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Tired of school: Any sense in continuing?

  1. Jun 4, 2008 #1
    I’ve finished two years of the math curriculum at my university here in Canada. I came here because I was excited about physics and mathematics in high school. Well, here I am now. I’ve been burned out since the end of first year, but for one reason or another, have continued onto finish second year.

    I am in good standing in school. Nothing amazing, but my grades are good and well over the average in my faculty. I’ve taken what would be considered “hard math” courses. A rigorous introduction to Linear Algebra, Spivak’s Calculus, Real Analysis, Ring theory, etc. I’m just coming to terms with the fact that I finish the assignments and study for tests out of habit, and get no sense of satisfaction from learning this material. There was a time when I was enthusiastic about this, but all of that’s long gone.

    What should I do? I’m incredibly sick of all this math and physics stuff. I hate everything about it, from the sheer sense of pointlessness I get from looking at the textbooks, to the awkward and generally weird people that I meet in my classes every term.

    I feel terrible about all this. My parents have been incredibly supportive of me my entire time here. I insisted on moving far away from home to get myself into an impractical program that guarantees nothing. They’ve invested a lot in me both financially and emotionally, and I don’t think it’s really fair to them for me to decide to call it quits without having a well thought out plan.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2008
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  3. Jun 4, 2008 #2
    I don't have any experience with this, although I do understand your predicament. First of all, ask yourself what went wrong. Why was it that 2 years ago you were so fond in math and physics, but now you find it to be so incredibly boring? Was it because you learned it to be not what you think it would be? Were the professors unsupportive? Or is it because you have no helpful social contacts?

    But more importantly, how will you fix it? Talk to people. That includes friends, counselors, and also your parents. Just talk it out, they're there to (professionally) help you. Ask them for their advice, or see if you can transfer universities. Also, tell us more about yourself. How long is the program? How rich are you? Can you afford to restart all over? Because those things also matters to your situation, which would help clarify the problem. What is it now that you enjoy? Arts? See if there's a segue between your current program to the other program which you now desire in the institution which you are in.

    I'd strongly recommend against discontinuing school unless you have a decent job security (not just the minimum wage paying jobs), or else that'd be a more colossal waste of money and disappointment to your parents.
  4. Jun 4, 2008 #3


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    Did you have any goal or objective for after you would graduate?
    Could you take fewer courses per semester and enjoy the semester more?
    Might you take fewer courses and search for a part-time job?

    Sometimes, a job can give you a practical sense of the value of what you study in Mathematics and sciences. You may think a computer programming idea which might be of use in either a company for which you work, or for other kinds of companies.
  5. Jun 4, 2008 #4
    Before you choose any major decisions, just take a break. I mean, go play video games, or just spend time doing something you really enjoy for a few weeks and see how that comes out. This is obviously the first task you should consider before even pondering about dropping college.

    I don't know much because I am still in high school; but I am kind of in the same boat as you. Although the work I do in high school is not difficult, just doing hours of homework everyday makes me feel "burned" out. Knowing that I am finishing my junior year in three weeks does give me impetus to simply try as hard as possible for these three last weeks. Maybe you just have no sense of direction of what you are really trying to become?

    But seriously, take a break. Do something you haven't had time to do in a while and something that you really enjoy, I'm sure it will help.
  6. Jun 4, 2008 #5
    To be honest, I’ve been feeling disinterested and unmotivated in pretty much every area of my life for the past year or so. Not very surprising as I spend a lot of time on schoolwork. For this reason, it’s hard for me to pin point exactly what it is that is making me hate school. All I know is that I have been forcing myself to do something I hate for a long time.

    I think things would be different if I was in a more practical field like engineering. I would be able to convince myself that even though I hated it, I could work hard to get through it and end up with a rewarding career. I don’t think the same thing is true for pure math.

    I’ve done two internships at a middle-sized software company that hired a lot of math graduates. I didn’t think it was possible, but I hated working there more than I hated school. What’s worse is that I could tell that that was the life that was waiting for me if I didn’t continue on in academia or get into teaching, which was my original plan coming into university. I wanted to go to graduate school and teach at a university. Typical thing you see here from recent high school grads, really.

    The program I’m in is your typical honours pure math program, which lasts four years and basically prepares you for graduate studies in mathematics. The lack of liberal arts requirements means that the focus of my studies is very narrow. Four math courses and one elective is a pretty standard schedule. Some people take Five math courses a term. I think finishing my degree would be a waste of time and money, and I haven’t seen anything encouraging about seeking employment after graduating in mathematics.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2008
  7. Jun 4, 2008 #6
    Sisyphus, I wouldn't say that your predicament is all that uncommon. Back when I was in the middle of undergrad, there were days when I really hated school too. Right now I've just finished my first year of physics grad school; I've been in school for virtually my whole life (and I'm 24). Yet paradoxically, I've actually grown to like it. If you want to pursue a career as an academic mathematician, then it's going to be an arduous and rewarding process. But while you hate school, continuing your education might actually make it more enjoyable.

