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Dealing with burn out in undergrad

  1. Oct 19, 2014 #1


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    Hi guys! So I know there are plenty of threads here on burning out but they're all at the graduate level where options such as taking a break for a few months are available. At the undergraduate level these options really don't exist, at least not for me, so I figured I would get advice from people here who have possibly gone through the same thing.

    I never really expected to get burnt out, I figured I would always be able to just sit down and enthusiastically do some physics, but apparently I was wrong. I can definitely notice a strong drop in my zest for physics from last semester to this semester. I'm not entirely sure but I think it stems almost entirely from my taking QFT1 this semester. This is probably the first time I've ever hated a physics class with a passion. Unfortunately it's taking away from me being able to focus/self-study other subjects like GR and stat mech and it's also preventing me from working on my research projects with complete concentration and passion.

    I expected QFT to be a very dry and bland subject at this level going into the class but I didn't think it would be so bad as to contribute so much to me getting burnt out (I'm sure it wasn't the only contributor but it certainly feels like the main one). Unfortunately dropping it is out of the question at this point (I won't have enough credits to be in good academic standing if I drop it). I hated particle physics before but this class definitely helped reinforce that beyond measure.

    Has anyone been in a similar situation? What would you guys do in a situation like this? How would you go about getting out of the state of being burnt out at this stage? I really don't want being burnt out to dramatically interfere with my research projects. I wanted to try studying on my own from other books like Ryder since I almost always enjoy a subject more when I self-study it as opposed to being forced to study it in a class but we have so much reading from (unfortunately) Peskin and Schroeder each week that reading this on top of other QFT books seems quite impossible on top of the other things I have to do.

    I really want to try and enjoy the subject, it would be tragic doing all the work for this class but getting nothing out of it, but I'm really not sure how to go about it as I've never been in this kind of situation before. More importantly I just really want to get out of this terribly depressing feeling of being burnt out from physics; it just really caught me off guard.
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  3. Oct 19, 2014 #2
    I am sort of in the same boat as you. I am currently taking a (compulsory) course in Modern Physics (ie. special relativity, quantum mechanics, w,ave properties of particles, particle properties of waves etc) of which I find the said topics relatively interesting (although I dislike special relativity due to how counterintuitive it is). However, the problem is is that the instructor makes the lectures seem so boring that I constantly find myself falling asleep in class and missing half the content. So while my situation is not as extreme as yours, I don't mind sharing how I deal with such experiences.

    What I do to revitalize my interest is to go find a quiet spot in the library or at home and just read the textbook and work through the equations and concepts at my own pace. This way I feel less stressed about the whole thing and I can absorb and analyze information more effectively. I also do quite a bit of exercise as well, as that helps freshen the mind and keeps me alert and motivated. If you also have a friend thats taking the same course as you, and if skipping classes is possible (it is in my university, we have extreme flexibility) then you can learn, discuss, and debate the topics together.
  4. Oct 19, 2014 #3
    I've taken an obscene number of classes in my life and only hated four or five of them with a real passion. The only thing I can say is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think the best thing is to try to predict which classes are likely to cause problems and prepare for them in advance. Once you are trapped in one of those classes, it's too late to be able to address the problem fully.

    As far as QFT goes, because I've only ever self-studied (with help from a physics grad student), I more or less failed to learn the subject, beyond getting a gist of what it's about and some of the preliminary ideas because I would have had to come up with my own version of it in order for it to be palatable. It might have been advantageous to take a class, so that I would be forced to learn it, even with my objections to it, and then I could work out the kinks later, but only after laying the groundwork, as I have done up to this point, so that it wouldn't be too traumatic. Some people say you have to learn it three times before it makes sense.

