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Advice for a lost wanna-be physicist

  1. Nov 23, 2012 #1
    Hello all, I'm new here. I'm at a point in life and in school where it's difficult to discern where I'm heading and what I should expect out of myself academically and professionally in the next few years.

    I'm 23 years old and I didn't realize until the age of 21 what it was that I was passionate in. I find that I'm passionate in understanding the way things work at their most fundamental levels. That is: following the "why" trail as to things that happen.

    At 21 I enrolled in college and I've been going for 4 semesters now, mostly catching up on stuff that I needed to retake as I was a very poor student in high school; not because I had difficulty, but because being a teenager got the best of me and making good grades seemed of no consequence.

    I'm currently carrying a GPA of about 3.7, short of a 4.0 only because of classes that aren't geared towards science and mathematics. I have A's in: 2 Algebra classes, Geometry, Trigonometry, Astronomy, Chemical Calculations, and General Chemistry. I'm great at intuitively understanding relationships between concepts, logically working things out, memorizing formulas, and understanding their relevance. In other classes I'm doing well, but not so well as the ones that most would consider to be more challenging.

    I find myself much more involved in classes that are quantitative as opposed to classes that are abstract in their less-specific ambiguity and broadness. I find myself trying to apply a scientific mindset to things that don't ask that mindset of me.

    I want to gain the knowledge of our current understanding of the universe, and I want to help expand on it. I suppose my questions are: is my proficiency in the disciplines pertaining to science thus far representative enough of my ability and will it carry on, in other words, will I hit a snag at some point when the material gets harder? Is it easy to get burnt out on the material, is there a point at which it becomes, "oh damnit, just more pointless math equations"?

    I'm not entirely well disciplined as a human being. My assertiveness, self-discipline, and health do not necessarily reflect a well-balanced lifestyle, and this is true in classes that I feel do not directly connect to science and mathematics, and yet science and math classes seem to be the exception to my lifestyle.

    I know this post is perhaps long, drawn out, and broad.. but perhaps the best way I can generalize it is, given: where I am academically, and given my habits in life, does it get harder, and can I do it? I want to know how things work. I love learning about the fundamental interactions of everything and the language in which the interactions are represented. Despite my overall lackadaisical attitude towards life, is the pattern in my academic history of the sciences prominent enough to carry me onward, or should I make a change in life?

    Thanks for your patience in reading this essay to this point, and any feedback and similar experiences or stuggles is greatly appreciated.

    Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving!

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2012 #2
    I wouldn't worry so much about what your feelings may be towards math and science in the future. Your focus should be trying your best and giving it your all as of right now. There is no reason to stop if you are enjoying learning and are curious about more. Of course things become progressively harder and more abstract as you get more advanced, and to an outsider or someone who sees things without understanding them, it may look like a bunch of pointless math equations but my experience has been the more advanced you get, the richer the material becomes, conceptually as well as mathematically. Also it's just too early to judge how good you would be but keep in mind that there are very few people who get far without working hard, so it's not just about abilities. You seem to have the background to start learning calculus so I would do that as soon as possible. After mastery of that, you can start learning some real physics and classes at that level would incorporate the "quantitativeness" you desire. Good luck :)
  4. Nov 23, 2012 #3


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    There's no way of "knowing" whether or not you're going to be able to cut it as a scientist other than simply pushing forward and doing it.

    The material will get more challenging the further you go.

    You will have classes that you won't be excited about and you'll very likely have other classes that will feel pointless. And burnout is a serious risk. It happens to a lot of students at all levels.

    On the other hand you are also very likely to have classes that will inspire you.

    If you're honestly feeling like self-discipline is going to be a challenge for you, then very likely it will be and you'll have to do something about it. I can't tell you how to find it. Part of starts with simply growing up and maturing. Part of it is circumstantial. But recognizing a weakness is the first step to fixing it.
  5. Nov 23, 2012 #4
    Speaking as someone who started university at the age of 21 after getting a post-high school diploma in Chemistry: yes it gets harder to assimilate as quickly as you get older, but hopefully the fact that you're older means you're more disciplined/have a clearer motivation to study. The material in higher courses are generally harder, but it depends on how well you assimilated previous courses.

    Course work generally does not prepare you to " do science", as I quickly learned in my first 2 months of doing my final year research project, so there's no way to know if you're good at research until you actually do it.
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