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Need some honest advice

  1. Jan 14, 2009 #1
    I have just found out that i have been accepted into a science degree and if i decide to go down that path will hopefully be majoring in physics. But i have some pretty huge obsticles in my way and i need some honest objective advice about whether my goal of becoming a physicist is realistic for someone in my position.

    My biggest obsticle is the fact that i have a VERY severe mental illness that can put me into hospital for weeks at a time, but it is episodic so sometimes i will go for 6 months without any symptoms only to become completly incapacitated for the next 2. I've seen a beautiful mind and sometimes i think that if Nash can do it then so can i but the sad fact is that he was the exception rather than the rule and that most people with our diagnosis do not go on to be successful.

    Another thing that concerns me is the fact that it's been 5 years since i was at high school and between then and now i haven't been able to study and have consequently forgotten most of what i once knew about maths and science. Is it possible to lose intelligence as a result of not using your brain vigorously enough? because i could swear that i am a lot dimmer than i once was.

    The last major problem that i have been able to identify is that nobody in my life supports or even accepts what i want to do. My father even had the gall to tell me that physics is for boys and i should go into administration (i wanted to thump him but somehow managed to restrain myself). I know that self esteem is probably going to be critical in the outcome of this situation but its pretty hard to have faith in yourself when no-one else does.

    All that said i want this more than anything that i have EVER wanted and am a very hard worker and motivation has never been an issue for me and (without wanting to gloat or anything) i am (or possibly once was) exceptionally intelligent. I just don't know if that will be enough to get me through though.
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  3. Jan 14, 2009 #2


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    I'm not sure how much advice I can give with respect to mental illness. I know there's a lot of stigma associated with it, which makes dealing with an uphill battle - even beyond the illness itself.

    Your condition may qualify as a disability and as such, many schools have departments to assist students with disabilities. Examples that might apply would be: note-takers who could obtain lecture notes while the student is ubable to attend class, or exam extensions and differals.

    With regards to time away from school, the brain is like a muscle in a lot of ways. If you don't use it, you lose it. Of course, the good news is that you can whip it back into shape and the sooner you start, the better. Before entering a formal academic atmosphere you can do a lot of reading and practice of problem sets - even if you have to start at the high-school level - to acclimatize your mind to the rigors of a university-level workload.

    As far as support goes, it can be tough when the people around you don't support your dreams. One of the great things about a university environment though is that you will be surrounded by people with similar goals and aspirations. Of course some of them are competative, but many will be supportive. My advice is that you try as much as possible to surround yourself with positive colleagues who have similar goals. One way to to this would be to join the undergraduate physics society if there is one.
  4. Jan 14, 2009 #3

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    I think that an illness, no matter whether it affected the brain or some other organ, that incapacitates one for 2 months out of 8 will make getting a degree much more difficult. I don't want to say it's impossible, because I don't believe it is, but the interference between that time frame and the university's schedule is maximally bad. I would be focusing on how one might mitigate that - the other issues are, to my mind, more secondary to that.
  5. Jan 14, 2009 #4
    I think Choppy's advice is good... find an institution with a good disabilities office.

    With regards to having had some time lapse since high school, you may want to look into the introductory texts in math and physics used in your intended program of study (particularly if you know the institution), and see if you think you could start there. Typically it would be a calculus-based text (similar to University Physics by Young and Freedman). If you don't feel comfortable starting there... you may want to review an algebra-based text (our institution uses Giancolli's text Physics: Principles with Applications).

    With regards to females being unsuitable with regards to physics... Bah! In history, look at Marie Curie - the only person with two Nobel Prizes in two sciences (physics and chemistry), the perhaps less commonly known physics Nobel laureate Maria Goeppert-Mayer as cases (and other women who I've perhaps forgotten or who have perhaps been s#@$%ed by the system). To move beyond the nobel laureate and into more modern times... two women I've known are Margaret Murnane (a winner of the MacArthur Genius grant, who works on ultra-fast lasers) and Debbie Jin (who won the 2002 APS Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award!.. and does work on cold fermi gases... similar to the Bose-Einstein stuff that won Eric A. Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle, and Carl E. Wieman their Nobel prizes in 2001). Then there are plenty of average-jane women (like me!) working with physics Ph.D.'s in academia and government or industrial research... or even with physics undergrad degrees.

    Conclusion... "Go for it!" "Yes you can!" Especially if you are willing to work hard (though perhaps at a reduced pace).. and find a support network in your program and institution.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2009
  6. Jan 14, 2009 #5
    I second that. They have people who are there to help. Good luck.
  7. Jan 15, 2009 #6
    Well, I do not know the full detail of the illness (and its effects), so I will not comment on that. (ok, one comment. It will be tougher, but if you put in the effort, you can achieve it)

    With regard to "forgetting" high school mathematics and sciences, well, from a psychology perspective, you never "forget" anything completely. Studies have shown that even if you seem to forgot everything, the second time you study it..it will come a lot easier. Knowledge doesn't simply disappear, they just need to get boot up again.

    So in conclusion, just spend a little more time going back to the textbook. Personally, I slack off in precalculus...which negatively affected my first year in calculus (D. ._.). But I put in the effort to relearn the precalculus curriculum and staying on top of calculus...and now I think I have calculus down. It was easy (and my chem grade definitely reflected that), but I think it was worth it. As long as one put in the effort, anything is possible (with a little luck).

    So best of luck!
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