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September 23rd, 2015, 08:33 AM  #1 
Newbie Joined: Sep 2015 From: Germany Posts: 3 Thanks: 0  Physics+maths+career change = fear+stress^2?
Hi guys, I'm going to begin my physics/maths bachelor in three weeks' time. I'm approaching my thirties and am actually switching careers now (in fact, I have an artistical background). In practice, this means I had a tenyear break from mathematics, plus I used to hate it in school. As an adult, I eventually took interest in math and physics and after getting to know both subjects more, I got crazy about them. After many sleepless nights entertaining this possibility, I decided to become a physicist. I've been brushing up on maths for about 9 months and am now getting started with some topics in calculus and linear algebra. This week I'm taking a prep course on mathematics at the university and, unfortunately, it's been a little frustrating. If I honestly evaluate my math skills and understanding, I think I'm good. However, my classmates seem to have immensely more knowledge than I do. We were working on my problems in class and I realised I was really lagging behind. I could only solve half the problems and the people near me were actually done by then. I felt really stressed and unwell. Of course, this makes me aware that I have to work harder and I absolutely will! Thing is, I don't want to feel stupid every single week and I don't want to give up. I'm a little afraid I might have made the wrong choice when enrolling for this course. I'd appreciate it if somebody could give me some advice! Maybe I'm not the only one who's been through this kind of situation?! Many thanks in advance! 
September 23rd, 2015, 09:04 AM  #2 
Global Moderator Joined: Nov 2006 From: UTC 5 Posts: 16,046 Thanks: 938 Math Focus: Number theory, computational mathematics, combinatorics, FOM, symbolic logic, TCS, algorithms 
First of all, good luck! I admire your decision to change careers like that. I think it's worth noting that perception is often not matched by reality: likely many/most of your fellow students are feeling just like you do (psychologists like the term "impostor syndrome" for this). So don't be too hard on yourself. Probably the best thing you can do is to make sure that you get caught up with the class. Usually if you're behind you can't follow the material, which means that you have to learn that material separately, and unless you have time to learn the old material alongside the new material it will soon put you back in the original position. So leaving generalities for specifics, what is your course covering that you find challenging? 
September 23rd, 2015, 11:41 AM  #3 
Newbie Joined: Sep 2015 From: Germany Posts: 3 Thanks: 0 
Thanks for the hint at the impostor syndrome, I’d never heard of it. I’ll certainly read more about it. Ok, about the specifics. This prep course I’m taking is split into two separate modules, basic and advanced (the first takes place in the morning, the other one in the afternoon, for two weeks). The content in our schedule is, in this order: basic: polynomials, exponents, logarithms, vectors, planes, systems of equations, matrices, differentiation, integration and probability. advanced: polar and spherical coordinates, complex numbers, differentiation in R^n, differential equations and line integrals. Our lecturer said we are not expected to know the content from the advanced course by the beginning of our studies, they just want us to have an idea of the stuff we’ll be dealing with later on. The stuff from the basic course was okay so far and I have some notion of most topics, even the ones that are yet to come. Except planes. I’m only just starting to learn vectors. Even the polar coordinates class was fine, but then we had the spherical ones the next day and, even though I could sort of grasp the concept and follow the class to a great extent, at some point there were loads of angles and trig functions flying around on the board and I got completely lost. Of course, when we got to the problems, I was clueless. Funnily enough, these topics like space, plane and dimensions seem to be among the most interesting to me. I feel overwhelmed because it’s so much in such a short interval of time and I’m even unsure about what I should study further after classes. Would it be wiser to focus on the basic course and don’t even bother trying my hand at the advanced stuff at all? I’ll have only one week between the end of this intro and the actual classes, so I need to make the right moves, I guess. 
September 23rd, 2015, 07:37 PM  #4  
Global Moderator Joined: Nov 2006 From: UTC 5 Posts: 16,046 Thanks: 938 Math Focus: Number theory, computational mathematics, combinatorics, FOM, symbolic logic, TCS, algorithms  Quote:
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This isn't hard, just new to you. I think your artistic background might actually help you, especially later when/if you cover cross products that often cause problems for people less spatially inclined. Quote:
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Focus only on the basic class until you know it all. Don't worry about what hasn't yet come unless you're caught up.  
September 24th, 2015, 10:11 AM  #5 
Newbie Joined: Sep 2015 From: Germany Posts: 3 Thanks: 0 
Your advice was very enlightening! I think you just gave me both the specific orientation and motivation I needed to progress. I couldn’t thank you enough! And it’s cool that you mention fractals, because the very occasion in which the beauty of mathematics struck me was the day I watched a documentary about them. To me, it was like the whole of reality came together for a moment and everything, art, biology, maths, physics, everything clicked in my mind! Since then, it’s become THE mathematicaI field I want to explore some day. The only reason why I haven’t bought Mandelbrot’s book yet is because I want to know more math before reading it. 
September 30th, 2015, 09:49 AM  #6  
Senior Member Joined: Oct 2013 From: New York, USA Posts: 639 Thanks: 85  Quote:
How many courses and credits is normal for introductory calculus? At Hofstra some departments had 1, 2, 4, or 5 introductory courses for majors, but Mathematics was the only department with an introdcutory sequence of 3 courses.  
September 30th, 2015, 10:52 AM  #7  
Global Moderator Joined: Nov 2006 From: UTC 5 Posts: 16,046 Thanks: 938 Math Focus: Number theory, computational mathematics, combinatorics, FOM, symbolic logic, TCS, algorithms  Quote:
I'm accustomed to 4/5/4 credit hours for Calc 1/2/3. I'm not familiar with the term "introductory courses"; I don't think the universities I've been to made this distinction.  
October 2nd, 2015, 05:18 PM  #8 
Senior Member Joined: Oct 2013 From: New York, USA Posts: 639 Thanks: 85  What I meant was one or a few courses that are prerequisites for the rest of the courses in the department. At Hofstra once you have passed Analytic Geometry and Calculus I, II, and III; Introduction to Higher Mathematics; and Linear Algebra; you can take almost any other math course with exceptions being things like Advanced Calculus I being a prerequisite for Advanced Calculus II.

November 29th, 2016, 02:43 PM  #9 
Newbie Joined: Nov 2016 From: USA Posts: 1 Thanks: 0  update?
Hi, Just wondering how you made out. I also made a change  and ended up becoming a high school physics teacher. I started writing about it in a blog. Please visit https://physicscareeradvice.wordpress.com 

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