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Physics Major?

rab62rab62 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
edited August 2010 in Science Majors
I am going to be attending a liberal arts college next year and always thought I'd be majoring in some sort of social science degree. The lest semester of my senior year, however, I took Honors Physics and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I did moderately well although there was no calculus involved and this is what I am worried about.

Math has always been my least favorite subject. I find it stressful and the class I have to work the hardest at, although I generally do alright. My main issue is Algebra, and then whatever mathematics stems from that. I enjoyed the mathematics in my physics class because it was more problem-solving and applied.

So, my question is would it be smart to stick with social sciences instead? I want to try it because it interests me more than any other subject but I am scared because of the calculus involved. At my college I believe only Calc I, Calc II, and some mathematical methods for sciences class are required.
Post edited by rab62 on

Replies to: Physics Major?

  • EnginoxEnginox Registered User Posts: 828 Member
    The first issue you need to address is your current Mathematics dislike. A Physics major will involve a significant amount of mathematical content beyond Algebra that needs to be mastered before progressing to the interesting physical problems. The Calculus involved will require good understanding of Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. Since you have some time before attending college, start (re)learning or strengthening your Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. Sites like purplemath.com are good starting points to come up with a study plan. The best course of action is probably asking your teachers for advise.

    If you can not or do not desire to learn the required Precalculus knowledge, then perhaps you should turn your attention to other academic pursuits. There is no "magic bullet" or "secret shortcut"; if you want to successfully complete a Physics major, you must learn the necessary Precalculus knowledge required.
  • rab62rab62 Registered User Posts: 37 Junior Member
    I have taken precalculus before and didn't have problems with the trig but working on my algebra is probably a good idea.
    Thank you!
    By next year I actually mean this year so I don't have a ton of time but it should still help.
  • Lemaitre1Lemaitre1 Registered User Posts: 1,736 Senior Member
    Normally a BS in Physics requires three semesters of Calculus for physical science and engineering majors, a semester of Differential Equations and a Semester of Linear Algebra as a bare minimum. Unlike your high school Physics class your Physics classes in college will all be Calculus based and without a very strong math background and a high level of comfort with advanced mathematics majoring in Physics is probably not a realistic aspiration.
  • thrill3rnit3thrill3rnit3 Registered User Posts: 1,413 Senior Member
    The best example I can give to you is a carpenter and his hammer. No matter how the carpenter loves to construct, if he is not capable of using his hammer, he cannot advance further in his career. I know that isn't exactly accurate, but you get my point.

    Same goes with math and physics, but in this situation, you absolutely NEED math in order to progress in a [ potential ] Physics career. That being said, there is no need to worry, because just like a carpenter being able to master his hammer through constant use, you too, can be proficient in the maths required for Physics if you practice regularly and put effort into it.

    Math is needed to understand many [ arguably all ] Physics concepts, especially at a higher level.
  • nepatsfannepatsfan Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
    I was in a similar position as you a couple years ago. I was interested in physics topics but I did not enjoy math. Math was usually my least favorite subject throughout high school. I was thinking about majoring in physics in college because I enjoyed the subject in high school so I took Physics I my second semester of college. It was a completely different playing field with the amount of math involved. High School Physics was algebra based so it allowed for more focus on content matter. However, to understand physics at a higher level you have to take calc-based physics. The class was the equivalent of taking a calculus class with a physics class to go along with it. I found the class difficult and stopped trying midway through. I also noticed most of the physics majors were dual physics and math majors because physics is very math intensive. My recommendation is if you have difficulty with math or you don't enjoy it, it will not be a good idea to major in physics. However, if you are truly willing to spend more time studying then go right ahead. I would recommend trying Calc-Based Physics I to get a grasp of your capabilities and go from there. Good Luck!
  • ShrinkrapShrinkrap Registered User Posts: 11,788 Senior Member

    Assuming you are at just an "average" college studying physics, does anyone think there is a "red flag" math 2 or physics SAT score that would suggest majoring in physics is going to be an unrealistic struggle?
  • jwxiejwxie Registered User Posts: 1,479 Senior Member
    @ Shrinkrap

    While people say SAT is testing your EQ and how well you can take an exam, I have to be honest with you that almost everyone should agree that SAT math is probably a lot simpler than SAT II Math 1, which is just plain algebra and geometry.

