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Schools Struggling with physics as a life choice, depression, etc...

  1. Nov 2, 2016 #1
    Idk if this is the forum to turn to or even if its the correct forum thread thingy. In that case i apologize in advance.

    I got no where else to turn to, and I really have hoped to gain some answers somewhere.

    I have a lot of problems with physics. I'm starting to only now get A's in most of my classes after a long struggle with basic calculus (mostly getting 2x+2x=-5x (over exaggeration) on tests. Like I would answer every question and understand the mathematical concept etc etc. But i would fail(get less than an A or B) on the tests because I missed some ridiculously basic concepts. I would go find the taylor series for this one word problem but get stuck on integrating something really stupidly simple like sin^2(x). )

    Currently I'm in my junior year of physics(i hope) taking Advanced Mechanics, Advanced EM, Math physics, etc. etc.I have about 1 year and a half after this semester to go.

    To make the story short. Most of the time when i go to my classes the material depresses me. I get upset that I can't immediately grasp and perfect the material in front of me that my professors are expecting me to do. I have this idea that if im not Acing my physics classes, I'm failing, in the eyes of Academia and the rest of the physics community. If i forget a simple concept like Taylor series, or gradients, I'm seen as weird or moronic. That I'm not fitting the mold of the average physics student/physicist. I should instead be a genius walking into the class, barley study, and walk out with full A's and a smile on my face as if nothing is amiss. When I sit down to study, sometimes I get so depressed and full of anxiety that I'm not flying through the material that I get up, walk around the room and distract myself to try be able to keep studying. This leads to a paradox, because if I'm not studying I get depressed that I'm slacking off. If I'm not getting smarter while I'm studying I get depressed. I then counteract this by getting depressed about getting depressed which leads me to just ignore my depression and focus soley on the task at hands. Exploring mathematics and questions in general can lead to me be calm if I turn off my brain.

    I'm currently doing research with my Astrophysics professor and every time I can't solve how to program one of the models for my research or immediately learn the python commands that I never once used or was instructed on I get this look from my professor like "why don't you just know that?". I get worried that by upsetting my initial(6 months) reputation with him that It might be harder for me to eventually publish a paper in my senior year(which I most certainly need for a masters/Ph.D) and maintain this relationship. I should be absoutley the best possibly prodigy student around my professor yet I feel as if I'm not which is a problem.

    I'm thinking about getting several more research professors so I can managed at least 3-5 papers published before my undergrads are finished. I don''t think anyone. Not the internet, Nor my adviser. Has told me of the career prospects of someone doing a job in physics that has not done exceedingly well in physics. (A's or all F's) Considering that I have been with my girlfriend for 8 years and plan to marry , and have kids after College, a stable financial job position is one of my primary goals. My adviser can tend to ignore or tangent most of my questions. In some cases he would blank out staring into space while I told him of such a problem. Even my research professor tends to do this sometimes. Although not for personals problems, he would completely ignore my question regarding the research after asking for about 30 seconds and give a completely unrelated question like he assumed that I had some common issue. He ignored me and subjected to believing that my question that no importance most likely(at least I feel this way when people give unrelated answers(i understand this may not be the case, but regardless its frustrating when people don't listen))

    The last important point that correlates to all of this is my supposed Autism. If the field of physics revolves around ordinary people, people who are social and use their social skills to gain favors, progress research, grant funds, be good teachers, show off their intellectual fruits, and play the political game of the university/government, then surly I will suffer. At least I will suffer in a period of long enough time where I fear society will deem it unacceptable/unprofitable. I think society views Autism as a burden and therefore should natural oppose it,even when they say they don't.(peoples opinions about their bodies don't also align with their way their body works. peoples opinions don't also align with reality most of the time. peoples opinions are garbage without science or evidence.) This I'm not too sure of, but last time I checked people who were Autistic had depression due to well... being basically ostracized by society . Which is a human reaction. They also had low employment rates due to well... being basically ostracized by society therefore not being able to properly find a Job, and also some depression. I was diagnosed with Autism multiple times as a child, and nearly sent to a mental hospital for it. School was a major issue for me because of it. Frankly, I don't want anyone to really know about that and I think its safe to say I will never bring it up in a job setting. Same with Atheism I suppose. I think it hinders my intelligence greatly, but at the same time I wish i had Asperger so I could be a genius like Einstein or Hawking and have physics be easy for me. I have other deep physcological problems that contribute to my Autism/depression being worse as well.

    Anyways, I tried to make the story short and failed miserably. I thought I would bring as much data as possible to get the most efficient response I suppose.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2016 #2
    If you think that the field of physics revolves around ordinary people, you haven't met many physicists. :smile:

    In all seriousness though, I've encountered many physics students (in internships/undergrad/grad school) who were on the autism spectrum. I will admit that, having befriended some of them, they felt that undergrad was a tough environment for them socially. There's so much pressure on making friends, joining clubs, etc. etc. but many of them have gone on to really thrive in graduate school and beyond.

