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I need some advice. My life is a confused mess.

  1. Nov 8, 2014 #1
    Hello, everyone.

    To give you some context, let me give you some background about myself. I apologize if this is overly sentimental but I can't help it.

    As a child, I was fairly bright and very intellectually curious. I got good grades. I was always among the top two in my class. I loved learning new and interesting things especially anything to do with science. When I was about 7, I discovered a book on astronomy and I was immediately fascinated (Particularly by a picture showing how much bigger Betelgeuse was compared to the Sun). The enormity of the universe was a revelation to me back then. Since then, I was obsessed with everything related to outer space. Like every other child interested in astronomy, I proceeded to read and watch Carl Sagan's Cosmos and other similar popular science books. I was always competent at Mathematics and Physics and was always among the top scorers in my class, though it was not my best subject (I always scored higher in English and Biology).

    Up until I was 15 years old, I had decided I was going to major in Physics/Astronomy. But when I was 15, I had to switch schools for various reasons and I became increasingly disenchanted with the educational system. The country I grew up in has an educational system which relies on rote learning methods even for subjects like Mathematics and Physics. My disenchantment with the educational system and the sudden change of schools which I had to go through made be incredibly depressed. I hated going to school and hated Math and Physics. I had a nervous breakdown in the final year of high school and I couldn't focus on my work at all. I ended up missing one of my final exams because I had to be hospitalized due to mental health issues. My grades suffered. I got into the university of my choice but I wasn't immediately offered the course which I tried to get which were either Physics or Aerospace Engineering. They said they would offer it to me on the condition that I would excel in my first semester courses. I did excel in my first semester courses but at this point I was extremely confused if I even wanted to pursue Physics or Aerospace Engineering. I was scarred by my high school experiences. I questioned whether my talents lay in a less technical field. I knew I could do well in a Physics program if I tried hard enough but I asked myself if I would even enjoy it. I thought that perhaps I had romanticized astronomy too much and that actual astronomy/physics work isn't exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps it was the philosophy behind physics that I had found fascinating. I had never particularly enjoyed doing math or physics problems though. I never had the same glow of satisfaction after solving a problem, the way I had when I wrote a poem or a story say. It was always a chore and an unpleasant experience. And I absolutely loathed programming. I am not sure if this is just because of a bad educational system or because I actually didn't like it.

    Anyway, time was running out and I had to make a decision. So, I went with a less math-intensive science. I figured it would allow my to indulge in my curiosity for learning while at the same time making use of my particular talents. Aristotle's advice, "Where the needs of the world and your talents intersect, there lies your vocation." was my guiding principle. So far, I am absolutely enjoying the major I'm in and I love studying it. However, at times I can't help but thinking if I have let my true passion and life purpose go. I always feel a tinge of sadness and doubt if I come across an amazing astronomy related fact. Recently, I watched Nolan's film Interstellar and I was in tears by the end of it. It was such a poetic depiction of black holes, wormholes and time travel. They worked closely with a physicist to make the black hole appear exactly how it would be in space. I know I'm not being very pragmatic when I say these things and I know that astronomy is not just looking at pretty pictures of space but I can't help feeling that if I had been a little more dogged I could have made it as an astronomer or a physicist. But I am already in my third year of university. And I don't know what I can do anymore. I cannot afford to start over again.

    I just need an outsider's perspective. Perhaps someone who is more experienced in these fields. I want someone to tell me where I stand completely objectively and what options I have. Was I wrong to not major in astronomy and should I perhaps give everything up and try again? Please help. I am utterly broken and confused.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2014 #2


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    As someone who is nearly forty and also likes cereal I can tell you a couple of things.

    First and foremost... starting over while you're in your third year of university is a lot easier than it probably seems (assuming you're in your early twenties and don't have any family commitments). Once you get to the point where you have a spouse and/or kids in the picture, a mortgage to pay, etc., changing your life becomes a lot more difficult. I'm not saying that it's easy (or even advisable). You still have to consider the debt load you'll incur, for example. But if you're absolutely certain that this is a path you want, then your future self will very likely tell you it's a good idea to make the necessary changes now.

    Secondly, it's also important to realize a few facts about the life of an academic astronomer. Popular media tends to portray a highly romanticized version of what their lives are actually like. If you hope to get into academia, the odds are stacked against you. If you are a successful student, get into graduate school and earn a PhD, the probability of securing a tenured position is then about 0.1. Competition is fierce. The pool of candidates is filled with extremely bright, competitive people, many of whom are willing to sacrifice personal aspects of their lives in pursuit of their goals. So do don't think that just because you were successful as a young student you were naturally destined to become a professor.

    Beyond that, it's also important to realise that most of your time likely won't be spent on developing the secret to interstellar travel through wormholes. There's nothing to absolutely prevent you from doing that, of course. But more realistically, you'll develop an expertise in making some kind of measurement that will push the boundary of human knowledge systematically forward by a few minutia rather than leaps and bounds.
  4. Nov 8, 2014 #3


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    And it looks like it will be getting worse for many years to come.

    To the OP: It may help to think that is it one thing to do something for a living, and a different thing to spend time on doing thing you like. Ideally we hope to do something we love and get paid for it, but it is not always realistic. I guess what I am trying to say is that you can always order academic journals on astrophysics and read them and discuss about it in scientific communities (like this one!) in your spare time. You don't have to devote every second of you life to it to enjoy it.
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