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Lacking a passion for science

  1. Nov 30, 2009 #1
    Hi, I'm new to the forums and looking for a bit of advice on things. I am an undergraduate studying physics about to finish up what I suppose most would call the sophomore year. However I look back on what I have done and realize that the passion that brought me into science as a kid, by reading the popular books about cosmology and the like simply isn't there when dealing with the everyday problems an undergraduate is asked to solve.

    I always imagined myself studying late into the night on various parts of physics working to solve interesting problems I had come up with from building of the basics from textbooks and class. But, really physics as presented at university, thus far at least as seem so formulaic and artificial. I dread doing the next problem set of irrelevant and uninterest problems dealing with situations that don't really exist in the real world, just so we can plug in number to formulas and receive a grade for doing so.

    I know I know I should be studying more material on my and getting ahead but somehow I don't find myself spending my late nights trying to grasp the more interesting areas, as I would when I was a kid reading the popular literature. Rather, I have grown now to almost dislike the physics I've learned for being dull and those questions that used to keep me up at night about the origins and nature of the physical universe while still there for whatever reason don't seem to be driving my passion for learning physics.

    Have any of you reach a point anything like this and lived to tell about it. I hate to start my physics forums career with an existential meltdown but I don't know maybe physics people in real life.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 30, 2009 #2


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    Well, think about it, any question worthwhile and interesting sure isn't going to be doable by someone in teh field for a couple of years. Remember, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people came before you with the same level of knowledge you have and problems still remain. Of course, remember, you can't do the advanced worthwhile physics if you don't know the basics by heart either. If you wanted to create a grand unifying theory and sat down with an advanced text on QFT and GR and what have you, you wouldn't get past the table of contents. Walk before you Run.
  4. Nov 30, 2009 #3
    What worked for me was to start with a professional paper on the topic that I was interested in. Say cosmology. With a sophomore level of physics, you'll find most papers on theoretical cosmology incomprehensible. Then what I did was to look for ways of getting from point A to point B. There are a lot of works in cosmology that can be understood with Newtonian physics and some ordinary differential equations. And so as I learned X, then Y started to make sense.

    It is. One thing that they haven't told you yet is that any sort of non-formulaic and non-artificial problem isn't easily solvable, and so much of physics involves taking what you can't solve and then recasting it into things that you can solve.
  5. Nov 30, 2009 #4
    Exactly what I was going to say. Just because you don't enjoy the basic physics you are doing now does not mean that physics isn't for you. Everyone has to learn the basics, which can be quite boring at times, in order to get to the interesting stuff. Just hang in there.
  6. Nov 30, 2009 #5
    Good point and well taken. I'm trying now to get into some of the more fun fields of physics namely by watching a set of video lectures by Susskind of Quantum mechanics, its another few semesters off for me but I'm excited to learn a bit about it.

    For those of you who went on from a BS to a docorate, also my desired plan: Did you find that there was a time when things changed and you stopped calculating various quantities is arbitrary situations and really started to discover interesting things on your own, regardless of whether they had been around before or not?

    Could it be that I am a mediocre calculator of problems, ei. Physics GRE taker but really enjoy the research side go much further with that? It seems to me that the work I've done up to know as done little to help me in learning how to do research and rather just proficient at mechanically solving the problems given.
  7. Dec 1, 2009 #6
    You can't do research unless you know the basics. You learn how to do real research when it becomes relevant, aka when you are a phd student or maybe a little bit at some reu program during your undergrad.
  8. Dec 1, 2009 #7
    Okay but what I am interested in is doing the research not just sitting and solving solved problems, anyone can do that. It seems that in other fields it is much easier to get to the forefront of knowledge than physics.
  9. Dec 1, 2009 #8
    I'm not a physics major, but if the physics majors at my school are any indication, it seems like it's not too hard to get a job as a researcher that doesn't require any really advanced knowledge. One such person I know has already went to an REU and works in a lab of some sort, and he's just now taking mechanics (covering Lagrangian dynamics, etc.). Although that's not exactly a "basic" class, it's also not anywhere near the forefront of knowledge. [Now it's possible he's taken other advanced courses that I'm not aware of. But either way, it shows you don't need to be at the forefront to get a research job.]

    Go talk to your advisor as soon as you can and try to figure out if there's any research work you can do. Don't worry about getting anything published at first. Just try to find a professor who's researching something you are interested and help out any way you can.
  10. Dec 1, 2009 #9
  11. Dec 1, 2009 #10
    Very interesting article I think I am coming to the realization that I just need to wait it out and earn my position on the forefront of physics knowledge eventually, it's just frustrating because I just find that stuff so interesting and the stuff I'm doing now I don't as much. That is why I ask the more experienced if they found their junior/senior/grad school classes started to become more compelling at some point or was it all the same old stuff until you hit the point of doing fundamental research?
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