1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Disillusioned: do I have what it takes to finish?

  1. Jul 12, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone,

    This is something that has been on my mind a lot and I have not been open to discuss it in depth because of the emotional weight I have attached to this, but I feel it is better to get some external input from students and professionals. I am now a senior pursuing my Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics. I have to work full time for financial reasons. Last semester I attempted two classes and had to withdraw from them because my work schedule was exceeding 60 hrs as I was creating and implementing a quality assurance program. I have since finished that and have even been promoted, but despite my success in that arena, I feel very despondent about school and my future with astrophysics. I feel like I am not smart enough simply. I have a good relationship with my astrophysics professor, she is an astrophysicist and she assures me that this is not the case. She feels I am brilliant and recommended I drop the course last semester because i was tending towards a "C" -- the same with my QM professor. They both think I should go on to graduate school but think my work schedule was what was faulting my performance last semester. I think I will be able to be a full time student again by 2016, but I am extremely saddened at last semester's performance and the thought of taking one class per semester makes me feel like an idiot. Not to mention at this rate it will take me 4 years just to finish my senior year. I have been taking advantage of OCW and have been following along pretty nicely at my own pace but i just wonder if I am learning too slowly to keep up in class. Does anyone have any advice on how I can gauge this or what I can do to feel better about my studies. I seriously cannot give up but need to do well and remain encouraged in the process.

    I am sorry if this is not a clear cut question...I need help but am unsure of what to ask for specifically.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2014 #2
    Being a good college student full-time should have the same demands on your time as a full-time job. It is clear your work is tapping into your study time. You are lucky you can even do ok with one class per semester with a 60hr. work schedule, many can not even do that much. You should be proud of your achievements at your job.

    The only thing that will build your confidence in academics is more hours focused on your studies which at the moment does not look like a possibility. Maybe you could work less hours, go with loans for a semester or two to pack on more courses than you're usually able to. It'll depend on how flexible your job is and whether or not you want to go into debt to finish earlier.
  4. Jul 12, 2014 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    I don't like the idea of going into debt. Especially if you have just been promoted, if that comes with a pay increase, focusing on the job for a few years will allow you to make your situation a bit better. To take on more debt now seems like the wrong thing to do. So I'm strongly in favour of doing one class only, keep the job and improve your finances.

    I will say though that 60 hours is a lot of work, probably you are working 6 days a week, see if you can get a few Saturdays off or something like that, just to make it easier. Or perhaps you can work half a day on Saturday. There must be some give with your job in this regard.
  5. Jul 12, 2014 #4
    Thanks so much Lavabug. I know I should be proud but it is overshadowed by my failed attempts at school. Since the promotion my hours are at 37.5 to 40 per week. They are currently considering changing my functionality, but it will not impact my hours worked, so I think I should be able to manage one course per semester with this current schedule. I am considering having a chat with my superiors about my education so I will put forth some of the suggestions you have made here. I am able to telecommute so they may be open to a little more schedule flexibility.

    Thank you Verty, I was posting this comment as you were commenting. In my initial post, I neglected to mention that my hours per week has changed since the promotion. But yes, in the past I was working 6-7 days per week. Very good suggestions, thank you!
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2014
  6. Jul 12, 2014 #5
    One thing I forgot to add was: do not rush to the finish line by any means, do well in the remainder of your courses no matter if it takes 1 semester or 4. Not doing so will negatively impact any avenues to graduate school if that is what you intend to do with your degree.
  7. Jul 12, 2014 #6
    Don't fall into the trap of the impostor syndrome! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome
    It is clear to everybody but you that your work is preventing you from studying. The professors you work with have experience with students, so if they say you're brilliant, then you are not too dumb. period.

    So stop thinking you are not worth it. Get it out of your head. It are evil thoughts trying to make you fail. Banish them :tongue:

    Yes, I understand how you can feel like an idiot if you do 2 classes in a semester and drop both of them. But the obvious reason is that it's your work and not your smarts.

    Now, your work is a problem. Going into debt should be your last resort though, it's something you want to prevent as much as possible. Maybe you can talk to your boss and ask for some free time or for a better work schedule. For example, working one day for a lot of hours and then getting a day off wouldn't be a bad idea since you can use that day off to study.
  8. Jul 12, 2014 #7
    Thanks again Lavabug. This is why my professors recommended I drop the courses last semester, they felt that withdrawals along with an explanation of why I decided to withdraw would come across better than two "C's" and an impacted GPA. I had a bad semester before and have been able to recover my GPA to acceptable but I cannot recover from a bad grade at this point in my education. Taking longer does seem daunting and I was wondering how grad school would view a student that takes 7+ years just to finish a Bachelor's degree, so I appreciate that addition.
  9. Jul 12, 2014 #8
    Not a concern if your grades and GRE's are good, have relevant research experience, pick your grad schools right and are lucky.
  10. Jul 12, 2014 #9
    :rofl: Yes I do often feel that I have made then feel as if I am smart but I am not even smart enough to pass Astro II or QM with a good grade, so thanks for saying that Micromass, and thank you for your suggestions as well.

    Thanks a zillion Lavabug, you have no idea how much I appreciate your attention here.
  11. Jul 13, 2014 #10
    With that workload, I don't think you can really conclude anything.

