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Graduate Physics student not sure what he's doing

  1. Mar 22, 2015 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I'm a graduate student in Physics who is a little unsure of where he is and where he wants to be.

    I've somehow managed to end up with a position as a Research Assistant in Physics. I'm still not quite sure how this ever happened; I mean, I doubt more than two or three people on campus even knew my name until a year ago (as that kind of requires me to, you know, communicate). Not to mention the fact that actually choosing a professor to do research with required me to, gasp of all gasps, make a decision...

    But... well, it's hard to describe. I don't know if it's the field of Physics in general, or if perhaps it's just the attitude of the campus I'm at (the school is very research-oriented), but I feel that the further I get into physics, the less it means to me.

    I'm a very abstract thinker, and quantum mechanics is pretty much the only topic in physics that still holds my interest lately, as it still manages to challenge my intuition on select occasions. In contrast, I have no intuition for those terrifying surface/volume integrals that regularly appear in electrostatics. Nor can I say much about the, erm, "specific heat of a Debye solid", other than the fact that I'm sure I probably had to write a Taylor approximation for it at some point.

    Most frustratingly, even my research is still missing that passion. I was hoping I'd have struck conceptual gold by now and that I'd be totally engrossed in solving some problem related to it, but... I'm not.

    Every now and then, my travels around Wikipedia will land me on a page about something like the monster group, the real projective plane, or algebraic number fields (or any field for that matter). I don't understand a single word on the page, and it's great. Looking at them, I feel that familiar feeling that always used to drive me forward in all of my coursework; the empty feeling of my lack of knowledge, and the burning desire to fill it. Pages like this used to hold so much promise for me, letting me know that there was still so much left for me to learn. And I always assumed I would eventually understand these things. But it looks like my life is only going to get busier from here on out, so I have to wonder... will I ever have the time for them?

    ...erm... Well, leave it to me to turn "howdy, strangers!" into "boo hoo hoo here's my life story" I guess. Anyways, that's me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to PF!

    I had that same experience with computers. When I was young, my uncle let me play on the gE Timesharing service and you could talk to the computer via typing and it responded quite quickly. However, as time rolled on I began to see the limits of the computer and it lost some of the magic. Here I am today, still working on computers realizing its a tool that I can make do anything if only I have the imagination to make it so.

    So perhaps you should live two lives, one where you plod through your school work to get your degree and the other to explore new worlds and civilizations and to boldly go where you've never gone before remembering and alway that the force is with you and its basis is Quantum Mechanics.
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