    If one scores the Math section below 650, and has done many practice problems before, this person has not yet fulfill the basic mathematic ability yet.

    Look careful at each word I use. I am not against people who have problem with SAT for whatever reason that prevent them from getting good scores.

    However, even a 800 on MATH section does not suggest that the individual is a good candidate for majoring in physics. The score only reflects that the person has fulfill the requirement. The math problems present on SAT 1 Math sections are extremely simple. There are tricks, and I understand that there is a time limit. However, if you cannot solve it within 20 minutes and cannot work under the pressure, you probably will not be happy when you major in physics (actually any science course).

    Advance study in science and engineering rely heavily on math. They are written in forms that you cannot imagine. They are so complex that will make you cry.

    However, physics majors should endure the pain, and love to solve problems. If you enjoy physics, and you like what physicists do, by all mean try it.

    Not everyone has IQ 160, and not everyone is a master in math. In fact most physicists have to collaborate with mathematician when they encounter complex mathematics. While Einstein is a gifted physicist, he approached to his friend Dr. Grossman to learn about tensor analysis, which was needed to formulate his mathematical ideas (and his physics quantities) in his work of theory of relativity.

    In essence, not every physicist is an expert in mathematic. But every physicist can solve all the SAT math problems. They know how to perform calculus as if they were doing 1+1. It takes practice (math is pretty mechanical in some ways), and time to absorb the materials solidly.
  • ShrinkrapShrinkrap Registered User Posts: 11,788 Senior Member
    I was asking about the math subject test 2, and the physics subject test.

    Also, when you say "While people say SAT is testing your EQ";

    What does EQ refer to? Emotional intelligence?
  • jwxiejwxie Registered User Posts: 1,479 Senior Member
    Okay the writing was a bit not clear to me.
    But it doesn't hurt.

    Yes EQ. I don't want to get into a debate about why I wrote EQ. There is a philosophy behind EQ, and how EQ affects your performance. You can google it if you want.

    SAT Math level 2 curves better than 1, so I still think 650 is still a cut off. I do think that SAT 2 Subject tests are really comprehensive. You have to know the concepts really well in order to do well on it. Although there are patterns for the types of question....

    A 7xxx means that you prepare well and really understood what was expected.

    In essence, I think 650 is the cut off for all SAT Subject tests, regardless of what your future major is.

    Score DO NOT suggest your potential in becoming a physics major, but it said that you have fulfilled what was expected. Literally these days people just suck up with review books all nights and got 7xx/800, but a score below 650 suggest that the person didn't master the knowledge.

    So how do you tell if you are a really good candidate in physics? It's very personal. I hate to say this.

    Solve puzzle. If you like solving puzzles (Sodoku, word games, puzzle games), you are probably a good candidate in math and science. In essence, you can always try physics.

    If you are persistent, you are a good candidate for majoring in physics.
    If you always wonder and think a lot, you are a good candidate for majoring in physics.
    If you ever look at an equation, and is eager to find out why it is in this form, you are a good candidate for majoring in physic.
    If you are eager to try different approach to solve the same problem, you are a good candidate for majoring in physics.
  • ShrinkrapShrinkrap Registered User Posts: 11,788 Senior Member
    "There is a philosophy behind EQ, and how EQ affects your performance. You can google it if you want."

    Thank you, I will. I am a Psychiatrist, but never thought of EQ that way.

