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I feel like my passion for science is gone. IDK how to get it back.

  1. Jun 22, 2013 #1
    I just feel like I needed someone to listen to me for a second. It's a long, story-of-my-life post. I might delete it later because it's embarrassing.

    I got into some top 10 brand name schools for graduate school. One of them was my dream school. I came from a small department with litte resources, so I was ecstatic at first. I went to the open houses and met with the professors and had mostly good meetings, except at one school: the one I wanted to go to. 3 of the 5 professors I met with with brought up my academic background at the meetings and told me I probably would have a very hard time trying to pass quals at their school, given that my undergraduate program was not very rigorous (this was true.)

    The worst one was the professor I had my heart set on working with. He just started questioning me during the meeting like I was in an oral exam and I choked on easy questions like "What's the momentum of a photon?" because I was caught off-guard. And I just had to keep repeating "I don't know" for most things. After grilling me he told me that I was very bright, but I should give up on research for at least two years because I was "fooling myself and trying to fool everyone else if I thought I was ready to be a scientist," and that I would surely fail the quals even if I tried to self study the whole summer. He even had the nerve to lecture me about "impostor syndrome" after he basically made the absolute worse case senario (the one they tell you is "never going to actually happen") related to this fear play out.

    I know what he was saying wasn't true, because you don't necessarily need to be an expert on a topic to start research in it, and I know how fast I can learn. It made me very angry that so many people were counting me out even after admitting me and I chose to go to another school. I self studied and covered all of undergrad QM and E&M since April, and now I'm much better prepared, and I can even solve the qual problem from that school's website just fine.

    I suppose I should feel good because I proved that guy was wrong about me, but I don't feel good at all. I just feel empty and sad. Before that day, I thought physics was amazing and mystical and that that school was where the magic happened. I looked back at my personal statement for the NSF and nothing I wrote about my passion is even true anymore. I read those books and learned so much, but it seemed like the only effect was waking me up from a dream. Like no matter what I learn or accomplish, there's always going to be someone looking down on me because of where I came from or what I look like, or because they know more than I do.

    I think it's getting to the point where I'm starting to dislike other people that aren't as "smart" (I can't think of the right word right now) as I am when discussing physics or math because they remind me of myself talking to that professor. I know that isn't right, but it's what's in my heart.

    So here I am about to go to a top 10 school, but instead of being excited, all I feel is insecurity about my abilities and angry that I didn't learn all those things I was supposed to learn as an undergrad, and I'm angry because I didn't even know I wasn't learning what is standard.

    Has anyone else experienced feelings like this? Any advice? I feel like I don't even like physics anymore. I hate to say it's because of one bad experience because the general advice is "Oh, don't let on person get you down!" That advice my parents gave me really didn't help at all.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2013 #2


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    Well I'm nowhere near as close to grad school as you are but I can certainly say I've had similar feelings of absolute and utter discouragement with regards to doing physics. When I didn't get into MIT undergrad for physics I pretty much felt like giving up physics altogether because I thought "well if I can't even get into MIT and learn alongside all those brilliant physics guys, what chance will I ever have at succeeding in physics?". Essentially it came down to a breakdown of self-esteem, a breakdown which happened to (at least temporarily) overwhelm any passion for physics. My point is, I know what it feels like to be "put down" and "inferior" and "worthless" more or less, when it comes to physics academics.

    I would like to start by saying congratulations on getting into your dream school. Seize that joy while you still can :) When you're self studying EM and QM and what have you, do you still enjoy learning the physics, working the problems etc.? If you say you can manage their practice qual problems, then prove that professor wrong! If you believe your potential has yet to be maxed out then go practice for the quals and destroy them :) Don't feel insecure about your abilities, I'm sure you're mighty capable. You shouldn't let a sudden onslaught of insecurities take away your passion for physics. Speaking from experience, when I had the aforementioned feelings of discouragement in going into physics after not getting into MIT I just remembered that I'm in this because I just really, really like the subject; just sitting down and doing some physics helped put aside my insecurities, at least temporarily.

    Anyways, I hope you start to feel better soon. Best of luck!
  4. Jun 22, 2013 #3
    Damn the professors.

    Some worn out old men who are disillusioned and are sporting overwhelming god complexes have no right to determine the outcome of your life, or to even deter your passion and love for something in which you obviously contain a large amount of brilliance.

