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Where to from here? (I need a mixture of academic and life guidance I think )

  1. Jun 27, 2012 #1
    This month I surprised myself in a fashion unusual for me. Having attended less than 20% of my lecture courses throughout this academic, continually abused drugs and alcohol, gotten into severe financial difficulties, and ruined my relationship with my parents, I estimated that my average mark would sit around the 50% mark (strong in quantum mechanics and maths but very weak coursework. Didnt attend a single one of a 36 lecture course on Condensed Matter physics and attended 4/36 on Astronomy, probably about 5/24 on Electromagnetism). I was astounded to find that I aced every single one of my exams, not gaining a mark less than 70% with a top mark of 94% Maths. not including my coursework my average mark was 82% whilst including my dismal lab marks and homework assesment dropped down to 71.5% leaving me currently on track for a 1st class degree from Durham University UK.

    This unexpected success has made me realise 2 things

    1. I am actually very very interested in pursuing a career in physics research since there is **** else I can motivate myself to do apart from sit around and play guitar and write poetry. I know that it sounds like a horrible horrible cliche but the mathematical and theoretical side of things is what really grabs my attention - I find myself attracted to things because they are conceptually challenging (probably because I am a nasty showoff) and so I have now decided that the goal I wish to attack with gusto is doing a Phd in Particle Physics after I have finished my 4years integrated masters in Theoretical Physics.

    2. That if I wish to execute the plan outlined in point 1, my life will have to undergo a significant change.

    To this end I have decided to study significantly by myself this summer.

    The advice I am going to need is going to have to be tailored specifically to my module choices for 3rd year (beginning in october) which are given below:

    Foundations of Physics 3A - many particle QM, Nuclear and Particle Phyiscs
    Foundations of Physics 3B - Statistical Mechanics, Modern Optics, Magnetic Materials
    Key Skills - computing, General problem solving
    Theoretical Physics - Advanced Quantum Theory, Covariant Electromagnetism and Special Relativity
    Mathematics Workshop - Infinite Dimensional vector spaces and Hilbert spaces, Complex Analysis, Integral Transforms, Variational Calculus and Infinte Series manipulations.
    Planets and Cosmology - Planetary systems and introduction to modern Cosmology.

    What I know so far -


    Elementary Mathematics
    Calculus up to and including vector calculus (in a functional fashion - **** all formal proofs like a proper mathematician, alot of handwavy stuff that Im not too happy with, but I can do most calculations)
    Linear Algebra - we were taught this by a probable serial killer in 1st year. turned out that its alot easier than he made it out to be
    Fourier series and the transform
    ODEs (a course which taught us how to solve them but not much about the structure/ interesting stuff)
    PDEs - Separation of variables and nothing else


    Classical Mechanics up to Hamilton-Jacobi Equation (although dont quiz me on some of the more tough stuff - I reckon the exam this year focussed on mainly lagrangian mechanics and some of the rotational stuff)
    Electromagnetism - Maxwell's equations in differential form, some special techniques (multipole/method of images) optics, a bit on radiation.
    Quantum mechanics - 2 courses, 1st one taught us how to do basic QM - schrodingers equation for various classic problems, hydrogen atom, intro to pertubation theory, 2nd one was a tad more mysterious - hilbert spaces, dirac notation, heisenberg picture, time evolution, rotations and groups, spin 1/2 systems, ladder operators etc.
    Thermodynamics up to maxwell relations
    Special Relativity in an introductory fashion - lorentz transforms, energy momentum relation. nothing with 4 vectors or geometry yet.

    I would like directions to appropriate literature that would allow me to advance from where I am. What topics in mathematics should I seek to gain a deeper understanding of? (stuff like group theory came up in the quantum theory course - weve never been taught it and nor does it seem like you can even do it as part of the physics undergrad degree since its not offered in the maths workshop classes. as I understand now Lie Groups/algebras are vital to QM so I should probably learn about them as well as a whole bunch of other stuff like differential forms and tensors).
    What do you think the most constructive way to spend my summer would be physics-wise (bear in mind Im working a 9-5 in a building yard to support myself financially and pay off my debts)

    Books I have:

    Introduction to Electrodynamics - Griffiths (awesome - love this dude)
    Introduction to Quantum Mechanics - Bransden and Joachain (awful - classic example of Durham nepotism - Bransden was a professor there for ages)
    Mathematics for Engineering - Riley Hobson Bence (really good for introductions but not very formal at all)
    Analytical Mechanics - Hand and Finch (I liked this book a lot but most people hated it)
    Introduction to Thermodynamics - Shavit and Gutfinger (engineering book really. v dull)
    University Physics - Young and Freedman. (now only useful for practising problem solving)

    I also have the Carroll and Ostlie book on modern astronomy cant remember the title.