    Obviously I am asking about my son, and not myself, although interestingly enough, we had the same SAT reasoning Math score ( a little less than 650). Of course mine was a long time ago, so I can't really put it in context, but I somehow got through a science major and medical school. It DID require me to really buckle down, perhaps for the first time, but retrospectively at least, school was WAY better than "real life"!

    My son, and our community, is very different from the CC community. He is not well prepared to compete with these CC kids, and I really don't want him to hate his education, but I also figure he has more potential than he has reached in his school. He has never taken an honors class ( not offered), and will take his first AP's this year ( they offer about 6, but you have to have been on track since 7 th grade to get one by junior year. He will take subject tests this fall; not that common among his peers, and we will see!

    Thanks for your input! BTW, what is your frame of reference?
  • jwxiejwxie Registered User Posts: 1,479 Senior Member
    Hi, Shrinkrap,

    I am a sophomore so I know you are more knowledgeable than I am (especially when it comes to life experience).

    I didn't go to any one of those top CC universities. To be fair, everyone comes from different background. Literally, we meet different people every day and we encounter different situations every day. If your son is interested in becoming a physics major, find out why. You don't have take honors class. A good school will be fair with how to distribute the resource. I attended a good high school, and my friends from non-honors classes had the same teacher. I have read and written a paper about the rich and poor in some districts, and how this gap affects the quality of education. I wouldn't ask what is so different in your community, though.

    Whether the community is rich or poor, I think your son is a fortunate kid. He has a father that really cares about his education, and wants him to succeed.
    Really, find out why he wants to major in physics. There are a lot that your son can do right now, to find out his interest. I am glad that he is taking his first AP.

    The reference I got was written in Chinese. I promise I will translate the core later, and I will PM you later (maybe tonight, or tomorrow). I think you will agree with me afterward.
    (or maybe I can find it in English, since the title said EQ and SAT) ^^

    What I said about scores, as in you have personally experienced, only reflect how well the person was prepared for the exam. If I were to give a very different problem to 1000 students who got 800/800, I would bet at least one person would not have the right answer, because all he did was sucking up the review book. There is a trace in every exam. However, the subject test is really like a classroom exam. So I think getting a score of at least 650 is really not that hard. Indeed there are reasons why people are not prepare well. One reason could be the resource. :)
  • thrill3rnit3thrill3rnit3 Registered User Posts: 1,413 Senior Member
    ^ can you pm me the [ translated ] reference too? I would appreciate it.
  • ShrinkrapShrinkrap Registered User Posts: 11,788 Senior Member
    "He has a father that really cares about his education, and wants him to succeed."

    Wow! What made you say that? I'm his mom! His dad is also an MD, and got a lower math score than ALL of us (we have a daughter who got a 2000+), but he was a MUCH better student.

    BTW, we are from New York too!

    We are not poor, but most kids around here that go to college, go to community college, and he attends a tiny Christian school with a graduating class of 87.

    Also, he hasn't said he wants to be a physics major. He just want's to play soccer, and engineering is his back up plan! He has matured a lot in the last 12 months though, and while he hasn't really started looking for schools based major, I am trying to figure out if I engineering is realistic for him. He took "conceptual physics" last year, really seemed to enjoy it, and got A's, which is really rare for him. A's are rare for him, but until last semester ( when he got a 4.0!), all his A's where in science. I think the subject tests will tell more of the story. I think he could do engineering eventually, but I want him to be able to take some time with it. Maybe in grad school. But it's starting to sound like Physics is harder than engineering!
  • thrill3rnit3thrill3rnit3 Registered User Posts: 1,413 Senior Member
    Wow! What made you say that? I'm his mom!

    A misunderstanding, I would guess.
  • ShrinkrapShrinkrap Registered User Posts: 11,788 Senior Member
    ^ Ok. I was wondering if some folks still figure a doctor or psychiatrist is probably man. Could that still be true? Or maybe folks who post on forums are usually men? THAT can't be true, can it?

    Anyway, guess that would be a different thread!
This discussion has been closed.