    I don't think it's all the subject's fault, just the way it's presented. Eventually, I plan to learn the subject and figure out the most intuitive way of understanding it and put it online or something, but who knows when I will ever have time for that.
  5. Oct 19, 2014 #4


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    I'm feeling really burnt out as well except I'm only in junior level CM and EM. Throughout the semester my interest in physics has been dropping quite a bit. I'm actually not good at it though. I can sit for hours and barely finish one problem while my classmates have finished their entire problem sets in that time or less. I'm not doing so well on tests either. It's all making me miserable. I probably shouldn't have even majored in it since my interest in it was already waning before I transferred from CC. And it was pretty clear from my sophomore level physics course that I was not grasping physics as well as my math courses. I became a lot more interested in math/cs during my last year at CC but didn't want to change my mind on a whim. I'm thinking of switching majors now though. I need to do something because at this rate I don't think I can take any more physics courses.

    Wanted to vent a little since I saw this thread and I'm feeling burnt out as well. Sorry I don't have a solution for you. Actually I'm glad you made this thread because I'd like to hear some advice regarding burn out as well.
  6. Oct 19, 2014 #5
    There are ~2 months left in the semester, so you can plow through it and take a break over winter. Also, are you getting anything from the lecture? If not, just don't go and only show up to turn in homework and do exams. You could spend less time on the course and just accept a lower grade, or even less time on other things - depends what you want to focus on.

    It'll get better once you are done. Real analysis made me feel burned out and I didn't enjoy any of my courses that semester. I also began to hate my research. I spent the majority of that semester chilling at home and having fun. I basically just did the things that made me happy. I still managed a C in real analysis and an A in my other courses, but I didn't really study much and just did the homework and stuff without thinking about the material. After that semester was over things became fun again and I revisted the material from the previous semester (except for real analysis). I still didn't like my research, but that was because it was not in physics and I really wanted to do physics. I stuck with it because I liked the money and I only had to do it for just one more semester. =)
  7. Oct 19, 2014 #6
    Taking Stat Mech, GR and QFT all in the same semester in undergrad sounds kind of crazy to me. Not surprised you are burned out and having trouble getting it all down plus being able to work on research too. I haven't really ever personally heard of anyone taking both GR and QFT at the same time in undergrad (or even in grad). Quite a few never take either in undergrad, never mind both at the same time while also taking yet another physics class plus full time research credit.

    QFT is often just about the most time consuming and trickiest class out there and to take it mixed with so many other classes (GR alone must be introducing a lot of new stuff I'd imagine) seems a bit much. You really should take QFT when you have time to concentrate largely on it and use a bunch of different books and so on. Thankfully when I took QFT in grad school I had among the most dynamic and best teachers I've had in physics.
  8. Oct 19, 2014 #7
    To clarify, Wannabenewton already understands general relativity at a level beyond any first year graduate sequence. The issue is that QFT is really boring.
  9. Oct 19, 2014 #8
    Ahh, I guess I read that too quickly. He is just trying to study (apparently very advanced level) GR on the side on his own. I guess he is one of the ultra advanced level undergraduate type students. That said, I'm not sure it makes sense to be trying to do so much side study on GR and so on at the same time as taking QFT to the point that you don't even have time to be reading along with secondary QFT books.

    All I can say is my QFT teacher was amazing and it was one the most exciting physics classes I ever took.

    It's hard to say what is going wrong in his case. Maybe it's the professor. Maybe it's the fact that he has too much on his plate to properly handle QFT and side self-study it at the same time. Maybe both. Maybe who knows what. Maybe he just finds field theory boring or the book+HW+professor boring, but unless he is willing to give up the self-study of advanced GR/stat mech and apply all that time to self-study using additional QFT books it seems like it would be hard to figure it all out.
  10. Oct 19, 2014 #9
    Maybe you can just put aside the other self-study for now and try to take a look at the way Srednicki presents it and also take a look through Feynman's QM and Path Intergrals and Schwartz QFT and Student Friendly QFT and see if that sparks the interest up any?
  11. Oct 20, 2014 #10


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    Thanks for the replies guys!

    The main problem is actually getting the motivation to do this in the first place. The other problem is there are basically zero concepts to be learned in Peskin and Schroeder, it's just a sea of boring math to plow through so it makes it that much less riveting to read the book. If the class wasn't such a huge time sink this wouldn't be a problem but unfortunately it is. There's a definitely a huge contrast here with reading e.g. a GR book which are usually filled to the brim with interesting and counter-intuitive concepts.

