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Anxiety and Uncertainty about Pursuing Undergrad in Physics

  1. Oct 23, 2014 #1
    So for a little background, I'm an INTJ according to the Myers-brigs test and people often tell me I have an analytical mind. I'm not a genius or anything but I do above average in physics and math. I think it's mostly because I enjoy and engage more with the material than others. I think I have like a ~86 average but I could do better if I really tried instead of just maintaining the minimum I really need to remain safe for getting into McGill. I find it hard to do well if I'm not challenged or feel rewarded for doing well. I consistently do well in subjects others find hard while I do mediocre in subjects that people find easy. Sometimes I might even find the "easy" stuff challenging, regardless if I feel that I'm giving it an honest effort or not. I'm currently in my last semester at CEGEP, so I'm at a level somewhat similar to someone finishing their first year in uni.

    I'm really scared that I'll end up being in the bottom tier of physics majors and end up unemployed later on because of the limited employment in the field. I know that I need to at least do a masters before I consider employment in physics. Statistically I'm likely to be one of those guys who give up on their pursuit for a PhD. I'm not great at meeting new people or forming good relations. How do people even go about getting research positions as physicists?

    How do I increase my chances that I land a good job eventually? I'm only going to be going to McGill (Hopefully) in the Fall semester. Do people in physics do internships? Seems like it'd be quite a difficult thing to get an internship in my position. I'm also absolutely adamant about minoring in philosophy and taking as many electives related to it as I can.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 23, 2014 #2


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    Generally, by doing a PhD and then applying for a post-doc (and then another post-doc, repeat until you get a permanant position).

    I did 5 research internships with a bunch of different research groups while in undergrad, which were great, because they allowed me to figure out whether or not research was for me. Doing research internships at my university is normal, at other universities it depends on how seriously the university takes research-led teaching (which depends on the research quality of the school, and the staff/student ratio, normally).

    I just did a quick google, and it certainly looks like research internships are available at McGill. http://www.physics.mcgill.ca/ugrads/usra/

    Why do you think that?
  4. Oct 23, 2014 #3
    Because I'm sure McGill undergrads who are more educated than me and have actual contact with the professors and are involved with the school who must be competing for these opportunities have a much greater chance at grabbing those internships than I do. I'm not an undergrad yet.
  5. Oct 23, 2014 #4


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    So you wait until you get there before applying! :) Once you're an undergrad, you have the same contact with professors as anyone else.
  6. Oct 23, 2014 #5

    But then the decision will be made! Maybe I should be an engineer!
  7. Oct 23, 2014 #6


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    So, worst case scenario, you change majors, from engineering to physics, or physics to engineering. Or you do a masters in engineering after a degree in physics. Or the other way around.

    The decision you make now isn't irrevocable.
  8. Oct 23, 2014 #7


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    Also! I actually had some research experience before starting undergrad, and I occasionally see high-school students around my lab.

    Email someone who looks interesting, and ask if you can do a week or two weeks of research experience with them! Worst thing is that they say no.
  9. Oct 24, 2014 #8
    I guess. I'm just really tired and stressed.
  10. Oct 24, 2014 #9


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    I remember the feeling. The last year of highschool is pretty tough. You'll figure it out.
  11. Oct 24, 2014 #10
    The part about being good at things that other people find hard and bad at things they find easy sounds a lot like me.

    You might want to consider engineering if you are not great at meeting people and that sort of thing. Networking is such a big deal for finding jobs these days. The more you study something that fits you into a standard industry job, the less job search BS you have to deal with. For someone who is not socially adept, I think that is a key consideration. You could consider trying to study the most marketable possible branch of physics that you can find that catches your interest, and also work on your social skills. Read Dale Carnegie and stuff like that (personally, I'm too socially retarded to be able to be able to put into practice 80-90% of the advise, but I need all the help I can get in that area, so I'll take the 10-20% that I can apply).
  12. Oct 24, 2014 #11
    Nothing wrong with Physics BS-> Engineering masters/PhD depending upon what you want.

    There are actually lots of good physicists in engineering departments if you look closely enough. There is a person in the EEE department at my institution who applies QFT to work in solid state.

    EDIT: For pure math, I found someone, also in EEE, who works on hardcore control theory. His papers involve topology and functional analysis in non-trivial ways.

    So if you like pure math or theoretical physics, you can find somebody doing something that's not unlike what you want to do if you look in the right places.
  13. Nov 2, 2014 #12
    Please be careful when reading Dale Carnegie. His book How to Win Friends and Influence People, tends to be advertised as a social skills bible, but he exaggerates on quite a few things and one must have the intuition to be able to strike a healthy balance when using his advice. After I read his book, it took me about a year of making mistakes before I was able to find such a balance.

