Self-Doubt as a student: Common?

In summary, the conversation is about a physics undergraduate student who is struggling with self-doubt and feeling unsure about their ability to become a successful physicist. They often encounter tricky problems and have to seek help to solve them. The conversation also includes advice from professional physicists who have gone through similar challenges and have found success by persevering and working hard. The consensus is that self-doubt is common among physics students and it is important to face challenges and seek help when needed. Ultimately, the key to success is determination and hard work.
  • #1
WWCY
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Hello everyone,

This is a question aimed more at those who are already working as professional physicists.

I am a physics undergrad, who hopes to find work as a physicist someday. Recently, I've come down with a ridiculous self-doubt bug, and am starting to feel unsure if I can make it as a good physicist at all.

This all stemmed from me being unable to solve tricky problems on my own, which has become somewhat of a regular occurrence in my 2nd year. I will usually remain stuck at said problems for hours on end before I do one of two things: ask a professional (sometimes on this forum) or peek at part of the answer for a hint. Usually when I find my hint, I realize that I was unable to solve the problem not because of a lack of understanding, but because I wasn't able to see a relationship that in hindsight looked so obvious. I also get this (irrational, I guess) feeling that there are a bunch of other students out there who can solve such problems, which makes me feel even worse, after all, they are probably competing for the same job.

I understand that professional physicists need to be able to solve problems like that, that require some "imagination" and so it got me thinking: if I can't see such obvious relationships now, what chance do I have even if I make it to be a physicist?

So the point of the post is really to ask if good physicists have had, in their Uni days:
a) Encountered their fair share of problems they couldn't do themselves
b) Suffered from self-doubt as a result
and what they did to deal, or solve a) or b)

If I find that these are normal reactions, I suppose what I'll do is simply crack on with my work and accept the fact that these "mood-swings" happen.

Thanks to anyone who takes the time to offer advice!

Some Background;

I'm a year 2 undergrad student. I have grades that I'm relatively pleased with, enjoy physics immensely, and consider myself to be quite a hard worker (though this episode has taken some of my fire away). But I do want to know the reality of my situation: could I turn out to be a decent physicist in the end? Or are my "symptoms" indicative of an average, run-of-the-mill one. It would be nice to know your experience, and how you turned out (in your estimation).
 
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  • #2
Every student that goes far enough in physics encounters problems that he or she struggles with. Anyone who hasn't simply hasn't looked hard enough.

I don't think the fact that you're encountering challenges at this stage of the game is symptomatic of doom. At the risk of sounding cliché what will really matter is how you deal with them. In my experience, the most successful physics students seem to be the ones who seek these challenges out. The ones who meet with less success are the ones who tiptoe around them, wrestling with them only when they have to.
 
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  • #3
Dunno about how common it is. I had a lot of self-doubt, mostly Freshman year, but also later when struggling with homework and bombing tests, including a 32/100 in math methods.

I just kept plugging along - working very hard.
 
  • #4
Dr. Courtney said:
Dunno about how common it is. I had a lot of self-doubt, mostly Freshman year, but also later when struggling with homework and bombing tests, including a 32/100 in math methods.

I just kept plugging along - working very hard.
Try some self-doubt in {whatever major field} combined with poor mathematical ability IN SPITE OF HAVING THE PREREQUISITE COURSES. This would be a sign to either change major field or look-back and build better mathematical ability.
 
  • #5
Nothing you say in your post surprises me. I guarantee your peers are having the same thoughts - if they say they aren't, they're liars.

In undergrad, it wasn't uncommon for me to be unable to finish a homework by myself. I could be wrong, but I think that's by design - learning how to collaborate and solve problems with others, and learning when to ask for help, are valuable skills. I'm in grad school now, and often when working with other students on a tricky homework problem, it all comes down to which student banged their head against a similar tricky problem in undergrad and there learned the trick.

Don't sweat it :)
 
  • #6
Hi all, thanks a lot for all the insight. It's nice to know that I'm not alone. I suppose all that's left is to do get on with the job!
 
  • #7
In undergrad, self doubt is normal. In graduate school, it is mandatory.

-Dave K
 
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Related to Self-Doubt as a student: Common?

1. What is self-doubt as a student?

Self-doubt as a student is the feeling of uncertainty or lack of confidence in one's abilities or knowledge as a student. It can manifest as questioning one's intelligence, doubting the quality of work, or feeling overwhelmed by academic challenges.

2. Is self-doubt common among students?

Yes, self-doubt is a common experience among students. It is a natural response to the high-pressure academic environment and the constant comparison to peers. It is estimated that 70% of students experience self-doubt during their academic journey.

3. How does self-doubt affect academic performance?

Self-doubt can have a negative impact on academic performance. It can lead to procrastination, avoidance of challenging tasks, and a decrease in motivation. It can also cause students to second-guess their abilities and make them more susceptible to making mistakes or errors in their work.

4. What are some common causes of self-doubt as a student?

There are several factors that can contribute to self-doubt as a student, including high expectations from oneself or others, fear of failure, past academic struggles, and comparison to peers. Additionally, external factors such as family pressure, financial stress, or personal issues can also contribute to self-doubt.

5. How can students overcome self-doubt?

Students can overcome self-doubt by practicing self-compassion, setting realistic goals, seeking support from peers and mentors, and reframing negative thoughts. It can also be helpful to focus on personal growth rather than comparison to others and to celebrate small successes along the way.

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