    And then there's the pragmatic line of reasoning. These days even a college graduate has a hard time finding a stable job. Just think how much worse it will be if you don't even finish college.
  8. Jun 4, 2008 #7
    I had the same experience this year (my 4th and final undergraduate year). Paradoxically, I am going to graduate school for math. But, that is because what annoyed me the most were things intrinsic to being an undergrad trying to get into the best graduate school possible (and trying to enjoy learning mathematics at the same time). Nevertheless, I can't complain because my school was paid for -- that's a much easier life than paying for it also.

    My question is how many years do you have left (1 or 2)? I guess it really doesn't matter if you really hate it, but if it is just for one more year, then I would think twice before quiting.

    Even though this might not be the best decision in the world, have you thought about the possibility of teach at the high school level. As you found your love for science -- particularly math and physics in high school, maybe it is at that level you would enjoy most teaching at. Of course, high school teachers seem to be a miserable lot because of the low pay and disruptive kids, but this does seem to be at least one career path that will be different than what graduate school and the corporate world.

    The next thing I would say is that with a math degree you don't necessarily have to go to graduate school for physics or math. You could do a masters degree in chemical engineering or any kind of engineering I would assume. You could go to law school or medical school. You could even go to graduate school for philosophy if you so wanted (applying as a student of logic). There are a multitude of other options for you in regards to graduate programs you could do. That is probably the greatest thing about the math major is that you are always opening more doors than you are closing.
  9. Jun 4, 2008 #8
    I know exactly how you feel.

    Unfortunately, I'm not "over it". I too know that my less-than-intelligence engineer peers, who know way less than me,are the ones who will be getting all the jobs. This is one source of dissapointment, because mathematicians and physicists work way harder than anyone else but are seen below engineers by the economy. We're just another art and science bunch.

    While I love to learn, I hate school. I hate going to pointless lectures being told to do stupid problems at a pace the school determines. In fact, what I hate about school most is you never have the proper pre-reqs to do any of it. You're always picking stuff up along the way without a thorough treatment. But alas, it is the only way I can prove to society I've learned my share.

    There is light in all this however. Being a mathemetician, you have all the fundamentals of our knowledge based economy. You can easily switch over to professional programs such as computer science or business. Or, if you stay with math you can be employed by companies as an actuary or some financial position. Actuarial science is a very lucrative career, and in fact lets do a lot of math. You'd need about 2 years of stats and economics though, but that should be no problem for a pure mathemetician. Look into that. These guys make more than doctors, and I think there is good demand.
  10. Jun 4, 2008 #9
    first time round, college was fun.
    then worked for ten years
    Second time round, three more years, it was, do the assignments, study and regurgitate on command. No spark for learning.
    I just needed the paper.

    Now, at 50+ I would just love to put life on hold for a couple of years and do nothing but learn some new stuff.

    It does get harder the older I get so I would say to stick out as much now as you can.
    I've never regretted any extra knowledge or the time spent getting it.
  11. Jun 4, 2008 #10
    Two things:
    1. Mathematicians and physicists do not "work way harder than anyone else." They can work more, less, or the same as others.

    2. A major is a choice, it correlates with interest more than intelligence.

    Gotta agree with this.
  12. Jun 4, 2008 #11
    I feel this way on and off. I think I've diagnosed this as me not having good balance in my life. Everytime I've walked away from math (either for a couple of weeks or a winter break) I have come back twice as motivated. Mathematics/physics is definitely a grind IMO. It is tough tough work and it does not have quite the career benefits of being a compsci or an engineering major (I'm not saying one is easier or harder though), again this is IMO.

    But, when you are in the zone, really in the zone, reading a text and understanding the material, finally solving a tough problem or a concept finally clicking weeks to months later, it is a drug to me. I am addicted to mathematics and physics.

    I will agree with you that I am not friends with all my math or physics students. A couple of them are really cool guys (no girls in my major at my school), but most of them I don't click with. Again, I suggest having balance. But, I also know it's hard to have balance when you are studying so much. But it is completely necessary to stay sane; most of us are not Erdos, we can't do mathematics 24/7.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2008
  13. Jun 4, 2008 #12
    Its hard to say what you should do but I think you should stick it out and finish your degree.

    You said your grades are fine are they fine an you spend a million hours a week studying so they can stay like that or could you spend a bit less time on the school stuff?
    Could you find ways to make things happier in your life? could you sacrifice a few hours a week studying and take up another hobby? whether it be a sport or a girl/boy friend, or maybe just sitting at a coffee shop and reading a non math/sci book just for pleasure?

    You said you did two internships at that company and hated them? why did you do two of them?
  14. Jun 5, 2008 #13
    But then, that's not really why we do what we do, is it? It's generally understood that if you become a university professor, the pay isn't that great. Physics professors in my department make ~$80,000 - $100,000 per year. Given that professors have to be educated for longer than medical doctors and other highly payed professionals, it's not all that much. As far as I can tell, professors do what they do because the job basically lets them pursue their own research interests and work on their own schedules. If you're in it for the money, you really shouldn't go into academics. Given the current state of the economy, I'd still say that graduate school is worth the five to six years. But physics and math PhDs can get high paying industry jobs which will be far more rewarding to people who are in it for the money.

