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AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Sat May 12, 2012 10:13 pm
by intellectualwanderer
OK, I know how melodramatic that sounds, but....
I'm a current freshman in engineering at a big top 20 school. I did REALLY poorly last semester for a lot of reasons unrelated to understanding (math and physics, I can't vouch for microcontrollers) material(disability-that's I'm getting help with for the first time next year, bad study skills(never had to take notes before) weedout classes, laziness, depression, poor math skills-I never took an algebra class as a teen-that sort of deal.) It's my fault first and foremost though, so.... And I'm not talking just a few B's here and there either-I WISH. This semester looks bad too-I've just leaned that I did badly on a midterm that I thought I did well on, which really makes me doubt my ability further-, although I've done well in physics(A in physics II which is a NOTORIOUS weeder here, assuming the curve goes right). I've done awfully in the math though, making me question my plans on transferring to physics. Granted, I'm more interested in applied/experimental physics, as well as various engineering stuff(I like some stuff in engineering, but it lies more on the interface with physics-solid state electronics, stuff like that. I can't stand the embedded systems course I have to go through right now), but I still can't imagine grad schools would tolerate it. A lot of the reasons I want to transfer are non-academic as well(the department is a lot more pleasant, personal happiness, etc).

I've been doing research in an engineering and loving it so far. It's pretty physics related(nanotech/nanowires), so I think I'd like physics research as well. With some luck I will be doing it over the summer(will know soon). So at least I've been doing OK on that.

My point is, should I still do physics because of how I did in math so far? I don't think an A in freshman physics means much, so I guess I'm also worried that I don't know what I'm getting into next year. If I were to turn it around(remember that I'm getting help next year/medication)... I will do whatever it takes to do so, and am ready to work my fingers to the bone, but I'm just worried it's too late for a great grad school(assuming I will go to grad school, which is another can of worms all together. I like research, but I'm 18 years old...). I mean to say, it won't be a matter of whether I get the material or not if I do well in the next few years, but I still feel uneasy about it, looking at profiles here.

I'm confident I can do better. But not confident that I can do as good as it takes(all A's). I'm retaking a class over the summer and have come up with new strategies in the classroom with my counselor, so I guess I have a test run coming up for said strategies.

Lastly, if anything here comes off as blaming something/someone, it's not. I know this is my fault and my fault alone. I know how hard I will have to work to make up for this.

I'm sorry if this is all convoluted.... I also want to ask if a couple of my professor's are well known or not, but that would require people answering in the field, and me giving away my school.... stupid idea. I'm posting it because I just don't care anymore. Gotta laugh at myself. :lol:

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Sat May 12, 2012 11:42 pm
by microacg
I think you need to be specific about how exactly you screwed up in order for anyone to try to predict how this might affect you. Was it AFFF? In which courses? Etc

Good luck.

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Sat May 12, 2012 11:54 pm
by intellectualwanderer

The early math's(that scares me) and engineering/computing courses. A lot of things. I didn't take notes or study at the beginning of the year. Second semester, I tried to do it, but it's been a little hard to get into the habit. Studying I have improved on somewhat, but notes.... Something I will get help with, along with collaborating with people. I've been getting better though. I tend to make dumb algebra errors and such, and they cost me a lot of points(the tests are multiple choice and the answers close to each other, or they take off a lot of points in engineering for a wrong sign)....

The computing courses I have found very hard and boring to boot, but I've actually understood the math, or so I thought. First semester, I attributed to laziness, but this.... But I don't know if I trust myself to say what I think anymore... I've done three tests in one class, that I thought I did well on, but failed miserably. I kept redoubling my studying each time, and the TA said I was ready for the tests....

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Sun May 13, 2012 12:20 am
by microacg
By AFFF I meant an A in one course and an F in three others. Obviously I'm not saying that's what you got, but I'm just trying to illicit actual details in order to address your question.

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Sun May 13, 2012 12:25 am
by intellectualwanderer
Mostly C's last semester(I got an A- in a global health class, but meh.). This semester an A(B+/B if I get unlucky) in physics, and C in Vector Calc.(I thought I would get an A until these last two tests which I bombed. And Microcontrollers, where I will be happy with a C(PLEASE). DiffEQ I dropped and am retaking over the summer... I will try to work my *** off in this class. I'm NOT a C student. But talk is cheap, I know.... and the worst part is I was viewing Cornell's and Caltech's applied physics sites and thinking-"*amn, that be a cool place."! Disconnect from reality, much? Right now, I should be focused on trying for ANYWHERE. :roll:

And as well as that, if I'm doomed to a mediocre GPA, I might as well stay in engineering and grab the salary... (Time to resort to provocative measures to get responses! :twisted: ) But seriously, if physics is very competitive and I'm doomed to mediocrity whatever I do.....

*UPDATE*. I really don't feel good about the engineering exam I'm due to take tomorrow........ so I'm really feeling hopeless, like I'm ready to tear my hair out! Please?

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Tue May 15, 2012 9:17 pm
by intellectualwanderer
Yeah, so I might have done really badly on that microcontrollers test......

So I'm guessing that I'm screwed for a top 20 school? I'm going to do better, but I hate the feeling that I'm screwed no matter what.

On the positive front, I think I will be doing research this summer.

