Mentor a physics Freshman
Mentor a physics Freshman
Hey guys,
I know most of you are concerned with getting into grad school, but if the applications got you down I got something to help out your ego! Criticize someone taking first year physics!!
Here's my problem:
I'm upset, I just had my first physics test and I got a B+/A, depending on how the professor gives partial credit. This is horrible news, the material was really simple and I'm sure most of you would think the test was trivial even for physics I.
I don't get why I can do so good in pure mathematics, had a test today that I completely destroyed yet Physics doesn't seem as intuitive to me, sure I've been doing math for more years and this is my first real formal physics class ever but I somehow think that skills in the one should transfer over the the other?
I keep feeling like there is a better way of thinking about physics that I haven't quite developed, a way that will allow me to use my intuition like in math. Maybe it's because I am extremely clumsy in the real world and my reptilian physics engine isn't as developed as others or something. Can I over come this flaw, it even exist?
I might be better at pure math but I'd much rather pursue studies in physics? Any comment you have is appreciated so don't be scared to reply! Thanks!!
Come guys let me in the secrets, I just got a B+ on a test you guys could probably do completely drunk, what I loser I am! Help!!
I know most of you are concerned with getting into grad school, but if the applications got you down I got something to help out your ego! Criticize someone taking first year physics!!
Here's my problem:
I'm upset, I just had my first physics test and I got a B+/A, depending on how the professor gives partial credit. This is horrible news, the material was really simple and I'm sure most of you would think the test was trivial even for physics I.
I don't get why I can do so good in pure mathematics, had a test today that I completely destroyed yet Physics doesn't seem as intuitive to me, sure I've been doing math for more years and this is my first real formal physics class ever but I somehow think that skills in the one should transfer over the the other?
I keep feeling like there is a better way of thinking about physics that I haven't quite developed, a way that will allow me to use my intuition like in math. Maybe it's because I am extremely clumsy in the real world and my reptilian physics engine isn't as developed as others or something. Can I over come this flaw, it even exist?
I might be better at pure math but I'd much rather pursue studies in physics? Any comment you have is appreciated so don't be scared to reply! Thanks!!
Come guys let me in the secrets, I just got a B+ on a test you guys could probably do completely drunk, what I loser I am! Help!!

 Posts: 118
 Joined: Mon Dec 08, 2008 5:51 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Chin up its only your first physics test/class. Physics is a different way of thinking about things and it takes awhile to get used to. Math i think most people find easier. Its a set of rules, solve this equation with this method. But with physics you add in real world physical circumstances and you have to decide with method which equation to use. It is by no means simple.
Give yourself more time, keep studying. For someone who hasn't had physics before an A is not bad at all. Physics test/profs love to try and trick you on tests, espicially when the concepts are simpler, thats how they make it hard. And it depends on your prof and book and all that. If you really think you're not getting the material go see your prof or a tutor. But dont beat yourself up over an A. I would guess most of us wouldn't have survived our physics classes without the massive curves they put on tests!
Give yourself more time, keep studying. For someone who hasn't had physics before an A is not bad at all. Physics test/profs love to try and trick you on tests, espicially when the concepts are simpler, thats how they make it hard. And it depends on your prof and book and all that. If you really think you're not getting the material go see your prof or a tutor. But dont beat yourself up over an A. I would guess most of us wouldn't have survived our physics classes without the massive curves they put on tests!

 Posts: 38
 Joined: Fri Jan 30, 2009 2:18 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Your story sounds exactly like my own, and I wonder how many other people who read this feel the same? Pure math classes were always so easy and one of the big reasons why I went for physics was because I wanted something a bit more challenging.markl wrote:Hey guys,
I know most of you are concerned with getting into grad school, but if the applications got you down I got something to help out your ego! Criticize someone taking first year physics!!
Here's my problem:
I'm upset, I just had my first physics test and I got a B+/A, depending on how the professor gives partial credit. This is horrible news, the material was really simple and I'm sure most of you would think the test was trivial even for physics I.
I don't get why I can do so good in pure mathematics, had a test today that I completely destroyed yet Physics doesn't seem as intuitive to me, sure I've been doing math for more years and this is my first real formal physics class ever but I somehow think that skills in the one should transfer over the the other?
I keep feeling like there is a better way of thinking about physics that I haven't quite developed, a way that will allow me to use my intuition like in math. Maybe it's because I am extremely clumsy in the real world and my reptilian physics engine isn't as developed as others or something. Can I over come this flaw, it even exist?
I might be better at pure math but I'd much rather pursue studies in physics? Any comment you have is appreciated so don't be scared to reply! Thanks!!
Come guys let me in the secrets, I just got a B+ on a test you guys could probably do completely drunk, what I loser I am! Help!!
I would say you should start visiting the prof during office hours (if he/she is helpful), tell them about your aspirations, ask them to help you with the problems you did incorrectly, and go from there. If your prof is not helpful go find a prof teaching a different section who is. Start crossreferencing other textbooks when you do your homework. AND, very importantly, do more questions than just those that are assigned on the homework and check to see if your solutions are correct, and if not, figure out why. I know this sounds like a lot but having a good foundation in physics I/II can help a lot in the long run.
Cheers.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
I agree that you shouldn't get depressed about a decent grade on your first physics test, but I don't think evilclaw2321's statement is remotely true for anything beyond calc.evilclaw2321 wrote:Math i think most people find easier. Its a set of rules, solve this equation with this method. But with physics you add in real world physical circumstances and you have to decide with method which equation to use.
markl, if by "pure math" you mean things after calc, I think the exact oposite of evilclaw2321's statement is true  at least for intro physics classes. Unlike pure math, most of the physics problems will be more or less the same situation with different numbers. You can figure step by step approaches to solving most problems. Doing this helps build up "intuition". People who have physics intuition weren't born with it, because what we learn runs counter to what we see in everyday life (rolling balls come to a stop, force at a distance, gyroscopes, etc.)
In short, the intuition just takes time to build up. Don't worry about it.
Last edited by dlenmn on Fri Feb 27, 2009 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

