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Having thoughts about my future for a change

  1. Feb 5, 2012 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I don't usually post such personal matters but I feel like I really need an objective, professional opinion regarding my dilemmas...

    A few months ago I started my Masters in Physics in Potsdam University, Germany. I did my Bachelor in Israel.
    I'll try and make it short:
    Although it was very simple for me to decide on physics as my bachelor (which I later expended to a degree in Maths as well), it was never clear to me what I want to do with it afterwards. My main interest was and still is Astrophysics and theoretical physics. I found lots of courses boring and technical. I had pretty good notes but I would always get the feeling my notes don't reflect my understanding at all (and by that I mean, that I could get a 100 in a course I was clueless in, and 70 in a course I felt I understood pretty well). The whole notes notion isn't my cup of tea at all. In fact, it depresses me and demotivates me.
    Not that getting a low note depresses me. But wasting my time learning for super-specific tests. We all know that - you check who you prof is, do all his tests, and prepare yourself.
    I didn't think I'd continue after my Bachelor.
    I took a year off in Berlin and got settled here.
    However, soon enough I realized I missed studying, I missed physics. So I started studying again. But with it started the suffering. The exams, the notes, the boring courses I have to take. Everyone around me seems so fascinated with everything. And I don't find everything fascinating.

    Now, I have no idea what I wanna do in my professional life. I earn money by teaching maths (mostly as a private teacher), which I enjoy, but that's not my life's goal. I think I'm pretty talented in Physics and Maths, I definitely am very curious, I like to get a deep understanding of things or not at all (unfortunately, 10% understanding is usually enough to get a good note if you study hard and solve lots of problems in physics... not so in maths).
    I cannot imagine myself working in the industry. I can imagine myself going onward academically, but I'm not sure my achievements will be good enough. I could probably improve them, if I wanted to, but I'm not even sure I want this life style. There are also many different things in my life I like doing: I play music, go partying, like to chill, and travel, and read, and play games... I cannot invest 100% of myself in my studies. The smartest people in my class - they usually look like people that... well... don't go out much. I'm simply not like that.

    So, I'm really having thoughts whether I'm studying the right thing.
    I wanted to hear from others here - did you experience similar things? Was studying for you sometimes a terrible harassment? Or would you generally say you enjoyed the process?
    Cause I didn't enjoy this semester. And what I find mostly interesting is what I read alone, in books.

    I'd appreciate responses. Maybe it'll help me form my thoughts.
    Thanks a lot
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2012 #2

    Jano L.

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    Hi Tomer,

    you're not alone in this, I too like physics very much and I too have experienced that suffering during the boring classes and ridiculuous stupid tests (in France, for one year). I think that the problem really is in the teachers and the educational system. In my experience, most of them would never talk about something interesting or important, and never encourage you to think and discuss these things during/after the classes. Instead they would fussily recite what they read on the topics from the ridiculously overloaded syllabus, putting heavy stress on the formalism and requiring you to do tortuous calculations that bring you nothing except good visage in your class. Often I could not find good sense of what the actual physical question is; the problem is just a recipe, do this do that, plug. Eq. 23 into formula 34, integrate, expand and wow great we have the result, but what the hell was the question? My impression from the tests is pretty much the same, the stress is on some too specific and technical points with null importance and the grade pretty much random.

    I too enjoy and learn physics far more efficiently if I get the book or an article I find interesting. I think this is in fact the important part of proper learning physics; no classes can teach you what folks really thought and did before you. You have to read them.

    In Prague, the teachers and the system brings more freedom for the student and I liked it much better than in France, but still I feel the courses, most of the teachers and researchers and the research itself is repelling me.

    I am going to finish my master this year, so I thought a little bit about what to do next. What I think are two best options (which I am considering now), if you like to do theoretical physics, are

    1) Do your master with best notes your can get, while certainly saving time for your own thinking about physics. Neglect the courses, if you need to. Your thinking is much more important, productive and most of all, enjoyable! During the master, think of a topic you are best in and likes much enough and try to find a professor who is not too busy with assigning the work to his PhD. slaves and with non-scientific agenda and who does something compatible with your topic. Ask him whether he would be interested in this topic and in accepting you for PhD. Then, I hear, the harassment with courses and other stuff will be lower and it is possible to concentrate on science much better.