    However, I will warn you that grad school is about 100 times harder than undergrad. I studied math, but I get the feeling that's probably true in just about any field. Being good enough to understand astrophysics and show potential to make meaningful contributions to it is not the same as being good enough to beat the competition and get a tenure track position. I think grad school ends up being a bad deal for, perhaps, the majority of grad students. Unquestionably, the majority won't get tenure track positions, at least, which is what the degree really prepares you for. Maybe less so, if you already have an established career to fall back on.
  12. Jul 15, 2014 #11
    Thank you so much homeomorphic. I believe you are correct that the same applies to physics. My Modern Physics professor was a super smart and really cool guy and he warned the entire class about the woes of grad school and how difficult it could be. He mentioned that one class was like being a human thinking in machine language :) I am more interested in learning than I am in competing for a tenure track position. In the field I have experience in, a Doctorate's degree in Astrophysics/Space Sciences can only propel my success. I am not even interested in getting in an ivy league school for grad school...just a school with a reputation of providing a good education. Thereafter if I find any groups or people who will let me research with them, I would be content with that. I just need to see if I am smart enough to finish this degree and than I can gauge what uses I will apply myself to thereafter, but I dot want to ruin my opportunity to even get into grad school in the process.
  13. Jul 16, 2014 #12
    You are most likely clever enough to become a bona fide astrophysicist, the raw intellect is rarely the issue from my experience.

    It's good you don't care about the ivy's. Caring about the game to become a professor is an interesting problem. I think it has a detrimental effect on science; some people seem to be playing an h-index game rather than playing the game of riddling out nature's mysteries. Playing the latter game will be much more fun; I don't know for sure but I suspect that homeomorphic's advisors and culture forced him to play the former game and made his experiences completely miserable. Even without either of those aspects approaching it from that point of view will probably make it miserable. The misery comes from the fact that the puzzle you are trying to solve suddenly has a deadline. You have to force yourself beyond what is enjoyable to try and solve it rapidly to play the tenure game. But problems aren't like building bridges; yeah bridges have foibles and issues, but you can get good estimates of how much effort is needed to progress. There is a point where it is very painful to force your brain to try and progress to beat the stress. Granted not everything in life is enjoyable all of the time, but the evolution of the system through h-index style gaming has pushed it to ludicrous levels. It seems as if nobody has noticed that many of the greatest discoveries in science arise from the pleasure of finding things out and pure curiosity rather than this most bizarre (and boring!) of competitive sports it seems to have become.

    Whether or not it is necessary to become a professor is not something I know enough to say. However, at the end of the day enjoying the process is still open to you even if you don't go to a prestigious graduate school, and I would say that should be the ONLY point of a PhD. Others may disagree of course.
  14. Jul 16, 2014 #13
    Sort of, but it wasn't so much playing the h-index game so much as just getting the thesis done. I always remember as the turning point when things started going downhill when my adviser said I needed to produce. Up until then, everything had been fine, other than teaching. There's no money in just learning stuff, which is the only thing I was motivated to do. If I had reached the point where I had the curiosity to learn things that no one else knew, THEN, maybe I could produce. But I wasn't at that point, so I was forced to get there artificially. My problem wasn't too hard or required too much knowledge. It was just that it didn't contribute to my understanding of the things that I was curious about, so although, initially, I thought I was interested in it, ultimately, I wasn't, which made it very hard to work on. It was just safer to finish it than start on something else. And it kept fighting back at me, even though I thought I knew how to do it already. So, it just ended up being a lot harder than I thought it was and taking a lot more time than I thought it would. And then, at some point, you sort of start to wear out your welcome in the program, and the pressure to finish gets worse, even if they don't rub it in your face or anything. At some point, you start to wonder if you're going to finish at all and then maybe you'll have to leave after so many years with just a masters. I escaped with a PhD, but especially in the last couple years, once I realized that it wasn't going very well, it was pretty bad. And of course, when I was done, I just took off, running from academia.

    Maybe it's fair to ask for some accountability, but it does seem like the current system is not the optimal one. I'm surprised that I haven't heard of that many people taking up the idea of becoming independently wealthy as a means to do science without having to deal with the pressure. To me, it seems considerably easier to try to make money and bypass the system than to try to succeed within it. I think that's the best solution, currently, in some ways, but of course, it may take you many of your prime years to build up that wealth.
  15. Aug 17, 2014 #14
    I apologise for the extremely late reply on this but I wanted to thank you so much for your encouragement and input Arsenic & Lace. Very valuable to me.

    Thanks for all replies. I have decided to continue on, however long this will take :)
  16. Aug 17, 2014 #15
    I wouldn't get too discouraged. Most people don't do much if any outside work while taking college classes so if you are doing 60+hours you are at a huge, huge disadvantage. Listen to your professors. They tend to be brutally honest and if they think it's just the outside workload that is probably it.

    I could see being discouraged a bit about having to work so much and the time it's taking, but that it is something else than doubting your own abilities, for which there appears to be zero reason. Hang in though, people have been laid up by illness and so on longer and gotten through to grad school, be lucky you are not one of them.
  17. Aug 17, 2014 #16
    Keep in mind that difficulty of admissions for undergrad at a particular school have nothing to do with admissions for grad school in general and even less for some particular field. In some cases some school that is much easier to into than some Ivy as an undergrad might actually be noticeably tougher to get into than that Ivy as a grad student. It all depends.
  18. Aug 17, 2014 #17
    Hah, I recall one grad student saying that they switched over into law because there were too many sharks in academia!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook