Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

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Etranger
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Joined: Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:38 am

Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Etranger » Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:32 pm

I've had a lot of issues (emotional and existential, for the most part - I was lucky enough to not have to worry about food...) to get through, and as a result, *I* messed up high school. I suppose I am the typical "Oh, but he had so much potential..." kid old ladies sigh about.

Lately, I have been having doubts about physics. What if I'm not good enough?

My study habits have been horrible (I may/may not have ADD + previously mentioned issues) and before I go to university, I intend on at the very least doing some parts of Halliday-Resnick and the first Volume of the Berkeley Physics Series books. For a year or so now, I have been "contemplating" studying proof based calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism on my own, but I haven't done jack ***.

The only constructive things I have done, besides volunteering, over the past year is going to the gym (even then, I haven't been too consistent) and improving my social skills in general.

On some levels, I think I can hack it. Twofish-quant, over at physicsforums.com (I don't really like it there anymore...), often said that if you could do calculus, then none of the math in physics should be a problem. It sounds almost too easy, when he puts it that way. Watching the admissions results here doesn't help much either. I'm scared at the thought of spending my college fund on a physics degree, and I end up doing badly, and/or I can't find a job after it.

As for why I even want to do physics, then it's just because I am good at using math (I don't know about pure math...), and I like the idea of using math to describe physical processes. It looks pretty and interesting. I get kicks out of it. And I can't really imagine doing anything else. I like literature/philosophy but I don't think I could stand doing a single major in either (got rejected from all US schools - except for one waitlist -, so I need to pick *one* thing anyway) subject.

I acquired Cal Newport's "How to be a Straight-A Student" book, and I will read it tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be able to apply some of his ideas.

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Tom Joad
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Tom Joad » Mon Apr 01, 2013 4:27 pm

Etranger wrote:I've had a lot of issues (emotional and existential, for the most part - I was lucky enough to not have to worry about food...) to get through, and as a result, *I* messed up high school. I suppose I am the typical "Oh, but he had so much potential..." kid old ladies sigh about.

Lately, I have been having doubts about physics. What if I'm not good enough?

My study habits have been horrible (I may/may not have ADD + previously mentioned issues) and before I go to university, I intend on at the very least doing some parts of Halliday-Resnick and the first Volume of the Berkeley Physics Series books. For a year or so now, I have been "contemplating" studying proof based calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism on my own, but I haven't done jack ***.

The only constructive things I have done, besides volunteering, over the past year is going to the gym (even then, I haven't been too consistent) and improving my social skills in general.

On some levels, I think I can hack it. Twofish-quant, over at physicsforums.com (I don't really like it there anymore...), often said that if you could do calculus, then none of the math in physics should be a problem. It sounds almost too easy, when he puts it that way. Watching the admissions results here doesn't help much either. I'm scared at the thought of spending my college fund on a physics degree, and I end up doing badly, and/or I can't find a job after it.

As for why I even want to do physics, then it's just because I am good at using math (I don't know about pure math...), and I like the idea of using math to describe physical processes. It looks pretty and interesting. I get kicks out of it. And I can't really imagine doing anything else. I like literature/philosophy but I don't think I could stand doing a single major in either (got rejected from all US schools - except for one waitlist -, so I need to pick *one* thing anyway) subject.

I acquired Cal Newport's "How to be a Straight-A Student" book, and I will read it tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be able to apply some of his ideas.


I was a chump in high school. I was lazy, unmotivated, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and had negligible social skills. The good news is that you can completely reinvent yourself upon entering college without anyone caring about who you were or what you accomplished beforehand. There's also no need to self study so much material before going to a university, not that that's never a bad thing. You will learn all that you need to know from classes (until you start research, but then you learn from papers and such), and at least for me I know that I would not have been prepared in terms of study habits, motivation, and analytic thinking to self-study material at you're current state.

Also, I've found that the people who have the worst experiences talk the loudest and often over-exaggerate things. Yes, physics is hard, getting into graduate school is hard, but it's not impossible. If it was easy it wouldn't really be worth doing anyway. All you need to know from admission results at this point in your career is that it is possible to get into the best graduate schools from 'mediocre' universities, which means that you can too.

Etranger
Posts: 42
Joined: Tue Jan 03, 2012 9:38 am

Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Etranger » Tue Apr 02, 2013 2:32 am

Thanks!

How did you turn things around in college?

Haha, you might think that, but the school I am most likely to go to (in Germany, unless I get off the waitlist with enough fin aid at that liberal arts college) has a pretty hardcore physics curriculum, which honestly, still scares me.

http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~physik/bache ... -ipsp.html

Click on the "Electrodynamics", the "theory" course for the 2nd semester. Click on the "experimental" variant as well. Take a look at the books used for both and tell me it's not scary as f*ck!

blighter
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby blighter » Tue Apr 02, 2013 6:34 am

Jackson in the 2nd semester is overkill. Maybe it's just a reference book. I don't think they'll be "following" Jackson. If you look at the bibliography section, you might find it scary, but if you look at the contents section, it looks quite reasonable. But I don't think you'll find time to work. Five courses per semester including a lab course is very heavy if you ask me.

Etranger
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Etranger » Tue Apr 02, 2013 6:59 am

Just as reference? I see.

It's actually 3 physics/math courses and 1 language course. The lab is part of the "experimental physics" class.

Edit:

Just got an e-mail from a friend, and it *is* possible to work while studying that program. It's hard, but possible. He had a friend who didn't have any other choice but work and study, and he did fine.

actrask
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby actrask » Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:28 am

Griffiths is the first one listed so I expect they'll say something like "We'll be following Griffiths but if you want a more thorough treatment/are a masochist then you can look at Jackson."

