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What should I be doing now as a 3rd year undergrad?

  1. Jan 27, 2015 #1
    I'm a Physics major and am starting on my early major courses (Classical Mechanics and E&M, and an Abstract Algebra course as an elective). I've already taken an upper div Linear Algebra course and a Math Methods course (though the latter, which covered topics in Linear Algebra, Fourier Analysis, and Linear Differential Equations) seemed more like a review. I feel like certain math topics I will have to learn as I am taking Physics courses (Bessel Functions, Legendre Differential Equations, Laplacian in Polar/Cylindrical Coordinates for instance).

    Anyhow, I feel like I'm worrying too much about coursework and not enough about finding undergraduate research opportunities, internships, or building up other skills (like programming or electronics). At the same time, I feel kind of overwhelmed with the current course load (also taking a German class), so fitting these other things into my schedule seems complicated. I often hear that coursework should only be a small part of your university experience (like 10%), though for me, it feels like at least 75%. Networking, and the building of soft-skills are other important things I feel may be neglecting. But really... it's just impossible to do everything, right? Something's got to give.

    I am interested in going to graduate school, though I am not 100% sure if it is the best decision. As of right now, I don't know very much about the more exotic topics of physics like Plasma, Elementary Particle Physics, Condensed Matter, Solid State, etc., so I can't tell if I will like them. There are undergraduate courses devoted to these, but I won't be able to get to them until I finish up the core prerequisites for them.

    I realize that, from some of the other threads in this section, that going to graduate school in for Engineering is also an option should the Physics Ph.D not be the right choice. Or, I can try to see if I can find work after getting my Bachelors, though I'm not too fond of the idea of ending up just being a "programmer."

    Another thing about me is that I am 25, which is kind of on the older side, so things like a prospective family life and other "take advantage of your youth while you still have it" concerns come into play. I was reading a career guide book for physicists, and it said in the beginning that one of the things you need to keep from being a thorn in your side in this journey is "Sex. Enough said." and that when it comes to building relationships, "You're on your own." I'm not kidding haha. I go to a large university, where kids go to parties and never shut up, rather than a specialized technical institute, so these things are in fact an everyday problem for me. :( I'm not very social, and when I try, I sometimes scare people away or get excluded for not being able to fit in (or making social enemies by threatening other people's sense of social security with my presence) or have to deal with things like jealousy and inferiority/superiority complexes. I'm not a psycho/sociology major so I don't know very much about these things, but I can certainly feel it when people are sucking up my energy as I can't concentrate (I don't really want to get into the specifics in public). I've been reading quite a bit about things like relationships, body language, social bullying, etc. so I do have some working knowledge.

    I suppose advancement through the military is another option for me, as I'm currently in the Army Reserves with one deployment under my belt, so perhaps I can go through OCS when I graduate. However, I feel that if I go this route that I'll be abandoning all the hard work I did studying Physics to do something that may be entirely different (leading troops, staff duty). The military is a world of its own, with its numerous acronyms, TM's, FM's, AR's, etc., so if I do decide to make a career out of it, I would have to cram all of this military stuff into my head.

    Thanks for reading this long-ish post and I appreciate any suggestions or food for thought you might have.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2015 #2


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    First, the social things. Relax. A calm, happy, relaxed person is going to make a lot more friends. If you need to, take an interpersonal skills class, even if you have to get a continuing education class to do it. If you are still causing people to edge away from you in fear, maybe you need some professional assistance.

    As to what classes you should be taking and whether to go to grad school: You need to decide what you are interested in doing and concentrate on that. Nobody can tell you what you want. You need to think where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Do you want to be an academic? Meaning, a prof or a researcher at a lab or some such. Do you want to go into industry? Do you have some other goal entirely in mind?

    Once you know what you want to do, then you need to find out what to do to prepare for that goal. For example, if you want to do research you need to find out where they do the kind of research you want to do. Google up schools and labs that do that. Also, look at this site:


    Once you find some papers that interest you, find out where the authors are based. Google them and their school or lab. Find out what you would need to work there. Check school web sites for admission requirements, and lab web sites for "careers with us" kind of information.
  4. Jan 27, 2015 #3


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    It sounds like you've been getting some not-so-great advice (from your post, DEvans' advice is great).

    Course work should be your main focus as an undergraduate. Ideally your courses should be set up so that you'll do some kind of senior project that will build your research experience. Everything else is gravy. It does make sense to try to build up soft skills and learn some marketable skills though, but again, these shouldn't be your main focus - particularly if you're interested in grad school.

    I'm not sure why a career guide would suggest that sex is the solution to all problems. Of course it can be great, but it can also cause a lot of problems. Explore social opportunities as they come and don't compare yourself to others.

    25 is not old. You're a few years older than other undergrads, and it's not like you haven't done anything with your life if you've deployed with the military (assuming you're not ISIS).

    Also it sounds to me like you've got the military as a backup plan. That's great. That means that you can pour yourself into your studies knowing that if grad school doesn't work out, you have another option.
  5. Jan 29, 2015 #4
    What dimwit said coursework should be 10% of your university experience?

    Also, I had the same mindset as you entering college. Everyone was all "social, social, social", and I tried for a bit to fit in, but eventually you just don't want to try. And you'll find someone who is the exact same way.
  6. Feb 2, 2015 #5
    As far as your social problem goes, if you want to be social than you should, make sure that you are calm and happy when you talk to people. But from your post it seems like you want to fit in socially because people told you that you should, and in that case, ignore them completely. Do what you want and what makes you happy, whether its all social, moderately social, couple of close friends, full on isolation, whatever. A very gifted friend of mine was skipped a few grades and his parents resisted him every step of the way because they wanted him to be social and in their mind, to be happy you must by social. Now in college he barely talks to anyone, spends upwards of 12 hours a day studying (part independent, part his classes as a math major), and is as happy as can be.

    Just do what you want, stop worrying about what other people tell you about what your youth and college should be like.
  7. Feb 5, 2015 #6
    Thanks all for your responses, as they've helped me look at it from a different perspective.

    I think the author was trying to convey that you should somehow manage your life so that it's not going to be a problem but in a very succinct "I don't want to get into details" sort of way. One thing I'm worried about is if I'll look back and have regrets. I mean, part of me is motivated by the fear of looking like a loner, while the other part is afraid of having missed opportunities. I realize it's impossible to be everything. Something's got to give. I just hope I don't end up relying on dating sites for finding a spouse.

    He was a motivational speaker for new incoming students. People often emphasize the importance of networking ("not about your accomplishments but about who you know" or that you're the average of the 5 people around the most). The problem is this encourages people to socialize for self-interest, then you feel a selfish person and the world looks like a selfish place, and you wonder about the pretentiousness of others and yourself.

    The reason why I think people compare themselves to others is because they expect to be compared against others when it comes to important things like jobs, potential spouse, friends, etc.
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