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Is grad school a better experience?

  1. Nov 22, 2009 #1
    I'm nearing completion of my undergraduate education, and despite my initial excitement about physics, I seem to have hit a wall and been completely demotivated.

    I want to go on to graduate school in physics, but my undergrad experience has me second guessing this desire. I've been met with an attitude of "I don't care about you" from most professors and grad students. My focus has been on understanding physics, but I feel penalized for that, and that most grad students and professors don't remember what it is like to be an undergrad and have an unrealistic perception of our abilities. I don't claim to be the next Newton or Einstein, but it seems that if you're not the best, no one care about you. I don't mind at the end of the day (I just want to do what I want to do) but its demotivating to be in such an environment.

    Does it get better in grad school? Are people are a bit more...caring? And helpful?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 22, 2009 #2


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    Well... I'm hesitant to say that the professors get more caring in grad school - after all, the same professors that deal with undergrads also deal with graduate students - but if your experience is really as bad as you say, grad school should be a step up for no other reason than that you'll be moving to another university. I get the sense that your department has an unusually hostile attitude toward undergrads. Sure, graduate students are more valuable, both to the department (as TAs) and to the professors (as research assistants), than undergraduates, but that doesn't mean that the professors are justified in looking down on you as an undergraduate. It does mean that in graduate school, you'll have a bit more leverage to get the professors to pay attention to you, as long as you do good work.

    Keep in mind that to have any kind of success in graduate school, you do have to be really passionate about physics, specifically about your chosen research topic within physics. You don't necessarily need to know yet just what topic that is, but you do need to be confident that you can find something that really interests you within the first year or so of grad school. When you're interested in something, you're more enthusiastic about working on it, and professors always respond much better to people who are enthusiastic about their research.

    So... in summary, I'd say yes, it does get better in grad school, assuming that your lack of motivation is purely because of the people in your department and doesn't extend to the physics itself.

    P.S. Let me put in a plug for my own department, Penn State - one of the strengths of this place, I think, is the way in which the graduate students are treated.
  4. Nov 22, 2009 #3
    Regarding graduate school even i am confused. Should i go for it (yes/no)? I find it unimportant to study for exams but when it comes to self study, I just love it. In our college we need to memorize stuff and just write them down in exam. The whole experience is very bad cause we don't get any skills for real, only memorizing things. I wonder if I can get into a college where practical education is given more importance.
  5. Nov 22, 2009 #4


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    I'd consider diazona's post a good reference.
    I've just finished the 2nd year out of 5 in a BS. in physics, and until now I've had 2 physics professors that really, really cared about their students. When I told one of them I failed a test he was speechless and sad for me. But I agree, some professors seem not to care at all about their students. I also agree it's demoralizing. In my experience it boosts you up when you know your professor care about how you're doing at university. To answer your question, I guess it depends on the person your professor is. Hence it might get better sooner or later.
  6. Nov 22, 2009 #5
    I am very passionate about physics itself. When I'm learning something new about physics, I get so excited and think "wow! this is amazing!" and I get such a thrill and high from it. This feeling in unfortunately almost constantly buried. It feels like the professors don't much care except for a few students (who happen to excel the most). The undergrad experience is tough and I find it hard to apply myself when I'm met with such attitudes. I love love love physics, and I want to go on in the field further, but I'm afraid I'm being turned off by the people in it. I guess I just have to hang in there. It's a shame though that I get so excited by physics and want to do well, but the field doesn't seem to be too inviting at this point.
  7. Nov 22, 2009 #6
    oh sry my post was irrelevant to the context here.
  8. Nov 22, 2009 #7


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    I can't help but wonder exactly what kind of an attitude in your professor you are hoping for. Depending on the school and class sizes, it can be difficult for a professor to take an interest in the success of every student, especially if you have a large class. How are you penalized for caring about understanding the material? Do the professors idicate they are somehow annoyed with you for asking questions?

    Something you may want to try is asking a different set of questions. Try to ask about the research they do, why they chose a particular problem to work on, where they see their field going over the next ten years or so. Sometimes if you try to work on the communication bridge a little, rather than hammer away on the specific questions you want answered, you'll end up with better results. Naturally this doesn't account for the a--hole factor.

    To answer the specific question, I found that some professors were certainly more approachable by graduate students than by undergrads - if for no other reason than as a graduate student you would interact with professors just about every day, get to know them on a first name basis, chat over coffee or lunch, go to conferences together, and obviously, do some research together.
  9. Nov 24, 2009 #8
    You have a similar experience as I do, but I have that feeling when I started grad school.
    I came from a liberal art undergrad college into a big (and much more well-known) program.
    The atmosphere is totally different. In undergrad, I talk to professors in the department everyday. They always appreciate your interest in the field and your enthusiasm to understand the material.
    Here is very different. I feel the atmosphere from most professors to be that they don't care much about us unless we prove them we have something to offer. I guess that's not totally bad. But I would rather have more mentor-like relationship. At least having someone to talk to about understanding some concepts without the fear of constantly being evaluated would be much more liberating.

    I wonder what type of school you are in. Does the atmosphere of the department depend on the rank of the program?

    I would say if you're sincerely interested in learning more physics then go for it. But choose your grad school carefully. Find one that have the kind of atmosphere you're looking for, otherwise I think you'll run into the same problem. And it's only gonna get much harder from here.

    As for grad students, I sort of know what you mean. talking from my own experience, it's not like I don't remember what it's like to be an undergrad. But when you take grad classes, you will see the difference in difficulties compare to undergrad class (along with the expectation from profs). And usually we are just as concern about school as you guys are. So it's hard to try to spend time helping undergrads when a lot of the time you don't feel like you actually know much about the field yourself. But I think if you approach them they would be willing to help. I would.

    so don't loose your motivation yet. It may be hard to gain people's interest, but if you care enough about the subject you'll get there.

    ps. Ironically as I'm typing this, a prof stopped by and ask me if I want to join his family for thanksgiving dinner. I already told him I don't have a plan yet, so I don't think I should say no?
  10. Nov 24, 2009 #9
    This is one reason that you *really* have to like the material. If you like the material enough, then all of the human relations that you have to go through mean a bit less.

    Most of them problem don't care about you. The question is "do you care about you." One thing that you do have to have in graduate school is some initiative. No one is going give you detailed instructions on what books to read or what to study, and you are going to have to figure that out for yourself.

    I think part of the problem here is that you may have an unrealistic perception of their ability. There are going to be a lot of situations in graduate school in which the professor can't help you because, they just don't know the answer to your question, or what to do in your situation. When people are not being helpful, it's often because they are busy avoiding drowning with what they have to do.

    Different schools have different environments, but one thing that will sink you in graduate school is if you just wait for someone to help you.

    Something that you really have to ask yourself is why do you really want to go to graduate school?
  11. Nov 24, 2009 #10
    It's more coincidental than ironic, but whatever. Go ahead and do it if you aren't going to be doing anything anyway. Might be good for that letter of recommendation you might need =), hell, assuming you aren't doing anything with your family at least you will be better fed for it.
  12. Nov 24, 2009 #11
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