Finally time for another QOTM, and this time I want to (try to) answer something I'm asked quite often, in different wrapping each time. What this question really boils down to is:
Is it hard to study physics?
I get this question, as I said, in different wrappings and contexts from different people, and I've decided to answer the different aspects about this question, that I can think of. I have divided my answer into three categories below - grades, family, and age.
But before I start to go more into the details regarding grades, family, or age (maybe you don't want to read all of it), I'll start with a short answer. Yes it's hard - you'll have to work a lot. For some it's harder than others (of course). You have to work continuously.
Like anything you want to become really good at, it takes WORK ("5% talent, 95% effort"). Nothing comes for free....
It really helps to be motivated, because then your hard work is for some goal - whatever that is. For me it was when I realised there was something called applied physics; and my grades and my mood changed from blah to great :)
When I started the FAM-program
(the physics program here at the University of Oslo), I came straight from high school. I had all the math, physics, and chemistry possible, and my grades were good (don't remember exactly, but they were a mixture of 6 and 5). I was 19 years old, and studying physics was going to be "easy"...
It didn't go particularly well (it went ok, but not exactly great - not like people were thinking Man, she's like awesome, I'm sure she'll do a PhD some day). But I had the resources, so why didn't it work?
I wasn't really motivated, I think, didn't put in the work - maybe I was a little bit immature in some aspects. Also, it's hard to "start a new life", which is really what happens when you start university. It can be a big change and a challenge in your life, being 18/19 years old, moving away from home, supposed to be independent and "grown-up"...
I know people who were the straight opposite of me when we first started; didn't have any math or physics from high school (the requirements were different before compared to what they are today - more science and math subjects are required to get admission to the physics program today), and they have just sped through the bachelor and then the master studies, and ended up finishing a PhD, even earlier "normal".
Their recipe? Work, work, work.
The recipe to manage to put in all this work? Motivation, and an ability to not give up.
The grades I got during my bachelor studies were just barely enough to get me admitted into the master's program in physics (in several research groups I probably wouldn't have been accepted, because they would have required better grades). I'm not saying this to "brag", but to explain that it's possible to "change", and even if you don't have the best grades today, you could get the best grades tomorrow...my master's was a success ;) JUST. NEVER. GIVE. UP <3 And don't listen to those that are yelling it's sooo easy I understand everything, or the ones that go ooooh, I don't understand anything I'm so super stupid - oh, oops, I got an A - trust me, they're always there, and just close your ears. If that's impossible - avoid these people.
1. You'll have to work hard no matter what kind of grades you had in high-school.
2. Good grades from high school (in math and physics) probably helps, but if you don't WORK, they're worthless ;)
3. Don't make the mistake of believing that because you understand (maybe even you knew all of it from before) more or less everything they talk about during a lecture today, you can slack off - one lecture "off" and you'll have troubles catching up again.
(Number three was the silly mistake I made my during first years as a student - yes, it took some time for me to get everything "straight" :P )
When you have a family (especially little kids) it's more difficult to spend all the time you might need to understand everything (it's more than a "9-5, 5 days a week"-job...). On the other hand, you're probably better at planning your time than most students - as a parent, you have to ;)
You can definitely study physics even if you have kid(s). It's like it is with everything; it takes planning (and you're good at that - or you will be). You can probably not be a part of all the student activities, but I still would recommend to try to take part in some of the stuff that's not related to the studies; since the studies themselves are challenging, and it's a good idea not to be "all by yourself" when you're starting to feel stupid.
Family is not a hindrance, as long as you and your partner are a team. (If you're alone with kids, it's definitely harder, like most things are, but if you're extremely focused and dedicated, and plan plan plan, it should still be possible!)
In my experience, all professors and teachers really want you, as a student, to succeed - and if you have "special needs", you often get them. IF... You're open and honest from the very beginning! That means that you can't come running one hour before you're supposed to hand in your home exam and say that you have kids, and they have been sick all fall and therefore it's been difficult to follow everything during the fall or whatever. You have to start planning your semester at the very beginning of the semester: Figure out when all exams are - get them into your calendar, get all assignments into your calendar, just get EVERYTHING into your calendar! If you see that there are times when difficulties may appear; talk to someone - like the professor (most of them are very nice and kind people), or a student advisor (yes, we have them, and they're all really nice!), or something... Let it be clear that you have planned everything as best you could, and that it really isn't your fault that you have problems with the deadline (if it happens - hopefully, since you planned everything from the very beginning, you'll manage it all) <3
2. Be open about your "situation" (whatever that is) from the very beginning
3. Be part of as much of the student activities as you can
It's never too late! I learnt this from my mother, who was actually studying at the university when I started. Of course, if you're starting a completely new (physics) education, and are thinking about doing a masters degree (and maybe even dreaming about more than that), it takes the time it takes - 5 years is the "normal" time from beginning of bachelor to end of master's degree (took me six years, and that's not completely crazy either), but as a rule of thumb, I'll say it's never too late :)
Some of the same pieces of advice goes towards age as it does with family - take part in as much as the "students- but not studies-related" stuff as you can. It doesn't at all help to feel like an outsider, when the assignments are piling up and you don't know what was taught on that and that lecture since you were sick (or maybe at home with a sick child - I hate when that happens) and it's dark almost all the time since it's late November - you need to be part of the group! Luckily, my experience with physicists (students and other) is that it's an extremely including group, so if you want to, you'll be part of the "team".
1. Age is just a number
2. Physicists are an inclusive group of people
So, remember: Yes it's hard to study physics, and YES, you can do it! :)
It's no shame in taking a course again - either if it's because you want to improve a grade, or it's because you actually failed/gave up the first time.
If I'm just to give one piece of advice:
Work hard and believe in yourself!