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My cloudy future as a physicist

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I wanted to dedicate my life to physics but I've come to a point in my life where it seems that my dreams are shattering... I'll not go into many details, I just wanted to share somewhere my concerns and perhaps get some advice.

I always had an interest in science and when I was a kid I even built a laboratory, but because of my nerdy interests, plus my eccentric character, I got bullied so much (I was known as "crazy scientist"), they made me feel as if taking interest in science is something to be ashamed of, so I stopped caring about science and found new interests, I grew up and finished an engineering-related vocational degree, but while I was studying for that degree, I was a different and mature person any more, I started to realise what a huge mistake it was for me to allow my bullies to get in the way of my dreams.

It helped also that I had many physics modules in my course that re-kindled my passion for science.
I took a big decision: I'll pursue an academic career in physics and this time nothing would stop me. At the age of 23, I made an application to the university and they accepted me into a Foundation Year for Engineering, to prepare me for a Physics undergraduate course (because I did not have the sufficient mathematical background and the university does not have a foundation year for physics).

Extreme perfectionism took hold of me, I wanted to be perfect at everything and I set a goal of getting 100 marks for every module, which of course had the reverse effect; not only my grades were pretty bad, I had to give resits twice for some modules and failed Calculus for the third time for just 2 marks below the passing mark (i.e. 38/100). They did not allow me to re-sit calculus for a fourth time, and the Physics Admissions team rejected me, other universities rejected me too.

It was at that time that I talked to some friends and I got the advice to go to a psychologist. So I did, and I was diagnosed with extreme pathological perfectionism. I made an academic appeal on the grounds of that, hoping that the university might give me a second chance. I started following a cycle of sessions to treat my perfectionism, but I stopped because it was too expensive. I am trying to treat it myself now.

It's been 4 months since I made my appeal, but I haven't received an answer yet. I feel very strange; what will happen if they reject my appeal? What will I do? Doing something else besides physics is out of question, so I'm feeling very lost now. The fact that I'm now 25 years old and I haven't even started a degree is physics makes it even worse.

The worst-case scenario is to continue self-studying physics and just do independent research, but am I really able to do any kind of research outside academia, as a hobbyist? And will anyone take a person with no degree on physics seriously for that matter?
 
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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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So, your position is that you've struggled with perfectionism, have had it identified by a mental health professional, made a plan for treatment. Now you have given up this plan of treatment and want the same benefits as had you continued.

I think this is highly unlikely to work.

If you want to be a physicist, you should probably resume treatment.
 
  • #3
Dr. Courtney
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I'm not sure where you live, but in most of the US, one can pursue coursework that prepare a path for a physics major at most 4 year colleges and even many 2 year schools (community colleges). In many cases, you need not declare a major or enroll full time. You can take courses at a pace that meets your needs and other priorities. This is a good list of courses available at most schools (even those without physics majors):

Calc 1, Calc 2, Calc 3, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, Physics 1 (for scientists and engineers), Physics 2 (for scientists and engineers), General Chemistry 1, General Chemistry 2. By the time you've earned As or Bs in all these courses, you'll be a decent candidate for admission to most physics programs in the US.
 
  • #4
Choppy
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I'm not sure what kind of advice to offer on something like this. From what you've said, it seems that you've got a mental health issue that's interfering with your academic performance, to the point where you've failed calculus three times. Addressing that needs to take priority, otherwise even if you're accepted into another university program, you're likely to end up with the same result.
 
  • #5
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I had to give resits twice for some modules and failed Calculus for the third time for just 2 marks below the passing mark (i.e. 38/100).
A passing mark is 40%? That seems like a very low bar.

Something to consider is that maybe you're not cut out for an academic career in physics, in the same way that not everyone can become a professional athlete or professional musician.
 
  • #6
Dr. Courtney
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Something to consider is that maybe you're not cut out for an academic career in physics, in the same way that not everyone can become a professional athlete or professional musician.
I don't think we should be quick to raise this possibility, since it tends to be more remote for scientists than for professional athletes or musicians. Most professional athletes and musicians need to start out somewhere in the top 1% of natural gifting and then add an awful lot of hard work to that. Being in the top 1/3 to top 1/4 in natural gifting in math and science can be sufficient with the proper effort and attention to detail.

I've seen lots and lots of STEM majors drop out, flunk out, and change their majors to easier disciplines. Most of the time the issue is not a question of natural gifting, it is a simple matter of inadequate preparation, poor work ethic, and emotional imbalances having one's priorities out of whack. I think these issues are more likely in the case of the OP than just being "not cut out" for physics.
 
  • #7
gleem
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Physicians are ill advised to treat themselves. So non medical specialists should not attempt to manage their conditions especially psychological issues where you cannot really "see" the issues that are causing your problem. Seek professional assistance period so you can get on with life.
 
  • #8
Vanadium 50
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Something to consider is that maybe you're not cut out for an academic career in physics
Possible, but I wouldn't want to draw conclusions until the mental health issues are in order.

Seek professional assistance period so you can get on with life.
He did. The problem is that he doesn't want to follow through with the treatment.
 
  • #9
Dr Transport
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I can't see how anyone can pass a course after taking it and failing three previous times would be allowed to take it again given that they have to produce transcripts of prior schools. To compound that, mental/emotional issues untreated will just cause the same academic result even if there is a remote possibility that a school takes a chance of the individual.
 
