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Dealing with burnout: should I continue in math?

by Wretchosoft
Tags: burnout, continue, dealing, math
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stevenb
#19
Nov25-10, 08:29 AM
P: 697
I'm so sad to hear that some people can have depression triggered by not solving a problem. I had never considered this as a common issue because I derive so much joy from solving problems. I'm not someone who can become easily depressed, but if anything - having a problem to solve pushes me away from depression and more towards a state of mania. I find this state enjoyable but I don't let this get out of control to the point of becoming a psychological issue.

Anyway, what I want to point out is that you all have great talent and I hope you find a way to integrate problem solving into a happy and productive life. Any failures in problem solving probably stem from psychology rather than lack of ability. The fact of the matter is that these people we call "super geniuses" have everything going for them. Not only are they smart, but they have the emotional makeup to focus for long periods of time without negative effects on their mental stability.

Of course mental well being must come first in a person's life. I know this because, although I've been fortunate (so far) to avoid emotional extremes, it seems most everyone else I care about has stuggled with depression, panic or anxiety, at times.
madameclaws
#20
Nov26-10, 08:07 AM
P: 8
I really wish I could hug you. You have just helped me to know that I'm not the only one in this world that feels like you.
I am just starting my third year in my undergrad mathematical career, and I'm going through my Intro to Proofs class and feeling like a complete failure.
I do fabulous on my homework where I am getting 100% on everything I turn in, but my tests have lowered my grade in that class to a B mostly due to the fact that I don't get enough time on the exams to deeply think about the problems like I do on my homework. I got so depressed after this last exam because I knew I missed key parts of the exam, and I just kept thinking about if I am this depressed now in pure math, what's grad school going to be like?
I made a personal decision for my future that since I am doing well in my Statistics class and I see more a career future in that than pure math, I'm going to change my concentration to Statistics. Maybe you should think about going into something like that?
Thanks again for this post. I really needed to hear something like this from someone else out there.
hitmeoff
#21
Nov26-10, 06:01 PM
P: 261
Quote Quote by madameclaws View Post
I really wish I could hug you. You have just helped me to know that I'm not the only one in this world that feels like you.
I am just starting my third year in my undergrad mathematical career, and I'm going through my Intro to Proofs class and feeling like a complete failure.
I do fabulous on my homework where I am getting 100% on everything I turn in, but my tests have lowered my grade in that class to a B mostly due to the fact that I don't get enough time on the exams to deeply think about the problems like I do on my homework. I got so depressed after this last exam because I knew I missed key parts of the exam, and I just kept thinking about if I am this depressed now in pure math, what's grad school going to be like?
I made a personal decision for my future that since I am doing well in my Statistics class and I see more a career future in that than pure math, I'm going to change my concentration to Statistics. Maybe you should think about going into something like that?
Thanks again for this post. I really needed to hear something like this from someone else out there.
I have the same problem. I can spend hours, sometimes DAYS working on a single math homework problem, but the feeling I get when I finally prove something is second to none. But come test time, I have no notes, no references, and certainly don't have a lot of time to really think things through and usually my test scores don't reflect my ability to solve a problem.

But thats no reason to run away from something you like in order to pursue something that you think might be easier. Now of course, if you enjoy stats more than some of the other pure math subject, by all means, switch majors. But if you really love math, then I would reconsider.

Talk to your professors. See if they have any suggestions on how you might do better on exams. I find that professors in general really appreciate hard work, effort and a commitment to improve. If you've shown, through your efforts on homework, that you are a hard working, dedicated student, I am sure your professors will have no problems giving you tips on how to do better on their tests.
A_Math_Lover
#22
Jan10-12, 09:52 AM
P: 2
I am really in the same condition though I am not a college student. I have finished school and then dropped an year to prepare for the entrance examination to get admission to a Math course in a great college. So I have to study some advanced math. The problems are pretty tough. I had low self confidence from childhood itself. And now when I don't get problems, it increases the disbelief in my ability. Also, I have to deal with problems between my father and mother, a financial struggle and other family problems. Now my condition is that I love mathematics but am also terrified of not being able to solve problems. I feel very sad and get emotional at small things. I have always dreamed of being a Mathematics teacher and researching too. But even for teaching at high school level, we need to pass very tough exams and very few talented people pass that exam in our country. Because of this many teaching posts are either filled with temporary staff or lying vacant. I am almost completely losing faith in my ability day by day. Sometimes I can't even open my books for days and I start thinking about suicide too. It feels a little better to know that many other people have similar problem too. I really cannot think about taking up anything other than Mathematics. If anyone has a solution to my problem, please help me. I'll be really grateful.
A_Math_Lover
#23
Jan10-12, 10:06 AM
P: 2
I am really in the same condition though I am not a college student. I have finished school and then dropped an year to prepare for the entrance examination to get admission to a Math course in a great college. So I have to study some advanced math. The problems are pretty tough. I had low self confidence from childhood itself. And now when I don't get problems, it increases the disbelief in my ability. Also, I have to deal with problems between my father and mother, a financial struggle and other family problems. Now my condition is that I love mathematics but am also terrified of not being able to solve problems. I feel very sad and get emotional at small things. I have always dreamed of being a Mathematics teacher and researching too. But even for teaching at high school level, we need to pass very tough exams and very few talented people pass that exam in our country. Because of this many teaching posts are either filled with temporary staff or lying vacant. I am almost completely losing faith in my ability day by day. Sometimes I can't even open my books for days and I start thinking about suicide too. It feels a little better to know that many other people have similar problem too. I really cannot think about taking up anything other than Mathematics. If anyone has a solution to my problem, please help me. I'll be really grateful.
chiro
#24
Jan11-12, 12:12 AM
P: 4,575
Quote Quote by Wretchosoft View Post
First a little background. I'm a 3rd year undergrad in mathematics. By most measures, I've been rather successful up to this point: I'm taking graduate courses, I've coauthored a paper with a professor (currently seeking publication) and am writing a second paper on my own, and I've started going to various national conferences. So I think it's reasonable to say that I could have a successful career in mathematics.