    I hate the QM book - whats a better one and why?

    what should I do to best prepare myself for the new topics next year?

    also more generally on the life side of things - how does one approach the problem of remaining committed. I survived this year by cram revising for my exams (which was effective) but i suspect that the jump in difficulty next year will be considerable.
    I am insanely lazy and prone to doing stupid things like getting high and missing class.

    I appreciate that i will need to change my social life if i want to do this but i dont want to relinquish the good friends i currently have...
    I want to fix my relationship with my parents but they refuse to talk to me until ive gone to rehab which I wont do because Im not and addict (never used real drugs like heroin or whatever, mostly mdma, cocaine, weed, ket or psychedelics and only for a night out or recreation). Im hoping if I can show them a dedication to my degree and pay them back the money I owe them that they might forgive me for being such a wasteman.


    Been a bit of an outpouring I know guys
    any help appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2012 #2
    Why do you even go to college? You don't attend your classes, you make bad grades, you don't make any effort. You pay tons of money to attend a school you don't even care about. Sure, you want to care, but that's easier said than done. You have no guarantee that you won't fall back to your bad habits next year. And what's the point then??

    Perhaps it's better to drop out and find a job. It'll teach you discipline and hard work. It's easy to be a slacker and a money waster when the money isn't yours. It's harder when you actually need to do the work for it. Once you matured, you might think of college.

    Do you want to make your parents happy?? Stop with doing drugs. Seriously, you say you're not addicted so it should be easy. Stop with taking drugs forever. If you can do that, then you might have a shot at college.
  4. Jun 27, 2012 #3
    In the UK, 70% + average mark is a 1st class degree. This is quite an achievment. (top 10% students.) So I actually have excellent marks that are better than 90% of my year.
  5. Jun 27, 2012 #4
    Yeah sure, it's an achievement. You are obviously smart enough to do very well in this degree. But they're still bad marks because you could have done way better!! You might have gotten a 90% average or so!! You'll only know what you're worth until you do your best.

    Let me assure you, if you keep on going the way you're going now, then you won't keep making good marks. You're smart, but that's not the only thing you need to succeed. Being able to work hard is even more important!!
  6. Jun 27, 2012 #5
    I can work exceptionally hard when the time comes to it - I did so for the exams (in the revision time I absolutely blitzed myself because I was scared of failing so much). The problem is that I can't seem to get even basic organizational skills down. I can't balance a budget properly and I always seem to end up in debt needing to borrow money for food. I spent weeks at a time just crashing on my best mates sofa writing music and messing around with drugs for basically no reason at all. I didnt wash my clothes for a term and still havent changed my sheets since day 1 of the year.

    people say to me - you get good marks without trying but you cant even look after yourself properly.
    its not that I dont want to solve these problems now - I just seem to drift through life doing nothing the whole time... there were entire days i spent in bed. I could have tidied up my disgusting bedsit apartment but I didnt. I could have got out of bed and done some work (I even would have found it interesting as well!) I spend all my time with my mates (they go to uni as well but do easy degrees like geography and so they can afford to dick about and still come out with a 2:1) because I dont like being alone. Theyve done more to look after me than I have myself.

    So i find that i got these results and now it seems like a realistic possiblity that i might actually do well at this and I am interested in it. I dont want to let it slip away from me again and just revert to this crappyness of my life that I have got myself into. I need help organizing myself.

    but that aside - my plan is to properly devote myself to getting really good at physics this summer - as you say, i want to do REALLY well, not just scrape the top grade. I think that having a purpose in life would really help me (something to get out of bed in the mornings for) and so Im looking for academic guidance on what I should study this summer to really set me up for next year.

    I'd like to learn the mathematics properly - been flicking through The Road to Reality by Penrose and its really tough mathematically. Each chapter is like a terms lecture course on its own (he goes from introducing real analysis in chap 6 to complex analysis in 7 to reimann surfaces in chap 8). I would like to feel more rigorous as a mathematician so that when i look at something like the differential equation for the time evolution operator in Dirac notation - I can make real sense of it, instead of just committing the result to memory.

    one topic I think i really need to look at (because they get hinted at the whole time but never really covered properly) is group theory (was reading about how quantum mechanics is related to lie algebras), but so far I think my linear algebra needs to be more rigorous before i can look at this properly. This means that to do self study i would have to go back to stuff that I already "know" (as in I can do alot of different types of problems in) and in doing that I fear that I would kill my current wave of enthusiasm generated by these results.

    so as I said, what should I be doing with myself this summer academically?

