I have successfully completed 15 graduate Physics courses, completing a B.S. in Physics only a year ago. As an undergraduate I found the topic very enlightening and intriguing because it aims to answer all of the underlying why questions that arise in nature. I really enjoyed Newtonian Physics (classical mechanics) the most during my undergraduate career because so many real world examples are used and explained (an easy stated example: dropping cargo from an airplane at a constant velocity from a designated height and needing it to land in a particular spot).
While I was in the Air Force I was a ground RADAR technician and found, in practicality, the importance of physics. While unknowing to me then, the very job I had was engineered by the top physicist of that time. The RADAR I worked on was old but ground breaking when it was first commissioned. I joined when I was 20 (so I had a couple of years of schooling completed prior to entering) and had not yet formally declared a major. While I was in the Air Force, I completed an AS in Physics and an AS in Electrical systems; however, still no major degree path yet. I thought electronics were fascinating but as I learned more I realized how much of a knowledge in Physics could really help me out. After going to Afghanistan, all the training I put in at CST (Combat Skills Training for the Army) and everything I endured in country, I had a very injured body that I didn't properly take care of. I pushed myself over the limit my body could physically handle every second I was in. I did not set myself up for the best success like I could have. Better stretches, training, shoes, equipment, etc..
For the time I was in my career field I was put on Technical Orders, which were diagrams and instructions for our RADAR. I found myself enjoying the fundamental concepts that made the RADAR operate. After that it was off, I found that I enjoyed physics and knew that was the major I was going to decide on.
I found that in practice as a technician (fixing and troubleshooting) working on components and power supplies to CRT tubes which actually operate in the field are completely different then the courses behind this science. As a technician I didn't need to remember any laws or fundamental forces, heck most of what I fixed were not that serious of a problem. Follow signal flow through some circuit and diagrams and have a multi-meter and check all test points. What comes in and what comes out. Then we narrowed down where the trouble was and we fixed the problem (which usually meant ordering a part). However, the theory behind what each component does and why it is doing that task were very heavy with physics.
So I learned that what is taught and what is needed to know to operate some device does not usually match up. However, instead of operating some device deciding to create a new device or make a device, the theory that is taught provides insights to do so much more.
So despite the obvious disconnect from being a technician to course work physicist, I still enjoyed physics. It became more of an art than anything. I loved the relations that seem to roll and intertwine through symbols and numbers that I started seeing the "mechanics" of life. That is not to say that I did not have some horrendous and turbulent times. I averaged a day or 2 where I didn't go to sleep (not even a nap). It was rough and exhausting, at one point I had 7 courses. So after expelling everything I had in the Air Force and still working with them to correct my feet and knees, I was literally burning the wick at two ends. I graduated Spring of 2015, shortly before my son turned 1!
The title to this blog is "Making Physics Easier" and so far all that has been expressed besides loving the subject matter and how it pertains to all things living, is how difficult it has been :P .... So why did I name this blog something in which I have expressed, so far, was not my case? Because learning from someone who has taken an extremely difficult route is how someone else can do it easier.
From simple analysis, deciding what I wanted to do from the start, quite possibly, could have changed my entire life course. I would strongly encourage making a decision that comes from within the inner core of your self-being when deciding what you want to major in. Secondly, I stayed undecided because I didn't want to commit to any "one" thing. That being said, if I had done some more research on opportunities with different degrees I would have chosen Physics from the beginning.
It is also important to not overload yourself with too much schoolwork in order to try and stay on a set plan or maybe even complete it sooner. You can only handle what you can handle and if you choose to work will being in school, I don't think 7 classes is the wisest decision. I learned the hard way. While I did make it my overall GPA did suffer. While I did graduate with a GPA for my major over a 3.4, my overall GPA was a 2.9. Definite blow in the end.
It may be wise to finish a degree before having children (not saying you can't do it, my wife completed her M.A. when our son was a year old) because after he turned 1 she even admitted that there would have been no way she could have been doing school simultaneously. A toddler is way too busy for a parent who is the primary care-giver to complete a degree (even online (my wife was an online student)). Now if your kids are older and they are in school, why not?
You know I injured myself throughout my career in the military and if I had decided to choose physics from the start and had a plan I committed to I may not have joined the Air Force as an enlisted member, I would have gone in as an officer. There is a huge difference between enlisted and officer and that is way to lengthy to discuss here.
The way you better yourself as a physics student as an undergraduate is dependent on how much time and effort you are willing to sacrifice from your daily life. Setting realistic goals and doing what can be handled without overloading is required in order to achieve the greatest amount of success. Applying the coursework to everyday life and connecting in an intrinsic way can facilitate the mission.