This is my first post. I didn't know really where to put this. And it's going to be a long, personal, typo laden, occasionally not physics related and rather emotional one.
I'm 21 years old and have graduated with a BS in Physics recently. I'm a complete and utter failure in every sense of the word. EVERY sense.
I started off in a different major. Never had to study before, no social skills and didn't know how to get help, rather unprepared from high school, in a weed-out major. Got my ass thoroughly kicked due to toughness and lack of maturity on my part. Switched to physics for a variety of reasons at the end of that year. Looking back on it, I should have taken a break after my first year and worked a little. Gained some focus and some maturity. But I didn't.
I started to work somewhat-it was on and off, depending on if I had someone to guide me. I improved somewhat with grades, but nowhere near good enough, and I still got a lot of Bs/Cs and flunked one or two. Did some “research”, but never got anything truly done(I even got kicked out of one lab for arguing). But that isn't my true lament.
I haven't learned physics. Not really, anyway. Oh, I've read, and I'd “study”. I'd try problems, and I'd try to understand them. I did better with some courses than others, and did learn a lot in things like QM or Statistical Mechanics or Solid State. But all too often, I'd look for help on the Internet. I “improved” over time in grades, but I never truly got consistently good ones all of the time. I'd goof off on classes that didn't interest me-and not many did until recently. I thought it was enough, but I wasn't truly “loving it”. Add to the fact that I never took an “easy” semester, and I had plenty of outsider distractions and we got trouble...
I joined a theoretical/computational CMT group (mostly theoretical, but my job is mostly computational) in my junior year after really enjoying my QM I course, and ended up taking my advisor's courses. The only bright thing in my life is the two graduate level Solid State courses I took this semester and last, and completed them relatively well. It was at 8 AM in the morning, and I was easily the dumbest person in the room, but it was so totally worth it. Quantum Hall effect, Heisenberg model, BCS and Ginzburg Landau theory... I just loved it, and tried to understand what I could. And that, in turn, got me more interested in math, in programming, in more. It was tough, but I stuck it out and did decently, if not spectacularly. They changed my life. I want to do that, at any cost. Even if I'm the worst CMT grad student in the world. That's when I started to truly get some motivation. But I still goofed off more than I should have.
It was around that time I tried to overhaul a lot in my life, but I think I bit off a little more than I could chew. I think I tried to do too much at once. And I still failed and fucked up a lot, including this final I just took. That is what I'm most discouraged about-I've tried to change, but I've failed. Now, I'm graduating, and I don't have a lot of hope except a dream. To do research full time doing condensed matter theory-if only for the Phd years.
I have had, to be fair, some really bad luck at times. My choice of school, was in retrospect, a disaster waiting to happen. Fell in with the wrong crowd for a bit early on, got taken advantage of, did some dumb things. When I finally tried to turn things in my life around, I had a very steep slope uphill, for a lot of reasons. I've taken some and stuck with some courses that I shouldn't have. I've made a lot of stupid mistakes on exams. I've also dealt with issues like depression and certain mental issues. But... it's my fault. It all is. The worst part is, I don't even have the comfort of friends or good memories to look back on. College has been miserable, and I'm just glad to be done with it. I'm utterly alone. I can only say that I'm at least not frequently suicidal like I was a couple years ago, and I've stopped blaming others for my problems. Needless to say... it's not looking good for me. I can't even get a proper job.
The tough part is getting started. I just feel so dumb and behind. Over the past year, I've tried my best, and succeeded to a limited degree, but I still have problems. And it doesn't matter if I understand the material, they see the grades. (And I'm not complaining-I deserve it. I used to blame everyone but myself, and I'm going out of my way to do that). I bombed an unbelievably easy final recently, and this is part of what has me in a funk-I studied the wrong things, and focused on Solid State II more, and I learned a LOT in the class. But still! I did badly on the midterm for a very stupid reason(very personal reason), so...
So, my current plan, you ask? When I don't feel like it is too late and that I should bail, and that I'm a complete joke...
1) There is an unranked MS program, not too far from where I am currently attending school. For anyone who has read Crime and Punishment(I'm a LOT like Rodion Raskolnikov), you can think of this as “Siberia” before my “redemption”. Well, not nearly as literally negative as that, but figuratively. I think that's a good mindset. I have committed a crime, I will do the punishment. I will head there this fall.
Let me make this plain. I do NOT NOT NOT care about getting into a high or even "decently" ranked school. I do not care what school I really get into afterwards so long as it's a decent place to live (and I'm flexible) and they've got interesting CMT research. I have a few schools that I think I *might* have a chance of getting into if I do this. Has ANYONE here ever done this before?
2) This spring, in the meantime, I will be taking a few courses. Graduate QM and E&M II. I'll also take a graduate parallel algorithms course. But maybe that is too much? PGRE and research and work... Like I mentioned, one consistent problem of mine is that I bite off too much for my current focus capabilities. Always have. But I need to be realistic-this might not work out, and this course might give me experience with larger programs that I have not dealt with on my own, in terms of employment. And I love supercomputers!