 Posts: 118
 Joined: Mon Dec 08, 2008 5:51 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Well if you're talking really advanced math then yeah maybe not, but at least at my school most of the people in my class agree that like the classes for PDE's multivariable linear algebra etc were easier than our advanced physics classes.
but I guess it really depends on the person if math or physics comes more natural.
but I guess it really depends on the person if math or physics comes more natural.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Isn't weird that something that actually deals with the natural world(physics) is more difficult for some people than something that is completely abstract(math). What does that say about our psychology?
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
A/B+??? You freaking moron!!!! Jesus H Christ in a Mother *** Handbasket... go back to kindergarten.markl wrote:I'm upset, I just had my first physics test and I got a B+/A, depending on how the professor gives partial credit. This is horrible news, the material was really simple and I'm sure most of you would think the test was trivial even for physics I.
Seriously though, just keep practicing. Every time you read a new equation, think about it critically. Does it make sense? Do the variable dependences match what you know about how the world works? What do the equations reduce to at extreme limits? Each time you get an answer to a problem, think about it critically. Does it make sense at the extreme limits? Is the variable dependence what it should be? Once you train your brain to think like a physicist, you should have very solid intuitive notions of everything and physics will be as straightforward as math, just more useful.

 Posts: 198
 Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 11:45 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
What "pure math" are you talking about? Cal, linear algebra, diff eq, etc. OR analysis, advanced algebra, topology, etc? Linear algebra and others are easy, but I personally find advanced algebra etc. (which are what I would consider "pure math") much, much harder than any physics classes I took including upper level quantum mechanics, e&m etc. Don't dismiss math to be easy until you get over those classes like cal, linear algebra, diff eq. that everyone needs to take.isobelojalvo wrote: Your story sounds exactly like my own, and I wonder how many other people who read this feel the same? Pure math classes were always so easy and one of the big reasons why I went for physics was because I wanted something a bit more challenging.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we don't see abstract math seemingly contradicted in everyday life. The same is not true for physics.markl wrote:Isn't weird that something that actually deals with the natural world(physics) is more difficult for some people than something that is completely abstract(math). What does that say about our psychology?
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Math ain't that simple... and math (beyond intro courses) ain't all straight ahead formulas and methods.evilclaw2321 wrote:Math i think most people find easier. Its a set of rules, solve this equation with this method. But with physics you add in real world physical circumstances and you have to decide with method which equation to use.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
grae313 wrote:Once you train your brain to think like a physicist, you should have very solid intuitive notions of everything and physics will be as straightforward as math, just more useful.
This is exactly what I need, is it available in bottled form? I hate having to swallow pills!
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Diet and exercise work a lot better than pills, and the results last longermarkl wrote:This is exactly what I need, is it available in bottled form? I hate having to swallow pills!

 Posts: 198
 Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 11:45 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
I'm sorry but there is no shortcuts. Do A LOTS of problems, TONS of problems; no kidding here, since this is the only way to learn physics. For intro classes you should preferably do problems that have solutions so that you can see how someone (presumably better than you) did the problem in maybe a better way. I would suggest getting one of those problem solving book (don't know any of my head; but do browse around your library in the section that contains your physics textbook) and just solve a lots of problems.markl wrote:grae313 wrote:Once you train your brain to think like a physicist, you should have very solid intuitive notions of everything and physics will be as straightforward as math, just more useful.
This is exactly what I need, is it available in bottled form? I hate having to swallow pills!