    Haha it's no problem bro, we all need to vent!

    I can't unfortunately I have a project to work on over winter.

    No but attendance to lecture is part of our grade (don't ask why). We only have a final take home exam though.

    Thanks, I hope so!

    I'm actually not taking GR, it's what I do research in. I took the GR sequence a while ago.

    It's quite common in my school.

    I think it might just be that I find HEP theory extremely boring. I've been spending a rather small amount of time reading Altland's condensed matter field theory text which basically introduces QFT through stat mech and it's extremely interesting and joyous to read. HEP might just be too bland for my tastes.

    I can't give up self-studying GR/stat mech through because apart from the fact that I need to keep reading GR papers etc. to keep up with research, this is also what keeps me sane and passionate for physics. But I'll do what you said and try consulting other books like Schwartz much more often!
  12. Oct 20, 2014 #11


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    Thanks I definitely agree with you there, it's just that something like this has never happened to me before so I wasn't sure how to deal with it.

    I've definitely heard that but as of now the issue isn't that it doesn't make sense exactly, it's just that it's extremely tedious but not mentally stimulating or challenging. I never have to think for the problem sets given by the professor or in Peskin, it's just long calculations with no mental capacity needed at all. I think it's safe to say that for most people any lack of physical concepts and lack of questions that are more like "brain teasers" or just more conceptually challenging will definitely make a class very boring and painful.

    I can't disagree with you there!
  13. Oct 20, 2014 #12
    Always remember that your university wants you to succeed, and has in place support that I would encourage you to utilise if need be. :)

    All the best with your Quantum Field Theory course. :) You CAN do it!
  14. Oct 20, 2014 #13


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    At this point it doesn't seem like you can "fix" the problem in a tidy manner so-to-speak. My advice would have been to drop QFT or change it to pass/no pass, but it appears we are past that.

    I think for different people, different solutions exist. For me, if I were in your position, I would do the absolute minimum to obtain an A in QFT and then just let it go, even though I know doing the absolute minimum, I won't learn the material very well. If the homework is worth 10%, then I would only do half of the homework. I would study only as much as it took to get the grade, and then no more. But maybe that would make you hate QFT even more lol. I can't say that this will help you at all, sorry, but for me, that was the way I dealt with it. =[
  15. Oct 20, 2014 #14
    Perhaps if its possible, you can go to other professors lectures, or watch some lectures online?
  16. Oct 21, 2014 #15
    You may not be motivated to sit down with a problem set and devote many hours to completing it as you might with a subject you enjoy, but you might be able to handle 30-45 minutes instead. So commit to 30 minutes of QFT in a sitting before taking a break to look at something you have more of an interest in. Then, within a reasonable time frame, devote another 30-45 minutes.

    I don't know about you but research for me is enjoyment punctuated by tedium, since a lot of science is tedious. I have an admittedly short attention span and so the above method is the only way I can get through things I find tedious.
  17. Oct 22, 2014 #16


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    I'm in a similar situation this semester with my signals and systems course. It's a lot of mindless mathematics (when there are proofs to be done, they're trivial: linearity, causality, time-invariant, etc.) without any motivation. I've found some YouTube videos on the subject that offer some interesting insight into some of the concepts, but the truth is, I just don't really find the subject very interesting (at this level anyways). Is this the professor's fault? Maybe, but that's irrelevant; the work needs to get done regardless.

    I've found that sitting down with a friend to do the homework assignments has been a really good, and unexpected, motivator for me. I'm usually the type who prefers to do HW alone. However, my friend is really bright and loves the subject. He's been able to bring insights that lead to interesting discussions about how signal analysis relates to what we're learning in our other courses.

    This usually makes HW take longer, but when I'm struggling to even get it done in the first place, it's a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion. Do you have a friend in the course with whom you could meet and maybe help motivate you? I hope you find something to help get you through, WBN. You're an extremely bright person and I'd hate to see you lose your passion for physics!
  18. Oct 22, 2014 #17


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    I've not tried that before, it sounds like a very good idea. I'll try it out thanks!

