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Are physicists/mathematicians dumb?

  1. Sep 2, 2008 #1
    This year I'm feeling a little bit down. I noticed that my friends in business and life science(who left physics) are out having fun. They have time for part time work and parties. Meanwhile I'm sitting at home desperately trying to keep up with all the math and physics I'm taking. For what I ask myself, as my future with this "impractical art" is dim. They will also have better lives when older, whereas I will be working hard hunting for work.

    If I learned anything from math, it is logical structured thinking. And what logic is there to following a dream (an irrational decision by all accounts)? To spend another 6 years of hell getting a PhD and making less than my engineer counterparts who are still in their early 20s? In fact, why would anyone choose this course of action. Yet, this very action is dictated by emotional impulse, which is usually present in those who lack intelligence. So are these the people our science attracts? It would certainly explain the low compensation.

    This change of perspective hit me like a wall just a few days ago. Studying math and physics has become a chore, mainly because each time I open up the book my brain wanders and tells me "WHAT THE HELL IS THE POINT". It is still early in the year, so I can change courses if I want to. Wouldn't anybody? Yet, we all still continue to torture ourselves.

    Maybe I've hit my limit point, and an IQ of 115 slows me down too much (math takes forever). Or maybe I got too smart to follow this hopeless trial any longer. The stories teary-eyed undergrads tell me about so-and-so physicsts finding great work aren't that convincing now either.

    Oh... what do I do.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2008 #2
    First off, I don't think that the job prospects in the life sciences are better than math/physics (in fact I think they are pretty bad outside being a doctor and there are precious few life science people that aspire to be a doctor that actually make it). As for the rest, you have to ask yourself what is important to you. I'm a second-year grad student that recently switched from astrophysics to semiconductors (I'm sort of a cross-disciplinary physics and EE guy now), mostly because I was asking myself similar questions as you are asking yourself. Now I'm still doing something I find fun and interesting (not exactly what I wanted to do, but I can live with it). When I thought about it, I figured that my chances of making through the grad school/postdoc hurtles and finding myself in a good faculty job were pretty slim, and even if I worked really hard, I would still have to get really lucky to get where I wanted to be (i.e. still working in astronomy, but not in some menial telescope technician job). Now when I start looking for a job, I'll actually be employable outside academia. Maybe you can find a similar compromise.
  4. Sep 2, 2008 #3


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    If you are into making lots of money, then you are really dumb in choosing this route of maths and physics.

    But as I see, your'e little bit depressed on seeing what future awaits you, I must say that this must be happening to everyone who learns maths and physics, you work hard as hell you rarely have time for yourself, and in the end society only salute to those who are the best of the best from maths and physics, and others don't get any recognition for their work.
    But, those who get into this, should convince themselves that they don't need society's approval in going to this route.

    In summary, no one said it's going to be picnic, I myself have doubts in continuing to Graduate studies, mainly financial ones, think hard as wether you would like to continue or call it quits and learn to be a business man (Although this would be much more boring than manipulating some algebraic equations, at least for me).
  5. Sep 2, 2008 #4
    FYI, Feynman's tested IQ was about 10 points higher than yours. You will learn if you haven't already that hard work trumps genius.
  6. Sep 2, 2008 #5
    yeah hunting for work, with good pay is a hard thing. how bout going into somethign with good job prospects like medicine and learn math and physics for fun? u get to work with ppl AND u use science too.
  7. Sep 2, 2008 #6


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    Do you really have to go on to do a PhD after your bachelor's (assuming you haven't graduated yet) ? Couldn't you enter finance with a math BSc?
  8. Sep 2, 2008 #7
    Well I'm roughly 10 points above average, and I think it is a huge difference. In general, I can make an average person look like more of an idiot than he already is. I can only imagine what Feynmann would be capable of doing to me.

    I don't want loads of money. I want a stable job for sacrificing the best years of my life for 10 years of unpaid, over time labour. This isn't knitting class, this is mathematical physics I'm doing here. Yes, after 10 years of school I expect a picnic. Or at the very least a packed lunch.

    Just go into something like medicine? Medicine is reserved for the cream of the crop. It is the most competitive field in all of college. How am I supposed to compete with people who took prissy biology courses, 4.0 gpas, and the greedy genius who among other talents knows medicine is great money. I believe the average med iq is 130. So even if I sucked it up and aced biology, the MCAT would show I'm a dolt at 115. My 3.5 gpa in mathematical physics wouldn't even make the cut off.

