Mr.Physics & I: It’s Complicated

I’m a simple girl in a complicated relationship.
 
(Did I just hear a gasp?) Oh, I’m not talking about a guy here. I’m talking about a subject. Specifically, Electricity & Magnetism for Majors: PHYS340.
 
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Ah, Mr.Physics and I. We have an intense hate-love relationship going on… and I’m not the only one who finds it hard to deal with him.

You see, a relationship’s essential foundation is communication.
 
Mr.Physics’s words and meanings sometimes get lost in translation when he goes from the language of derivative and integrative mathematics to simple English. And so, me unable to understand at first, get impatient, assume he is not trying hard enough to express himself, and walk away in disgust, wondering why I ever decided to do a physics minor in the first place.
 
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[That’s usually my sensation during class time.] 
 
When I get home, try the weekly assignment, spam my prof’s inbox with questions, see the prof for a half hour in his office the next day, spend another 4 hours on the assignment– when the light of dawn begins to creep in, I wonderingly decide that Mr.Physics is truly and sincerely my love. We understand each other so well! Furthermore, he has so much to say, so much to contribute, I can learn so much from him. This is the moment I feel I am in love.
 
This picture sort of captures my moments of euphoria:
 
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And then? I’m in hate mode once more. The assignment is handed in, a new one is passed out, and a new concept has begun. And as is often the case, right then and there as a physics concept is being introduced, I could be clueless. But I didn’t used to ask questions because, well, every time the prof asks “any questions?” absolutely no one has any. 
 
NOBODY. And why would I want to seem like the only slowpoke? Should I ask anyways?
 
No, I decide, I’ll go to the library, pour over the notes, textbook and google for hours, want to rip my hijab into shreds in the process, but eventually I’ll get it.
 
No surrey, I’ll suffer in silence and then regret it come midterm time. 
 
It appears Mr.Physics really enjoys confusing me; I don’t know, does he think it’s “cute” when my brain cells are fried and exhausted? Then he’s just plain darn insensitive! I tried a different approach this year, and decided to beat Mr.Physics at his own game. 
 
I decided to ask questions, regardless of how “dumb” I would look. If he wasn’t going to give me answers, I was going to fetch them myself.
 
Before coming to class yesterday, I read the chapter sections that we would cover (even though the prof [he’s really good, by the way] takes a different approach, I would still get a general idea). And surprisingly, amazingly, I was keeping up to date with everything the prof said! I was so excited, so thrilled to be in that classroom. Then there was one step, ONE TINY THING, on the board that confused me.. It wasn’t even a physical question, it was an arithmetic one.
 
The usual “Any questions?” question surfaced.
 
SILENCE.
 
Of course. Physicists are all super smart people who should never have questions. << (I really don’t know where this idea stems from, but physics students cling very tightly to it for some reason. They may ask what-if questions to display their genius but rarely I-don’t-get-it ones.)
 
I could’ve waited to get home and figure it out myself. But I was on such a high to be understanding everything today and I didn’t want one little blunder to ruin it all for me. Appear stupid or not, I was going to ask a potentially foolish question.
 
I broke the silence as I asked, “Excuse me sir, can you please explain how you got from step 3 to 4? How did the 0 become an R?”
 
The professor readily gave a 5-second explanation which completely clarified everything. I gladly thanked him.
 
All of a sudden, 3 geniuses in the class had different questions regarding the same problem. 
 
“Oh, how did you get this…” “Well, why did you do this…”
 
I had broken the ice. And it felt SO good to do that!
 
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Earlier on this week, I was comparing my solutions for the assignment with one of the guys in the class. He introduced himself to me by peevishly saying, “My name is so-and-so […] I’m feeling ashamed I can’t get all the problems on the assignment because I’m supposed to be doing a major in physics.”
 
Ashamed? My teacher persona kicked in and I said, “Why are you ashamed? You may be a physics student but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, imply you were born with all the physics in your head. You’re a student, you’re still learning, and there’s nothing wrong with not always having the answer… as long as you’re always working to get it.”
 
I’m not sure if it was the first time someone reassured him that Mr.Physics wasn’t the easiest person to communicate with… but he looked immensely relieved. I think he thought I’d give him a pitiful look and say, “Oh man. You should be SO ashamed. You mean you didn’t know all about electric flux coming from a hole in a uniformly charged cube back in your mother’s womb? So sad, dude.”
 
All in all, Mr. Physics and I have an intense hate-love relationship. There may be more meaningful songs out there to describe my feelings for it, but Katy Perry’s lyrics do it just as well:
 

‘Cause you’re hot then you’re cold

You’re yes then you’re no

You’re in then you’re out

You’re up then you’re down

You’re wrong when it’s right

It’s black and it’s white

We fight, we break up

We kiss, we make up.

 
(In this context, kissing = understanding the physics concept and wanting to study the subject for the rest of time because it’s suddenly so much fun!)
 
OK, so I’m gonna get started on this week’s assignment. I’ll likely be in hate-mode initially, until Mr.Physics will sweep me off my feet as rays of understanding slowly make their way to me. 
 
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Happy studying!

 —A.S.

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