    I actually always do QFT HW with my friend but she hates it just as much as I do so she probably won't be the motivation I need haha. I think pretty much everyone in the class hates it. It's just a boring subject period unfortunately, at least in the high energy context.

    Thanks! Group meetings, relativity seminars/lunches, and reading GR books and papers helps keep the passion alive; I just never thought one boring class could have such a dramatic effect on my ability to stay motivated and interested.
  19. Oct 22, 2014 #18
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  20. Oct 22, 2014 #19


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    I didn't know you're an undergrad WannabeNewton! I'm a little shocked at this revelation!
    Anyway, I feel the same way. But I think I'm in a worse condition.
    I loved physics when I was at the middle of high school. So I started studying it seriously. So much that when I got into university, my classmates were amazed at the level of my knowledge on physics.
    Even after getting into university, I continued my studies about subjects that were no where among the things I was supposed to learn. I do it now too.
    But the trouble is, I'm in a average university. Maybe even a bit below average. Some professors have terrible methods. Both in teaching and evaluation. Some how that students should adopt a corresponding studying method. But I just can't do the thing they do. So here I am sitting in the class and understanding things better than others(and everybody admits that) but having grades among the lowest ones. I even failed some courses and now have to study an extra year. So I totally feel burnt out. Its a long time I have this feeling. Sometimes I get far from physics outside things I have to give exam in. But that just makes things worse. I realized I should give the least attention to grades and only try to get passing ones and continue my studies on things I like. And that makes things more bearable. So now I study Manifold and Riemannian Geometry, Group theory, GR and QFT in most of my time and in classes, just sit annoyed telling to myself I should just wait for less than a year for this mess to finish. The other bad thing is I'm studying solid state physics which wasn't my choice. Also the solid state professors are the worst physics professors of my university. So they managed very well in making me hate solid state physics.(Honestly I don't hate it, its physics anyway and its nice, but remembering the boring,annoying,disappointing moments I had with those professors, make me want to hate it. I only say to myself, this stuff would be good too if a good professor were teaching it to me!!!)
    So my advice, is that just do what you enjoy. Never never never never...never abandon that. As long as you do what you enjoy, you can have any plan. That enjoying part will keep you straight up to finish it and reach the fun part. I'm doing that too, keeping myself straight up to reach graduate school where I can do real physics.
  21. Oct 22, 2014 #20


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    Sorry for posting twice, but I forgot to mention this advice.
    You can use your interest and knowledge in Relativity to motivate yourself in learning QFT. Just go for things that relate the two. Learn the GR part which won't be hard because you seem to know GR well. Then go for learning the QFT part. That will be a problem because you still don't know QFT well. Then you can start from there and go for learning QFT in detail.
    You can try QFT in curved spacetime, Hawking radiation, BH thermodynamics and Unruh effect, Poincare gauge theory, Einstein-Cartan theory and coupling of spacetime's torsion with dirac spinors.
  22. Oct 23, 2014 #21
    Yeah I'd suggest that plus Srednicki who uses a lot of toy models and handles intro to QFT differently than many and in a way that I think can make it a bit more exciting and easier to get rather than just diving into perhaps seemingly senseless calculations and stuff as with many of the other presentations.

    Apparently Zee's book makes things interesting and gives some nice connections, although at first glance it seems like you already need to know QFT before you can easily get the connections he presents.

    Glancing at "Student Friendly QFT" it looks like it might give some overview that might help one get a better idea of what is going on and might make it seem a bit less like mindless calculations from nowhere.

    I'd really look at some of those very alternative type books like the one mentioned in the quote above and Srednicki (my awesome class used the PDF note version of this and the prof really kept it alive and didn't present it as the typical nonsensical bog down of pages of calculations without a clue) and maybe "Student Friendly QFT" and such. Maybe even Feynman's popularized QFT little book for a quick run through first.
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  23. Oct 28, 2014 #22


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    Hey Stevie thanks for the recommendation. You're right that I generally despise philosophy but some philosophy of physics books tend to have very insightful discussions in them from what I've found in GR so I'll definitely check out the book you linked.