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Wed May 16, 2012 12:20 pm
by SSM
You're not screwed out of a top 20 program yet. My advice is to take your coursework slower and not focus so much on the engineering classes until later on in your second or third year. Learn what you really like about physics by taking a few advanced courses, I.e. not four or five at a time, and figure out whether you can lose yourself in the material. Your grade in vector calc is slightly troubling, but definitely nothing you can't work around. Don't try so hard to get everything done at once. Don't just take notes because you think you have to, understand why you're doing it and how the lecture is designed to help you study and understand the subject.

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Wed May 16, 2012 9:34 pm
by intellectualwanderer
Luckily, since I'm switching to physics, I don't have to take engineering courses anymore.... which is good.

The math is what scares me. I get a chance to take DiffEq over the summer, so this might be a chance to turn it around. The main thing I'm worried about with GPA is two things:

One, how do I get it from getting thrown in the trash immediately.... I don't even know I can get a 3.5 gpa anymore with straight A's. I'm going to do my best on upper level coursework(and for the reasons I said above, I think I'll do better), but..

Two, even if I do, it's not a matter about getting the material(if I do well in eletrodynamics, I think you can get that I get vector calc). But, the fact these schools are so competitive that they have to choose between somebody, and I'd be the one with the obvious weakness to pick out.

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Thu May 17, 2012 9:30 am
by SSM
So you're a freshman and already you're attempting to take vector calc and diff eq? I went to a big top 25 school too and most of the physics undergrads didn't take these until their second or third years. What happened in your calc classes?

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Thu May 17, 2012 10:55 am
by TakeruK
I know in some schools, engineering students take vector calc and differential equations in first year, but these are usually not the same course as math and physics students take (which are usually taken in 2nd year).

So, one option is to retake these courses later in your 2nd or 3rd year, but take the math/physics versions -- if they are differently numbered you MIGHT be able to retake them, depending on your school's policies. That would help you learn the material better for your own physics coursework later on, as well as show grad schools (if necessary) that you do know your math -- although they will probably not care much about your first year of undergrad very much anyways.

You don't have to worry about doing poorly in those courses to be a physics major. When I did undergrad, we were always "behind" in our math -- i.e. our first year courses used math taught in 2nd year courses (ODEs) and second year courses used math taught in 3rd year (PDEs). So we were all playing catch-up and getting tutorials from our friends who knew the math (learned it in their home country, took advanced courses etc.)

Also, a physics major requires a lot of math but you don't have to be that great at it to succeed in physics, unless you are doing something heavily theoretical. I hate math and I don't understand how to write a proper proof at all (proof and Analysis courses were not required for physics majors) and compared to a math major, I basically don't know any math at all. Of course, it's all relative, obviously physicists do know quite a fair bit of math, but the way I see it, we just need to know just enough to use it as a tool in our work, we don't necessarily have to grasp all of the intricate details and abstract ideas. Even my first and second year math courses contained a lot of useless material.

Finally, as to which profs are "famous" or well-known in the field....well, you can look them up and see how many papers they've written and especially how many times they've been cited. It will be easier in later years, but when you read papers in the field and notice their names (either as an author or cited by the paper), it could give you an idea of who is important. This is especially good when you read something like an Annual Review on the topics you are interested in -- check out the bibliography of these review papers.

Re: AWFUL freshman year...

Posted: Thu May 17, 2012 11:43 am
by intellectualwanderer
I placed out. A mistake I think. I also took Vector Calc(we do it weird, before that is a combined calc II/calc III course which I took first semester), because I thought about transferring to physics and noticed it was required for both.

At my school, the math courses are all the same for all majors.

Ah, being mathematically abused by the American educational experience. :) Man, I've got some stories.

I had some bad luck. My linear algebra teacher was terrible(more than half the kids ended up dropping). I don't know if I can retake them as I passed them(catch 22, anyone).... but I can self study. In vector calc, the tests were multiple choice, which sucked because I'm the type who gets the concept but makes some stupid algebra error.... But again, it's my fault. I want to stress that-I don't want to be perceived as the time to give blame to others, and I don't want to make illusions to myself. I've only got one more "required" one left(usually complex variables or probability, the student can choose), but I want also to take stuff like PDE's. They look interesting and useful, but if they wreak havoc on my GPA..... maybe the upper division courses are different, since they don't have to deal with many kids-just physics and math majors.

Good, I suck at proofs. I'll be retaking DiffEQ over the summer, and I've come up with some new strategies for studying. I'm also getting some help with organizational skills and such. So, I can work hard at 1 class before taking on a full schedule with it, since I will inevitably make some errors at first while adapting. If I try these new strategies and they work, maybe I'll feel more confident next semester about upper level math.

Is the h-index a reliable indicator? I've noticed one who I'm interested in is department chair and has one of 30. I feel like such a prestige ***** for doing this, but there are several prof's whose research I'm interested in, might as well pick the one that can help me out.

In other news, the EE department isn't letting me leave on good terms. It might be tough to take certain EE courses I'm interested in-solid state electronics-, which I was going to do out of interest and employment's sake-I'm 18, I'm a little young to commit to a Phd. I might get it, might not.... but this is unrelated. The professor says he approves of me taking the course(I'm on good terms with him, he was an EE/physics double major in college, and gave me some advice), but it's the bureaucrats I have to get around.... How Kafka/Dilbert esque. This is part of why the physics department is more pleasant....