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What drives you towards academic success?

  1. Jun 4, 2007 #1
    my friend asked me an interesting question today:

    "you can never be the best at anything, so why keep trying?"

    well, this is true. None of us can truly be the best at math, science, music, petry, whatever. There will always be someone somewhere better than us, and there will be someone bette rthan them somewhere, and on and on and on.

    why do i keep striving to get better? i dont know, but i dont really care. i just keep going i guess. Im not like religious people; i dont need a purpose to drive my life (im alluding to the christian book "the purpose driven life" lulz c wut i did thar?)

    how about you guys? what strives you to keep going? is it the prospect of being the best? or is it something else?

    btw, my friend was a guiy obsessed wtih being the best at everything, and since he's realized he couldnt like 2-3 years ago, he gave up at life and now he's a huighschool dropout who plays WoW and smokes weed all the time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2007 #2


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    You don't have to be the best in the world at something, but there is generally value in being very, very good at various things. And it generally takes a lot of work and personal drive to get very, very good at something.

    Does it matter that the surgeon who has their hands inside your open chest is only very, very good at what they do, and not the best in the world? No. Does it matter if the engineers that you have working at your startup company are only very, very good at what they do, and not the best in the world? Of course not.

    Strive to be a "goal-oriented achiever", and be willing to work hard toward your goals. If you do that, you will do well in life.
  4. Jun 4, 2007 #3
    I wouldn't say *never*... *somebody* is the best, after all!

    But seriously, I think it's more a matter of trying to feel like you are making a contribution than anything else. I'll never be the world's greatest physicist... but I'd be very, very happy if I could make even a modest contribution to human knowledge.

    You have to do something, right? :smile:
  5. Jun 4, 2007 #4
    I suppose what drives me to success is that I really like physics. Even if I'm not the best at it, I enjoy doing it. Yes, it might sound strange, but I actually wake up in the morning looking forward to going into the lab and testing the quantum efficiency of photomultiplier tubes (or whatever my professor has given me on any particular week). I suppose I get the same kick out of physics that some people get from sports.

    (BTW, not all of us religious people like "The Purpose Driven Life." Just another stage in the McDonaldization of America. :rofl:)
  6. Jun 4, 2007 #5


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    I don't like to think of life as a competition between myself and others. Because someone else will always beat me, like you said.

    Rather, I think of life more as a competition between me and the universe. I like to think that there are certain goals nature sets, and I try to achieve them, and in that way I win.

    I hope that makes some sense.:biggrin:

    That and, as Aruma said, I really like Physics, so I try to be the best I can, even if it isn't the best, because, the better I am at it, the more I'll enjoy it.
  7. Jun 4, 2007 #6
    When I'm rich and famous, I imagine the Wikipedia article that will be written about me. I want it to include something positive about my academics.

    Seriously though, this is usually an easy question for people that are in the right field for them. Studying physics or math or ee or whatever is more than just an academic task; more than just challenging and rewarding, it offers intellectual fulfillment, something very few people achieve. That's enough to make me want to crack open my books.
  8. Jun 4, 2007 #7
    Wild women and money.
  9. Jun 4, 2007 #8
    What he said.
  10. Jun 4, 2007 #9
    you're going to take career advice from a pot-head dropout?

    Personally, I do it for 2 main reasons, love of physics and my family. I love physics. I would never give it up and even if I was somehow forced into leaving it behind I would pursue it in every waking moment of my spare time. Second is because my family really expects alot from me and I dont want to let them down. All of my grandparents and aunts and uncles all have their eyes on me so I cant handle becoming a failure, and since my dad has a slight case anxiety disorder now, it is mainly triggered by worrying about me and my siblings futures, and since now my sister is going to summer school and has C's in all of her classes except band and sports (which suprisingly counts as a class), and now its come up that she didnt manage her classes right for the last 3 years and didnt get every graduation requirement, so now she is at the end of her junior year and it turns out she never filled the career requirements so she has to get career credits or she cant graduate. Stuff like that keeps my dad up at night so I cant let him down. My sister is already enough of a handful and I it would give him a heart attack if I was a failure.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2007
  11. Jun 4, 2007 #10
    Do what you love. Love what you do.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2007
  12. Jun 4, 2007 #11


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    Goals and ambitions. A vivid picture of the end result.
  13. Jun 4, 2007 #12
    On the topic of intellectual fulfillment...