    Feeling depressed is easy when an ideal that you've had instilled in you is taken away so frankly and harshly, but you're strong enough to get over this. Look at yourself in the mirror and tell me you don't see someone who loves physics and can excel at research. Realize that the only person who can determine a damn thing about your life is that person looking back at you in the mirror.

    Your question of how to rekindle your passion for science is the wrong one; I don't believe that you ever lost it.
  5. Jun 22, 2013 #4
    So I was talking to a math professor once, and he told me something that I'll never forget. What he said was "Let nobody take away your love for mathematics." It was good to hear, because at the time, I didn't know whether I still liked math or not. I thought I hated it. But I realized then that it wasn't math that I hated, but all the circumstances around it.

    If I wanted to describe the professors in my OP, I would probably be banned from this forum (even as a mentor lol). They want to put you down and make you feel bad. Don't let them win.
  6. Jun 22, 2013 #5
    There's a lot of ego in science, and in physics in particular. Part of the way that science gets done is for people to be critical of their own work so that they don't believe results right away, they want to make sure they really have a correct result. People who do that are also commonly really critical of other people's work, and I've met several physicists who seem to even get a perverse pleasure from criticizing other people's work. The more time you spend in science, the more you will meet people like that. Those people exist in other fields too, and not everyone is like that, but it seems like they do sort of gravitate towards science, or physics at least.

    Personally, my passions for physics died a long time ago. I wish I would have accepted that earlier, rather continuing on hoping it would come back on its own. It never did. Instead I finished my PhD and suffered through a postdoc to the point where it really became painful to get up and go to work in the morning. Now that I've accepted the death of my passion for science it's much easier to move on. But it took a long time. Don't make the same mistake I did, of pushing yourself through a program that you have no interest in.

    My advise to you is to spend some time to see if you have interests in other things. Your school should provide some free counseling, they may be able to help you figure out whether your interest in physics is truly dead or if it's something that's just dormant because of the experience you had with those professors.
  7. Jun 22, 2013 #6


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    Your dream should not be associated with tools that help you to get there, nor with those who try to put you down from achieving it. Your dream should be absolute, untouched by no one but you. I really don’t sense in your post your care for that professor and what he does/says [you already know that he’s in no place to lecture you about yourself and your limits] as much as I see the sadness of your mellowed interest in physics. You probably ‘changed’ your goal from achieving a higher physics degree to proving that professor is wrong and building more self-esteem [you don’t need it, you have it since the day you met him], and you probably still think that that professor is right even though you’re doing great now. But what you’re missing is your real goal, it seems that physics wasn’t your initial interest, or am I wrong? :wink:

    Good luck on your studies wotanub. :)
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2013
  8. Jun 22, 2013 #7


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    I agree with antifreeze, I don't think you loss it, you probably hate the environment. From your post you say you went to other open houses, had good experience except at one place. So with that said, why based your entire ability and perspective of physics on that one bad place? Before my current career, I considered myself a career soldier (and would be still today if it wasn't for some unforeseen events.) I loved everything about the Army, but throughout my career, I came across many people who felt the need to belittle everyone in sight and make work a dreaded place to go too. I still loved everything about my job, but I hated at certain times in my career my commander, first sergeant or platoon sergeant. I do mean absolute hate. Even now in my current career, I occasionally work in a team that has this one guy whose leadership style is to point out flaws and given no positive feed back. When I am assigned to help that team out, work becomes less fun and my passion of my job dies a little every day, but overall, I still like what I do.

    So with all that said, perhaps it'll be better for you to consider a different school than your dream school. There are dreams, and then reality. Sometimes (a lot of times) things that seem awesome and perfect for you, are less than stellar once you reach it and see how it really is. My personal opinion is that the key to a successful and happy life is find an environment that pushes you to success but also makes the overall atmosphere a place you can be productive. If you have feelings of inadequacies and the professors only enhance that then I can easily see that wrecking havoc on your personal life and thus negatively affecting your academic career.
  9. Jun 22, 2013 #8
    While it's nice everyone is encouraging you and telling you you've still "got it", maybe someone should take you at face value. If you have really lost interest in science, then so what? People move on from things, it's part of life. You shouldn't feel that the only thing worthy of your time is doing physics. If you really feel like you don't want to continue, and you don't see yourself being happy then it may be a good thing to get out early. I really don't see anything wrong with that.

