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What should I do with my life?

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  • #1
Physics_UG
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I honestly don't know what I want for myself, and I'm not getting any younger. I am 25 and I need to devise a plan for my life.

Here's a brief history of my life. I graduated from a small engineering school in michigan with a double major in electrical engineering and physics in 2008. Then I went to graduate school in Arizona for a year working on a PhD in electrical engineering. I struggled with mental illness when I was out there (was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder) and this forced me to leave the program. I was doing well out there and I regret leaving almost every day. I went back to Michigan (my hometown) and stayed there for a year looking for a job. I could not find anything and I sunk into a deep depression. I decided to go back to grad school in Arizona so I went back. I lasted about 3 weeks there since I was in my deep depression. I felt like I wasn't interested in my courses (device physics) or my research. I was sleeping for up to 18 hours/day. I am now back at home in Michigan and I need to decide what to do with my life.

Part of me wants to go to grad school in physics to get a PhD but I know I won't be able to get into a good graduate program in physics because my PGRE score is low (600 or 35th percentile) and my general GRE is pretty mediocre (first time I took it I got a 660Q 420V 4.0 AW and second time I took it I got a 760Q 320V...I didn't take the writing section the second time). Also, my GPA is pretty mediocre (3.44), and I honestly don't have a laser-like focus on what I want to do in grad school. It is hard for me to write a personal statement because of this. I really don't know what I want to do. Because of this, I think I will only be able to get into a low ranking graduate program (ranked ~100 by us news). I am thinking about wayne state university. I am sorta interested in experimental particle physics but I am afraid I will have difficulty finding a job if I major in this. I could major in condensed matter physics but I am not sure if I am interested in solid state physics anymore. It's what I thought I was interested in the first time I went to grad school but now I am not so sure.

I am also considering doing a part time masters in mechatronic systems engineering (one of the two mechatronics masters programs in the country) at lawrence technological university in michigan. http://www.ltu.edu/engineering/mechanical/mechatronics.asp [Broken] Do you think this is a good degree program that will open up doors for me? Will people recognize this degree since it's so rare in the united states? The employers I have talked to lately I have had to explain what the degree program is all about. Should I do a MS in electrical and computer engineering instead? Is this degree more marketable?

Finally, perhaps I should just work for a while before going back to school to give myself some time to decide what I want to do. I don't know. All of this is really stressing me out though.

What do you think physicsforums? I know it's hard for other people to make life changing decisions for me without knowing me better, but I am absolutely lost. I honestly can't imagine what I would like to be doing 10 years or 20 years from now. I feel like my ideal job would be to be a physics professor at a small liberal arts college, but it's so difficult to become a professor nowadays even at a small college that I am afraid to pursue this.
 
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  • #2
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I honestly don't know what I want for myself, and I'm not getting any younger. I am 25 and I need to devise a plan for my life.
25 is not really too late to make changes.
Here's a brief history of my life. I graduated from a small engineering school in michigan with a double major in electrical engineering and physics in 2008. Then I went to graduate school in Arizona for a year working on a PhD in electrical engineering. I struggled with mental illness when I was out there (was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder) and this forced me to leave the program.
Have you sought medical help for these problems? I am sure there are medicines and therapy available to help you manage your depression.
I was doing well out there and I regret leaving almost every day. I went back to Michigan (my hometown) and stayed there for a year looking for a job. I could not find anything and I sunk into a deep depression. I decided to go back to grad school in Arizona so I went back. I lasted about 3 weeks there since I was in my deep depression. I felt like I wasn't interested in my courses (device physics) or my research. I was sleeping for up to 18 hours/day. I am now back at home in Michigan and I need to decide what to do with my life.
I don't quite understand this. So you went back to the same university you were enrolled at earlier? Assuming it is the same university, if you had liked your work there before, then why is it no longer interesting now?
Part of me wants to go to grad school in physics to get a PhD but I know I won't be able to get into a good graduate program in physics because my PGRE score is low (600 or 35th percentile) and my general GRE is pretty mediocre (first time I took it I got a 660Q 420V 4.0 AW and second time I took it I got a 760Q 320V...I didn't take the writing section the second time). Also, my GPA is pretty mediocre (3.44), and I honestly don't have a laser-like focus on what I want to do in grad school. It is hard for me to write a personal statement because of this. I really don't know what I want to do. Because of this, I think I will only be able to get into a low ranking graduate program (ranked ~100 by us news). I am thinking about wayne state university. I am sorta interested in experimental particle physics but I am afraid I will have difficulty finding a job if I major in this. I could major in condensed matter physics but I am not sure if I am interested in solid state physics anymore. It's what I thought I was interested in the first time I went to grad school but now I am not so sure.
It is obvious that you are being equivocal about pursuing graduate studies. You must have realised by now that graduate studies require 5+ years of commitment. Even lower ranking programmes have a right to choose the best candidate. How will you convince the admissions committee about your candidature if you project yourself like this?
I am also considering doing a part time masters in mechatronic systems engineering (one of the two mechatronics masters programs in the country) at lawrence technological university in michigan. http://www.ltu.edu/engineering/mechanical/mechatronics.asp [Broken] Do you think this is a good degree program that will open up doors for me? Will people recognize this degree since it's so rare in the united states? The employers I have talked to lately I have had to explain what the degree program is all about. Should I do a MS in electrical and computer engineering instead? Is this degree more marketable?
Instead of putting your hand in too many things, I suggest that you take some time to re-evaluate you interests. Speak to the people who have experience in the fields that you are interested in. Before worrying about the market prospects of any degree, you have to ask yourself whether you will be happy studying for it. Opportunities will certainly come later. Stay focussed and good luck with your decision.
 