    Getting personal satisfaction from what you do is a great reward. One reason I went into physics is because I didn't want to end up working from 9 to 5 every day in a cubicle just to keep the customer happy and make some guy at the top rich. This was compounded by the fact that my last year of college, I waivered from the faith (er...science), interviewed with Target Corporation, and painfully remembered why I had majored in physics in the first place. Some people don't mind treating their job as just a means to put food on the table. I, however, wouldn't be able to do something that I didn't genuinely enjoy.

    So now here I am in graduate school. I work from 8 to 7, and believe it or not, I even work in a half-cubicle (the department puts all its first and second years in a cubicle area to encourage us to study together, but it's actually a great set up). And nonetheless, I wouldn't have it any other way, because my job gives me a sense of satisfaction. To put it simply, I like doing physics. So that's why I keep trying even though I'll never come close to being the best.
  14. Jun 4, 2007 #13

    Chris Hillman

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    Another thing to think about: artificial life agents will soon supplant human researchers in science and mathematics, so that humans will become technologically and therefore economically obsolete. The interesting thing is that unlike some other life forms which would currently be considered uncouth and unintelligent, such as horseshoe crabs, humans are sometimes vaguely aware of their inadequacies. This can lead to a sense of malaise, apparently.

    Oh, he must have figured out out that Earth is a zoological amusement park maintained by a technologically advanced society. At least until they grow tired of laughing at humans. :wink:
  15. Jun 5, 2007 #14
    I study because the subjects I choose intrigue me. I'm interested in seeing what others before me have come up with, and I want to see how they're applied in the world at large.

    This probably isn't true. There probably is a point where you can reach mastery over a particular subject, although I don't know if I'll ever reach it.

    The funny thing I've come to notice is young guys like your friend (and me) always tends to think in terms of trying to be the best, not realizing that they're probably way too young to even come close. It can be a little disheartening if you don't realize that.

    I think your friend's reasoning is immature. It's like he can't comprehend, or doesn't care for how history progresses. Someone gets good at something, then later they teach others. Those others then try to get good and afterwards they teach others, and so on and so forth. If you don't try at your turn in the chain, you mess up and get left out. I know, it sounds corny, but it's true.

    I guess another thing that keeps me studying is knowing that I can be a part of that chain. In a technical way, we're all already a part of it.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2007
  16. Jun 6, 2007 #15
    Becoming better at stuff than other people is fun. I like the looks on the faces of people when I tell them I study chemistry. You're only in it for yourself but it can't hurt to share a little ;)

    And by the way, someone has to be the best at something, chances aren't that great you'll end up being that guy but there's no reason not to give it a go. What else are you living for? The purpose of life is to procreate so be creative and procreate in more ways than one, make people remember you like Einstein, Euler, Born, Hamilton, Dewar, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, Newton, Euclid etc. and you'll live for ever in peoples imaginations. If on the other hand you'd rather live in a fake world with purple dwarfs while you smoke piles of weed then that's your choice but you might as well kill yourself right now. Your existence will add nothing to this world and we have too many people on it allready.

    Yes I know nuance is my strong suit :P
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2007
  17. Jun 7, 2007 #16
    Well said... I do it for 3 main reasons: the physics, my family, and my students. :biggrin:
  18. Jun 7, 2007 #17


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    My parents have no idea what I do -- if I explained they would listen but it wouldn't sink in :biggrin:
  19. Jun 7, 2007 #18
    yah its funny trying to tell people what your research in...especialy if
    your parents need to translate it into native tongues for family friends and relatives...

    ah how my mom made up some funny phrase in chinese for
    computational neuroscience/Brain modeling and computational astrophysics...
    funny stuff.

    As for what motivates people....mmm
    "pursuit of knowledge" would be my primary motive though its going slow.
    the secondary one would be "creationism" or "playing god" in the artificial sense.

    One could ask similar questions for the arts and sports/martial arts. OOH and gaming...
  20. Jun 7, 2007 #19
    And who are you sir to make such a claim?
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