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Other Restoring curiosity

  1. Oct 31, 2017 #1
    I began to study mathematics in college because I was fascinated by the subject and have a naturally high degree of curiosity for it along with the rest of the sciences--but stress, depression and other factors take away that curiosity as I progress through each semester, leaving me bored, unproductive and unable to pay attention in class. Eventually, I burn out. In the past, my grades have suffered for this. How do I fix this? Is curiosity my problem, or do I just lack the mental discipline needed to complete formal education successfully?

    It seems that as I make more and more progress in advanced subjects like abstract algebra and other kind of "math done for its own sake", I will find myself unable to proceed unless I can maintain a high degree of curiosity for it--since, for me at least, learning higher math is not about getting a better job, proving a point or making more money--I just want to do it because I like it.
     
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  3. Oct 31, 2017 #2

    Choppy

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    It's reasonably common to encounter some form of burnout the further you go in academia. I don't think there's any single isolated cause. But some of the more common things that you might want to consider include:

    1. Are you taking good care of yourself in general? Getting good sleep, eating properly, exercising, etc. People tend to be much less resilient under pressure when any of the pillars of a well-balanced life are out of whack.
    2. Are you taking any time for personal exploration or reading? It's very easy to get overloaded with coursework, assignments, exams and everything else in student life. Unfortunately this rarely leaves much time for looking up the details on the things that you're interest in - and that's is what tends to drive most people's curiosity and love of a subject. I know it's not always possible to work this kind of thing into your schedule, but take the time to do it when opportunities arise. It's not procrastination. It's important.
    3. Have you jumped in over your head somewhere? This can be a hard one to get out of, but sometimes people get these ideas that they can save time by jumping ahead and not doing the prerequisite material. Unfortunately this turns a subject that you love into a major challenge.
    4. Have you re-assessed your approach to learning? Is there anything you could be doing better? As you get more advanced, often the studying approach that worked in high school won't work as well anymore. You need more tools.
    5. What about the people you choose to hang around? Do you have friends you can talk to and get excited about math with? The academic road is long. It really helps to keep company with positive people who share interests with you. Sometimes it's nice to vent to someone who understands. Sometimes it can turn your day around to listen to a friend go on about something new she's discovered.
     
  4. Oct 31, 2017 #3
    I've tried all of these things. I work out at least once a week, eat healthy, etc. I also do undergraduate research, so I don't spend all my time studying for classes. I think my problems are psychological rather than physiological. Depression runs in my family, but in my case I get more of a dysthymia.
     
  5. Oct 31, 2017 #4

    Choppy

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    Unfortunately we can't really help you if you're dealing with a specific psychological problem. That's a job for a qualified professional.
     
  6. Nov 2, 2017 #5

    donpacino

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    Do you have a life outside of acadamia?
    Although many people claim that their field is their passion, the reality is most will have outside hobbies. Doing one thing and one things only, regardless of how much one likes it, will tire that person out.
     
  7. Nov 3, 2017 #6
    Sort of. I play video games sometimes.
     
  8. Nov 4, 2017 #7
    I went through something very similar. I had started with a major in electrical engineering. That went well for two years, then fell apart starting the third year. When I saw that I would not be able to hold a solid B average for that semester, I dropped out and enlisted in the US Air Force. Four years later, I was mentally recharged, had a savings account, and the the GI Bill. And I had figured out that I belonged in mechanical engineering, not electrical engineering.

    Deciding to drop out and come back later is always an option. Also, Choppy makes some very good points.
     
  9. Nov 4, 2017 #8

    Mark44

    Staff: Mentor

    This is pretty minimal, IMO, assuming that there are weeks when you work out only once. Getting regular exercise goes a long way toward combatting stress and helping you to get enough sleep. As a grad student I would go for runs on about a daily basis, averaging 100 miles each month for the two years I worked toward my MS. It wasn't always easy, as it rains a lot where I went to school.
     
  10. Nov 4, 2017 #9

    donpacino

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    So obviously everyone is different, but my advice is to get into something. Join an astronomy club, play rugby, go on a ski trip, join the chess club, play league of legends, build a model ship, help people on websites called physicsforums.com, etc

    The human body is not a machine designed to eat sleep and study. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but finding a hobby outside of your work (in this case your job is to study), can help with your work.
     
  11. Nov 4, 2017 #10

    donpacino

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    Also, remember why you had that curiosity in the first place. often a lot of the intermediary work required can put people off.

    example with a made up person. I wanted to build airplanes so I studied aeronautical engineering. But i cannot stand math....

    Often you need to grit through the stuff youre bad at or you find boring to get to the fun parts that drive you in the first place
     
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