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Do I need to be obsessed with physics in order to do well in it?

  1. Aug 28, 2010 #1
    Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Hey all. I'm currently a college undergrad, a freshman, and I'm taking Calc 3, chem 2, and physics 1 with calc. The physics course is an accelerated course that includes some parts of special relativity.

    In high school, I was a pretty well-rounded student; I had good SAT scores, good grades, but nothing was exceptional. I was never really motivated to put in work besides the bare minimum in high school, because I actually had pretty severe social anxiety that really made me abhor being in school. I would hate to talk to people, I thought everyone was boring, and this negative attitude persisted for so long that I could no longer distinguish if I was merely going through a phase, or if this mentality was actually part of my personality. Anyway, needless to say, since I hated school, I didn't do as well as I could have. But that's not the point.

    Currently, at the school I'm attending, I'm actually enjoying the classes I'm taking. All of the professors are engaging (even though I'm at a large research uni), but I've noticed that, especially in my physics class, I don't actually have the appearance of my fellow students. I don't mean to be condescending or anything, but a lot of these guys (the class is all guys) have poor hygiene, seem to have sporadic nervous ticks, and are generally not the type of people that would be accepted by your average proletariat person. This is all fine in a sense, considering that I am not really judgmental of anyone, and I actually enjoy their company.

    However, one thing that concerns me in particular pertains to myself, and how I don't necessarily fit the mold of a "physics student" (stereotype is perhaps the more accurate word) like these guys do. More specifically, where these other students seem to devote all their time to their studies, in spite of hygiene, recreation, and interaction with the opposite sex, I prefer to live a well-balanced life. Although I'm rather ugly, that doesn't deter me from trying to talk to girls (even though the topics that I enjoy are often no where near those that your average girl would like). In spite of my relative ugliness (I'm not self-deprecating, we all know what generally 'good-looking' and 'bad-looking' people look like), I still greatly enjoy working out and playing sorts like soccer and basketball. I also like to keep clean, wear clean clothing, and generally look as presentable as possible. However, from what I can tell, my attention to these other 'non-science' matters seems to be counterproductive to what a true, dedicated physics student is.

    My question then, finally, is how much of a balanced life should one have while simultaneously trying to excel in a field? Do you guys think that my lack of focus, exclusively to physics and the sciences, is a sign that perhaps I am not passionate enough to continue studying it in the future? Is it a bad thing that I like girls, sports, and literature, and would like to devote my time occasionally to some of these endeavors instead of physics/science?

    Thanks for your help.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 28, 2010 #2
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Being into girls, sports, and other things is normal. Being only into physics and not doing anything for the next four years other than studying isn't normal. I'm sure you can find a good balance between studying and going out with friends. If you're a freshmen then it means you just started the semester. Give it some time. You'll find the balance.
  4. Aug 28, 2010 #3
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Think about it: how long does taking a shower and putting on clean clothes take? 0.5 hour a day or less. There is absolutely no reason to think that by doing these things, you are taking time away from learning physics or that it makes you less dedicated. Just because some physicists don't like to lead well-rounded lives doesn't mean every physicist is like that. Yes, there may be times when you'll have to opt out of going out with your friends or spending time with your girlfriend because you have to study. But spending all your time studying physics is neither healthy nor typical, in my opinion.
  5. Aug 28, 2010 #4
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    I don't think you need to be obsessed with studying. Keep your life balanced and you will succeed.

    If they study so much to the point they avoid personal hygiene, than they are the crazy ones, not you!
  6. Aug 28, 2010 #5
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    You need to have a balance. Its perfectly normal to go hang out with your friends,however; you have to create a balance. Thus, study hard and later on you go hang out with your friends. If your planning to have a girlfriend, make sure she is balanced, too. I would have a B in pre-calc, but that ex-girl of mine was so darn annoying.
  7. Aug 28, 2010 #6
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    The balance in your life is actually going to be helpful to you later on, because you won't suffer burnout like they will. Plus, your morale will be higher. School, like war, is psychological. There are times when I've literally stopped myself studying right before a major exam, fired up winamp, and blared music until my ears rang, because you have to unwind and stop stressing out or you will forget the stupid little things.

