Need Advice

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ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Need Advice

Postby ofey » Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:12 pm

I am switching from the practical and career based path of EE to physics because I really love physics and astronomy and think it would be great to go and get a PhD whether or not I end up pursuing any sort of academic research. I realize how hard it is to go that path.

But my EE research advisors were pretty down on that career path. I really want to get involved in undergrad research not only because I need to for grad school but because I find it much more fun than just taking classes. However, going to a large public university I don't know how easy or difficult that will be. I personally kind of feel that undergrad research should just part of the program because you don't learn to do science by just taking courses. The fact I already had a position in an EE lab is great but I am really pretty sure EE stuff doesn't interest me very much.

However, when I talked to advisors about research they kind of brush it off as "maybe later" and don't really want to talk about it or don't see it as important. I meeting with some new advisors in a few weeks but I don't know how that would differ. Essentially I am unsure if I want to go into Physics unless I can definitely get involved in some research on campus. I'd try for REU's by my shoddy academic past and bland demographics probably make that a very very long shot.

Combine that with the fact that I decided to review Intro Physics material to get ready for next semester and just in general feel horrible about how much I forgot and how a simple conceptual question could trip me up.. I feel like I get better at things as they become more abstract and for some reason I kind of suck at Intro Mechanics, or at least I feel like it should come to me much easier than it does. Like if I went back to Calc I level book it would be trivially easy. What does this mean about me and my prospects in high level physics?

I really wish I had some real people to talk about but I have found the senior people on here to get some really amazing advice at time so I am hoping for some of that I guess.

ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Re: Need Advice

Postby ofey » Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:12 pm

Could I be doing something wrong? Do people more advanced get tripped up on easy stuff? Or is there some sort of flaw in how I learned it? I mean I can successfully do most of the "challenge" problems from the book I am using but some times I really feel bad about myself when it takes me like 10-20 minutes to do a problem I feel like I should know cold? And a few of the challenge problems here and there I haven't been able to complete on my own.

Like I said if I went back to first semester Calculus to review I feel like I'd feel much stronger on that material. Is that sort of math just inherently easier? Could it be that I haven't had to use physics in many of my other classes while Calculus is key in almost everything I've taken since?

So far I've only taken Physics I & II and we be refreshing my knowledge over the next few months. After taking a few more semesters of advanced physics classes will I start to get that confidence I have in math in Physics? I feel like the way Intro Physics is taught is sort of broken. I'm taking Modern Physics next semester and hope I that will sure up my Knowledge of intro stuff and introduce me a bit more to what the pace and tone of real physics courses are.

laser
Posts: 19
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:00 am

Re: Need Advice

Postby laser » Sun Oct 31, 2010 8:50 pm

Given how much you'll be learning over the course of several semesters, I think that you should be able to catch on. After a several year hiatus the review that I did for going back to school was several months of quality time with my basic calculus book and a little university physics. When I started back in I applied for any posted research job I could find that was related to physics and astronomy, and even cold-contacted a few professors who work I found interesting at my school but hadn't posted a need for undergrad researchers. I got turned down by most, but the few that have been willing to talk to me have been great resources. I ended up in a research group and even though I'll ultimately go into a different field it has been a great experience. Additionally, I pestered the admin offices and some professors for TA/grader jobs and got re-exposed to physics I and III material that way. It was a great way to reconnect with the material, even though grading is sort of a pain. The upper level stuff is, in my opinion, significantly more difficult than the lower level stuff, but if you have a university physics text book that you can refer to to help with the concepts, you'll be able to handle the upper level stuff. I would take some math classes if you can, like diffeq and linear algebra, or if you're school has a math methods course start there, because you might be more likely to trip up on the math than the concepts (at least I was).

It will come back to you albeit slowly sometimes. I think you need to work on building your confidence in your ability because you seem to be looking for reasons for someone to tell you not to bother doing this. I won't lie, it is hard to go back. I've been broke financially for a while and I have no free time, when before I went back I was able to afford all sorts of extra stuff and go out a lot. But it is worthwhile. Get used to rejection from potential research advisors, and understand that, in all likelihood, someone will eventually say "yes." But it will be easier after you've been there for a semester or two. And try to do an REU. I had two summers available for that and was rejected for the all ones for the first summer because I didn't have strong letters and had only a few classes under my belt since my return, but had a few choices the second summer, and that helps a lot. Focus on what you *can* do at this point, what steps you need to take. Be patient with yourself and with your potential advisors, and be persistent. Once you've shown that you can do the work over a semester or two, you might find that they are more willing to talk.

ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Re: Need Advice

Postby ofey » Sun Oct 31, 2010 9:23 pm

Again great advice Laser, it kind of sucks though that getting research is that difficult.

I really need to build some confidence on my physics knowledge, the problem was the place where I took intro physics wasn't a very good school and while I got A's and stuff I don't really know how my knowledge matches up. For some reason I feel like as someone who one day hopes to be a professional physicist that Intro Physics should be really natural and intuitive to me like say, Calculus is.

Is this stuff supposed to come natural? Physics seems to be the only subject I've ever taken that I had to make serious effort just to understand. In ways this attracts me to it but it also scares me a little bit that it could indicate that physics is in someway "too hard" for me. The fear is what has made me delay really pursuing it to the best of my ability for like 1.5 yrs. Should I just dive my head in and see where i goes?

laser
Posts: 19
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:00 am

Re: Need Advice

Postby laser » Sun Oct 31, 2010 10:04 pm

Learning something new is almost never natural. Frankly it's normal to often feel like a moron. That is where persistence and endurance pay off. I live for the light-bulb moments :) I spend a lot of my time banging my head against walls, trying and trying again, and going to teachers' office hours. Sure there are a few people that find that all the physics and math comes naturally, and that ratio of naturals / non-naturals is probably higher on forums such as these, but I've found that many if not most of the other students I know are just as confused as I am, and have to work just as hard as I do to get good results.

I too find calculus to be fairly intuitive, but that wasn't always the case. The physics that I find intuitive now, I didn't always. The physics I'm learning now will, someday, be intuitive. We aren't born knowing this stuff, we have to start somewhere.

ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Re: Need Advice

Postby ofey » Sun Oct 31, 2010 10:20 pm

laser wrote:Learning something new is almost never natural. Frankly it's normal to often feel like a moron. That is where persistence and endurance pay off. I live for the light-bulb moments :) I spend a lot of my time banging my head against walls, trying and trying again, and going to teachers' office hours. Sure there are a few people that find that all the physics and math comes naturally, and that ratio of naturals / non-naturals is probably higher on forums such as these, but I've found that many if not most of the other students I know are just as confused as I am, and have to work just as hard as I do to get good results.

I too find calculus to be fairly intuitive, but that wasn't always the case. The physics that I find intuitive now, I didn't always. The physics I'm learning now will, someday, be intuitive. We aren't born knowing this stuff, we have to start somewhere.



I guess it is just hard to find out you are not special or far far above average in having talent in the thing you want to do. I'm kind of used to be the smartest person in the class but in physics thats does not seem to be the case.




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