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How to improve test taking / Figuring out life? Get out of Limbo

  1. Nov 13, 2014 #1
    Background: Physics Major (3.5 physics gpa), college graduate, pursuing PhD, PGRE: 700 52%

    I have seen a couple of threads on test taking, but I have a slight different direction.

    I don't have problems with tests in general. I have done well on many many exams ( physics, math, chemistry, Italian, whatever). I have even done well on standardized exams. However, I royally messed up the pgre ( took it 3 times improved score by 100 points from last time and by 200 points from the first time i took it). I also don't do well on time -pressured exams. For example the prof will hand out an exam that basically looks like a problem set but we have 1 hour sometimes 1.5 hours to do it. My problem is that I run out of time and don't end up finishing. I know how to do the problems and the prof sees that I do, but I didn't figure out the short cut.

    To fix this, I have gone to office hours and I spent a lot of time studying. I work on lots and lots of physics problems to get a deeper understanding. This shows through in class and my research, but not through my some of my exams.

    Lastly, I am in this huge huge limbo. I thought because I don't do well exams, I will never make into grad school. My research experiences are in particle theory and I was very good. My advisors were happy and I was pretty happy. Despite facing lots of road blocks in my research, I still love it. I am always motivated and overall my research experiences have taught me lots of things, physics, maths, problem solving, dealing with road blocks etc. I am sad that I will probably never make it as a particle theorist and it simply hurts. I feel very sad, broken heart sad, and it seems pathetic.

    I don't want to give up, but should I? Is there no other road to theoretical physics? Previous thread that I saw indicates that a masters in physics isn't useful. My advisors are beyond the most encouraging people. They still say that I can make it and motivate me. I feel like I will regret and always wonder what if? if I don't go after something I am passionate about. How long will it take me to find something else I am passionate about?

    I have done several job applications and interviews for finance and engineering industry. I make it to the final round, but the person with the degree in those respective fields gets chosen (makes sense). I feel like I would have to go through more schooling :/ Even high school teaching requires additional schooling...

    Main question: How have you overcome a struggle? What did you do to reach your goal? How did you figure it all out?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2014 #2
    I had the same issues with timed tests, but what I did was switch to an area where it wasn't that big of an issue. In proof-based math, I found that even though I could only do it slowly, so few other people could even do it at all that I was far ahead of most of the competition, until I went to grad school. As far as becoming a mathematician goes, though, I realized it wasn't really a worthwhile goal.

    I think you can go to grad school, fairly easily if you aren't picky about where you go. However, I don't think particle physics is a very good career. The thing to worry about is what happens during and after grad school. Why not have it as a hobby?

    It's more fun that way, anyway.

    I'm so happy that I didn't make it as a mathematician. It's a very happy thought to raise my spirits during this hard time, being severely under-employed. Academia is all about being a workaholic and never being good enough. You're getting your first taste of it right now. I couldn't be happier that I've ditched that life forever. Even the lastest Nobel Prize winner says today he wouldn't be considered good enough.


    That is how ridiculous it has become. If I had to do it again, I'd take the "what if" over that BS any day.

    You're in very good shape making it as far as you have with jobs. I have a PhD in math and even getting an interview is incredibly difficult for me. If I could get as far as you have, I'd be feeling extremely encouraged to try again.
  4. Nov 13, 2014 #3
    Thank you for the reply homeomorphic!
    What turned you away from Academia and pursuing postdocs?
    I keep hearing that too about particle physics. I am trying to be more open minded and pursue condensed matter (it's far more employable), but I am just not too familiar with it. I didn't enjoy my solid states physics at all, I even burnt out during that course :/

    I am going to check out the link! Thanks, I'll keep applying! I am sorry that you are struggling to find a job at the moment. Do you like teaching at all? I have a friend who graduated with a PhD in chemistry and she took a job at a private school. Private schools are less stringent about teaching certificates and a PhD is a plus! If you find a teaching job in the meantime, maybe you can do some part time schooling at a local state school and get a certificate of some sort? Finance or Programming? Depending on the type of job you want.

    We both have to figure out the type of career we want. Right now I am so set on physics, but I am seriously working on exploring other things. Imagine the type of job/career you see yourself in. I graduated, but my school still allows students to go to our career counseling center for two years after graduation. I think I will seriously go. Did you just get your PhD? Are you near your graduate school? Maybe you can do that too.

    Suppose you didn't include the fact that you have a PhD on your resume for certain jobs?

    Good luck! I hope you find something!
  5. Nov 13, 2014 #4
    Not really. Tutoring is okay, but I don't like having to deal with large groups of students at once. I like to teach on a more personal level.

    Yes, I may have to take an adjunct position next semester.

    It's been a year now. I moved away. I did make it once to the career center, but I was struggling a bit to nail down my thesis and finish it off, so that was it.

    I wouldn't like to hide that, but it could be something to try, if it comes to that.
  6. Nov 13, 2014 #5
    Just PMed you!
  7. Nov 14, 2014 #6
    I am no physics major, but I have a good friend who has a BS in physics. He works with a company that designs high performance microscopes. I always assumed physics major were right there with BS in engineering. Basically if you have a physics major you are pretty much an engineer in my mind.

    I had a physics lab professor who was working on his PhD. Really cool guy, was a natural when it came to physics. All he really wanted to do was teach when he graduated with his PhD in physics. There are plenty of jobs available for people who have physics majors.
  8. Nov 14, 2014 #7
    I beg to differ. I studied EE for three years, so I'm more of an engineer than most physicists, but as far as jobs go, no one cares that I did that. They mostly just want to see a degree that says engineering.

    Only for people who did internships, have connections, are great at selling themselves, have skills beyond physics, etc. Look at the job postings. Type in physics on Indeed or Monster. It's not pretty. In fact, for most majors, it's not pretty. It's a monumental challenge to get your first real job these days. The difficulty should not be underestimated.
  9. Nov 14, 2014 #8
    It's really not that simple. A physics major at a good school with good experimental classes will learn the basics of what an engineer does but by no means do they get the same experiences. The physics major is learning E&M, mechanics, thermo, and quantum using lots of ideal situations while the electrical engineer for instance is learning analog and digital electronics, integrated circuits, filter circuitry, communications circuitry, power circuitry, digital signal processing, etc. As you can see the engineer delves deeper and deeper into the technology while physics 'only' delves so deeply into the generalities of the back bone of physics and will then specialize in some area later. It's only because they need the technology to do the experiments that they (the physicists) learn to use it; but like I said at a good school physics majors would be made to take computational and electronics courses to give them that leg up. There ARE jobs for physics majors, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin put out job postings for physics majors by name apart from the engineering ones, but it's still a hard sell if all you've done is the theoretical classes that a basic physics major curriculum offers with nothing else to back it up.
  10. Nov 14, 2014 #9
    Thanks for the replies everyone! After going through job interviews/searches, I think I will increase my chances of landing a job after going through graduate school. I guess I will apply for Masters in Engineering programs as well as PhD physics ( only because I will regret not trying). Many places require the degree or equivalent experience.

    I think I will simply have to tell myself to not do particle physics anymore. I am guessing condensed matter is more industry employable. I think AMO is too. Regardless, I enjoyed my time doing particle theory and I don't regret it at all. I do, however, wish that I was more successful at obtaining experimental opportunities. I did take an Advanced Experimental course though, it was part of my major.

    I recently just graduated from Undergrad. The bitter reality of the real world is officially slapping me in the face.
  11. Nov 14, 2014 #10

    I am not underestimating that finding a job is easy... It's difficult and seems like you either need an internship or have connects. Sometimes connections don't always help though...
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