  • #10
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Depending on the state you are located. There are free resources. Look into public health in your state.
 
  • #11
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Possible, but I wouldn't want to draw conclusions until the mental health issues are in order.



He did. The problem is that he doesn't want to follow through with the treatment.
He mentioned cost was a factor.
 
  • #12
jtbell
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  • #13
Vanadium 50
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He mentioned cost was a factor.
Sure. But at some point you have to decide what is important to spend your money on. What is important to ypu?
 
  • #14
Vanadium 50
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Dr Transport
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Sure. But at some point you have to decide what is important to spend your money on. What is important to ypu?
Time and effort not spent on getting emotional/mental health back and spent on other things (failing efforts in a program you may not be qualified for for example) is a waste of everyone's time. In other words, if you don't take the time to straighten out your mind, stuffing it with other knowledge won't be beneficial for anyone.
 
  • #16
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To clarify something, even though I stopped the cycle of sessions because of its high cost, I continued to use the methods I learned to continue my treatment and see if it works out, but I'm gonna check if anything about public health is available in my home country, as someone here suggested. Of course I know that treating my condition is my highest priority, I didn't abandon this effort.
 
  • #17
gleem
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To clarify something, even though I stopped the cycle of sessions because of its high cost, I continued to use the methods I learned to continue my treatment and see if it works out, but I'm gonna check if anything about public health is available in my home country, as someone here suggested. Of course I know that treating my condition is my highest priority, I didn't abandon this effort.
The problem is that you do not know the rationale for you treatment nor how to evaluate you progress or lack of it. You do not know how to modify your treatment if and when that becomes necessary. You need expert oversight.
 
  • #18
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The problem is that you do not know the rationale for you treatment nor how to evaluate you progress or lack of it. You do not know how to modify your treatment if and when that becomes necessary. You need expert oversight.
Thank you. I take into consideration what you are saying and I'm going to seek professional help again, immediately.
I hope I get rid of perfectionism soon and for my university to accept my appeal eventually, so that I can continue my studies with a more healthy behaviour.
 
  • #19
StatGuy2000
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He did. The problem is that he doesn't want to follow through with the treatment.
@Vanadium 50, according to the OP's post, he/she stated that he/she didn't follow through with the treatment because it was too expensive.

If the OP is from the US, given the lack of universal health care, it is entirely plausible that the medical treatment he/she requires is out of his/her price range.
 
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  • #20
Vanadium 50
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Since the OP is planning on resuming his treatment, the point is moot and finances were not an impossible barrier.

I had previously pointed a link (since deleted) to where one can get access to free or nearly free mental health services in the US. A Google search will turn up much the same information.
 
  • #21
StatGuy2000
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A passing mark is 40%? That seems like a very low bar.

Something to consider is that maybe you're not cut out for an academic career in physics, in the same way that not everyone can become a professional athlete or professional musician.
As @Dr. Courtney and @Vanadium 50 have already explained in this thread, I would not be so quick to suggest that the OP is not cut out for studies in physics, especially given the OP's stated issues with mental health. And studying physics (or other STEM fields) is not comparable to being a professional athlete or musician.
 
  • #22
PeroK
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As @Dr. Courtney and @Vanadium 50 have already explained in this thread, I would not be so quick to suggest that the OP is not cut out for studies in physics, especially given the OP's stated issues with mental health. And studying physics (or other STEM fields) is not comparable to being a professional athlete or musician.
I'd like to see some evidence that more people are capable of getting a PhD in physics than learning to play a musical instrument well enough to earn a living.

In the absence of concrete educational research this may simply be your personal opinion.
 
  • #23
StatGuy2000
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I'd like to see some evidence that more people are capable of getting a PhD in physics than learning to play a musical instrument well enough to earn a living.

In the absence of concrete educational research this may simply be your personal opinion.
@PeroK , if you are looking for published research on this topic, I'm afraid you won't find them. But consider the (anecdotal) experience of @Dr. Courtney , who is a working physicist and who have had direct experience working in academia. Do you discount his experiences on this regard, as he has described in this thread?
 
  • #24
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I'd like to see some evidence that more people are capable of getting a PhD in physics than learning to play a musical instrument well enough to earn a living.
My first thought was Aha! I can look at the number of AFM and APS members and surely there are more APS members. But it turns out I was wrong and there are 80,000 AFM members and 48,000 APS members. The AFM includes Canada, but that's a 10% effect.
 
  • #25
PeroK
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@PeroK , if you are looking for published research on this topic, I'm afraid you won't find them. But consider the (anecdotal) experience of @Dr. Courtney , who is a working physicist and who have had direct experience working in academia. Do you discount his experiences on this regard, as he has described in this thread?
If there is no published research on this matter, then we ought not to be giving advice on the matter. Unless you have qualifications on dealing with mental illness, I do not believe you should be giving advice where mental illness is an issue.

I would not trust anecdotal evidence in this case, especially where mental illness is involved. And, in any case, as far as I understand what @Dr. Courtney said it is that a lot of clever people drop out. I don't doubt that. If anything that suggests to me how hard a degree in physics can be. I see no evidence in his posts of those who are struggling like the OP to meet the entrance requirements and being rejected by universities of eventually ending up as professional physicists.

That ought to require strong, concrete evidence.
 

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