 Posts: 118
 Joined: Mon Dec 08, 2008 5:51 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Well I was referring to math as intro classes since the person who's talking about it is a freshman and i clearly said, more advanced math this is not the case, but for intro calc pde linear that is what i was referring to. Of course I know that math, esp advanced math is not simple and straight forward all the time. It was a generalization about freshman/sophmore level stuff.Math ain't that simple... and math (beyond intro courses) ain't all straight ahead formulas and methods.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
First, fix any errors that you made on your test. That is, use the test as an aid to your studies. Obvious right? Good.
Next, don't expect that all of your mathematical skills will transfer over to solve physical problems. That is, mathematical reasoning alone is not sufficient to solve a physical problem. Mathematics is, of course, the premier way to talk about things quantitatively, but ultimately only an experiment can decide whether or not something is true, scientifically.
Plus, the things you are learning in your Physics I class today were not so obvious back when Newton first realized what was going on. At least for me, the more I realize the historical significance of the "basics" the more I realize how interesting the human endeavor to understand nature is. Perhaps it helps to realize that to really understand physics you have to understand Newton's example. "He was the man who distinguished very carefully between the facts that he would develop and experimentally determine, from a theory to explain why it is so." That quote is from Feynman, by the way.
Last, I think the only trick is to be persistent and to work hard for a long period of time. You don't have to be a "reptilian physics engine", but you should try to look toward gaining a physical intuition. That is, you should know what the answer should look like before you write down the solution to the equation. I hope that helps.
Next, don't expect that all of your mathematical skills will transfer over to solve physical problems. That is, mathematical reasoning alone is not sufficient to solve a physical problem. Mathematics is, of course, the premier way to talk about things quantitatively, but ultimately only an experiment can decide whether or not something is true, scientifically.
Plus, the things you are learning in your Physics I class today were not so obvious back when Newton first realized what was going on. At least for me, the more I realize the historical significance of the "basics" the more I realize how interesting the human endeavor to understand nature is. Perhaps it helps to realize that to really understand physics you have to understand Newton's example. "He was the man who distinguished very carefully between the facts that he would develop and experimentally determine, from a theory to explain why it is so." That quote is from Feynman, by the way.
Last, I think the only trick is to be persistent and to work hard for a long period of time. You don't have to be a "reptilian physics engine", but you should try to look toward gaining a physical intuition. That is, you should know what the answer should look like before you write down the solution to the equation. I hope that helps.

 Posts: 38
 Joined: Fri Jan 30, 2009 2:18 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
hmm, well I had a dual major in math and besides advanced linear algebra the classes always gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, unlike upper level physics classes which always took me to the very edge of my abilities. Overall, what I had meant to express was that a lot of people that I have talked to who pursue physics majors find upper level math classes to be easier, but upper level physics to just be more interesting. I would have been happy to find quantum mechanics easier than math analysis... but, for me, it wasn't.axiomofchoice wrote:What "pure math" are you talking about? Cal, linear algebra, diff eq, etc. OR analysis, advanced algebra, topology, etc? Linear algebra and others are easy, but I personally find advanced algebra etc. (which are what I would consider "pure math") much, much harder than any physics classes I took including upper level quantum mechanics, e&m etc. Don't dismiss math to be easy until you get over those classes like cal, linear algebra, diff eq. that everyone needs to take.isobelojalvo wrote: Your story sounds exactly like my own, and I wonder how many other people who read this feel the same? Pure math classes were always so easy and one of the big reasons why I went for physics was because I wanted something a bit more challenging.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
It's not always true for DE and linear algebra. Some schools run two different DE classes, one for engineers (which is super formulaic), and one for math majors (which is a lot less plug and chug, and more about understanding). Physics majors can often chose between them.evilclaw2321 wrote:Well I was referring to math as intro classes since the person who's talking about it is a freshman and i clearly said, more advanced math this is not the case, but for intro calc pde linear that is what i was referring to.
Similar deal for linear algebra. If you spend the whole time doing gaussian elimination, then yeah, it's really simple. If you spend a lot of time doing proofs, then not so much. Again, some schools offer 2 linear algebra classes with those two different approaches.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
If you are serious about this, it's available in book form...This is exactly what I need, is it available in bottled form? I hate having to swallow pills!
http://www.amazon.com/000SolvedProble ... 0070257345
Do as many of them as you can. When you go over a section in class, go home and go over all the problems in the corresponding section of this book. Your school's library probably has it.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Thanks, just bought that book! Looks like a good resource to expand beyond what we are doing for homeworks.
BTW, for math I am just taking about the more general courses that physics majors take. I don't really know how good I would be in a math class that stresses formalism and proofs. But I did do good in 10th Grade geometry and there were proofs in that one
BTW, for math I am just taking about the more general courses that physics majors take. I don't really know how good I would be in a math class that stresses formalism and proofs. But I did do good in 10th Grade geometry and there were proofs in that one