    2) Finish the master with as small effort as possible, just for getting the grade and then forget entirely about academia. Try to find a good job which is not too time-demanding but will keep you alive, and do your physics in your free time. This option implies zero harassment about how and what you should think which, in my opinion, is best for theoretical physics. The disadvantage is less time available for physics, less direct contact with other physicists and less directly available resources (books, online articles). Fortunately, nowadays we have the Internet, so it is possible to get much information and publish online. Certainly you won't be without feed-back.

    I think I prefer slightly the first option, but only if I can find a topic and a prof. I can believe in. Still thinking about the second possibilites though...

    So, this is what are my impressions, I hope it will help you somehow...

    Best wishes,

  4. Feb 5, 2012 #3
    Thanks Jano, that was a very nice reply. It's encouraging to hear I'm not alone :-)
    Would be happy to hear more responses before I respond.
  5. Feb 8, 2012 #4
    Well, apparently the thread wasn't as popular as I had hoped. :-)
    Thanks again Jano. Your strategy sounds indeed correct, I'd say... I guess I'll just keep on trying and seeing till it gets clearer...
  6. Feb 10, 2012 #5

    Jano L.

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    Hi Tomer,
    there have to be more people with similar experience and some good ideas. Perhaps they did not come across the thread. I have only get to it by chance. You can try to repost the questions after a while.
    Best wishes and good luck!
  7. Feb 10, 2012 #6


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    I echo the above poster Tomer.

    You should have a search for other threads and read the sticky posts. This is a common kind of question in this forum and hopefully you will find more relevant advice that can guide you.
  8. Feb 10, 2012 #7
    I think this is more depressing than encouraging. A good way to still do physics without being depressed about the grading, is to work with your friends or class mates. Perhaps working with class mates that aren't your friends would be a better idea as you'd be more likely to work seriously and less likely to stop and do something else. :-)

    Jano, were are you studying in Prague? What is the language of instruction? French? (since you mentioned France?)
  9. Feb 10, 2012 #8

    Jano L.

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    Hello Mépris,
    I study in Prague, in Czech. I also studied for one year in Lyon, France.
  10. Feb 10, 2012 #9


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    My humble input.

    Yes, physics and maths have a lot of painstaking technical and boring algebra stuff to do, but this is part of the job of every researcher, it's the same as with musicians, basketball players, etc, etc...

    The more you practice the more it becomes second nature to you, and then you might even can contribute something new.

    I know that for me physics and maths is more interesting than working outside of academy, not sure if I will become anything special in it, cause I myself not 100% dedicated to it, I try to physically exercise and play some tunes on guitar.

    It does seem that the magnificent mathematicians or theoretical physicists who crack up the big problems are 100% dedicated to it though.
  11. Feb 10, 2012 #10
    I agree with this. For me, one of the most enjoyable things about college was working/studying with other engineering students, who were both my classmates and my friends. Work for a bit, go to dinner together, work some more, watch some TV and chill, work some more, etc. It was also a great way to deal with shared frustrations such as unfair grading, unpleasant professors, etc.
  12. Feb 10, 2012 #11
    What's wrong with painstaking work? Painstaking means, "done with great care and thoroughness". Almost every night you can see great chefs preparing food with great care and thoroughness on the TV, and having a great time. Painstaking work is more fun than non-painstaking work because you don't have time to get bored...

    Are you saying that great musicians, who practice many hours per day, are bored most of the time? The literature doesn't support that - the key is that their practice isn't mindless.
  13. Feb 10, 2012 #12
    I guess another problem is that I'm new to this university in Germany, and haven't been in Germany for long generally, so I don't really know the people good enough, whereas they all know each other. Therefore finding people to work with isn't that simple as well...
    But that is another issue, for another forum :-)
  14. Feb 10, 2012 #13


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    Not most of the time, but when you repeat something quite a lot it does become boring, I believe everybody has his own feeling when does he get bored with the same trick/riff he does over and over again.

    When you get out of the routine and do something new then you're obviously not bored, cause you get into unknown territory.

    Maybe it's just me...
  15. Feb 10, 2012 #14
    Have you looked into the toy-town Germany forums? I don't know if you'd have more luck finding German physics students there but at least, you'd be more likely to find people in your city there than on here!

    Good luck with everything!

    And Jano, thank you for clearing that up. I was half-hoping that part of your studies in Prague could have been in French! I know the Charles University offer some courses in English if they get enough applicants for it though...
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