    I think I could. This is why I am asking, do I ditch my one true love? Well, I'm having an affair with math too.

    Reading some Munkres has cheered me up :)
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2008
  9. Sep 2, 2008 #8
    well just in case you are interested in medicine.

    You don't need to have a 4.0. Your 3.5 is FINE. I know people who have gotten in w/ ~3.5's. They we'rent geniuses, but they WORKED HARD. They took the classes they needed, with mixture of B's and A's. Avg Mcats. (i asked them!) but they did lots of volunteering where they helped others. So they simply worked hard, just liek you are now.

    You don't have to be the cream of the crop, with straight A's. You do need good grades and good ECs, and show you're a caring person. if you want to become one, dont worry about competition or what others got or what they're doing. just concentrate on your own classes, mcat, and your ECs. beign average is fine. Talk to your career counselor more about it! It's an itneresting field--mixing science and humanitarianism...dont overlook this career because of those concerns.
  10. Sep 2, 2008 #9


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    This whole comment makes me wonder about your motives. Why would you want to "make an average person look like an idiot?" Just because you study maths/physics doesn't make you better than anyone!!

    Where do you get the idea of 10 years unpaid work from? Ok, so you don't get paid for your undergrad studies, but once it grad school you do. Also, I don't see where this idea of someone who studies maths/physics not having a social life comes from. It certainly wasn't like this for me: there was no way I could give up a social life entirely to study.
  11. Sep 2, 2008 #10
    Nobody likes their IQ. It's never high enough.
  12. Sep 2, 2008 #11
    10 unpaid yrs...i think he meant that goign to grad school woudl make hi mwork hard yet get little reward from it (low pay, bad job security).

    Howers, i think you need to stop preoccupying yourself with your IQ value. seriously, no one in my whole life has ever talked about their IQ or compared themselves to others w/ IQ. I think you got a lot more potential in what you can do if you jsut forget IQs. You are an INTELLIGENT person for even going to college and studyign mathematical physics. (BTW, did you know most pre-meds despise math and physics??)

    Don't let your IQ make u think that your life will be confined to graduate skool in physics/math. You can achieve alot more if you won't let yourself hold you back. I thknk the saying is "you are your worst enemy." or something like that.
  13. Sep 2, 2008 #12


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    It really depends on the courses you are taking, you might find yourself with little time for social affairs depending on how many courses you are taking and the level of the courses.
  14. Sep 2, 2008 #13


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    I think you should try to see opportunities wider. I personally see "making a living" and "passion for natural science" as two different things. Sure they could be combined, but it is not necessary. Both options has their pros and cons. My personal choice is to not let them interfere.

    I felt alot of creatively inhibition when I studied at the university. A creative process is to me at least, an entirely different process that studying at school. In school you read books, and learn things, then you take tests. Some other problems, there are no books where you can just read up on the answers. Studying is not quite a creative process to me, and while reading up on things usually creates a flood of assoications and ideas, not having the time (at the moment) to elaborate on them caused me alot of stress. So my greatest pain wasn't that anything was that "difficult" it mostly the stress caused by having to hold back ideas that keep coming. I was longing for the "space" to let these ideas flower and try to answer my own questions, rather than "typical exam questions". But then when I realised how the real world of professional researchers look like, with politics and all, I made a decision to not make this passion of mine a living. I don't regret it for a second. Neither have I lost my passion for science.

    I think broadening your views is good. This is what eduaction is for me. It gives a larger perspective on the world and on life, as a whole. I studied mainly physics math and some comp sci, but after school I have read up a bit on molecular biology and the chemistry of life, and it really filled a gap in my world view. Some of the programs at universities are IMO very "narrow". I think even a physicsits can benefit from understanding a bit of the makeup and evolution of life, and vice versa.

    There are also many interesting cross disciplines developing. Computer scientists working in modelling life systems for example. Alot of interesting things in theoretical molecular biology these days are modelling, including both mathematical modelling and numerical methods. Skills that I think traditional bio students lack. Also, there are similarities overlaps between artificial intelligence, learning systems and fundamental physics.

    Perhaps learning general scientific methods and methods to solve problems in general, is more important, this way you also have flexibility.

    I think you should follow your passion, because it's the things that may guide you through life, but adapt to the constraints of life. After all, what's the meaning of life?

    Perhaps your lack of seeing meaning when opening a math or physics textbook, is due to lack of perspective? Perhaps if you can take a day and think about something else, to recover the motivation?