 Posts: 26
 Joined: Sat Jan 31, 2009 5:59 pm
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
markl,
You are in freshman physics, wonderful. You learn a lot of neat, readily applicable things in those courses.
"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an equation is worth a thousand pictures."
I want you to think about that quote. The equations you work with may or may not look simple to you on the surface, but they are actually saying quite a lot. When you read one equation, it is equivalent to reading a million page book. That is why this stuff is difficult. It takes time to fully appreciate what you are doing.
Mathematics, whether pure or applied, are not easy. Engineering courses are not easy. Anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is being an elitist jerk. I doubt most people that make these claims have taken the core courses of those majors. Those courses as well as physics are difficult for the same reason, they require logically reasoning through mathematics.
At the end of the day it comes down to this, either you will decide learning physics is worth your time (because it is fun, interesting, or whatever your reason may be) and you will devote A LOT of time to practicing using the equations and reading your book, or you will decide there are better uses of your time. (which there may very well be)
Physics is hard for everyone. Most professors can simply remember what to do as a result of repetition which is why they make it look easy, but it is not. There is no 'physical intuition', only solving enough problems so that you know what the answers should look like.
I encourage you to stick with it. The reward of modeling the fundamental processes of nature are worth the time and effort in my opinion. You could very well be the next James Clerk Maxwell! All it takes is a choice of how much time and effort you are willing to put into physics and mathematics. Never complain it is hard though, just be thankful you have the opportunity to be challenged.
You are in freshman physics, wonderful. You learn a lot of neat, readily applicable things in those courses.
"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an equation is worth a thousand pictures."
I want you to think about that quote. The equations you work with may or may not look simple to you on the surface, but they are actually saying quite a lot. When you read one equation, it is equivalent to reading a million page book. That is why this stuff is difficult. It takes time to fully appreciate what you are doing.
Mathematics, whether pure or applied, are not easy. Engineering courses are not easy. Anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is being an elitist jerk. I doubt most people that make these claims have taken the core courses of those majors. Those courses as well as physics are difficult for the same reason, they require logically reasoning through mathematics.
At the end of the day it comes down to this, either you will decide learning physics is worth your time (because it is fun, interesting, or whatever your reason may be) and you will devote A LOT of time to practicing using the equations and reading your book, or you will decide there are better uses of your time. (which there may very well be)
Physics is hard for everyone. Most professors can simply remember what to do as a result of repetition which is why they make it look easy, but it is not. There is no 'physical intuition', only solving enough problems so that you know what the answers should look like.
I encourage you to stick with it. The reward of modeling the fundamental processes of nature are worth the time and effort in my opinion. You could very well be the next James Clerk Maxwell! All it takes is a choice of how much time and effort you are willing to put into physics and mathematics. Never complain it is hard though, just be thankful you have the opportunity to be challenged.
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
You're right I'm the next Einstein in disguise, muahaha, you will all be my minions after I get my Nobel Prize
In seriousness, I do really want to excel at this stuff and get straight A's, I wasn't even like I found the material hard, I could have gotten an 100% on the exam. I was nervous for one, since I want so badly to do well and one questions, on three dimensional space, through me off. I seem to have such an awful time trying to visual space in 3d, any tips on help with this?
In seriousness, I do really want to excel at this stuff and get straight A's, I wasn't even like I found the material hard, I could have gotten an 100% on the exam. I was nervous for one, since I want so badly to do well and one questions, on three dimensional space, through me off. I seem to have such an awful time trying to visual space in 3d, any tips on help with this?
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Stop looking at the computer screen..?markl wrote: I seem to have such an awful time trying to visual space in 3d, any tips on help with this?
Re: Mentor a physics Freshman
Dear markl,
as a Physics teacher, I don’t think being a Mathematical Megaman automatically ensures that you could also become a Super Physicist. Some might think that Physics is just ‘a bit of formula this and equation that and BINGO! You solve Physics problem!’ If only Physics were that obvious….
The others have made their points about the importance of doing a lot of Physics problems to get the ‘feel’ you need to understand the problem in hand. There is no shortcut to become a true Physicist. In this respect, such a thing as the secret to be a good Physicist may not even exist at all.
cheers everyone!!
as a Physics teacher, I don’t think being a Mathematical Megaman automatically ensures that you could also become a Super Physicist. Some might think that Physics is just ‘a bit of formula this and equation that and BINGO! You solve Physics problem!’ If only Physics were that obvious….
The others have made their points about the importance of doing a lot of Physics problems to get the ‘feel’ you need to understand the problem in hand. There is no shortcut to become a true Physicist. In this respect, such a thing as the secret to be a good Physicist may not even exist at all.
cheers everyone!!