    Hi, thanks! I had a long talk with my QFT professor and his advice was almost identical to yours. I did get Zee's book and so far I've been loving it, it's very conceptually pleasing and easy to read.

    I was initially digging this book but after reading various papers by the author on foundational issues in SR that were just flat out wrong and misconceived I decided using said author's book might not be the best idea.

    Thanks that's exactly what I'm doing now as per your advice and my professor's. It's been working very well so far with Zee and Srednicki I'm glad to say. I think the issue was simply that Peskin's book is absolutely horrible to learn from or motivate oneself from, as far as I'm concerned. I also think a big part of the help was both Srednicki and Zee use the path integral formalism, basically right from the start, which is infinitely more elegant and interesting to learn and use than the terribly abstract and dry canonical formalism.

    Unfortunately the HWs are still extremely tedious and have absolutely no compensating return as far as physics learned or mental challenges overcome goes because they're extremely easy while being extremely long and providing no insight into the theory (thanks Peskin!). The exercises my professor makes on his own tend to be much more interesting than the ones in Peskin but we haven't had nearly as much of them as I'd like.
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  24. Oct 28, 2014 #23


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    I think that's much easier said than done when feeling burnt out. How do I go about enjoying something with a mental block?

    I'm not sure it's that simple haha but thanks!

    Well I already love the research I do and I love my research group; in fact I still madly love any and all things GR. I'm just tired of classes.

    Unfortunately I don't really have any interest in those things, perhaps with the exception of BH thermodynamics. I'm mostly interested in equations of motion/self-forces/radiation reaction in classical GR.

    I appreciate the advice!
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  25. Oct 28, 2014 #24


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    I know what you mean. I had such times too. Times when I wasn't doing what others expected me to do but also wasn't doing what I wanted too. Just because of that burnt out thing and also that block in my mind. But I leant that it sucks! If you don't do what you're supposed to do and also don't do what you want to do...so you're wasting time!!! The solution I found was that in those times, I should stop anything on schedule. If I study about QFT and I hit that block, I stop and change to GR. If I again hit the block, I stop and switch to Group theory and so on and so on. You may feel the block is there for all things you found interesting before. Then you can study something else. That's what I do. I go to mathematical logic, Abstract algebra, fractional calculus and other things. Things that may not be of use in physics. That's because I love both physics and mathematics and learning anything of them is nice. Some may say its a waste of time to learn something you're not going to use. But I figured it can be a hobby. I don't learn things only because I'm going to do something with them, I learn things because I like to learn and know things. It can be a hobby as good as watching films, playing video games and other things. It even has the potential to be better! Who can tell its not? So I learn things in my free time instead of other things that are usually called hobby. This way I feel better and get a little far from that burn out stuff.
    Anyway, you can avoid doing things you don't want as much as possible and do things that you like first. Then, only when there is no other way than doing them, you can do them!
    This term I have taken a crystallography course. I just had to take it. I don't like it and the professor sucks. Its hard to learn because I can't put different things into a coherent structure but I try to do it my way. And that's the important thing. I do it my way and don't care that people can just stick different parts of the puzzle in wrong places in their minds and still get the highest grade. That's a good way too. If you do things your own way and also devote time to having some fun up in your brain, things are going to be bearable(yeah, just bearable! only rarely better!).
    Anyway, its good that you can do research and you like it. That can be one of the hobbies you can have!
    Also, I think if you study some of the results that came out of these things, like holographic principle or things that string theory says about black holes or anything that's usually exciting from outside, you may get a little interested in those areas too. Didn't you get interested in GR the same way?
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  26. Oct 28, 2014 #25


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    Burned out? Picture yourself digging holes by hand 8 hours a day instead of your current endevour.

    Still feel burned out?

    Try digging holes by hand 8 hours a day....you will then feel the real meaning of "burned out".

    Ya falla?
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