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The Lonely Scientist

  1. Nov 11, 2015 #1
    Yes, this is going to be one of those awful feelsy threads.

    I am a first year Physics student. Even at this primordial stage in my scientific career I am feeling an increasing isolation with every step I take towards greater knowledge. There is already so much that I can't share with my friends and family because they lack the prerequisite understanding. Of course one should expect this and I am used to having to explain things to people, but the rate at which the gulf appears to be expanding is alarming; I feel like in five years time I wont be able to communicate with or relate to all but a tiny fraction of the population!

    So I am looking for some advice from more experienced, scientifically educated people. How do you avoid becoming completely isolated in the little bubble of your field of study? How can I find people who really enjoy maths and physics (here is probably a good place to start!) and want to talk about it outside of class and share those moments of clarity with: you know those times when you discover something by yourself [regardless of whether it's already known by many] or something suddenly clicks into place and it feels amazing and you want to tell the world?

    Although I get on fairly well with my classmates, I get the impression that a lot of them are just taking physics to please their parents or they just aren't interested in it outside of the classroom. I haven't worked out how to approach the task of weaning out the closet boffins.

    I do weird things like inventing number systems based on prime numbers and constructed numerals. I have tried sharing these in the past but couldn't find anyone else who thought they were interesting.

    So I guess what all this waffle comes down to is: how do I make friends with super-weird-boffin-nerdy-people?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2015 #2


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    I really empathize - it's hard to communicate with friends and family about much of what interests me. At work, we are all just too busy to talk to each other much. Physics Forums has been a great help in this regard. Many of the folks here are super-boffin types, and I have a lot of fun hanging out here :-)

    You could always try moving to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the average Joe on the street is liable to know advanced quantum mechanics :-D

    EDIT: I forgot to mention, I have met mentors and friends at scientific meetings, with whom I still do research projects long distance. That's a nice thing!
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2015
  4. Nov 11, 2015 #3


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    You are backing yourself into a hole. Most people have jobs that no one outside of their field would understand. It seems you have chosen to restrict yourself to things you learn in certain classes and forget about the rest of the wonderful things in life.

    I had a techy job in data, which turned into the internet, no one outside of my work understood, my husband worked at NASA, I had no idea what he did. But we shared many interests, food, hiking, movies, books, gardening, carpentry, cars, and on and on. We also had separate interests that we enjoyed sharing and learning from each other, I had my artwork, he was an avid photographer.

    If you decide to limit yourself to one subject, yes you will have trouble finding others that relate to you because you will be a very boring one dimensional person. Find some interests outside of one subject in school if you really want to interact with others.
  5. Nov 11, 2015 #4


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    Then you've come to the right place. Here you can learn from those here that don't "lack the prerequisite(s)" and not feel isolated, as this forum is a family of members that have a deep love for Science.
  6. Nov 11, 2015 #5
    Perhaps you won't be able to share many of the things in physics which interest you with people outside of your field. This bit is true, and it will happen even among people you now take class with. Eventually you will specialize and will realize that your fomer classmates and friends won't really care/understand.
    But there is much more to life than just physics, you can't isolate yourself like this. There is more within you that you can share with others and which you would actually enjoy sharing. On the other hand, sure, science is something that is very exciting for most of us here, and having people which share those interests is a very cool thing! This is a good thing about forums like this. So I'd say be glad you have this chance to meet people here, make the most of it, but don't neglect other areas of your personal life.
  7. Nov 12, 2015 #6
    Thanks for the kind words and welcomes.
    I do have hobbies other than math and science: I like to write, play and write music for the electric piano, computer programming, drawing (even though I haven't done much of the last two lately). However, these are all things I've learned by myself so I have a patchy and sporadic knowledge of them, and I don't belong to any clubs for them. (Hmm, kind of solved my own problem there didn't I!) I don't follow any TV shows or sports or musicians. I prefer doing things to consuming things but when I do I'm open-minded.