    I found myself in school seeking a break in opposites, when I was taking programming courses, I was thinking about physics problems as a break. When I was taking physicsclasses I was reading the hackers digest as a break. The constrasts may help to get perspective and inspiration. You can get fed up with anything. Too much of anthing good can be repulsive.

    I think most students sometimes feel frustration, one way or the other. Perhaps it's not because of the subject, but because of the circumstances. Physics may be fun, but what fun is it with exams, and time schedueles? Maybe try not to let the boring parts of life destroy the joy of the good parts.

  15. Sep 2, 2008 #14
    This speaks more to the inadequacies of the IQ testing model than anything else. Although note that what people usually think it's for is nothing to do with what it was designed for...which it IS useful for.
  16. Sep 2, 2008 #15
    Wasn't it designed to detect mental retardation in children or something?
  17. Sep 2, 2008 #16
    Hi cristo,

    Perhaps I said that in a more aggressive tone than I intended. No, I don't believe I can make people look like idiots because I understand the workings of an atom. My point was innate intelligence and the difference 10-15 points can make. The average as far as I know is 100. At 115, I feel superior intellectually than the average person my age who is more interested in getting high and banging his friends gf (perhaps a poor generalization, but it is for the most part true where I live). I've conversed with many average people and I find them to be slow. If 15 points can make such a significant difference in ability, I find it unreasonable to compare Feynmann's natural aptitude to mine because he was "just 10 points higher". Make of IQ tests what you will, but I am a strong believer of their validity as measures of intelligence (it is infact why GREs and MCATs, among other standard tests, have verbal reasoning sections etc).

    I know you mean well, but what you think about iq is not scientific. It is my low score that is scaring me from grad school in physics & math, as I am ambitious but realistic and know my ability is nothing exceptional - and so I will not stand out in research.

    Wasn't the internet designed for scientists to communicate lab results? Things are not confined to what they were intended for. IQ tests are very useful measures as has been shown in many cross studies. Math class is where I learned difference in ability exists. In real analysis, there was a kid who practically studied the day before exams and got the highest grades. All he does is play minesweeper in lecture and in between. Kids like those are the ones who will be making progress in our fields, not I. You can always teach him work ethic. You can't teach me brilliance.

    There are aspects of school I hate as well. My major concern is pursuing physics and math, despite loving both dearly, does not seem like a realistic goal to someone trained logically. That is the point is thread title. Surely a person must be dumb for doing so. Yet many go that route anyway.
  18. Sep 2, 2008 #17


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    Mmm you are seeking a rational meaning with your pursuits? That makes sense, I think we all do that.

    As I see it all rationality is relative to some purpose. Sometimes I agree there are multilpe and conflicting purposes, like the satisfaction of understanding, exploring something just for the sake of mental masturbation, but indeed there are more fundamental purposes or needs for a human, like getting food, the need to feeling safe etc. No single thing makes sense alone. We all have multilpe needs, though some are more fundamental than others. Food and saftey are generally considered to be basic needs.

    Anyway, working life is no picnic anyway. It's different than studying for sure, but still those I know who make a crapload of money also work alot. What are you doing with all that money unless you have resources left in life for other things? I think there are alot of balancing acts. Is it really that bad, that you can't find a job where you live?

    Anyway, I think if you solved that basic need. Then there is IMO indeed a high level of rationality in pursuing any of your other needs. Intellectual stimulation etc. The balance of life is a matter of choice I guess. Perhaps it's different in US, with your relatively speaking modest sociological system (I live in Sweden), and you are living in that environment, forced to put more emphasis on "extra insurances". In sweden for example, we have public tax finances health care for all - even the unemployed. I don't know how life is in US, but as I understand it from visiting a few times, people while pay far less taxes, all the extra expensive insurances for everything eats that up. So in the end I think it's pretty much the same thing.

    I never worried much about what I was going to work with when I studied. I just followed my passion, and I did however drift. Initially I was tuned in on chemistry, but then learned that the interesting parts of chemistry was the physics. I am glad I did not force myself into chemistry. But again in Sweden it doesn't cost money to goto university. It's tax financed. The only cost are the cost of living of course, for which the government has special very reasonable loans, but there is no fee to the university itself.

    Good luck with your choices!

  19. Sep 2, 2008 #18


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    There is no doubt that mathematicians and physicists work for different things then most other people would work for. Hence if you have the other people's mindset then you will crumple in maths and physics. It has entered me and I've had many thoughts of quiting.