    The rest of it sounds like you just have some thinking to do.

    Are you unwilling to not have a stable job right after college? Then graduate school isn't for you.
    Are you unwilling to accept (and embrace) the fact that you don't know everything? Then graduate school isn't for you.
    Are you unwilling to fail? Then graduate school isn't for you.
  4. Nov 2, 2016 #3
    I often felt less than competent during both my undergraduate and my graduate years.

    I almost never felt like I understood things well in lecture, while working the homework, when prepping for tests, or when taking the final.

    Usually, the light did not go "on" for me in a given subject until much later, after the class was over for the semester. But rest assured, if you put in the hard work, most of the time the light will eventually go "on" and you'll really understand things.

    Don't let the hiccups get to you. Perseverance and hard work are the keys to success in Physics.
  5. Nov 2, 2016 #4
    I have no quarrels with failure as I have been failing at a lot of things pretty much all my life. I doubt that failing is something you can do at graduate school, or rather something you can afford. Let's say you do research on sun spot cycles do you really think you can afford 11 years of your life only to have it be met by failure which prevents your master? Not practically . Having a stable job and a happy life is something every single human being deserves and deseries. I have a passion for physics and want to learn everything a person can learn about the universe, but passion does not put bread on the table. In fact this is the very thing that worries me about graduate school is the treatment of the students. These people could be helping you with the next cure for cancer, or the next step into room temperature super conductors. If it's the case that academic physics is hemoragged at the research stage with all work and little return then we have a term for that. SLAVE LABOR. I know that's not the case because almost everyone does their masters / phd while going to school. I am highly concerned with the socially destructive culture and irrational culture that only gets worse the more you are intertwined with academia. I do not believe it to be true but based on the false dilemma I see you have may presented , I suppose now I have a little something to base my suspicions.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 5, 2017
  6. Nov 2, 2016 #5


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    You need to seek medical advice for your depression.

    Beyond that:

    You should be walking into lectures with some basic familiarity with the material. Read the days lecture beforehand. Other students may seem to master the material after lecture because they've already invested time in the material.

    Did you lead the professor to believe you could program? If so, he's right to assume you should be able to do it, or figure it out. If not, he should display more patience, but you should also not burden him with work he's delegated to you constantly. If it comes that, you aren't really helping are you? Reguardless, you should self study what needed for your research, or enrol in a programing course.

    You aren't going to have 5 papers published by the end of undergrad. That is pretty unrealistic for the average undergrad.

    If you're talking your professors ear off about personal issues, I would roll my eyes too. You aren't friends, they're there to mentor you professionally, not personally. Sometimes you'll become friends, but you'll know when that happens. So keep discussions professional.

    If your research advisor isn't answering your questions, you may not be asking them correctly. A question well asked is half the battle.

    As far as employment for physics, are you planning on going to grad school? If not, physics is never the best choice.

    As far as people with autism feeling osctrizied by society, that's a symptom of autism, not a universal truth. Are you seeking medical treatment for your autism? If not, you should also do that.

    You may feel everyone deserve a happy life and stable employment, but that doesn't make it so.

    Graduate school borders on slave labor, but everyone who has a doctorate has suffered through it.
  7. Nov 2, 2016 #6
    At least 90% of my lectures are off the book. But I agree in that regard. It makes it so . I live in America not Afghanistan. I will probaley get a job after college or at least that's my goal, I just don't want grad school to be retard. It'll it really is like that then I might have to start getting politically active to try to make some changes. Such a practice is completly unethical . Also people in top schools average 5 papers considering I want to go to grad school in the best school possible , then it's not an unrelastic concern. If I had no papers then the entire prospect of physics is pointless as an undergrad and the major needs to be reconstructed or labeled as unpractical. Same goes for any major that requires grad school to get a job. Unless grad school is watched for ethics then grad school is ALWAYS a bad idea.

    Why would I seek help for Autism? Society doesn't care so I don't care. And yes being different means you get ostracized by society in some manner. Autism is different therefore people usually hate it.

    When I meant flat out ignore my question. It had nothing to do with the question. So the point about the right question was moot.

    I never led my professor to believe I could program. In fact before I started research with him I specifically stated that I could not. he has patience, but still my lack of being perfect is a problem.

    I'm not comparing myself btw to my class mates who seem to understand everything. They don't. It's my professors reaction in he world of physics that looks like, why don't you just know everything WITHOUT effort.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 5, 2017
  8. Nov 2, 2016 #7


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    Physics is impractical, compared to industry related majors. Physics undergrad does one thing really well - prepare students for graduate school. Your job search may turn out to be rougher than it needs to be after undergrad.

    Why should you seek treatment? Because you have a condition, one society cares about and tries to treat.

    I don't know where you're getting your numbers on papers published by the average undergrad, but 5 is not the norm.

