculus is remedial-level stuff for physics) can transfer. It will ease your load a lot. It will also give you an idea whether you really like it or would prefer a different path.

I wish I had done even a single semester of preparatory work. If you spent a year taking calc, stats, kinematics, and astronomy, you would either be ahead when you transferred, or your classes would be review material. Both are huge advantages.
 

Melllvar

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I second the community college thing: it'll be cheaper and easier than taking the same classes at a university. If your plans involve going to some competitive/prestigious school then you'd probably want to apply to it straight out of high school, as time off or community college will hurt your chances in applying, but you could still take some classes there instead of at your primary college. Also there will be a bump up in difficulty level when you transfer to university. I wish I'd done that instead of going to a university right away. (Actually did go to community college eventually, but it was after dropping out of the first university.) The key thing is to make sure that the classes will transfer, as colleges are notorious for screwing you over in transfer credits. See that they have a transfer agreement with the 2-year school that includes whatever classes you need before you waste any time taking classes there, IMO. It sounds like you're still in high school though, so this might not be a pressing issue right away.

You might also check out this thread from physicsforums: So you want to be a physicist?

Edit: Also, even without formal classes, most good physics/math texts are freely available as ebooks/pdfs on torrent sites or library.nu, so you can always get started learning it on your own and see how much you really like it all, how much aptitude you have, etc. If you want recommendations I'd be happy to throw a ton out.
 

Reverse Transcriptase

"you're a poet whether you like it or not"
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So! Being good at writing & English (analyzing literature) is awesome. But an English degree isn't super useful in the real world. Toughing through astrophysics would be really good for you, and would build character. A lot of people can kind of skate through college on their raw brains, in the field they excel at. That's great, but at the same time they don't learn how to commit to hard work and learning subjects that are difficult for them. And, as you enter the default world, you will be learning a lot of things out side of your field.

You may not have done much of it now, but being in science requires quickly reading & understanding a lot of papers. People read a few papers a day. In your upper level courses you'll start being asked to read & analyze papers. A lot of my biology classmates balked and dragged their feet at the task. (I did too, a little.)

Your writing ability would also help you a lot in astrophysics. Writing helps in everything, it's how we represent ourselves most of the time (through emails, internal wikis and reports). It'll make writing grants & blog posts & papers & emails that much easier with your colleague and the general public.

In summary: Take lots of writing classes, take lots of astrophysics, and fuck literature classes! And it's college, don't forget to take the random interesting classes! Those will be the ones you value when you graduate.
 

Minuend

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Edit: I should probably add that I'm not certain how colleges are structured, so I might have written some things that are not possible.

I don't know if I understand you correctly, but I know I require quite a lot of basic knowledge to understand how the theory relates to the practical. I'm also dependant on doing it several times before I can do it well. But when I have mastered something, I get very confident with it and am able to experiment and try to make the process more efficient.

If I get a instruction manual to do something (like in lab), I get all lost. I get so concentrated on how to apply theory to practice that I don't really understand what the fuck I'm doing. It's like I have difficulty making it real outside my mind. I'm also very dependent on visual aids. If someone explains how to something verbally, I have great difficulty understanding it.

To get more homework done, you could experiment a bit. Some people just can't get anything done when they are at home. I often go to uni and sit there reading. First of all, I have to drive for like 7 minutes, so that means I have to spend some time there when I use that much getting there. Second of all, this makes me able to mentally prepare the day before. I think that the next day, I will get up, make some food to bring and leave right away.

To make yourself more comfortable at the study hall/ library/ whatever, feel free to bring some warm beverage and a blanket. Bring several books so you can change between subjects. If you manage to get a proper habit, you will get ahead, which means you can pick up an additional book if there's something you want to learn more in depth, or if there's another topic you want explained to help you. Remember that you find this stuff interesting. Set a time when you will finish. You will have to figure out for yourself how many hours you can do. If I arrive at school at 8, I tell myself I will stay until at least 3.

Of course, some days I don't have the spirit, but I still try to read at least three hours and pat myself on the back. When you've spent some days reading for 5-7 hours, 3 hours is nothing! Though if I feel like shit, I take the whole day off. Have at least one, very well 2, days in the week when you don't think about school or anything related at all. Don't even read science news! Or if you prefer, you can work five days on, one day off, instead of thinking in weeks. Then you have the firth day off regardless of what day it is. It depends on how many lectures you have.

Usually I find the lectures "the easy way out". It doesn't take much to just sit there and listen. It feels like cheating. I feel I've done a lot better work when I've spent one day reading or when I've spent three hours reading, four hours in a lecture hall. Though, I see lectures as a bit of variation from all the reading, so I do attend. I only have 8 hours a week + 4 hour lab. (I do have an additional 4 hour lecture I don't attend, the lecturer is a annoying little man who is far too confident, decided and ignorant. And those are not good traits in a philosophy class)

The minute you start thinking "oh, I don't want to" or "I'd rather do.." you lose. I can't really explain that mentality well, but it's about imaging yourself doing it and disregarding thoughts like "I don't want to". I did the same when I was exercising.