    You can't apply logic to many decisions in real life since logic has it's limitations and life is far more complex. Even in maths, logic is not everything as Poincare said 'it is logic that we prove but it is intuition that we create.'
  20. Sep 2, 2008 #19
    Is part time work fun? Parties are often a drag. Stop thinking the grass is greener. Go for a brisk half hour walk. Then hit the books! Who cares about the future? Immerse yourself in the text and problem solving. Forget about the lack of immediate connection between the work and the money. Money will come. Lose yourself in the work. Enjoy the impracticality of it, like an English student (or you!) enjoys the impracticality of reading a novel. The happiness in intrinsic motivation is the best happiness, so by enjoying your non-monetary non-sex-pursuing work you will be enjoying the greatest happiness of all. Just ignore the demotivating thoughts and get back to the reading and the problem at hand. There is no six years of hell, just six hours of intense and enjoyable study today if you get your thinking straight (and then another six hours every day for six years). Keep the dream alive.
  21. Sep 2, 2008 #20


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    Well, if you're really not enjoying the study of physics and you feel that you're seriously limiting your future potential in the matters that are the most important to you, then perhaps it is foolish to pursue it further.
  22. Sep 2, 2008 #21


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    Right. Be reminded that we live in the real world and have to pay bills.

    If you're uncertain about what you can do, my advice is to find out what options are available to you upon graduation. It's always better act now than live in regret.
  23. Sep 2, 2008 #22


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    there is no free lunch no matter what subject you study. there is no guarantee that your years of study will reward you with any kind of great job or good salary. the point is to choose something you enjoy. if you are doing math and physics not because you love the activity but are expecting to be considered smarter than other people or to be paid more than other people, then find something else to do that you actually like doing.
  24. Sep 2, 2008 #23


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    We all feel the need to justify what we do, but I think it's important to see this in proper perspective. If you look at society as a whole, you will see that it is quite clearly organized into various organs. There are doctors, farmers, engineers, construction workers etc., and scientists are also a group like the others. Clearly, none of these groups is the 'right' group. Each is essential in making our society what it is today. They evolve, dissolve, new ones are formed etc.

    Sometimes, our desire to justify what we do is misplaced, and we try to argue that what we do is absolutely the only right or logical thing to do. This is very common, and usually happens when your view of society becomes narrow, and you get too absorbed in your own life/work. Even a person like Einstein once said, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed." This sense of mystery and wonder is clearly important for scientists, and all good scientists have it. But we all know that for most people it is a non-existent, or minuscule, part of their lives. Even in rudimentary form, for most it is hard to sustain it. Is this surprising? Not really, because a sense of mystery is always tied with a desire to explore and investigate. Most peoples work and role in society doesn't mix well with a desire like this. Does that make their work any less justified or any less important? Clearly not.

    I think you are mainly confused about your motivations. Why did you choose to do physics? You expressed you feeling that it seems to have no point. Clearly, physics is all around you. It quite obviously has a point. There are many many people who enjoy it. "Why would anyone choose this course of action?" you said. I chose this "course of action" because I find it very enjoyable. Maybe physics is not for you? Maybe you need to think about why you came to physics in the first place. "Yet, this very action is dictated by emotional impulse, which is usually present in those who lack intelligence. So are these the people our science attracts?" you said. Emotional impulse is present in every single person on the planet. No one lives by pure logic. My liking for physics outweighs my desire to become very rich, and that's why I chose it. I probably would become financially more well off if I became a doctor, but the work of doctors is not as appealing to me as the work of scientists. This is not a rational justification of physics over medicine. It is just a fact about my desires, and I don't see how it makes me stupid. You may like money more than physics, and I may like physics more than money. Your desire is not more logical than mine. Both are based on complex emotions.
  25. Sep 2, 2008 #24
    Exactly. I believe everyone goes through some sort of period where it seems like what you're doing is not enough and then the self-questioning surfaces. In my own experience as an undergraduate major in Physics/Mathematics/Computer Science I find the best way to deal, is to remind yourself "why" you're pursuing physics. Once you answer that like I did, you'll then see your next step, and so on. I know this has gotten me through and is the best way in helping me overcome my own perception of an inability to progress, where progress is only what you make of it -- with what you have.


  26. Sep 2, 2008 #25
    if you want a social life, you can try just a single instead of double major in math and physics? also, how do you know for sure your IQ is 115? from online tests?
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