    The rest of your post is slightly hard to understand.

    If you do nothing else, seek medical help for the depression.
  9. Nov 2, 2016 #8


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    You should care about your personal well being. the fact that you don't is a problem you should seek help for.

    Beyond that, you need to start putting serious thought into exactly what you want to do for a living.
  10. Nov 2, 2016 #9


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    It is not my impression that people generally hate autism, but I believe autism can lead to having a more difficult time interacting with others. These are, however, two different things.
  11. Nov 2, 2016 #10


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    Well the first thing I would say is that you seem to have the idea that one isn't smart enough to be in physics if they have to work hard to be successful. That's absolutely not true. All of the smartest people I know are incredibly hard workers and very creative. They strive to do things at the highest level and they are not ashamed of this. They are not afraid to admit when they don't understand something and take every opportunity to learn from others.

    Regarding your professors, in my experience, a lot of professors who seem very standoffish are actually just very reserved and you shouldn't take it personally (I know it can be very difficult sometimes). I would say that the physics community is pretty forgiving of people who have difficulty with social interactions.

    One last thing: I and many others here can tell you from experience that you definitely do not need to have written five papers in undergrad to get into a top grad school.
  12. Nov 2, 2016 #11
    This was not my experience at all. Sure, I worked hard, and long hours. But I loved it and never complained. I probably worked fewer hours each week as a grad student than as an undergrad. "Slave labor" was also not my wife's experience or the experience of any other grad students I've known in the process.

    Most grad students I've known have it much easier than cadets at West Point or the Air Force Academy.
  13. Nov 2, 2016 #12


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    Maybe it's just been so long you have your rose tinted glasses on and remember all those nostalgic moments. I definitely work far more hours now.
  14. Nov 3, 2016 #13


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    I'm literally 42* days from submitting my PhD thesis. I've never worked harder or longer than I am right now. However, grad school has been an excellent experience for me, and I'd do it again. I've worked hard throughout my phd, but only because I love what I'm doing.

    It's worth noting that pretty much every academic I've met has at one point told me that their phd was the most fun they've had -- limited responsibility and quite a lot of freedom. Thinking about a phd as something that must be endured is going to be problematic when you get a job and have to juggle many more responsibilities.

    *Don't. Panic.
  15. Nov 3, 2016 #14
    Perhaps. But since I made written schedules, I know with a high degree of confidence that I worked 50-60 hours per week both as an undergrad and in grad school. One big difference in grad school was that I choose how I spent most of my time. That's not slave labor, and it never seemed like it at the time.
  16. Nov 3, 2016 #15
    I think I understand. In fact, for a long time this got in the way of my learning. I had this idea that to be good at physics you should basically be Richard Feynman - that is, be able to read almost any problem and immediately understand the solution. What I realised eventually was that holding yourself to this sort of impossible standard will do more to harm your progress than any mathematical difficulties.

    Studying doesn't make you smarter - it makes you better at solving whatever problems you are studying. Eventually you'll have studied enough problems that you'll start to feel like you know what's going on. While a certain amount of innate ability is useful, in the long term it's your ability to apply yourself with focus that really matters. Getting caught up with ideas about your ability - and all the self identity and confidence issues that go along with that - is simply not helpful. In physics there's this myth that we're all supposed to be magically gifted super-geniuses. All of the big names in physics are famous for being exceptional intellects and there is a tendency to internalise this into our idea of what is required to make any progress. So you're not the smartest person in the world. So what? Most people aren't. I taught high school physics for many years and I can tell you that wrongheaded ideas about the importance of personal brilliance are the most common reason why potentially good students under perform.

    Working physicists are just people, with all of the same personal and professional problems that any other person has. I'm not a working physicist - but a lot of the guys from my graduating class are. Why? Because while I was investing time in reconciling my idealised concept of a physicist to my knowledge of my own shortcomings, they just got on with the work. You are not expected to solve all of physics as an undergraduate (or ever!). If you are simply studying then you are doing it right!

    Not flying though the work is to be expected. It is there to challenge you and to make you think. You are studying a difficult subject and I've found that quite often if the work seems easy then you haven't fully understood it. Encountering difficulty is the entire point of trying to solve the problems. I have a theory that all real learning experiences are on some level unpleasant - you run up against things that challenge the limits of what you can do and you have to struggle to push forward.

    I don't know you, but from what you have written I feel that your problems are personal rather than academic. I say this not as a physics graduate but as a middle aged guy who has seen a few things. I think you need to seek support for your personal problems. Sort out the anxiety and depression. Seriously. Get this sorted before worrying about graduate school. Your mental health and well being are more important than physics. Life is a lot longer than you can imagine when you are at the beginning and there is time enough to learn all that you want. Even if you think that all I've written is patronising bunk (and I may very well be wrong about everything) you need to take care of yourself first and worry about physics later.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2016
  17. Nov 3, 2016 #16


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    This is very good advice.
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