    IMO, he also fails to address many of the issues affecting people who are bad in social situations, e.g. low confidence. I won't say it's not worth reading at all, it's not bad, but I have seen many better social skills resources.
  14. Nov 2, 2014 #13
    You need to relax bro. I'll give you an example of someone alot like you that ended up successful (so far), myself.

    On finding easy subjects difficult, I found the math on the general GRE (which doesn't go higher than algebra) more difficult than the advanced math I did in my physics classes (up to complex variables and partial differential equations). Not because it was difficult in an absolute sense but because I hadn't practiced those kinds of questions in literally years.

    I know certain people in this forum like to push super high GPA's as the barometer of success for post-undergrad prospects, but your skills and experience matter more in my experience. Out of the graduating class of physics majors at my university I had the lowest cumulative GPA by a wide margin, so if there was a tier in my uni's graduating class I was at the bottom. That wasn't because my physics skills were at the bottom, but because test taking ability is actually a different thing than understanding material presented, also in my experience. I also now have a job where I make a great deal more money than the high 'tier' GPA students ended up making (to be fair I don't know how grad students would match my salary without multiple high-paying fellowships at once, and I work as an engineer not a physicist).

    Most people who do STEM degrees begin undergrad research as unpaid lab assistants, a gig you can get simply by asking a professor doing whatever research you think is interesting if they need extra help. As you gain more skills in the lab and prove your competence you can be given higher level assignments that get you noticed. People in physics absolutely do internships, though physics majors typically do what's called research experiences which are slightly different from the industrial internship. I made the right connections and did enough extra research work that my GPA was let slide so to speak to enter what's called the McNair Fellowship at my university, where students are given small stipends to do paid research for the summer and the opportunity to publish and present said work. Though there is some publishing in industry, an engineering student doing an internship would be placed on a team working on some project and be given an assignment to optimize some facet of the groups system.

    David Hume and Rene Decarte won't be getting you industry tech jobs, but neither will a PhD (or any degree) necessarily. You increase your chances of getting a job by having the correct degree AND delving deeper by doing more than just classes. Classes are the bare minimum that you need to speak the technical language, a high GPA in classes isn't necessarily going to beat out years of hands on experience (this is variable of course, there are companies that won't touch GPA's below a certain point and that's their prerogative).
  15. Nov 2, 2014 #14
    For me, I was just very conservative about applying his advice, so it's been well over 10 years since I read it, and I don't think I made many mistakes, but I also was not able to apply a lot of what he says. It did help a little bit, along with just facing the fear and getting out of my comfort zone. I still struggle with this, but maybe you have to realize it's kind of like eating crunchy cereal. To you, it sounds like an earthquake, but to someone else, they might not even notice. So, sometimes, my shyness makes me feel like the sky is falling, but I don't think other people can see how tortured I am inside when I have to be brave socially. Sure, they might see it, but it probably just comes off as being slightly nervous and awkward, whereas on the inside, it may feel like my brain is screaming at me so loud not to do it that I'm in danger of losing my hearing. That thought helps, but I still wonder if sometimes, my fear of having my brain completely melt down and making me look like I'm really a mental case could actually be justified. That's what keeps me from doing a few of the things I've wanted to do. But even if I did look like a mental case to a couple people for a couple minutes, in the end, I know it's mostly in my head and probably would have little, if any, effect on the rest of my life after that painful moment was over. Knowing that it is irrational doesn't make it go away, so I've tried to work up to things, taking baby steps, but sometimes my progress is so slow that I never really make it to the end goal of what I want to be able to do.

    I think you just have to treat it through exposure. Through exposure and suffering, I've now gotten to the point where 99% of social situations at least don't provoke any fear in me, even if I'm not that great at handling them (although, part of the reason why there is no fear is because I'm too lazy about expanding my comfort zone).

    Anyway, I just threw Dale Carnegie out there as one example of the kind of thing to read that did help me pretty significantly, I would say.
  16. Nov 2, 2014 #15
    I'm going to take a look at the book after this semester. I've had a bit of success lately by trying exactly that, getting out of my comfort zone. I was always trying to just think of ways in which I could change the way I think about a given social scenario to change the way I react and "cure" my anxiety. Now instead of trying to reshape how I think I'm trying, some might say the more obvious approach, of changing how I feel in these scenarios. As soon as I recognize a fear I try my best to face it head on, and get used to putting myself in situations that would make me anxious. I got the idea after reading the Divergent series. Members of a tribe called "Dauntless" inject themselves with something called a fear serum to replicate their more intense fears. By facing their greatest fears, they are able to act bravely and approach dangerous situations with a cool mind because they aren't nearly as nerve wrecking as their most dangerous fears. In a similar way, I can become normalized to my social anxiety by conquering other fears. I'm not conquering my greatest fears because that would be traumatic, but these smaller fears that I've conquered make me feel more comfortable in trying to approach larger fears.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2014
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