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Undecided about my future

  1. Sep 16, 2007 #1
    so now i'm at university and taking my first real physics undergrad classes: intermediate lab and optics and guess what, i dislike em both! this past summer i also did two internships, one in experiment and one in theory. the experiment one was admittedly very dinky; it was at a engineering research lab. the theory one was very not dinky; it was at the NHMFL. both left a very sour taste in my mouth. the experiment one mostly because i really didn't do any physics because the guy i worked for sucked. the theory one was way out of my league; the guy basically gave me the calculation he was doing for a paper he was publishing and said here do it with us.

    so here i am with a couple of experiences of real physics, a couple experiences of undergrad physics classes and i feel like i don't like it at all. add to this some philosophical problems i'm having with it, which are on full display in GD, and i'm feeling a little, just a little, like physics isn't for me. admittedly the two research experiences were very inappropriate ones. the experimental one wasn't anything so i'll be looking to try something different soon and the theory one was just ridiculous. but besides these experiences I have always felt that I've wanted to do theory instead of experiment and now I come to realize that most of theory that is done is phenomonolgy which is definitely not what i want to do.

    incidentally i'm enjoying my math classes. my calc 3 teacher asks interesting questions and i feel like i have the same kind of fun solving those problems that i did when i first was exposed to physics in high school in that theres a concrete answer you just have to be clever enough to apply the right rules. my linear algebra teacher is offering to teach me about tensor analysis and so it feels like math is very exciting right now. but at the same time i've looked around and i also feel like proofs aren't for me.

    so the dilemma boils down to this. want to do theory physics but dont' want to do phenomenology or want to do math but don't want to do proofs.

    i'm almost sure theres no way i can have it either way :(
    this is of course my future i'm speaking about. i understand that if i decide to do math i'll have to atleast grind through some proof classes. and if i decide to do physics and someone tells me some kind of theory i could that isn't phenomenology that i would have to do some calculations before i got there. so i'm prepared to do what it takes i'm just worried about doing something i don't like for the rest of my career.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2007 #2
    Maths is all about proofs. If you're in the US, then all the maths you've learnt so far is nothing more than just calculation or algebraic manipulation. I think you'll slowly discover that proofs are actually pretty fun -- an ingenious proof is really a work of art.
  4. Sep 16, 2007 #3
    maybe. it seems to me when i read proofs from a book like principles of analysis by rudin they're ridiculously ingenious and so maybe i won't be able to do them.
  5. Sep 16, 2007 #4
    In my experience, the three classes most disliked by undergrad physics students are optics, labs and thermodynamics. So you are not in any way atypical!

    Try to take classes with professors who have reputations as good teachers. That always helps make learning more enjoyable. I would advise you to take intermediate mechanics and QM before you decide whether to bail on physics.

    It's unfortunate, but your supervisor usually makes a huge difference in whether you enjoy research or not. Try to shop around a bit. It's usually a good sign if a professor has more than one undergrad-sized project and is willing to suggest some background reading so that you can choose between projects.

    Anyways, enjoy your math classes!
  6. Sep 16, 2007 #5
    yea im definitely not making any decisions until i finish E&M, CM and math methods next semester
  7. Sep 16, 2007 #6
    I suggest learning number theory first -- there are more "elementary" proofs in there. The more systematic fields, like analysis (leading to topology and differential geometry), tend to be more about definitions and large-scale theory building. I suggest "The Higher Arithmetic" by (I think) Davis, for a fun and easy ride through some basic number theory. It will develop your sense of proof -- and maybe you'll even have some fun whilst at it. Though, of course, if you're at university, you may be pressed for time...
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