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  • #3
Physics_UG
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25 is not really too late to make changes.

Have you sought medical help for these problems? I am sure there are medicines and therapy available to help you manage your depression.

I don't quite understand this. So you went back to the same university you were enrolled at earlier? Assuming it is the same university, if you had liked your work there before, then why is it no longer interesting now?

It is obvious that you are being equivocal about pursuing graduate studies. You must have realised by now that graduate studies require 5+ years of commitment. Even lower ranking programmes have a right to choose the best candidate. How will you convince the admissions committee about your candidature if you project yourself like this?

Instead of putting your hand in too many things, I suggest that you take some time to re-evaluate you interests. Speak to the people who have experience in the fields that you are interested in. Before worrying about the market prospects of any degree, you have to ask yourself whether you will be happy studying for it. Opportunities will certainly come later. Stay focussed and good luck with your decision.
Yes, I have sought medical help. I currently take anti psychotics and anti depressants.

I was happy the first time I was at grad school but when I went back I was depressed so I had a different mind set. Also, my research was different when I went back.

I am pretty sure I can get into Wayne State's PhD program and maybe even Michigan State.
 
  • #4
Do you want to do it, or do you just want to have a plan? Grad school is about specializing yourself, giving yourself the most rigorous education possible. If you don't have a 'laser-like focus', you're probably not going to do too well. My suggestion isn't to solicit help on what you should do in life, but rather flat out decide to do something because you want to; then come to Physics Forums for further advice on achieving it. We can't set your goals for you. We can just nudge you in the right direction once you choose them.
 
  • #5
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I am pretty sure I can get into Wayne State's PhD program and maybe even Michigan State.
You do realize that Michigan State is arguably THE best school in the country for nuclear physics?
 
  • #6
Physics_UG
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You do realize that Michigan State is arguably THE best school in the country for nuclear physics?
um, I didn't say I was doing nuclear physics....

Overall, it's not really that highly ranked of a program.
 
  • #7
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I honestly don't know what I want for myself, and I'm not getting any younger. I am 25 and I need to devise a plan for my life.
No you don't. You don't, because you can't.

Tell me, who do you think will win the Presidential election in 2012. Do you think that Iran and North Korea will or will not have an atomic bomb by 2020. What is the likely GDP and inflation rates for the United States in 2018.

You probably don't know. That's fine because it's likely that no one knows. But what the GDP and inflation rates in the US in 2018 going to impact your life, and if you get that wrong, your plan is going to be useless.

Something else that you can ask yourself is imagine yourself 80, and someone asks you are proud of having done. But even then there is a limit to planning. The answer that a lot of people would give to that question (and it's useful here to talk to people that *are* eighty to see what answer they give) involves family and kids. But you just can't plan out when you meet the right person (or wrong person).

I struggled with mental illness when I was out there (was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder) and this forced me to leave the program.
First priority is go get yourself in good shape medically. If you don't have your health, then nothing else is possible. Also, your health is a random element that you need to deal with. You need to focus on getting your health in good shape before you make any long term plans.

Part of me wants to go to grad school in physics to get a PhD but I know I won't be able to get into a good graduate program in physics because my PGRE score is low (600 or 35th percentile) and my general GRE is pretty mediocre (first time I took it I got a 660Q 420V 4.0 AW and second time I took it I got a 760Q 320V...I didn't take the writing section the second time). Also, my GPA is pretty mediocre (3.44), and I honestly don't have a laser-like focus on what I want to do in grad school.
That's not what really worries me. What worries me is that you get into graduate school and then you find that it interacts badly with your depression. It would be a total disaster it is the week of final exams, and you find that you just can't get out of bed. Graduate school is a brutal painful process. For some people with depression or bipolar disorder, it actually works well, because being beat up on the outside gets rid of the pain on the inside, and so rather than sleep for 18 hours, you reduce data for 18 hours, and being *forced* to get out of bed keeps you functioning.