    You should enjoy physics and want to study it a lot, but if it's all you do, eventually you'll implode. Don't think you have to get that bad just to succeed.
  8. Aug 28, 2010 #7
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Well, since you are freshman and you are worried about how girls and social activities may affect your physics studies, I'll share a quick story of mines. On the day of my "intro to e&m" exam, I actually slept in and had sex with my girlfriend, went to school and did a quick review of the material, aced the exam, and then went to a party and got overly drunk on that night. I don't believe any of those had any negative effect on my performance and studies. I did have an awesome day for the memories though.
  9. Aug 29, 2010 #8
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Everything that you're concerned about can all be grouped together under the category of immaturity. The poor hygiene, the lack of "normal looking" people in the classes and your concerns about girls and being social will all fade soon enough.

    Personally, I notice a lot of freshman and sophomores being the types of students that you described.
  10. Aug 29, 2010 #9
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    That's one of the things that you have to figure out in college. Everyone is going to come up with different answers. One thing that I did find was the fact that I'm quite interested in programming and literature pushed me out the big name graduate schools, and probably doomed my chances of getting a tenured faculty position. But looking back at the "what do I really want out of life" question, that wasn't a bad thing.

    There is a fine line between passion and unhealthy obsession. Something about me is that I'm extremely curious about how the world works, and sometimes that's hurts you career-wise, because you are interested in things other than the thing you are supposed to be studying. But then you step back and ask "so who made those rules?"

    In a very deep philosophical sense, it's not a bad thing.
  11. Aug 29, 2010 #10


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    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Hmmm. I guess my experience was different my Freshman year. I went to more of a party school and was in marching band, which took about three hours out of every day. My usual perceived difficulty was based on feeling sorry for myself when I had to study and it seemed like everyone else at the school was out getting drunk. But there were a lot of people in my classes that I could study with, so that was a good thing.

    Then my Junior and Senior year, I went to another college where I had other problems--I was in a Fresh-Soph Dorm while taking Junior-Senior classes. I was still trying to be "well-rounded" so I took concert band, glee-club, ice-skating, and modern dance. I didn't make many friends in my harder classes, but hung out with the people on my floor. I played far too much Civilization, Scorched Earth, Street Fighter II, and Cosmic Encounter.

    I think I probably would have been better off if I'd made a few more friends with those guys in my 300 level classes, and stuck out through advanced calc and analog integrated circuit design, rather than dropping them both after I failed the first test. Then I would have learned the stuff that I was supposed to have learned when I was goofing off at the party school.

    So, giving you the advice that I did not follow very well as an undergraduate; definitely make sure to make friends in your hardest classes, regardless of how poor their hygeine is, and don't try to be TOO well rounded.
  12. Aug 29, 2010 #11
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Well, the thing is, I actually feel guilty for having other interests, while my counterparts seem to be focused exclusively on the subject matter. If I was truly fated to do something in physics, then would I not share this seemingly persistent "obsession" that some of my classmates do, instead of spending my time doing otherwise "normal" things?

    I understand the material fine, but I just cannot claim to have this relentless passion that some people have, exclusively to the subject matter. To just reiterate, I actually enjoy talking to these guys, they're very informative and actually nice people, but it seems that the spectrum of their interests lays strictly in their academic success, and that is something I cannot claim. That is why I'm sort of feeling doubtful as to how successful I can really be, considering I, again, seemingly don't share their relentless passion.

