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Feeling slow-witted

  1. Mar 23, 2012 #1
    In what way have you ever felt slow-witted in comparison to your peers? What would you attribute their intellectual superiority (in that field) to, HARD WORK, STARTING YOUNG?

    For example, my friend told me that she had decided to switch from theoretical to experimental physics because she felt that she was much slower than her counterparts when it came to that kind of math. I dont think I agree that she was slow because she could have just developed the aptitude for that kind of advanced math (All she needed was time). Am I wrong? What I'm saying is, could she have become a successful theroret. physicist despite no headstart if she just did her best or did she need the boost of that extra caliber?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2012 #2
    I feel inadequate compared to my peers sometimes. I think part of it is me being bad at making accurate comparisons between myself and others. When they really are better than me, I'd say it is sometimes natural aptitude, sometimes being more experienced, and sometimes spending more time studying. Or a combination.

    As for your friend, I really can't say. I would guess that it's a question of when the extra work required to keep up becomes too much of a burden and you don't enjoy the material anymore. Although a certain amount of homework drudgery is to be expected for anyone.
  4. Mar 24, 2012 #3
    I was "the smart kid" my whole life, but then I got to grad school and I feel so dumb, I can't even function anymore. I'm losing my mind.
  5. Mar 24, 2012 #4
    Ahhh, homeomorphic, you're scaring me. I'm going to grad school in the fall.
  6. Mar 24, 2012 #5
    Well, it's good to be afraid of grad school. You have to be prepared.

    I still felt smart for a while when I started grad school, since I seemed to know more than a lot of the other students and passed my prelims pretty quickly, although I struggled a bit in classes after breezing through many undergraduate classes (which is what started my downward spiral). It took 6 years to get to the point where I feel retarded. I'm so demoralized, I feel like it has made me dumber, just because it robbed me of my confidence, which is the opposite of what you would want. You can probably avoid this to some extent if you manage things better than I did and are not as stubborn and headstrong as I am to swim against the stream.

    By the way, sometimes people have hidden abilities. If someone thinks they lack the ability, it could be that they just haven't found the right way of doing things or it could be that they lack the ability, but it's generally pretty hard to tell. Knowing HOW to go about doing things is probably even more important than hard work or intelligence.
  7. Mar 24, 2012 #6
    Watch out homeomorphic, you're becoming the new fish-quant.
  8. Mar 24, 2012 #7
    Read Feynman's "Tips on Physics". There is a very encouraging chapter in there about Cal Tech freshmen going through this very thing.
  9. Mar 24, 2012 #8
    I came to math rather late, so I've only just started getting over my fear that everyone is that much more awesome at math than I am. I suppose I should expect it to happen again, then? I will have to make up some undergrad prereqs in grad school, so I know I'm not going to be the best student of my class or anything, I just don't want to fail out or something.
  10. Mar 24, 2012 #9
    That made me laugh. :P
  11. Mar 24, 2012 #10


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    I think most people experience this to one extent or another, largely because academia is just a long sequence of bottlenecks, each selecting the top performers from the previous step. Eventually, you get to a point where you're just average among the "elite" and people handle that in different ways. It can be quite a difficult psychological hurdle for some people because they may have always defined themselves as being "the smart one" and so in a lot of ways, they revert back to adolescence where they have to redefine themselves.

    The biggest tip I have for handling this is to avoid comparing yourself with others too much. I know that's hard to do, particularly when you're competing for scholarships and often the best feedback you get about your academic performance is a number that ranks you in relation to everyone else in the class.

    What is important is that you develop as objective a picture as you can of the path you're on. Sometimes, all the hard work or head start time in the world isn't going to help you. It could be because you heart isn't in it. It could be because you don't have the self discipline. It could be because you're just not playing to your strengths.
  12. Mar 25, 2012 #11
    Well, classes aren't such a big deal in grad school, for the most part. At least in terms of grades. They are still demoralizing because if you're used to undergraduate grading, it can seem like you're doing horribly when you're not. But usually, you have to do really, really badly to get a C. In my PDE class, it seemed like I performed worse than I ever have in any class, but I still got a B-, my lowest grade in grad school.

    The quals can be an obstacle and writing a thesis can be a monumental task.

    The thing that's really getting to me is that I'm now going to be in my 7th year next year. So, I might not even get funding. My thesis is just inching along. I just had to correct an error (which, for a week seemed like it may have caused the whole thesis to collapse, but now seems to be fixed), so there has been no net gain in pages for last few weeks. And I know in this job market, there's no way I stand a chance, given that low-level students can't stand me as a teacher. My adviser says I'm very slow at research. So, most likely, I have to leave academia after this.

    I just feel dumb for being so slow at research. I actually don't feel that dumb compared to my peers, except some of them are getting it done, where I am lagging behind. It's not so much that I am comparing myself to anyone. I am comparing myself to the tasks that I am given and not really being up to them.

    My heart is in math, just not in doing it the way I am being asked to do it, under the circumstances. The problem is, I don't really care whether something is an "open question" or not. I just want to know things because I want to know them. The only case in which I would be interested in research is where the thing I want to know just happens not to have been worked out by anyone. There is one question I know of where that is the case, but it's not even in my current area. My thesis problem is a fairly cool one, and in some ways, I'm lucky to have it, but it just isn't quite something that I have a burning desire to understand.
  13. Mar 25, 2012 #12
    Oh, I didn't know that about classes. Thanks for explaining it.

    Sorry to hear things aren't working out as well as you'd hoped. Best of luck!
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