If you wonder whether you lack knowledge; When you read, ask yourself if you understand it. If you don't: Why? Is it difficult? Or are there concepts better explained in previous courses that would have helped? Do you need a certain kind of math to understand this accurately?

When I read, I have a piece of paper laying close so I can write down concepts I haven't heard of or that the book didn't explain well. When I've finished reading, I google those terms.

Something a lot of students do wrong is, as a matter of fact, reading. They read passively.

Some helpful advice on that here

1. Preview
2. Question
3. Take notes
4. Summarise
5. Review and reflect
Now, I don't do all those. I never take notes for instance, because then I feel I can relax about it. If I don't take notes, I'm more dependent on remembering it. I actually notice a shift in mentality when I don't take notes. This is probably an individual thing. Experiment and find what's best for you.

In that context, if there's a technique you don't understand the basis of, google it. Why is it preferred? What margins of error are there? Are there better ways of doing it?

If you do lack a little knowledge, that just means you have to work harder. You have to developed tricks to help you do that. Pride yourself on being a hard worker. If you have friends, often they will tell you how well you are doing when you are studying hard. This helps you not thinking you should constantly do more. It encourages you. And that's part the reason you have friends. Use it.

Regardless, you have to mentally prepare yourself to work. Don't see how much or little other students do in subjects, set your own standards. But make up your mind about one thing; You are going to work hard.

If you feel overwhelmed, that will influence your motivation. Try to think that you are studying for your own sake, not for the grades. Don't think about exams or grades.

Also, it takes time to develop good study habits. Time and determination. If you have done well before, there's a chance that you have got by doing very little. A lot of people are surprised when they start school at a higher level just because of that. It makes them feel a bit intimidated and they lose motivation. Just remember that nobody understands everything without work.
 

EditorOne

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Tons of good advice in this thread.

Yes, you may be biting off more than you can chew because you don't have the prep work done.

"Could it be possible that I have a passion for a topic I could never grasp? Striving to achieve something that at best I could only be average in? Or am I merely not trying to my full potential to grasp it, and that's where my difficulty derives?"

Twist that thought around a little bit.

INTP is known to have intense interest in topics up to the point of competency, or up to the realization one doesn't have the necessary equipment; I'd conceivably be fascinated with basketballl, as an example, up to the point where I realized that with one arm I'd never achieve the competency I'd desire (I have two arms, just an example :)).

Since you don't appear to be achieving competency, at least at the level you find satisfying, it's possible you're achieving frustration instead.

The concept of "paragraphs" doesn't apply just to essays and online forums. It applies to life. Line up the prep work and accept that ultimate competency in the overall field is going to have to await completion of a series of steps, each of which is its own self-contained area requiring competency. Like a paragraph that has to be polished and comprehensible to lay the foundation for the next paragraph.

If you think about the total subject and the amount of work it will take to get where you want to go, it is so big and vast that the frustration and turn-off are almost inevitable. Like writing a book. But if you slice it thinner and say, first, "one good chapter today" and then "one good paragraph in the next 15 minutes," and then just keep accomplishing manageable bits, it really isn't very long before you've got a book, or competency in your field.

Impatience is an enemy of success for a lot of INTPs. You just have to learn to stop and see how much you've gotten done, every now and then, rather than how much farther you have to go.

If you're worried that all this work will be invested and you won't achieve competency in the big picture, I think it's safe to say that's not going to happen. We almost always get there. Your brain is attempting to sort things out and connect dots and establish context without enough information. Provide information and comprehension and insight follow like magic. It still amazes me to wake up in the morning and have an epiphany presented to me by my brain on some issue that's been nagging me. :)
 

digital angel

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Tons of good advice in this thread.

Yes, you may be biting off more than you can chew because you don't have the prep work done.

"Could it be possible that I have a passion for a topic I could never grasp? Striving to achieve something that at best I could only be average in? Or am I merely not trying to my full potential to grasp it, and that's where my difficulty derives?"

Twist that thought around a little bit.

INTP is known to have intense interest in topics up to the point of competency, or up to the realization one doesn't have the necessary equipment; I'd conceivably be fascinated with basketballl, as an example, up to the point where I realized that with one arm I'd never achieve the competency I'd desire (I have two arms, just an example :)).

Since you don't appear to be achieving competency, at least at the level you find satisfying, it's possible you're achieving frustration instead.

The concept of "paragraphs" doesn't apply just to essays and online forums. It applies to life. Line up the prep work and accept that ultimate competency in the overall field is going to have to await completion of a series of steps, each of which is its own self-contained area requiring competency. Like a paragraph that has to be polished and comprehensible to lay the foundation for the next paragraph.

If you think about the total subject and the amount of work it will take to get where you want to go, it is so big and vast that the frustration and turn-off are almost inevitable. Like writing a book. But if you slice it thinner and say, first, "one good chapter today" and then "one good paragraph in the next 15 minutes," and then just keep accomplishing manageable bits, it really isn't very long before you've got a book, or competency in your field.

