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NEED Advice for a Struggling Grad Student

  1. Oct 26, 2005 #1
    Currently, I am working on my PhD in Physics (do not have a masters). My background is a BS degree in Computer Science / Mathematics. I have almost all the classes one needs to get an undergraduate physics degree. I am thinking of leaving the program recently since my 28th birthday. I am not being funded till I take my first exam which would have been this summer but it seems way to hard to juggle School, a job, and life. So far I have gotten 2 grades a B in Electromagnetic Theory and a C in Quantum Mechanics. The C killed me it was entirely my fault but I just do not have enough time except on the weekend to do homework and because of that I end up getting lost if family gets in the way which happen more often than not since I moved back home.
    I went back to college while working full time (40+hours) and took the appropriate course needed to get into graduate school with a B+ average (Thermodynamics, Quantum Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Modern Physics, and Dynamics).
    Do you people feel I should leave the program completely and go back to my full time career as a computer programmer. Right now, I am working part time as a programmer but the work is no less harder since I am doing only 20 hours a week but my workload is equivalent to my full time coworkers (that is a whole another story).
    Also traveling has become a major problem since it takes me between 1hr and 30 minutes to around 2 hours to travel from home to graduate school (They do not have any dorms on campus). This takes away a lot of my time and on the weekends I end up having to go to the school library to study since my family life is too hectic to stay at home cause I never get anything done and just get way too upset to work on anything.
    Right now I am taking 2 graduate classes doing OK in them but my grades will be either a [B-, B or B+]. They could be better but right now I am doing a C+ to B- on the homework cause I never get to finish all of the problems due to my schedule.
    Since I know I will not be able to change my schedule and I am in danger of failing below the B average required for this level of study and I already got my one chance from last semester which may not be extended till Spring. I see no alternative because I gave it some deep thought and I know I need to 1) be away from my family 2) be on or near dorms so I do not spend 3 hrs a day or more traveling which gets tiring to be able to do well and succeed in graduate school.
    I truly love physics but I see no logically way out of this car crash. I can only try so hard and no matter what I do I seem to be just shy of making it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2005 #2
    ****, that's tough man.
    What sort of family do you have? Like a wife and kids? That would make this very tough. If you're on your own, it still sucks, but it might be a bit more manageable.

    You should definitely try to find a place to stay that is closer to your school. Those three hours of travel are just wasted time.
    Do you think you could possibly find a job that is a little less stressful and demanding while you are in school? That might be an idea, and you could probably find one closer to your school.

    Maybe ask the physics department if they have any job openings? Also, try to look into tutoring college and high school students. I know some tutors who charge $60+ an hour!

    In the end, it really depends on how badly you want the degree. By want I mean how much you are willing to sacrifice.

    How close are you to finishing?

    Sorry my response it so disjointed -- it's late, but I really wanted to give you some advice.
  4. Oct 27, 2005 #3
    Find somewhere to live closer to your school, maybe with fellow students? Work during the weekend? Make sure you have a social life, but don't let it take over. One night ever few weeks could be reserved for friends/family? And make the most of it.
    You may have to go to extreme lengths, but you only live once and you might as well give it all you possibly can. Even if this means cutting other major parts of your life out, your friends and family will understand (it may be a bit different if you have wife/kids...) and will be there when you finish.
    Next semester I'll be in the same situation, will hopefully be moving right next to the uni (which is smack in the CBD so working weekends and a couple of weeknights to afford it). Most the physics/math grad students I know tend to disappear for most of the semester (except when they're tutoring, but their minds are always somewhere else), with some studying 15 hours a day. Have you sat down and had a talk with your family? Im sure they'll understand that you need your space to focus.
    Sorry about the unstructured post, its late here too :tongue2:
  5. Oct 27, 2005 #4
    I hate to tell you that it's only going to get harder. But it's only going to get harder. Classes are the easy part, youknow what your doing and there is definite end, you know the results, you know if you're right or worng. When you start research nothing is definite, you don't know the results, you don't know if you're right or wrong. So you might spend months /years doing something and then in the end find out that it's worng. The time requirements are huge, well over 40 hours/week. I'm not trying to discourage you, just telling you how it is.
  6. Oct 27, 2005 #5


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    I think it's unrealistic to attempt a PhD program part-time. It's just not something that can be divided up into part-time work while working another job. I'm afraid that you can't just look at it as a second job, but instead need to approach it as a way of life. And, it doesn't get any better after you've gotten your degree either. Take a look at the lifestyles of the faculty in your department. If your family isn't being supportive enough to let you have all the time you need to get your work done, then that's only going to make it harder. It can be challenging enough with a family that's supportive.