    Definitely true. I know a few people who majored in business and went into the corporate world. Apparently people there sometimes work 12-14 hour days. Sounds a bit like grad school!

    Well...yes, sort of. Physics majors span the whole spectrum of intelligence. At the end of this last semester, I failed a student who turned out to be a physics major. The guy rarely came to class or turned in the work. I knew people like this when I was in undergrad. But successful physics majors (i.e. people who get the degree and become physicists) tend to be above average in intelligence. I, for whatever reason, seem to be an exception. Never scored well on the SAT, became well-read, or showed any other signs of intelligence, I'm just really good at physics and nothing else. But most of my fellow grad students seem to be fairly bright in a multitude of skills and topics. The case could perhaps be made that physicists tend to have well above average intelligence. After all, the aphorism, "it's not rocket science," has to come from somewhere.
  15. Jun 5, 2008 #14
    Do you have gen ed classes you need to take? Consider dumbing down your course schedule for a semester. Maybe only one math class. Use your free time to goof off. You'll know at that point what you should do.

    I'm confused, though, why you liked math so much in high school, but find it uninteresting now. Objectively speaking, high school math is pencil-pushing busywork.
  16. Jun 5, 2008 #15
    Hi Sisyphus,

    I think you should continue and get that degree. You don't know what possibilities a degree, especially in math, offers. In Europe, people with a maths degree are highly regarded. Although there are few jobs where you apply the math in concrete (except for academics) employers like mathematicians because they know how to think. Getting a math degree is far from easy and it requires more intelligence than the average person. Employers know that. Many people I know who studied mathematics now have well-payed jobs in banks, IT companies, technology companies,...
  17. Jun 5, 2008 #16
    Don't pay any attention to the standardized tests. Someone's intelligence should be more accurately - albeit probably partially, too - by their academic accomplishments. Of course, this isn't the case for those who just "get by" college on purpose due to lackadaisicalness or whatever but more for those who do try and do their best. I think that is a much better indicator of someone's intelligence than a stupid multiple-hour standardized test - any of them for that matter.
  18. Jun 5, 2008 #17
    "Don't pay any attention to the standardized tests. Someone's intelligence should be more accurately - albeit probably partially, too - by their academic accomplishments. Of course, this isn't the case for those who just "get by" college on purpose due to lackadaisicalness or whatever but more for those who do try and do their best. I think that is a much better indicator of someone's intelligence than a stupid multiple-hour standardized test - any of them for that matter."

    I think that's absolutely untrue. The people with the highest marks, in my experience, are rarely the brightest, they just have extremely fastidious personalities. It's usually the type of person who ALWAYs needs to be working. The brightest people I've met (the kind who seek to understand everything around them, not just in the field of study in which they specialize), the kind of person who gets lost on wikipedia for hours, who will spend exorbetant amounts of time solving any arbitrary puzzle or brainteaser that comes their way and are driven by intellectual curiousity. Those people are usually in the 70s mark wise because they've found that they can do 'well enough' with very little effort and their natural intelligence and to get in the 80s or 90s would require a large boost in time and effort (the so called lazy-intellectual). Those people also tend to score higher on any form of standardized aptitude tests (not subject tests). I've never met a person with a 90 average who wasn't a mindless drone who hounded the professors everyday and took every test they got in to get extra marks (I'm not saying they don't exist i'm just saying I, personally, haven't met them).

    In my experience, if you go up to the person with the highest average and ask them how to do a homework problem in a course you're both taking they'll know. You ask them them about politics or history or hell even popular culture (assuming they have not taken a course in those) they'll be clueless. But that's just been my personal experience.

    However, that being said, I find that the intelligence of someone is a poor indicator of career success. (Having known a fair share of people who were qucik as hell but were so damn lazy that they just sort of let their future slip away).
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2008
  19. Jun 5, 2008 #18
    In relation to the thread topic: Why is it a binary choice between a math degree or dropping out of college? Why don't you just change your major? Go into engineering or business or hell fine arts if that makes you happy?
  20. Jun 5, 2008 #19
    Work ethic can only get you so far. Intelligence and diligence go a long way together. Why are you assuming someone's fastidiousness somehow negates or retards their intelligence level in contrast to a "lazy-intellectual"? When taking an exam, I like to go over my answers and check them when I'm finished, as opposed to just rushing through it.
  21. Jun 5, 2008 #20
    In my experience, the sort of quick, know-it-all intelligence that people have comes from a lifetime of having a sort of I'll-play-it-by-ear-because-I-know-I'm-resourceful attitude. And thus people with that kind of attitude generally get good at being quick and resourceful. However, in later life a person like that could perhaps adopt a change in ethic and that would make a very talented person indeed.
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