I am a 2 year (3rd semester) undergraduate student in physics and I have scored miserably in my two advanced mathematics courses. I got C- in both. It was mainly for not understanding many things. I would like to do advanced research in the future and that would require a PhD degree.

I don't know what field I would like to specialize in, but I would like to achieve my dream of pursuing research as a career. Is it possible to get a PhD after bad grades in mathematics undergrad courses?

I am from India and I would like to do my PhD in the US.

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    I don't want to crush your dreams but if you have documented problems with maths I find it unlikely that you would be accepted in a US physics PhD program. It might be better to do some introspection regarding what your academic strengths are and reconsider your goals. Maybe an academic career in a different less maths-heavy field would be better? Maybe you should try an industry career? Maybe you can improve your maths skills through hard work? ... – Roland Dec 27 '19 at 8:40
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    It is very difficult to do physics without a solid to good math background at the very least. You are in for a very disappointing experience, unless you are ready to accept from the outset that you have no expectations - you try it and will drop out if it does not work, just to make sure you didn't miss something. – Captain Emacs Dec 27 '19 at 9:35
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    You refer to "two advanced mathematics courses." What were they? First- and second-semester calculus? – user1482 Dec 27 '19 at 16:00

As the comments (so far) say, it is very hard to succeed in physics without quite a lot of mathematics. But you don't need everything in mathematics to do so. Some skills are more important than others. Statistics can be important in some fields.

But, first you should figure out which aspect of physics you want to work in. It is an incredibly wide field. Then, look to see which parts of math are most important there. A trusted faculty member can help you with this part, perhaps.

But then, focus on learning those parts of math and the background necessary to understand it. Lots of people do poorly in math because their early teaching was inadequate and they missed the foundations on which to build. If that is the case here, then your path may be long, but it is possible to follow it.

There are several parts of mathematics that require insight, not just facts and skills. Those require work to achieve the insight. And the insights are hard to transmit from one person to another. But math is a problem you will likely need to solve to be a success in academia as a physicist.

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  • good advise, though as an experimental physicist I don't make the experience you need that mathematical insight, rather skills/routines, or this part is really devoted to and necessary for/responsibility of theoretical physics. Here you need sometimes the ability to develop mathematical methods. Einstein got a lot of help here from other physicists/mathematicians and was no bad mathematician as at that time mathematical theory/methods were underdeveloped/not advanced enough to formulate his theory. – user48953094 Dec 30 '19 at 15:51

It is not impossible but you will have to wisely play to your other strengths.

There are plenty of experimentalists or computational physicists who will not describe themselves as strong in math: they have a good to very good qualitative understanding of the maths, and they will drill down on the specialized maths they need at the appropriate time.

In other words, it is not essential to be technically proficient in math to be successful in physics, but one does need the ability to learn the material in due time.

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A lot of the other answers have focused on the difficulty - but not impossibility - of having a career in physics research. I'll just focus on this line:

I am from India and I would like to do my PhD in the US.

Even domestic students would have difficulty being admitted to a reputable graduate program with two C-s in advanced math courses. They would need a good explanation, and an otherwise excellent application. The competition for international students is much higher -- fewer slots and more applicants (particularly from certain Asian countries, including India).

So, I would suggest that you should carefully consider your options before you commit to applying to US PhD programs. I would speak to someone who knows your whole portfolio and is familiar with US admissions requirements; they can give you better advice than we can. But I suspect you will have to take a few years to strengthen your application before you are in a position to apply successfully. Perhaps during that time, your longer-term options and goals will become clearer.

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As others have answered, it depends on how core the areas of math you're having with are to the type of physics you want to do, and on how much of the problem was how the material was presented to you.

I'm a math Ph.D. and (former) lecturer. There are math courses that are taught in a very theoretical, proofs-from-first-principles, little about applications kind of way. If merely that was not your cup of chai, that says little about your ability to master the applied maths you might actually need for your work. But if you genuinely are having trouble understanding fundamental areas of mathematics, then it does not augur well. First, since you probably need some of that knowledge, and second, since you need the ability to learn maths on the fly when you need it for physics work.

If I were you, and assuming these were core courses for a physics major not some esoteric advanced math elective, I would get a hold of a highly-rated but different textbook for the topics you struggled with. See if that makes any sense to you. If you start reading it, and it's making much more sense (even if some of it stumps you when it's just you reading it), then you're on the right path. But if there's core parts of basic advanced math, like calculus or linear algebra or differential equations, that you just can't get your head around no matter how much you try, then a Ph.D. in physics might be pretty challenging.

I say this as a math Ph.D. who had several areas of math itself that I had a hard time getting my head around, but had no trouble doing research in areas that didn't require it. The issue is not "something is hard for me"; it's whether it's core to your intended area, and whether you have the ability to navigate it better with a 2nd go at it.

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Perhaps, you read too much from textbooks only and probably you need change your studying techniques.

Black-and-black textbooks are deficient, while demonstrations with colourful engaging illustrations and animation can enable you to assimilate learning - quickly.

Here are my studying techniques below, though you might think very little of them. Feel free to delete this question, as I am respectful of criticism.

I read something from textbooks and later research into that by typing keywords in Youtube, Quora, Twitter, Facebook groups, Pinterest, Google Image, etc. Therein, I find plentiful sources for rich brainpicking and so I take screenshots of their works (maths & physics), all for study purpose only. Truthfully, I've taken thousands of screenshots and made digital scrapbooks of them, all pages enclosed with links to sources and attached with my summaries. I use Google Slides for scrapbooking screenshots.

For rich brain-picking, I follow nerds around on the internet, be they professors, engineers, scientists, etc, the likes of Richard Feynman who has daily posts in Twitter. I read their posts and view their showcased works. From professors in Twitter, I learned about Desmos and GeoGebra, the great sites where many mathematicians frequent. Wonderful calculators there, those for graphs, trigonometry, and so on. Inside Stackoverflow, I explore hubs mostly for brainpicking: namely, Mathematics, Mathematica, MathOverflow, Physics, etc. There, I study exemplary answers to exam-like questions. I see you haven't yet joined those hubs and you should (I checked your profile).

One worthwhile place you ought to visit is Pinterest. Therein, you will find great many gems - colourful engaging pins and boards on all branches of mathematics. See also those on physics or applied mathematics. At Pinterest, type in keywords like quaternions, eigenvectors, tensor calculus, etc and see what you will find. Innumerable treasures! I oftentimes find formulae for maths & physics at Pinterest.

At Pinterest, I always have boards for my myriad studies & hobbies, those on mechanical engineering, electronics, programming, etc. I collect them for myself and also for my nieces & nephews.

In Youtube, check out channels by Math Sorcerer, MajorPrep, BlackPenRedPen, 3Blue1Brown, MIT OpenCourseWare, Oxford Mathematics, Numberphile, etc. Math Sorcerer talks about conquering your fears and dealing with failure in math. He should be the first you listen to.

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