    If you decide to continue, you're going to have to decide that you're ready to make the sacrifice, quit your day job, and put your foot down that you can't be running all over the place with your family (just make an attempt to see your kids an hour a day if you have kids). Keep in mind that most grad programs also have an upper limit on how long you can take to get your degree, so if you can't put the time in, and take too long, they can just cut you off.
  7. Oct 30, 2005 #6
    Thanks for all your help… I do not have a family (wife and kids).

    Currently, I live with my mother, which is a bad situation. Right now my main concern is just getting through this semester and passing my classes. I cannot afford to do badly with my first 2 grades (C and a B). I just recently started the PhD program with no master degree so I have a number of years to go left. My main worry is about getting through this semester with at least B’s hopefully B+ but I do not hold out much hope for more since I am so overworked outside of class that I just do not show that level of work (not completing homework, always being tired in class even sleeping). I am mentally and physically exhausted at this point but at least I know my limits. It is hard to complete with other freshman that are full funded and all they have to do is go to class and study. Whereas I am not funded at all (not till I pass my first exam) and have to work and deal with family insanity that leaves me with hardly anytime to do homework much less keep up with material.

    Family life explanation would take 10,000 pages at least but my parents drive me nuts on a constant basis and I end up going to dinner with my father every night to save money (I am beyond broke its almost financially hopeless). This takes more time cause I end up loosing 1.5 hrs a day going to dinner with him than in turn this also upsets my mother so she verbally attacks me even more. They had a war of the roses divorce and my father married his mistress. My mother never went to college so she feels college is a waste of time and they both agree that a PhD is a waste of time and do not understand what I am going to do with it. No matter how hard I explain they think a physicist is a phony career that goes nowhere. There is a lot more but that’s for a psychologist to go over cause most of my friends are in shock of the way my parents treat me and do not even know what to say and NO there is no way to sit down and talk with them logically they are insane. Bottom line with my family is I can no do anything right and they constantly attack me verbally, which really hurts specially when I am falling apart inside.

    Work is nuts and I am going to probably drop the job around January. I really need the money and desperately need the health insurance this semester. I can always take more of my federal loan, just right now I need the insurance cause I am always sick lately.

    Once I get past this semester I have been planning to move into the city and get an apartment and if I have to take loans till I am deep into bankruptcy to follow my dream. My only worry is getting through this semester with decent grades and with what is left of my sanity intact. My family will never understand and the only good thing for me is once I get funded I will walk away from my family forever. There is just too much pain that could never be healed.
  8. Nov 2, 2005 #7
    I'm in a similar situation. I went back to finish my undergrad while working in for an investment bank in manhattan. (i'm 27) I was working 3-17 hour days and then had 4 days at school/week. My commute to school was from Harlem to a suburb near Morristown. Plus I'm married (no kids, though). I know how hard it is to juggle everything and do well in school AND at work. What eventually happened in my situation is I was given an ultimatum by my employer and I left the company to finish school. While I have loans out the wazoo, in the long run I'll be much more satisfied than I was at my old career.

    That being said, I think you need to decide if it's worth it to sacrifice for your Ph.D. If you feel like you can't live without it, then it's worth all the travel time and lack of sleep in the world. Depending upon what area of physics you want to go into, the Ph.D. will help pay off those loans that you take out. And just think of how easy it will be once you DO have funding. When you think about it, since your program will probably take 5-7 years, what's 6 more weeks to finish this semester? Nothing! It'll be smooth sailing from there. Good luck! I'm just starting the process to apply to Grad schools, and looking at starting at 28 is daunting, but I know that the end result will be worth anything...
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