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Other How do you stay motivated in your degree?

  1. Aug 27, 2016 #1
    Hello! I'm genuinely curious:

    How do you stay motivated in your degree? I just started my 3rd year of uni (physics undergrad) and I know when the school year gets busier, especially around Midterms, I'll get really stressed out. Plus,it being junior year, I'm taking a lot more advanced math/physics courses. Basically, I know I'll hit a slump/burnout eventually. For those of you currently far into your physics degree, postgrad, or workforce, how did/do you motivate yourself to keep going and finish your degree when you hit those low points?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2016 #2
    I remained motivated since I loved studying the subjects.
  4. Aug 27, 2016 #3
    That's awesome @micromass! I'm sure most people here, myself included, share your love. Unfortunately, we aren't impervious to burnouts D:
  5. Aug 27, 2016 #4
    I know. I had a burn out myself. At those times you forget why you do all of this. Taking a break made me realize why I studied and made me love it again.
  6. Aug 27, 2016 #5
    @Alvis What you're feeling is totally normal. Sometimes it feels like you're grinding through math just to grind through math, and I've found that it helps a lot to take a step back. When I was feeling burnt out, the things that helped re-energize me were the following:

    1. Talking to an "interesting" professor in your department. My E&M professor was the type that, if I asked him about a homework question, would talk for hours about the nuances of particle physics, walking me through thought experiments and current discrepancies in the field. These talks were more or less at a "pop sci" level, but they made me realize that holy wow do I love studying physics!
    2. Like micromass said, take a small break. I'm not sure if he was referring to taking a long vacation or just doing something you love for a couple of hours, but I'm going to lean toward the latter. For me, it was astronomy. I'd go camping somewhere remote and haul along my telescope. Maybe it helped that my main hobby was something science-y that motivated me to continue studying physics, but whatever your hobby is, don't neglect it!
    3. Finding something new research-wise. This sometimes took the form of making new discoveries in my own research group, or reading discoveries made by the scientific community as a whole. It's a lot easier to spend hours trying to manipulate one dang equation when you read about something cool like the confirmation of gravitational waves.
  7. Aug 27, 2016 #6


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    Honestly it isn't easy and the only effective thing I have ever found is what micromass suggested. Taking time away to focus on something else is a good way to recharge yourself. I hit a pretty bad burn out during my masters. At that point i've been working 40 hours a week, and going to school for a few years every semester. I had serious doubts if I would have the stamina to finish. Thankfully my wife encouraged me to take the summer off and travel to Vermont. By the time we came back, being away from Statistics for so long reminded me that I really loved solving problems and talking to people who understand what I do.
  8. Aug 27, 2016 #7
    @MarneMath That's exactly it. I worry I won't have the academic stamina to want to finish. It's difficult putting in so much time and effort and you feel completely overworked and lost and for what? Taking a few (brief) breaks during the year might help me to remember why I'm doing this.

    @Dishsoap Hmm...that's actually very apt advice. I think I will talk to a down-to-earth professor about their experience, what do they do when they don't know, and how they felt when they were trudging through their upper level studies.

    It's not that I don't love physics, I love it, but sometimes I lose sight if I have a lot of physics in a concentrated amount of time.
  9. Aug 27, 2016 #8


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    Some additional tips to help you stay motivated:
    1. Try to make time to figure out how your studies fit into a bigger picture. I know it can be daunting trying to do anything between labs and assignments, preparing for midterms and all the other responsibilities you have. But when I look back on the times I felt the most "burnt out" it was when I was just trying to keep afloat and jumping from one thing that was due to the next. To the extent that you can read ahead. Ask about applications of the material you're covering. Try to come to class with questions in mind. Try to figure out how material in one class might relate to the material in another class.
    2. It helps to have friends who are going through the same thing. Find people in your program that you enjoy talking to. Sometimes a single "venting" session can provide a world of relief. Sometimes a single tip can turn on a lightbulb and make a whole bunch of things click. Try to to steer towards positive, well-motivated people, and away from the energy vampires.
    3. Find people who can mentor you. Try to make connections with graduate students if you can. They're the ones with the most recent experience at successfully navigating the undergraduate system. Also think about getting involved in some local research with a professor if that's a possibility.
    4. Make time for yourself. This is not being lazy or a demonstration that you don't belong in physics. It's okay to want to do something else every once in a while. That will help you to focus more on your studies when it's time to study.
    5. Take care of yourself. I repeat this one often around here and that's because I think it's important and often overlooked. If you're not eating or sleeping very well, you end up coming to lectures lethargic or hungry or half-asleep, and you miss a big chunk of the material that you're paying all this money to hear. Eat well, get lots of sleep, and exercise.
    6. Junior year is a good time to start thinking about your future directions. What kinds of things might you want to study in graduate school? What kinds of skills are you hoping to get out of your program? Start reading up on possible sub-fields and try to figure out what the active research is in your area. This might also be a good time to start going to departmental seminars or colloquia. While such talks often are filled with jargon, usually the speakers will start with a brief overview of the field and the problem. Those first ten minutes can be gold for undergraduates.
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