That said, math both brings me a great deal of joy and makes me completely miserable. It's a rather unhealthy relationship. I love working on mathematical problems, but I take every instance of me being unsuccessful in solving a problem as a personal failure and a blow against my intelligence. As one might imagine, this is incredibly emotionally draining, and I have at multiple times throughout my university career considered completely dropping math and going into another, more practical field that I'm less personally invested in. I'm constantly plagued with feelings of self-doubt about my abilities as well, which also doesn't help my emotional well-being. These are all things I don't feel comfortable sharing with my friends or professors, but the cloak of anonymity of the internet makes self-disclosure a little easier.

So I guess the question is, for those of you with more experience in math or other technical subjects, have you had similar feelings? Did they pass? I thought that after I did my research and started getting some recognition, I'd finally stop worrying about these things, but the feelings have persisted.

EDIT: Coming back, the title is a bit too melodramatic for my liking... heh. My prime doubts about going on are related to whether it will be good for me emotionally, not whether I can do the work.
Hey Wretchsoft.

This is way more common than you think. I don't know anyone in later courses that haven't had a confidence crisis of some sort. I'm not really a great student myself, and the posts here on PF in the various sections constantly remind me of that.

I think if you take anything away from the experience of doing math, is that you can say that you tried to do something that was/is hard, and based on that alone you can hold your head up high.
morphism
#25
Jan11-12, 12:21 AM
Sci Advisor
HW Helper
P: 2,020
The good news is: you're not the first person to feel this way. It has literally happened to just about everyone I know in math, myself included.

The bad news is: the emotional problems may not go away. In fact, they might get worse. Graduate school will most likely, at some point, amplify all the self-doubt and emotional turmoil you're battling right now.

As with most problems of this type, it's hard to say how helpful generic advice will be. So, in lieu of that, I would suggest you try to contact a faculty member or an advisor and just talk things out. There really is no shame in this. It really helps to talk to someone who knows you and is more experienced and has probably gone through what you're going through.

Best of luck!
Obis
#26
Jan11-12, 04:47 AM
P: 68
If you understand mathematics well enough to be able to enjoy it, then what's the point of thinking about your ability anymore?

However, I think the problem is a psychological one. I recommend watching this video :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VauHIuyPwkM

The main advice is to drop your self image. Stop caring how good or bad you are at mathematics, just enjoy it.
deRham
#27
Jan11-12, 01:17 PM
P: 410
My advice is to accept you will not solve every last thing, and to learn to talk to people and ask for help.

As you grow older, the reason a question is being asked will make more sense, and your arsenal of attack plans grows.
Lavabug
#28
Jan11-12, 03:49 PM
P: 900
OP: I'm sorry to hear about your situation, seek professional counseling if it really gets to you. I have gone through similar (but probably milder) downers, namely when I transferred into physics from a different university and degree last year.

I was really behind at first and developed a fairly deep-seated inferiority complex. I progressed very slowly, but -long story short- by the end of the year I pulled through and earned appraisal from teachers and some classmates who initially recommended I should "slow down and retake some courses". The inferiority complex still lingers though.

My enjoyment of the toiling process in the subjects I like is what kept me sane , otherwise I don't think I could've handled all the strain and blows to my intellectual self-esteem I experienced (and continue to experience) while transitioning from moderately clueless to moderately decent.

Moral of the story is: enjoy what you're doing and forget about everything else that troubles you emotionally. And you're getting to do actual publishable research in pure mathematics as an undergrad? I don't know how common that is in the US but afaik, that's literally unheard of in Europe, both in math and the sciences.
Wretchosoft
#29
Feb3-12, 12:54 AM
P: 64
Surprised both that this thread got revived and that I stumbled into it after being away from the board for a year or so. Anyway, these sorts of feelings have passed for the most part, mostly due to necessity. I don't really even have any advice for getting over these sorts of problems, I just stuck with math and matured and that was that.

These sorts of threads usually don't have any sort of closure, but I figured, why not buck the trend?


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