    That being said, there've been numerous times I've been discouraged and thought about saying "screw it", but it's always been a passing frustration, usually due to being stressed from a lot of work and not enough sleep. So, it could be a passing thing, but you should probably just relax for a week or two and not worry about it. If you've lost it, then you'll be doing yourself a favor by accepting that fact early, if you haven't and were just bummed out then great you've got a lot to look forward to. Just don't try to delude yourself either way.
  10. Jun 22, 2013 #9
    Well, I won't quote all of you so I'll try to say something the adresses everything. I didn't go the "dream school" by the way. I woke up from the dream. Logically, the school I chose was better for me in every way from the people there, to the research, to the apartment I'm living in. I just couldn't let go of the dream until that experience woke me up.

    For what it's worth, I'm in a program now and I'm going to stick with it. After some reflection, I think what I don't like is academia, not necessarily physics. Maybe I'll gear my goals towards some kind of industrial/entrepreneurial career. I like the idea of teaching, but I don't like the idea of writing grants and supervising research, ect. Iwish I could just be some "mad scientist" working on projects I like and inventing things (I like the applied side of physics mostly). I'm going for the PhD and I'll figure out what to do with it along the way. My school has a pretty good business school that I can cross-register into, so I might take a couple entrepreneurship classes while I'm there after I finish my physics classes.

    Thanks for the perspective, guys.
  11. Jun 27, 2013 #10


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    I was way too lazy to get invited to my 'dream school'. School was boring until I got to college, and discovered I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I was so desperate I actually started taking notes in class and doing homework. My performance improved thereafter.
  12. Jun 27, 2013 #11


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    I know how you feel (but in a different context). In my case I trusted people who in the end did not deserve my trust, so I stopped trusting them, moved on and things improved. IMO after setting your heart on working with him (why did you do this?), you need to see this professor for what he really is, and then I believe you will regain your passion for science. Don't let him decide that. You decide.
  13. Jun 27, 2013 #12
    I don't know what to say but it is definitely not a good option to get mad at the professor because you learn physics for life if you are truly interested in it. I didn't had the highest score for physics in my class but my natural affinity towards it will never cease. Don't do what you are doing right now if you are not doing it for yourself. Have you ever heard of this saying, "If you want to life a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects". That's it, I know it's no easy task to forget about everything the professor had said but if you want to be successful in life, pay no mind to it.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2013
  14. Jun 27, 2013 #13
    Plus, please be kindly reminded that you will always meet such a professor in whatever school you enter. I guess you and he just had a bad communication. How about being more direct in contacting him for a chit chat outside office, greeting him more often once meeting him anywhere, asking him any issues/problems in physics he is professional about, etc. And you should reply to whatever he explains as to whether it is true or false in your own opinion, i.e partial agreement, total agreement etc. He is definitely qualified and known better than you anyway.
    Entering a good physics school is a challenge, isn't meeting such a person in life a challenge to realize who you actually are rather than who he really is ?
  15. Jun 30, 2013 #14
    Amen to that!

    I think, once you have that first good taste of the maths and sciences, you're either hooked or you aren't. If you had a passion for science, it is still there. Nothing can take it away. Sometimes, science is difficult and we can feel like we aren't good enough to keep up, but if you want to give in because of that, you haven't even truly had that first taste.

    Of course, there will always be someone better than you. Someone will always do what you find difficult with flawless ease. But, honestly, who cares? You get to make some contribution to the greater knowledge of mankind. It could be small, or it could be seismic. You get to explore the universe from inside your mind. You get to flirt with infinity and solve puzzles that would drive many less-equipped men to insanity.

    As to disliking people who are less smart, that's natural. You know things about the universe that could make them twist their eyes out and shoot pennies out of the empty sockets. They couldn't possibly comprehend. That would bother anyone. You can't share your passion.

    And that's just it: I think you had a passion for science. Therefore, you have it now. My advice to you now? If you can, go back to your professor. Confront what torments you and face him with your newly honed skills. I know that's what I would do.
  16. Aug 5, 2013 #15
    When, I feel like you are feeling I go to my little brother and we do a kiddy experiment together, the passion and wonder of a child is infectious....
  17. Aug 5, 2013 #16
    your subconsciousness and subconscious will(determination) might be taking a break..
    give it some time, it probably will come back.
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