Are those modules listed in the order you take them (as in semester 1 you do class mech I, math phys I, etc and then sequentially move on to semester 2)? What worries me is they have you doing electrodynamics I which is EM with vector calculus but you won't cover that in math phys until the next semester...

Other than that, it seems like a pretty standard BSc curriculum. Don't worry about it being too difficult, if you look at things you'll cover way in the future then of course it's going to look impossibly difficult because you haven't been exposed to the right background yet. Physics education is a very slow progression that builds on previous knowledge over many many years. You can't understand string theory without a basic understanding of QFT, which you won't understand without understanding QM, which you won't understand without understanding linear algebra and classical mechanics...and on and on. You'll get there eventually.

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Andromeda
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Andromeda » Tue Apr 02, 2013 9:15 am

Everyone feels like they're not good enough and overwhelmed, even the folks who claim they aren't.

The joke at the end of a B.Sc. degree is everyone doesn't totally feel like they earned it but rather that they just sorta faked their way through and ended up with a degree. Not true of course, the first time you try to TA pretty much proves that, but rather physics is just a sort of field where you go into it thinking you'll get answers to your questions and instead end up having more questions than when you started. :wink:

I'm also in the crew who had an awful high school experience but a comparatively amazing undergrad one. I've never been a top student because I don't test well- I've failed exams along the way- but you can accomplish quite a bit with a crazy amount of determination and a knack for your experimental courses.

Also, at the end of the day, I know it might sound crazy now but if you try it and it doesn't work you'll still be better off from having the experience (if you don't try it sounds like it would be a lifetime regret), and anyone who judges you for that is not someone's opinion you should care about anyway. Trust me on this last point.

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midwestphysics
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby midwestphysics » Wed Apr 03, 2013 1:29 am

Andromeda wrote:Everyone feels like they're not good enough and overwhelmed, even the folks who claim they aren't.

The joke at the end of a B.Sc. degree is everyone doesn't totally feel like they earned it but rather that they just sorta faked their way through and ended up with a degree. Not true of course, the first time you try to TA pretty much proves that, but rather physics is just a sort of field where you go into it thinking you'll get answers to your questions and instead end up having more questions than when you started. :wink:

I'm also in the crew who had an awful high school experience but a comparatively amazing undergrad one. I've never been a top student because I don't test well- I've failed exams along the way- but you can accomplish quite a bit with a crazy amount of determination and a knack for your experimental courses.

Also, at the end of the day, I know it might sound crazy now but if you try it and it doesn't work you'll still be better off from having the experience (if you don't try it sounds like it would be a lifetime regret), and anyone who judges you for that is not someone's opinion you should care about anyway. Trust me on this last point.


I cannot agree with Andromeda's post more, I could have wrote it myself. Personally I think that the deeper in you get the more inadequate you feel. In truth, rightfully so. Anyone who doesn't feel that isn't doing it right, what's the point if you have the constant feeling of "I got this", then you're no longer a scientist, you're a glorified calculator. And trust me, from someone who everyday, like so many, is bombarded by the vastness of what I don't know you would be thoroughly surprised by what you do. Like Andromeda said, TAing reveals to you just how much you do know. Sure you're a bit scared walking in, but you quickly realize how well you know what you've been taught, and how easily you actually handle those random unannounced questions. I place a lot of stock in TAing, you want to know how well you know something, teach it.

So yes, it is very normal to feel inadequate. Think about it, there are two real reasons I've seen people get into physics. 1) because saying "I do physics" does command a sort of awe from people, but people who do it for that reason flame out very quickly. 2) Because they have questions, because they are curious. In that case, you're looking to answer things you don't know, eventually things nobody has ever known. In order to do any of that you have to learn things you've never learned and eventually things no one has ever learned. This is essentially a realization that you and the world are to an extent inadequate and you have to rectify these inadequacies to solve the problem. Why not, the answers that exist or lack thereof are inadequate themselves so you must change to change them. There is no traditional comfort zone in that path, in fact to be a physicist who enjoys their job you have to become the kind of person who finds satisfaction in being at the very least just beyond your comfort zone. My personal feeling is that it is the inadequacy that drive me. However, if having that feeling is debilitating for you I wouldn't suggest physics, or any science for that matter. I say that because even the very best throughout our history were inadequate until the day they died, as I will be too. There are just too many questions, and they are more and more complicated everyday.... I love it :D

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Tom Joad
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Tom Joad » Sat Apr 06, 2013 2:09 pm

Etranger wrote:How did you turn things around in college?


I guess it was a gradual process, but it was mostly me consciously deciding to reject the person I was in high school. It was easier because after I discovered physics, I never lacked motivation. In your shoes I'd just focus on one step at a time in terms of classes. I've seen many students struggle by trying to jump ahead too quickly and not being focused enough on the tasks in front of them. Once you have the basics covered, the more advanced stuff will not seem so daunting.

Minovsky
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Re: Have you felt like you weren't good enough?

Postby Minovsky » Tue May 21, 2013 2:17 pm

actrask wrote:Griffiths is the first one listed so I expect they'll say something like "We'll be following Griffiths but if you want a more thorough treatment/are a masochist then you can look at Jackson."

Actually, in places like Germany, UK, etc. Jackson is considered an undergraduate text. I've found that curriculums are much more rigorous over there. Some places teach things like PDEs and Green's functions in a 1st semester course.




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