    I mean, this one guy walked into class in his pajamas, his hair was scattered everywhere, and you could smell him from across the room. After talking to him, he undoubtedly knew the material very well. Of course ones physical appearance and knowledge are unrelated, but it seems to me a universal sort of intuition that when one goes out into public (a college campus) that everyone would try to look at least somewhat presentable.
  13. Aug 29, 2010 #12


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    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Why? Physics can be your degree, your career, even your hobby, but it needn't be your life.
  14. Aug 29, 2010 #13
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Yes, I agree that this is true, but I'm trying to discern if there is a correlated level of interest in the matter with how well one does. It seems, and I really don't wish to stereotype but it is convenient for our purposes, that anyone who has achieved any marginal success in physics has, from a very early age I suppose, shown a relentless interest in the field. This is to say, specifically, that they find doing physics problems out of a textbook or something more fun than any other activity.

    And in my case, where I have an equal interest in many other activities, I deduced that because I don't fit the mold of our "typical-physics student" model, I can never really hope assimilate into the culture of physics if I indeed decide to pursue it in the future. This is probably an irrational way to look at the whole situation, and I know I'm young and merely a freshman, but I don't think that should stop me from speculating into what might inevitably occur if I continue with physics in the future.

    Simply, I am concerned that I won't "fit in" (as ludicrous and immature as that sounds).
  15. Aug 29, 2010 #14


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    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    He would have a hard time if he came into my office like that looking for a job, a research position, or someone to supervise his graduate studies.
  16. Aug 29, 2010 #15
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    I've never met a student that takes things to such extremes as you're saying some of your fellow classmates are - and I've met a lot of students. I would also be worried if I did. At all points in school, induction talks and otherwise will tell you that you need to have a balance (just like all of the other replies have said). You will be told this in school, and I'd be surprised if you were expecting an answer other than this from the thread.

    Some people I know and have worked with are shy, and so don't particularly like to socialize as much as others - but that doesn't mean they spend all of their time studying. As usual, what twofish says is good - consider what you want, and work out what you need to do. Some people will find that to pass exams or get good grades, they need to work many hours each day - and some people will breeze through.

    You need to find out where on the spectrum you appear - and finally if you're happy with that. For instance, are you satisfied with learning your course material and nothing more? Some people look at studying extra physics as a hobby - it's an interest and if you're keen for knowledge, why not? Not everyone looks at it as work, which is why it might seem odd that some people go home and work for hours after class.

    Ultimately, you shouldn't really concern yourself with other peoples study habbits - certainly don't let it influence how you feel about how you're getting on. If you're getting good grades and haven't had any problems in feedback - why should you worry? If you're able to enjoy yourself and get good grades, then great.
  17. Aug 29, 2010 #16
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    Don't fill guilty about it (unless you want to feel guilty about it, in which case it's o.k.)

    Because you are different. Something that you really do need to think about (and college is a good time to think about this) is why you believe what you believe. Usually what happens is that if you are around a group of people, you absorb their beliefs. If you are conscious of what is going on, you can think about it and figure out whether or not you really want to absorb their beliefs or not.

    As far as me, one reason I had extreme difficulty in academia was that I'm a bit too curious about things that were unrelated to what I'm supposed to be studying. In some environments this is awful. In others, it's a really, really good thing.

    Something that you have to figure out is defining what success means to you.

    One of the most fascinating conversations that I've had was with a fashion designer that had some interesting insights in the psychology of clothing. A lot of clothing involves group identity and is trying to say, I'm with this group or I'm not with this group.
  18. Aug 29, 2010 #17
    Re: Do I need to be "obsessed" with physics in order to do well in it?

    There is, but IMHO once you go past a certain point it becomes counterproductive.

    The other thing is that it's going to be less and less obvious what "doing well in physics" means as you get further in life.

    One thing that has helped me a lot is that I like being different. One bit of good news is that there are a lot of different cultures within physics. I knew of a senior professor that was world-renowned for his fashion sense. Also, a lot of physics culture relies on "we aren't MBA's" and people go out of their way not to be MBA's.

    You probably won't. On the other hand, I'm several decades older than you, and I still don't fit in. It doesn't bother me that much any more.

    Also, I suspect that one issue here is that you are in a small department and there aren't that many physics geeks, and those that are tend to develop a single culture. One thing that was helpful to me was that I was in a much larger physics department, so you had different cultures within the physics department.
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