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Undergrad bored with physics and frustrated about it

  1. Jul 17, 2010 #1
    I'm just so ambivalent about going back to school in the fall, my courses, my future, everything.

    I know there's a lot of caution against trying to force yourself into a subject that doesn't hold a lot of interest for you but, aside from quitting or changing to another major, how do you get re-interested? I just feel unbearably stupid and rudderless. My classmates are probably not much smarter than I am, but there's so many things that I feel like I should know or be doing or reading about but I just have so much to learn it feels like I'm the only person in the world doing it. Even my classmates are more concerned with Star Wars or drinking and girls than with their subject, it seems.

    My GPA is excellent, I have friends, my health is fine so I'm not depressed or any sort of nonsense like that or thinking 'college may not be right for me' (if I'm bored at the prospect of physics, the prospect of any other field or career is almost coma-inducing) but I have a weird sort of ennui. I do other things, like play lots of tennis and work on my languages but even those things are take-it-or-leave-it. I could conceivably graduate with my dual physics and math degree with pretty good grades but there's a difference between doing the bare minimum and striving to be excellent at something. I do nothing by half measures but I can't see a way out of this. What do I need to do? Beg to be someone's lab monkey (I can do little more than wash beakers and program minimally)? Hope that my classmates are actually capable of serious scientifical discussion besides "Hurhur, what's on the test? What'd you get for #2?"
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2010 #2
    Well, meh is all I can say.
  4. Jul 17, 2010 #3
    You should look into a kind of engineering -- mechanical, chemical, electrical. You'll get hired when you graduate. Your intuition is right. Physics is not a pragmatic direction. Math is even worse. There must be some kind of technology that interest you. There must be a kind of company that you'd like to work for. Your decision NOW will determine your future. Don't end up living in a cardboard box with a physics degree. Can someone spare a quarter?
  5. Jul 17, 2010 #4


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    My response to this was to go into mathematical/theoretical biology, where physics backgrounds are appreciated.

    Specifically, my interest is in neurons, but cells are pretty amazing from an engineering/physics perspective.
  6. Jul 17, 2010 #5
    Does it seem as if you have http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnout_%28psychology%29" [Broken]?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Jul 17, 2010 #6
    Read those French boys, Camus and Sartre.

    And take a peep at the Feynman Lectures. If that doesn't shoot you from bored learning techniques to amazed thinking about things, nothing will.
  8. Jul 18, 2010 #7
    What year of school are you in? If you're only in your 1st or even 2nd year of school, you probably haven't taken any of your more advanced courses yet (quantum, optics, e&m and classical mechanics at a higher level than freshman classes, etc.). Also, I believe that most physics programs have some junior/senior level laboratory class where you get to perform experiments with lasers and semiconductors and such.

    Have you tried reading research papers on things you're interested in? That may help give you your motivation back, it usually helps me.
  9. Jul 18, 2010 #8
    It sounds like you're just as fed up with your environment as the subject matter, if not more. I too get very frustrated with my peers and their attitudes sometimes. The only way I can remedy this is to kind of withdraw myself from their pedestrian dealings. I'm not trying to sound like a pompous recluse, but I honestly have trouble dealing with people in a college classroom acting like high schoolers -- especially because I take pride in the fact that I study a subject that requires a great majority of my attention.

    As far as the boredom with the subject goes, as previously suggested: read Feynman. I'm not even a physics major and I love going through The Lectures when I have free time. Feynman is amazingly entertaining and it shows in the books. Also, maybe you could keep up with "physics news"; kind of keep your eye on the ball type of thing.. If you're really bored, change your major now. Look into something where you can put more practical skills to use: engineering, computer science and programming, bio-medical sciences...

    Good luck to you, whatever happens..
  10. Jul 19, 2010 #9
    You're quite right. I'm only starting my third year but I have yet to take quantum or e&m and mech at the more advanced level. At least it's good to know that it may be looking up sooner than I thought. I do read Physics Today and I like it, but a lot of the stuff is quite over my head at this point. It feels about the same as when I'm sitting in on departmental talks; vaguely interesting but not quite there yet.

    And thank you everyone. It may or may not be burnout. It feels silly to be burnt out and not have done any 'real' physics yet but it fits. I'll look into engineering and reread my Feynman but I'd like to see this through to the end of my degree before I start changing directions. It may or may not be the smartest idea, but grad-track physics to engineering is a hell of a lot easier than engineering to graduate school in physics. Thank you, as always, for all the help. It's starting to look better and it's great to know that I'm not the only one dealing with this stuff.
  11. Jul 19, 2010 #10
    Consider taking a year off. Do something completely different. Sign up for charity work in Mexico or Namibia. You can for example teach poor children math and english. By doing this you will contribute to make the world a little bit better that it was - and you avoid being caught up in the mundane day-to-day life one often find oneself in at campus.

    After the year is done, you will definately have a different and wider perspective on things and life in general. And maybe (probably) you will discover that physics is your passion after all. Do not rush your academic career if you do not have the urge to do so.

    To me it seems like you need to Stop & Zoom Out for a bit.

    I Recommend It :)
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