But the fact that you've already dropped out of a program already suggests that your depression interacts badly with graduate school. One other thing, planning out your life is not a good idea, but it is *especially* a bad idea if you are in a depressive state. Sometimes you have to stop thinking, because when you are in a depressive state, then anything you think about just make things worse.

Do you think this is a good degree program that will open up doors for me? Will people recognize this degree since it's so rare in the united states? The employers I have talked to lately I have had to explain what the degree program is all about. Should I do a MS in electrical and computer engineering instead? Is this degree more marketable?
I think you are asking the wrong questions. A degree from *anywhere* is useless if you don't finish the program, and unless you are in good shape health-wise you will not finish the program. The question that I think you really should be asking yourself (and which an admission committee will be asking) is given that you've already dropped out of graduate school, what makes you so sure that you won't drop out again.

I honestly can't imagine what I would like to be doing 10 years or 20 years from now.
That's fine. I honestly can't imagine what I'd like to be doing 10 years or 20 years from now. It probably involves something that hasn't been invented yet.

Something that is important is that when you get into a depressive state, it's hard to figure out what you want to do 10 hours or 10 minutes from now.

I feel like my ideal job would be to be a physics professor at a small liberal arts college, but it's so difficult to become a professor nowadays even at a small college that I am afraid to pursue this.
Something that works for me is to have a goal that I know that I will fail at. My career goal is to be a starship captain. That ain't going to happen, so I don't get too depressed that I'm not a starship captain, and I manage to get some useful things done. I'm not the slightly bit afraid of failing to be a starship captain, since it's just not going to happen, and I don't get depressed that I'm a haven't even been accepted for training to run a starship.
 
  • #8
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Yes, I have sought medical help. I currently take anti psychotics and anti depressants.
Make sure you have some sort of support group around you. One thing to note is that I do think that there is a higher than average fraction of people with mood disorders in physics departments. One other thing that I've noticed is that there are few people in physics departments with schizoprehenia since that tends to be completely disabling, but there seems to be a higher than average number of people in physics departments with family histories of schizoprehenia.

I was happy the first time I was at grad school but when I went back I was depressed so I had a different mind set. Also, my research was different when I went back.
Why do you think that things won't go bad two or three years into your Ph.D. program?

I am pretty sure I can get into Wayne State's PhD program and maybe even Michigan State.
I'm not. The problem is that you've already dropped out of other programs, and once you've dropped out of another program, this becomes a *huge* black mark that you have work around. Also in your application you have to mention it, because not mentioning it leaves a gap in the application, and simply saying that you had medical issues raises the question of why you couldn't go back to your previous graduate school.

I keep asking you why you think that you won't drop out yet again, and I keep asking this because that's what the admission committee is going to be wondering. With what you have told me, it is unlikely that you will get admitted to any physics Ph.D. program, because the risks of you dropping out in the middle are too high, so if you want to do physics, you have to figure out some way of reassuring people that you just won't leave if things get bad.
 
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  • #9
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Overall, it's not really that highly ranked of a program.
Rankings don't matter much in Ph.D. programs. This can work against you.

I think you are going in with completely the wrong mindset. If you go in with the mindset, "I wish I could be somewhere else, but you'll have to do" then this isn't the thing that a small department wants to see. It's not hard for a small department that no one has ever heard of to be a big name in some small niche of physics, and so in graduate applications, they want to see someone that is enthusiastic about that niche.

Even "bottom ten" departments have some choice in who they admit, and they have no reason to admit someone who they are seriously worried will drop out in the middle of the program.
 
  • #10
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You only go to graduate school because you truly and thoroughly enjoy the subject. Otherwise, you either won't make it or you'll do far less than your best.
 
  • #11
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  • #12
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So what if they are not in the top 10 in the overall rankings, if they are the best in any branch of Physics, then they are very likely to admit the best candidates in the other branches as well.
Also even "bottom 10" physics Ph.D. programs have a steady stream of competent applicants from China and India. There's also the fact that research positions are so scarce that if you get get a faculty position at *ANY* Ph.D. program, you are likely to be pretty good.

Finally, there is no reason that a department has to admit any Ph.D. students at all. If they look at the list of candidates and the people on the list don't look like they'll be able to complete the research program, they they have the option of not admitting anyone at all.
 

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