    Im thinking that if I work a 9-5 job i can maybe manage 2 hours per day.
    should I revise last years material till Im perfect at that, start next years? or just do stuff of general interest?
  7. Jun 27, 2012 #6
    Hey bro,

    I can relate to your situation kind of. I'm starting 4th year doing a triple major in pure math, theoretical physics, and genetics/biotech. I just can't handle deadlines, lectures, assignments etc. To learn, I just sit and let my mind take me wherever. I just need a textbook which I can read, highlight, make notes in and I can sit and read and understand until my curiosity is satisfied. I like to prove everything for myself, I don't "move on" until something is vividly clear to me. Obviously, this takes time and I don't finish the curriculum in time. I believe if you have a true passion for physics, you'll pursue it no matter the circumstances.

    Regarding drug abuse, anything in moderation is alright. But since you are made to choose between drugs and parents, I think the choice should be clear. As micromass suggested, maybe work and mature a little, kick drug problems, and make amends with parents.

    You seem to be very smart and physics/math seems to come easily to you but that doesn't mean you are enjoying it. If you spend less time with drugs and being lazy and slacking off, maybe you'll discover true love for physics and math. Like micromass, I'm also a believer of hardwork. Hardwork always beats out talent man.


    PS: Ohh since you like Griffith's EM book so much, why not try out his QM book as well :D
  8. Jun 27, 2012 #7
    You should meet with the school psychiatrist. You might have ADD or some other condition that interferes with your life.
  9. Jun 27, 2012 #8
    I haven't even heard of 3/5 of the drugs that you use. Quit the drugs, or admit your an addict.
  10. Jun 27, 2012 #9
    Weed = marijuana
    ket = ketamine
    mdma = ecstacy
    mephedrone = look it up, it was new back in 2009. similar to cocaine.
    tried magic mushrooms a couple of times... very weird and not reccommended to anyone whos not comfortable with their own self identity. but i definately saw and thought up some craaaazy stuff

    tbh i dont use any of those on a regular basis apart from marijuana anymore. I went through a phase though where I was taking alot of drugs on a fairly regular basis but that was more because I was going out with a group of people at that time who were very into that. it was more about nightclub nights out than addiction. now that I dont see those people anymore (my ex girlfriends crowd) i dont come across them really anymore apart from weed or the occaisional night out on pills in newcastle for DrumnBass music.

    but agreed. Im going to stop smoking weed because its had a negative effect on my life, not really because of the weed itself but more because of people's perception of me as some kind of "wasteman degenerate guy".

    As for seeing a shrink - yeah i used to see a guy in school but he didnt really help me. we just talked and i usually managed to distract him enough so that when the hour was up we had never actually got anywhere. (i think we ended up playing chess once!).
    I think i will try and see the uni's shrink when I go back up there because its free. This summer though I cant really afford it as I need to work to pay my rent etc.
    maybe i'll try take it a bit more seriously this time.

    but again, academically what should I be occupying myself with this summer?
  11. Jun 27, 2012 #10
    I had this problem in highschool, I dropped out was doing stuff i shouldn't have, and hanging with the wrong people. The thing that made me change my ways was going to the nice neighborhoods around my city and seeing the people happy, nice families, good places, and that made me re-evaluate my life. I went back to school, graduated ontime and am currently attending college full time, work two jobs, and maintain above a 3.0 average. I'm not saying what i did would work for you, but you have to find your motivation before you can activate any plan.
  12. Jun 27, 2012 #11
    How about solidifying your hand wavy understanding of calculus using Spivak/Apostol/Courant?

  13. Jun 28, 2012 #12
    thanks for the book link - im sure ive seen book floating around the first year undergrad maths students and it seems to get good reviews online. Im sure some proof based stuff couldnt hurt!

    what about for algebra?
  14. Jun 28, 2012 #13
    I've heard good things about Artin's Algebra. I recently got a copy but I haven't started yet. I will once I finish the chapter on graphs of Spivak.

    Check this out for a selection of math and physics books on Amazon:

    The list is compiled by a double major in math and physics at Harvard. They use those books there. Or at least, they do for the courses he took!
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