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Should I continue with Physics?

  1. May 30, 2012 #1
    Apologies in advanced for the long post.
    I'm an international student going into my junior year in a North American (not US) university next fall and I've been struggling over the past few months on whether I should continue on with Physics.

    I did poorly in one of my advanced Maths classes and as a result my major GPA is now down to 3.9. I know that's not bad and I'm fairly happy with it, but I'm also aware that's not good enough either, especially for doing poorly in an advanced class.

    Another issue is that my summer research project (something equivalent to REU) turned out to be constructing a new measurement facility for the group, and it's likely that I'll not be able to get any publications out of it. (and i didn't get any from my freshman summer either)

    Extrapolating from profiles from PhysicsGRE, it seems that I'll have no chance at all to get into any sort of tier-1 grad school.
    (Please read on before flaming to be another HYP obsessed kid :S)

    I have compelling family reasons to eventually return to my home country and the fact that it's such a finance based country has been depressing me.
    The issue is that academic positions in sciences are extremely scarce and those who actually managed to get a faculty position all come from a top school.
    The thing is, if no decent grad school wants me, it's a very good signal that no university at my home country would want to hire me either.

    Incidentally, I applied to med school in my home country and got in (it adopts the British system so you can go to med school as an undergrad), which immediately guarantees a stable career as long as I do better than the bottom 5-10% of the class.
    (In contrast, I'm constantly depressed by the notion of elitism in phys/maths and the fact that my classmates are far better than me, for instance having published many papers, excelling in competitions like putnam or IPhO etc.)

    Deep down in my heart, I still love Physics and I've been dedicating most of my time these two years to it and I can't imagine living a life without it.
    I would really like to continue on, but it seems that I'm simply incompetent and will eventually be forced out of the field.
    (also in light of these threads like "Are you happy being a Physicist?")
    I don't know if I'll hate myself for the rest of my life if I end up jobless/a completely irrelevant field after my degree and having given up a better career path.

    I would really appreciate anyone's insight or experience on this.
    Again, apologies for the long post
    (and to anyone who thinks that this is another "first world problem" post :S)
    Last edited: May 30, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2012 #2


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    To be honest, it sounds to me like you are obsessing over factors that are beyond your control.

    The trigger to this state of angst is that you did so poorly in a single course that it dropped your average down to a 3.9 out of 4.0? Is the bigger concern that you're stuggling with the material? That might be a more legitimate concern. If it's just a question of GPA, you're going to have to learn to deal with it. A 3.9 GPA is not going to keep you out of graduate school (unless perhaps you're using a 9 or 10 point system).

    You're placing a lot of weight on publications. Undergrads who get publications usually get them through a "luck of the draw" - as in they happen to volunteer for a position that does work that eventually gets into a publication. Others can do more and learn more, but may not have a publication under their belt by the time grad school applications are due. This is why reference letters become so important.

    The trick about graduate school is figuring out not which school has the best name, but which one YOU will be most successful at. The whole idea that coming from a big name school will help you get an academic position is a bit of a red herring in my opinion.
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