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Physics Burnout?

  1. Jan 31, 2007 #1
    I guess what it comes down to is, is it possible to "burnout" on the subject of physics as a student? If this statement is true, what are the signs/symptoms of the aliment?

    Recently, I have begun to become very fed up with the type of people within the physics department (undergrads, like myself...and a few "smug" instuctors (not necessarily professors)). And, well I don't like what I see. Compound that with my growing dislike of particular methods of addressing and solving particular problems. It leaves me feeling as if I have a bad taste in my mouth. Something that has never happened before, at least on this scale, with the subject. I generally am still interested in the subject, hell I enjoy the subject to no-bounds, but I am coming to realize that if I intend this to be my profession, I am not sure I want to have to deal with this "smug" factor (granted, I display it aswell, dispite my best efforts to try to keep it contained). And to make matters worse, at least concerning my current opinion of Physics, I am finding myself far more interested, challenged, and related to in my advanced mathematics courses.

    This brings up another question to all of this, anyone else feel this way in their program?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 31, 2007 #2


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    I often feel annoyed at physics classes when something is presented in some way that could be made much clearer if presented in a more structured fashion (i.e. in more of a "definition-postulate-thm"-flavored way).

    Is this what you're experiencing at well?

    P.S. Our of curiosity, what is it that annoys you in your fellow students and in the personnel?
  4. Jan 31, 2007 #3
    That happens with everything.......different people find different ways to solve things/express views, in ways of which are the easiest for them. If everyone wasn't different, we'd all have the same way to do stuff, and wouldn't have physics, etc.
  5. Jan 31, 2007 #4
    I agree in the sense that when my porgramming professor is teaching us bad coding standards and things that arn't accepted in the new standard, I dare not speak up and tell him this because they you're marked as a "know it all" and hated by the professor.

    I've learned from watching others, its not a good thing.

    Your interests are going to change as time goes on, I've felt the same way with computer science, I don't see myelf programming for the rest of my life but its the spring board of other careers as well.
  6. Jan 31, 2007 #5
    Hmm...I can't remember ever feeling burned out on physics when I was in college. However, I did a second major in math, and I certainly did start disliking that subject towards my last year. It's not that I wasn't good at it; indeed I received excellent grades in all of my math courses, but the subject seemed to me as though it had absolutely no passion (no offense). This was one reason, among many, that I've applied to graduate programs in physics instead of math.

    Now for the important question: what are you going to do about it? Well, if you're in your fourth year, you may not have many options. Unless you're willing to do another year (or two) of college, you might just want to graduate, and then apply to med school or law school, or just get a job. If you're not close to graduation, then maybe it's not too late to explore math.
  7. Jan 31, 2007 #6

    Dr Transport

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    You have to look at yourself, think about all the time you are putting in and take a break. I would think that your frunstration is due to a lack of time away. One of the people on my PhD committee told me a story about himself.

    He loved physics and wanted to do nothing else. He worked hard as a student and essentially laid down the basis of his dissetation in one evening and graduated very quickly. He was an up and coming star in solid state theory in the early '60's. He went to Lincoln Labs where he quickly became involved in many projects and became a group leader within a couple of years. He then started to get this "nebulus" feeling he couldn't understand, like something was really wrong, he couldn't work, couldn't sleep, anything. His boss wondered what was happening and sat him down and put a pad of paper in front of him. His supervisor told him to list everything he was working on at home and at work, everything. When he did this, it was found that he had 15 projects going at work and 25 at home in some stage of completion. It was then decided that he would take an enforced 3 week vacation to get out of the office and his wife was asked to help him focus on getting the top prioroties out of the way. He did this and tied up the loose ends at work. Had he not done this he might not have been able to continue as a practicing physcist. Fourty years later he can still out perform any graduate student put in front of him.

    Step back and take a break, write down all that you are doing and prioritize, working on the things that can get done and out of the way that are the most important. Do not take anything home with you for spring break and forget, forget, forget......
  8. Jan 31, 2007 #7
    @ quasar987: Your prediction is fairly close to being on the dot. The lack of stucture bugs me, but what reallys gets under my skin is being told that "there is a better way" and then not being shown it. I understand having multiple appoarches to a topic is great, and definatanly adds to your base of knowledge; however, the way it is addressed in an almost mocking attitude is frusturating.

    And whats worse is the pushing one not to go and look into the alternative methods until graduate school (my university, for instance, discourages learning largrangian mechanics until graduate school. And they won't even discuss hamalitonian mechanics). Additionally, my physics department activly discourages taking "optional" advanced courses as an undergrad by activly deciding to place graduation required classes only once per year at the same time as many of the "optional" courses. However, if one looks at the requirements for any moderate graduate school, these topics are suppose to have had a firm foundation.

