A fool requests career advice

  • #1
533
37
Hopefully he is asking in the right section.

So, here is my sad tale: I developed an interest in physics in high school. Mysteriously, my high school instructors considered me gifted and I found myself meandering through community college courses while in high school, and by my senior year had completed the introductory physics and calculus sequences, along with almost all of my electives.

Equally mysteriously, my SAT scores were modest, modest enough that I did not feel compelled to apply to a top tier university; for the record, I scored at the bottom 25% of those admitted to MIT in the mathematics section. So I find myself now at Arizona State University, which is my local public university.

To make matters worse, while I did not behave like a typical ASU student (that is to say, drunkenly, druggedly, and promiscuously), I somehow managed to bring my GPA to a hideous 3.00. The reason for this rests upon an enormously brazen decision made in my second semester; ASU has an introductory proof writing/reading course which introduces the student to modern mathematics, and after finishing it, I signed up for as many advanced mathematics courses as I could (4, to be exact!), out of excitement. The courses in question were an introductory analysis course, an introductory abstract algebra course, a very rigorous point set topology course (the professor claimed to have covered more material than in a typical graduate course!), and a mathematical methods in physics course covering the usual suspects (differential equations, linear algebra etc). Suffice it to say that I bit off more than I could chew and received a B of each of these courses, and a B in an honors humanities course all honors students are required to take.

My question is this: What does this mean for my grand ambitions at a career in physics? It is not a career given out lightly; I am interested in theoretical physics, a field in which only the best and the brightest seem able to find work. I hope I have supplied all the necessary details; what I am wanting to know is, aside from merely attempting to improve my GPA, where do I stand now as far as my career is concerned? Was this a devastating mistake?

Thanks in advance,
Arsenic
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
1,679
3
Keep going. Find the school with the right physics program for you and try to go there. You got a false start. No big deal. You're in it for the long haul, right?

If you're bright but didn't test & grade well it should come through in other ways. Get to know some people doing the research you might be interested in. Read their papers and show interest in their work. Fix your GPA and you'll have no trouble at all.
 
  • #3
lisab
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,887
616
Getting all B's while taking a heavy load is not a disaster - not even close.

Yes Antiphon is right, keep going. You learned a lot from that semester, not just a lot of math but also where your limit is. An important lesson!

It's still early in your college career. You still have the critically important upper division classes to complete. Doing well in those will mean more than a B-average semester.
 
  • #4
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Aah okay, I guess I just panicked then. Thanks for the reassurance, and my apologies for the melodrama!
 
  • #5
6,814
15
My question is this: What does this mean for my grand ambitions at a career in physics?
1) You are probably not going to be a research professor. Nothing to do with you or your GPA. You could have gotten a 4.0 and been a perfect student, and you are still probably not going to be a research professor. Most physics Ph.D.'s don't become research professors.

2) In the long run, getting a 3.0 one semester is irrelevant. You've learned a lesson about not overextending yourself, you'll take fewer courses next semester, and that will improve your GPA. GPA is less an indicator of intelligence than of time management and bureaucratic tactical skills.

I hope I have supplied all the necessary details; what I am wanting to know is, aside from merely attempting to improve my GPA, where do I stand now as far as my career is concerned?
If you have the standard physics career ambitions of most freshmen, you are likely doomed. Again, that's nothing to do with your academic performance or abilities. You are likely doomed no matter what you do. But that's OK. You probably should rethink your career goals, but that's got nothing to do with your GPA.

As far as improving your GPA, a lot of what you learn in college is time management and bureaucratic tactics (i.e. take one class pass-fail, and then intentionally do the minimum work to pass that class so that you can get an A in another one). That's going to be generally useful for you in the future.

Was this a devastating mistake?
Nahh... It's just part of your education.

One other thing that you will need to learn in college is "damage control." When things don't go exactly the way you want, you need to learn to not panick or fall apart. You have a problem (and it's not a bad problem), you calmly fix the problem, and then keep doing.
 
  • #6
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Well, aren't you a ray of sunshine? Alas, I fear you are likely right. So, I have some questions:

Do I need to make any special preparations for a career outside of physics with my physics degree, or is the degree alone sufficient?

Is your pessimism directed only at theoretical particle physics or is it directed at all physics?
 
  • #7
555
9
Well, aren't you a ray of sunshine? Alas, I fear you are likely right. So, I have some questions:

Do I need to make any special preparations for a career outside of physics with my physics degree, or is the degree alone sufficient?

Is your pessimism directed only at theoretical particle physics or is it directed at all physics?
It's all of physics. Physics is a lottery where the prize is a middle-class existence. There are so many interesting things to do out there in this big world that are unlocked with technical and math skills. So it isn't really pessimism. It's reality.

And for special preparations, take internships! Make sure you are a good programmer! Learn electronics. Physics is a wonderful foundation for all kinds of career paths. Including physicist! ;-)
 

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