Impatience is an enemy of success for a lot of INTPs. You just have to learn to stop and see how much you've gotten done, every now and then, rather than how much farther you have to go.

If you're worried that all this work will be invested and you won't achieve competency in the big picture, I think it's safe to say that's not going to happen. We almost always get there. Your brain is attempting to sort things out and connect dots and establish context without enough information. Provide information and comprehension and insight follow like magic. It still amazes me to wake up in the morning and have an epiphany presented to me by my brain on some issue that's been nagging me. :)
Ditto. I'm not a physicist. I'm a tax lawyer. However, I can say that taking steps or slices instead of the entire cake helps. Also keep in mind that you won't fail. Don't give up on your goals.
 

citrusbreath95

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Thanks for the advice you guys, I'm sorry for the lengthy response, but I haven't had internet access for a while

@Trebuchet: I'm going to have to look into colleges then. Perhaps a state school if I can get into one, and then maybe I can transfer onto a larger university.
@Mellvar. This site really helped actually; I needed to understand the process of how to become a physicist. An essay that was included on one of the links struck me in one part with a professor stating: "I often found that many students struggled with their physics homework not because they did not understand the physics, but they could not do the mathematics." And yes, if you have any recommendations for some of the Ereadings on it; I'd love them.

@Reverse Transcriptase: I understand your point, writing has helped me quite a lot in science essays, and evaluation of some of the more advanced papers we read in our science classes. In fact, a lot of people come to me to even know what they're talking about in them. I'll definitely take some writing classes as well, but just even more math classes.
 
@Minuend: I understand what you mean on the visual aspect. I also need visual representations of problems I'm being presented. Though the ultimate problem in physics I've realized I've been having, is that I can't visual the problem too well. Perhaps they gave us a bearing problem, in which we had to draw triangles out of a situation. I would draw the triangles incorrectly, visualizing it wrong and thus working the numbers off from that. I've been trying to improve on that, I'm hoping it's just something that needs more stimulation in my brain from practice, rather than an absolute dead spot that won't improve. I like the study tips. Particularly working hard for a couple of days and then taking a day or two off. That seems to match up more with my habits than a completely steady-paced, tedious arrangement for the week. For the reading part, I probably do need to focus more on it and take notes. Perhaps even come to my teacher after school for help with even the smallest misunderstanding of my reading so as to avoid confusion. I hate taking notes as well while reading as then I feel I'm missing the larger picture that I can obtain my connecting all the smaller detailings together as I read undisturbed. Though, maybe writing it down will, in fact, help me process these smaller details and lead to a great understanding later that I wouldn't have originally processed. I think I really just need to apply myself and get a new study habit going though like you said. And I'll try your studying tips and see where it goes. (Honestly, anything would be better than what I do now :rolleyes:)
 
@Editor One: In regards to compency, I have extremely high standards for myself. Actually, if I don't grasp the concept initially (especially if I see others do) I do get very frustrated, and I think this leads me to shut down a bit in the full capacity I could have of understanding it. Patience really is the answer in this as you mentioned, and I need to understand that rather than expecting to understand an entirely complex field of math in half a semester when people spend their entire lives perfecting it, I need to just at least appreciate trying to understand it when many don't and that your brain will adjust to new objectives with some time.
 
@Digital Angel: And yes, I agree, small steps to get to the bigger picture. I won't give up on these goals just because it's more challenging. What's the point in achieving something without difficulty in getting there?
 

Minuend

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Yeah, I have difficulty following lab instructions. I think the teachers think me a bit daft and confused. Last time one of them seemed a bit irritated when I didn't understand what I was supposed to do.

I too hope it's something that gets better with practice :phear:

I find it difficult to follow the instructions of the teacher in the beginning as well. I don't know, the words just "float in the air" and I can't fasten them to my brain, so to speak.
 

citrusbreath95

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Yeah, I have difficulty following lab instructions. I think the teachers think me a bit daft and confused. Last time one of them seemed a bit irritated when I didn't understand what I was supposed to do.

I too hope it's something that gets better with practice :phear:

I find it difficult to follow the instructions of the teacher in the beginning as well. I don't know, the words just "float in the air" and I can't fasten them to my brain, so to speak.
I know exactly what you mean, when teachers give me oral directions, it's almost as if my brain scrambles them up or so and I can't get the context applied automatically. I think I have to think about it initially, and then after a few moments of recapse internally I can sort through it. Whenever we have questions called out that we're to answer automatically I nearly always stutter in my thoughts, and "freeze" up, which gets me nervous of classmates listening, and causes any other possible form of sequential thinking to completely dissipate.

Aha, and on a different note I found out I'm making an A in physics... Thank you irony! :D
 

Minuend

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I remembered one more thing.

When taking breaks, try to take a break in the middle of a task. Then when you sit back down, you wont spend so much time figuring out to do, you get right back into it. Then it won be that difficult when you start, and it will be easier to continue.
 
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