    I guess I do need to diversify my interests though, and pay attention to some more "culturally relevant" stuff, as it would make conversation easier. My house-mates introduced me to Magic: The Gathering, which is a lot of fun (it's a collectible card game if you didn't know).

    So what do I want from you guys? I don't know, to be honest at this point I haven't had much sleep and I'm just typing whatever pops into my head!
  8. Nov 12, 2015 #7
    This is a legitimate concern. It's a two-edged sword...On the one hand you feel a bit of an elitist because you seem to hold a knowledge that most others around you don't seem to have, but the other edge of the sword is an unsettling isolation that comes along with that. It just gets worse when you get out further on the cutting edge, although the sharpness of each of the edges seem to balance for the most part on that journey out there.

    In my personal case, I found 3 ways out. The principle one is though literature and, more recently, videos such as you-tube videos and the push of individual universities to make their content open access, such as MIT and Stanford, etc. In the old days I just used to curl up in the campus and public libraries with books and periodicals to keep me company.

    The second is maybe joining local clubs or societies around your campus, such as the society for physics students which I used to attend as an undergrad in the California State University system.

    The problem, though, is that as your expertise becomes even more specialized, you're not going to find many kindred spirits even in such an academic setting. Which brings me to my third solution...

    Nationwide (or even international) academic conferences. This is where you really find your family. I've been attending these since the early 2000's, and what they are is basically the adult version of summer camp for kids or "religious retreats." As I've said in earlier posts these are not forums (typically) where presenters battle it out to prove their point in some sort of adversarial manner. Although sometimes this might come out in the dialog for show or interest, behind the scenes everyone is having a good time and it's good cheer to all. Why? because it's as you said-- here you are in a setting where you have hundreds of people all around you for a weekend or a week who have the exact specialized interest that you have. It's like some kind of nerd fantasy come true. Not only that, but your heros are all walking around too, all those books and articles you snuggled up to in the library while nobody else understood you...The authors of these works are all there too, and you can just walk up and talk to them. Pretty cool.

    Th only problem is when the conference ends. Everyone knows they're going back to the doldrums and are going to have to experience the withdrawals of such. In fact, this is typically the topic of conversation during the ride back to the airport in the cab you share with the friends you've met at the conference.
  9. Nov 23, 2015 #8


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    I completely agree with Evo, the idea that you can only have meaningful relationships with people who understand and enjoy the exact same things as you is ludicrous, and believing it is what will make you miserable.

    There is a wealth of things that my friends know that I don't and vice versa. But we're still friends because:

    A) Learning from each other is interesting, better in fact because we know each other well enough to share what we know the other will like

    B) We have more than enough shared interests for which our comparative levels of knowledge/experience is equal.

    C) They're generally nice, funny, smart people.

    My advice would be to try not to formalise socialising so much. Don't worry about how to make friends, what you should talk about, what your interests should be. Just go with whatever makes you feel good. If getting into MTG with your flatmates seems fun, do that.
  10. Nov 23, 2015 #9
    I dunno. My peculiar interest is visualizing 4D spaces. I seldom even try to share such an interest with anyone.

    It wouldn't be impossible. I could spend a few thousand hours building a computer simulation and there might be some interest. Others have done this. But I loathe programming.

    I love music too. That isn't quite as bad, but there is such a great variety of music that hardly anyone likes the stuff that I like.

    Physics inevitably becomes highly specialized. Even at physicsforums there is no one I can talk to about the stuff that interests me.

    The only popular topic that interests me is politics and social systems. But all you get when you try to talk about that is people parroting propaganda. They also tend to get hostile to differing views. Much better not to talk about it.

    My solution is that I just keep to myself. All anyone here wants to talk about is sports, the weather, and hunting. If I wanted conversation I'd have to learn to talk about those things. I find that worse than nothing.

    I write about these things and email them out to my friends. They like what I have to say. Some of my stuff gets published. But nothing ever comes back. It is strictly one way. That's just the way it is.
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