    As for the personnal and other students, aside from a few, respect for one another is fairly low on the priority scale. The amount of "smugness" that comes off many of the students, and their inablity to attempt to work together in a productive manner is exceedingly irrating. Granted their are some students that are no where near as bad in the "smug" factor, but many of them aren't physics majors, so one doesn't see them as much as the "smug" students.

    @Bradracer18: If the students and personnel actually respected on another in discussing their ideas and methods, I wouldn't have the bad taste in my mouth. I love the fact that we all have different ways of thinking; however, when the atmosphere of "I am right, and you are all wrong" comes into play, accomplishing anything is very difficult. And that is my issue.

    Furthermore, yes I recognize that in life you have to put up with, let me just be frank, jerks, but if this is a continuous situtation, due in part to the layout and philosophy of the program, I believe I am indebted to feel dismayed.

    @Dr. Transport:
    I am going to follow your advice, I am going to step back and work out exactly what I have going on. Granted, I can't stop the ones for my classes; but your story did make a good point, maybe I am just putting on too many projects at once...though, am I still allowed to do math in my free time, I couldn't imagine giving that up for any period of time (way too much fun).
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2007
  9. Feb 1, 2007 #8


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    It sounds to me like you should read about the philosophy of science so that you have a good idea of what it is about. Certainly take a break if you think that would help but breaks are largely overrated; what it does do though is allow you to look at your situation more objectively which is good.

    So use your break to read about the philosophy of.
  10. Feb 1, 2007 #9
    @verty: I hate to sound grumpy, but the one humanties course I am required to take being the member of the honors college at my university is a 2 year course (which I am in the last two quarters of) on the philosophy of science, as well as a crash course on the method of the humanities. :tongue: Granted Brono Latour is a good read, along with pretty much anything concerning the history and philosophy of science, I am a little jam packed with it at the moment (in fact I am working on a two term long project discussing how in the field of the history/philosophy of science/mathematics).

    But hey, if I get the chance, sure I will sit down and try that too.
  11. Feb 1, 2007 #10
    When I get exhaused from doing math and physics, I like to read philosophy and neuroscience papers while under the influence and write-up critiques. However, for me, writing is a passion of mine and reading non-science/math oriented subjects makes me happy. I also watch a lot of cartoons (family guy, aquateen hunger force, simpsons, futurama, southpark, etc.) to relax and play WoW on occasions (although those kids freak me out sometimes).

    Actually, I get more stressed trying to balance my work with my girlfriend because she absolutely despises school. I find that more stressing. I will send you a private message with my own special remedy so I don't offend the moderators.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2007
  12. Feb 1, 2007 #11
    Yes balancing math/physics with my girlfriend causes far more headache for me than studying :( She also really don't like school.
    Please share your remedy!
  13. Feb 1, 2007 #12
    Find a girl who is obsessed with you and then you don't have to worry, i only have to put in about an hour a day to talk to my g/f then see her once a weekend and i'm free for the rest! yay

    It also helps she is 1.5 hours away
  14. Feb 1, 2007 #13
    We have lived together for the past year and a half so we are past the 'I accept your priorities over me' stage. She presupposes an anthropocentric perspective regarding the world, which places her at the center. She only goes to school because I make her go, (and only if we are nearly incapacitated at the time).

    She wants to get done with college and make a lot of money. I want to stay in college and get my phd. These are where the hang-ups arise, everything else is fine (our similarities and interests outside of academia, compose congruently).

    If I am not directly conversating with her, she assumes I am not paying attention. I think she knows she can push my buttons and it's funny to watch me get frustrated (I have a retarded temper and have many holes and broken doors, unfortunately, which I have definitely been working on).

    Girls are sadistic.

    Anyways, I don't want to thread-jack ^physicist's^ important thread, so I will digress.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2007
  15. Feb 1, 2007 #14
    I started feeling burnout in the middle of every semester since my final year of undergrad. As the years progressed it started coming around sooner but it always went away as the semester ended. I'm always ready to go again at the start of a semester because of new classes, new material, etc.
  16. Feb 2, 2007 #15
    Yeah, I live with my girlfriend...she is great. Only problem is sometimes I find myself a little more interested in her homework than my own (international poltics major).

    Thanks for all of the advice guys, oh and feel free to "jack" this thread as much as you want, it is actually quite helpful to see things like this once in a while.
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