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Is this burnout? 4th year physics major

  1. Sep 29, 2012 #1
    I was hoping to get some other perspectives on this and then see how the next few weeks are before making any stupid decisions like talking to my advisor about it. I'm in the perfect situation for applying to grad schools if I work my *** off - but I'm sick of the whole thing. Only I don't know if it's burnout or if grad school & physics really just isn't right for me.

    Here is my situation:

    This is my last year of undergrad. I've signed up for PGRE's, have been looking at schools, and have some excellent opportunities & a really really good recommendation letter.

    I am completely overworked. I can't take more than Friday night off without paying for it later (last week I didn't even have time for that). I don't have enough time to study for the PGRE's if I also want to not burn out/get enough sleep. This semester, I am *only now* just continuing my summer research, putting in 6 hours a week. The professor is pushing for me to work, because if my results are right we can publish them. He also said it was my job to convince him I wanted to do research in grad school when I mentioned spending my spare time on the PGRE's instead of research. And I've told him about being overworked.

    Here is my problem:

    After taking two months off from research, I don't want to work on it anymore! I want to just walk away, even though I know I won't - I need the research to graduate! I really liked working on it over the summer... but I think it was the research environment that I liked, not the topic. And also a combination of pride in my work, ambition, and enjoying getting it to work. (The prof I'm working under thinks I love it or something, because of the amount of work I put in over the summer.)

    I am jealous of the engineers I see working on fun, cool projects, and then actually having afternoons and weekends off. I am contemplating applying to programming jobs after graduation - or trying to get an internship for the summer and next year, so that I get an EE degree & dual major. In my spare time I read stuff on computers and math, not physics.

    But I'm wondering if this is just me getting burned out - I do like the research environment, even if I don't like what I am actually working on. I don't want to throw away these opportunities. I don't want to throw away the huge amounts of work I've put into this. But I have no idea what area I'm going to graduate school for - the whole thing is a gamble. And I don't have the time to really explore.

    Has anyone else here gone through anything similar?
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2012 #2
    Yes, I went through something quite similar as you. It was even around the same period: in my third year of university, just before doing my masters. I was quite overworked and had various psychological issues (where were enhanced by me working a lot). I didn't enjoy my math classes anymore and I was wanting to do something else.

    So, when I started my masters, I took a lot of classes which were only vaguely related to math like philosophy, psychology, history,... But, after a while I discovered that I absolutely hated those classes. And I was looking forward to the moment that I could do math again. From then on, I started enjoying my math classes again because I realized that I wouldn't enjoy the alternative either. But all in all, it did take more than a year before I finally got out of the burn out.

    Now, I don't know what you should do about your situation. I don't guarantee that you will eventually enjoy physics if you keep doing it. But it does seem that you're working very hard all the time and that's not good.

    I recommend that you maybe see a psychologist. They have experience with people having burn outs. Maybe they know what you can do?
  4. Sep 30, 2012 #3
    I am in the exact same situation! I'm registered for the GRE's (November) and the whole lot in my 4th year, but I still haven't worked out how I'm going to fit in time to study for them without totally sacrificing daily review of lectures. I've got an amount of coursework to do that is abnormally high for graduating (at the university I am at as an exchange student, but its "normal" at my home university) plus I've got a Msc. research project to start this week that lasts the whole year (fortunately I really like the research topic, but all the background reading is taking up a lot of time).

    I finished my 3rd year just this summer with 2 final exams that really left me frustrated (spent the whole summer studying for them and got grades I really thought I didn't deserve). I haven't had a real summer break since my 2nd year and it is starting to catch up.

    I love physics and I really like my project, but all the bureaucracy required to pursue it professionally (standardized exams, ~10-15 applications, SOP's, etc.) isn't letting my focus on it!
  5. Sep 30, 2012 #4
    In the past two school years, I never took any night off except for during breaks like fall break or spring break. Even on Friday nights I had to grade homework. There was even once or twice when I sobbed in the library thinking I just want to take one day off. Even in a situation like that, I never thought about quitting math. Since I worked so damn hard in my sophomore and junior years, I can have a bit extra time for myself during my senior year now. I am 100% sure that I want to go to grad school and I'm very ready.

    Going to grad school when you are having second thoughts is risky. Some people make it through and some don't. But you can always change your mind, as long as you are willing to pay a price for it. Definitely talk to your advisor about it. But most importantly, you have to figure out what YOU want. Good luck.
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