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Drop In Passion During Critical Time

  1. Jan 8, 2016 #1
    Hello there,

    So I'm 23 years old, been passionately studying physics for some time now. Oh it's been fun and fascinating, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I could apply for my B.S. in physics any day now. I've always been great at physics. My conceptual understandings, my neat and unique organizational skills, ooh I get giddy just thinking about it. I mess around with all types of mathematical modeling on scratch paper just cause I love it and I feel it's in some way useful.

    Anyways, I'm older now, and that stuff doesn't seem to matter. They've got me driving places and studying code. But this isn't what I learned in school. This isn't what I'm good at and it isn't what I enjoy. And every day I feel more and more like my passion for theory is useless. I'm supposed to know what I want to study. But I don't know general relativity, I don't understand inflation, how could I possibly make such an important decision? They're paying me 8.25 per hour. I feel like I'm being used. Here I am immersed in student loan debt being paid poverty level wages to do non-physics.

    On top of that I'm kinda depressed, I have no girl in my life, my everlasting social circle seems extremely stagnant.. I'm supposed to have applied for grad school, but I haven't, I haven't taken my GRE and I feel like I let down my research group during all this so I don't even feel like I have a research letter of recommendation.

    To distract myself from all of this I look up to the TV just to find that Donald Trump is running for president.

    On one hand I feel like I should "finish what I started" and go for the PhD, but on the other hand I feel like this is an extremely important time in my life and maybe I should consider taking another direction. Maybe focus more on what's gonna make me money. Or maybe something more drastic like going into politics or another field in philosophy. I do care very much so about politics lately. And do you even think I could compete in grad school with this type of mindset?

    Anyways, any advice, any questions? I really want to travel. I know the world map like the back of my hand but I've spent my whole life in Utah. I'm learning German because I was thinking I might be able to get involved in research in Switzerland or something. Do you think that's a likely possibility?

    Apologies for the perhaps overwhelming post. Any advice is appreciated.
    Thanks for reading.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2016 #2


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    Sounds like a mean case of the Twenty Threes, to me.

    I wish I could say that there's a little trick to figuring it all out. But if there is, I haven't found it yet, and I'd be highly suspicious of anyone else claiming they have.

    It might help to keep in mind that there is no one perfect path. I think a lot of people stress over these kinds of decisions because they feel like the decision is like most of the problem sets and exams they've been working on through their undergraduate educations... as if a week after you hand it in, it's going to come back with red pen all over it and your answer will have either a checkmark or a big X. But the reality is that if you want to go to graduate school you have to make a choice and live with the consequences. In most cases those consequences aren't all that bad. You get to go to graduate school, after all. Not many people in the world really have that opportunity.

    And there's no shame in taking a year off to figure it out. Maybe you want to travel. If you can afford to, this would be a really good time to do it... you have no kids (I'm guessing), no job with vacation limits, no mortgage to worry about paying, so you responsibilities are quite low and freedoms are quite high. Not having a girl in your life means that you would have more freedom to meet new people and explore new relationships.

    Or maybe you want to get a full time job for a year. This could help you save up some money before you start graduate school and make that experience a little more comfortable. It would give you time to think a little more seriously about what sub-field you want to go into, read up on your interests, and digest all the material you've learned over the last few years. That would also allow you to focus more clearly on finishing your current classes. The down side it's that it's awfully easy to get used to a steady paycheque.

    Okay, but what were you seriously expecting? Undergrads aren't usually hired because a professor is on the verge of a ground-breaking discovery and he or she wants to give the experience to someone who's just starting out in the field. They hire people because they have a job that needs to be done, and they see an advantage in someone else doing it.

    If this was "news" for you, I would highly recommend against politics as a career choice.
  4. Jan 11, 2016 #3


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    Yep, I can empathize. 22, last semester of my mathematics degree coming up, didn't apply to grad school, didn't go for a teaching certificate, also didn't like the research I got involved in and now am afraid to commit to any other projects, no letters of recommendation I can think of. I'm screwed. :DD
  5. Jan 11, 2016 #4


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    this is so cool! I do remember what is was like to feel old at 23! oh my word. (I am now roughly 73.) wow. what a trip. basically, relax. 23 is not old at all. oh boy...what i wouldn't give to be only as old as 23 again. sorry to exult in your despair. i'll try to come back when i recover from this high and make some suggestions.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2016
  6. Jan 11, 2016 #5
    There are some silver linings in the cloud you have presented. First of all, you are 23. I remember being 23. I remember living life as a 23-year old. I remember breathing 23 year old air into my 23 year old lungs. Before going to Star Wars (the first), my 23 year old digestive enzymes went to work on a 23 year old piece of pizza. There was nothing like it. Needless to say all of these feelings are as far away from me today as the Andromeda galaxy.
    You are working (for 8.25 an hour. Some one or some organization is investing coin of the realm in you. Two years of my adult life went by without that investment. Treat any employment fairly.
    Holy cow, you are driving! Just think, King Croesus with all his riches could not even dream of traveling even 30 MPH, and you can go more than twice that, while listening to music and enjoying a cup of coffee (with your 23-year old tastebuds).
    No girl - well I'm sorry. Nothing I say will help that. Maybe the other women (sisters, mom, ex-girlfriends) can fix you up.
  7. Jan 11, 2016 #6
    My last post was prematurely sent. My GPA was horrible as an undergrad. I did not apply anywhere the first year but I got a job instead. The job was unrelated to physics and only a high school education was necessary. I worked my way back slowly. I paid my own money (tuition for one course) to take a grad course at my school as a "special student". I asked the prof for the course for a letter of recommendation. The other two came from earlier faculty.
    It took a lot of fast talking but I talked to professors at a grad school (not really highly ranked but in retrospect, better than I deserved). They admitted me, and my life had an upward trajectory since.
    The saved money from the job came in really handy in grad school. I was not extravagant but along with my suite-mates we had a lot of good parties, including inviting some girls, (I expect this is interesting to you because you brought it up.).
    Traveling broadens the mind (They say), but I suspect that this may be a strategy of avoidance. If you are anything like me, (for instance) my place is a cluttered (books everywhere) but every weekend I go out to avoid the straightening up involved.
    Summarizing, you have time, you're young so you have energy. Every physicist knows the importance of time and energy. You can make it happen. (time x energy = action). Best Wishes
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