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Questioning my Career Path

  1. Nov 21, 2015 #1
    Hi everyone. I apologize, I’ve posted about the situation I’ve been going through before but I wanted to ask a different question. I've been feeling frustrated for a while with what I've been studying. Right after I graduated undergrad with a biology degree in 2013, I went into a PT program, but withdrew after 1 year after realizing PT was not for me. During the year after that, I wasted some time after my withdrawal (I think I fell into a sort of depression) and then got a part-time job at a private chemical lab and took a class as a prerequisite to a clinical lab sciences program. I was accepted into the program, and began full-time classes this fall. I've been doing fine grade-wise, but have been frustrated.

    The main thing is, in the last few years I've gotten to really enjoy math and physics. My main regret from undergrad is not majoring in math and physics. In math, I love how, starting from basic postulates and using logic, you can rigorously prove interesting theorems. For physics, I love how you can describe the world (using math). I love, for instance, how Maxwell predicted the speed of an electromagnetic wave using rules that had been established for electricity and magnetism, and that speed turned out to be the speed of light. Or how Einstein had his insight about gravity in general relativity, and made mathematical predictions that explained things about mercury’s orbit. One day I would like to look into these 2 revolutions mathematically and understand how they actually were discovered. But I’m also excited about more simpler, “less exciting” physics. I think I have caught (or always had but never realized) the math/physics “bug” and would love to learn more about them, but I made a mistake and majored in the wrong thing in college.

    I do like biology and chemistry to a certain extent, but it’s not the same and I often can’t help but feel frustrated that I’m not studying what I feel is my true passion. I believe I can make it through the CLS program academically, but I believe I would be more motivated in studying math/physics. And my worst fear is that I make it through the program but hate / can’t handle / get burnt out quickly from the job itself.

    To be clear, I don’t have a specific career in mind for math / physics. I’ve considered teaching because I really love learning and love watching good lecturers who are entertaining and clear. I think I would like lesson-planning and preparing demos and activities. However, the problem is that I have really bad social anxiety and have struggled to relate well, especially in public speaking. I’m trying to improve in that area. I’ve considered other career paths, like engineering, computer science, and actuary.

    I guess my main reason for questioning my career choice is not that I am envious of another career (although I do like the thought of teaching possibly), but mainly that I love studying math and physics. I really want to study them on my own, even if I’m not taking them formally because they are fascinating to me. I would like to study calculus (single variable and multivariable), linear algebra, differential equations, probability, statistics, and discrete mathematics for math. For physics, I’d want to study classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, special relativity, and quantum mechanics. After that, I’d want to hopefully study differential geometry and general relativity. I don’t know if that’s feasible for self-study with a career on top of that, but either way I’d like to keep going as far as I can.

    I know this sounds crazy and there’s a lot of drawbacks to withdrawing again to pursue a completely new subject. I still live with my parents (turning 25 soon) and they have already spent a lot of money for my education. In total it’s about $73,705 for my first bachelor’s, first year of PT school, and this first semester of the CLS program (which is 2 years long). I hate myself for that and wish I was more a lot more aware earlier on and knew what I wanted to do, and was proactive in college. Moreover I don’t have a clear concept of what I would want to do with my physics/math education, apart from possibly teach (if I can get past anxiety hurtles and the difficult situation with common core education in the US today). As for CLS, I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on it. There is a lot of job security, since there is a shortage of jobs (not many people hear about it or are interested in it). However, I’ve heard a lot of different opinions (good and bad) on the stress level and job satisfaction. I’ve enjoyed some of the lab work so far, but haven’t enjoyed other parts too. All I know is that I really enjoy math and physics. I was wondering if anyone had any similar experiences and if anyone thinks my situation is a “consider it more and go after your passion” situation or “you are crazy and stick with what could be a stable career and try to get it as soon as possible” situation.

    Sorry for the long post, and thanks for any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 24, 2015 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    Science Advisor

    What is "PT"? - physical therapy? What is "CLS"? You mention wanting to study calculus - what mathematics have you already taken? Did you develop a fascination with math and physics from technical study? - or does it come from reading more popularized accounts about them?
  4. Dec 7, 2015 #3

    Sorry for responding so late. Yes, PT is physical therapy. CLS is clinical laboratory science. Clinical laboratory scientists perform the lab tests at hospitals and reference labs. I’ve only taken single variable calculus at a college level, back in my freshman year in 2009. I only became really interested in math and physics later on, in my senior year. I would watch opencourseware youtube videos online. Even though I don’t have much technical study in either math or physics, I do have a desire to learn both rigorously. I would like to be able to understand them thoroughly rather than having handwavy explanations like in popular accounts. For instance, I want to learn calculus from Spivak. I’ve looked at his textbook a little bit in the past, and while I’m a little intimidated by some of it, I like the rigorous and complete arguments. It’s not that I hate biology and chemistry. It’s just that I like math and physics a lot more. If I won the lottery, I would definitely take some time and study them both. This is the only reason why I’m having second thoughts - the fact that I’m really passionate about them. The thing I could most easily see myself doing if I did change majors again would be teaching. I would figure if I love learning math and physics I could inspire students to as well. However, even that would be a tough road I think because I have anxiety in social situations. The only other thing that I suppose would really interest me would be physics research, in fields like energy harvesting (although I guess that might be more engineering). I want to research careers during my winter break, to either commit to studying CLS or to see if I would want to make a change if I can. I just don’t know if what I’m feeling is not practical and I should stick with CLS, or if I should go with my gut interest even if I don’t have a set career.
  5. Dec 9, 2015 #4
    A school can teach you only so much about the working world. I get a strong impression that you're full of romantic notions of what you think you'd like to study for the rest of your life, And yet, I suspect you haven't held a full time job for longer than a season.

    It is time to finish up your education on whatever you have chosen, and go work for while. You can study as you wish in the evenings.

    We don't all get to pursue our passions in our professions. Sometimes those passions are best when pursued without the need to make a buck. For example, I always wanted to learn how to pilot aircraft since I was a kid. But as I grew older, I learned how difficult the job market was in commercial aviation, and I also learned that the kind of flying they did wasn't what I had envisioned it would be. I did get a pilot's license. I did fly all over the place, but I did it on my schedule and strictly based upon my own judgment of what I felt would be safe. Yes, there were many times when I stayed on the ground because the weather or the mechanical condition of the aircraft was disconcerting --and I didn't have to think about where my next paycheck would come from if I did that. Sometimes work is what brings in the money and you do what you love on the side.

    Work is also a lot more than just a paycheck. There is camaraderie, achievement, failure, competition, challenges, and much more. It isn't just about technology and study.

    I think you should set your doubts aside, get some perspective from a wider angle while you work, and then decide what you want to do.
  6. Dec 9, 2015 #5
    Seems like you are potentially attracted to things you are not doing, and find disappointing things you ARE doing. You might gain some insights by taking your candid post here and talking with a psychologist. If you passed on PT and chose CRL to avoid social anxiety, and only you know for sure, and were still disappointed, could be time to examine yourself a bit.

    Another approach is to work days and go to school evenings....that is demanding but you'll quickly find what your priorities really are.
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