Anyway, it's imperative that I do well in them. Thankfully, my QM I teacher used Sakurai and taught it like a graduate course. I did relatively well in that, especially considering my awful math grades. So, I should be able to handle it. E&M II is a good choice since I don't feel quite ready for Jackson yet, though I'm going to first tackle Griffiths.
3) It would be great if I could get the PGRE done this April, and do well on it. One less thing to worry about in grad school, and that could be an important first step. Success, more than anything, will help me in other areas of life. I'm not seeking to get a 990 or anything like the more impressive people here-it wouldn't really help me anyway at that point I'm at, and I've got to look at priorities. I've identified some possible Phd programs, and they are all relatively low ranked with a couple of exceptions, but good in CMT, and in places I could spend my 20s. And I feel that I can-this is more about practice than anything.
Since I mentioned I was going to work with my brand new copy of Griffiths soon, I guess logically I'll start with Electromagtism. I have five months starting this Thursday. I'll see if I can get a study group at the university.
4) Continue my current research through the spring, and hopefully this summer. We are presenting a poster at APS this year, with a little luck. But I'm honestly not sure that I'm going to get a paper out of this. We'll see.
Once I get a final project done for class, I'll use the next few weeks, when I'm off, to start plodding through Griffiths Electro and Sakurais QM again.
And my questions:
The obvious thing to do, of course, is to kick ass. I have some specific plans to do this. I'm getting tired of typing, so I'll just list a couple of them and get into more detail later if I feel like it. For one thing, it's a much more smaller school, which may suit my personality, and my mental issues better. Much more supportive, less cutthroat, more motivation and people paying attention. For classes, I will try to find some consistent study groups so that I'm less tempted to go online and more motivated. I will introduce myself to the material before class, study afterwards, and find specific times to do homework. I need a support structure. Get a schedule, stick with it. Go to academic and psychological counseling if I need to-they offer it free to students. Exercise, don't get depressed.
But the thing is, I've tried all of these things in the past, and I never did it right. I don't have a lot of confidence in myself. The one thing I've got that makes this different is I'm moving to a new place, which is a pretty big deal for me. Above all I can think of this as a FRESH NEW START. That's very crucial.
I would REALLY welcome suggestions from anybody who has been in a similar situation. It seems as though everybody here is successful.
As I wish to do certain things in CMT that they don't do there, I might even be able to stick with my old research group, though I'm not sure if I should. My advisor is the best guy in the world. Literally. It's thanks to him that I discovered condensed matter theory(I like coding and I've always like solid state stuff). I'd give anything to impress him, and given the theoretical nature of the work, I might be able to stay or collaborate with him. But maybe it's better to get a completely new start, and who knows? Maybe it's just not practical for me to do theory at this point, given how much I need to catch up. My role in the current project is mostly computational. What do you think? My math background is awful. Last semester, I've finally begun to enjoy stuff like group theory or differential geometry or topology or PDEs, for the hell of it. I've finally begun to truly understand the stuff behind the courses. But, I'm now up against graduate level courses, mostly. I haven't done BAD in ALL of them-Stat Mech, QM I, Electro-but I haven't done as good as deep down, I know I can do.
I'll be relatively close to my old school. If I can somehow get a car-and I don't know if I can-I can take graduate courses there. This might help me, insofar as it can show I can handle a top 20 school's grad courses. I will, again, be doing grad QM next semester. Doing well in the Solid State courses I mentioned might be a lifesaver for me, and I hope that I can prove myself in grad QM next semester. I got a C in Classical Mechanics-it would be a boon for my chances if I could do well in the grad version, especially with a teacher that I did badly under, albeit in a different course. All this is theoretical of course.
Above all, how will I know it'll be different this time? There is this one grad student whom I have known ever since I transferred into physics my sophomore year and who really helped me in Waves, with whom I would often work, late into the night. We ate an early morning breakfast after pulling my first all nighter, ever, while doing a take home final for Solid State II. He says that the difference between me when he TA'ed Waves and me now is like night and day in terms of organization and motivation and “being realistic”. But... I just don't know.
This was very tough for me to write, but I needed to do it and just get off my chest. While I am looking for realistic advice and not blind comfort, all I ask is for you to please understand that confessing this was really tough. I don't confide emotionally to anyone, never have, and now I'm doing it online, randomly, to strangers. You really don't know how hard that is for me.
And I'm not exactly in the most... clear headed of moods right now. So I may have left some stuff out or been ambiguous or been too personal. The worst part about the failure recently was how... blunt I felt after it. As if I wasn't upset. I just felt, oh well, I'll do better next time... have I hit rock bottom?
I'm also starting a blog on the site. The goal is that every Sunday, I'm going to state what I did in physics that week. How long, what, how I focused... think of it as a motivator, if I go through with it. It's winter break, which is ideal-I need to just focus on just enjoying physics for a bit, with no pressure or grades. According to the advice of a grad student who was in a similar situation-he managed to get into our university with a 2.9-I need to focus on starting small and gradually building up my focus. He gave me this advice earlier this semester, but like most things I've resolved to do, I ended up abandoning it when the pressure came in from all directions and my routines were broken up...
What do you think, PGRE.com? Am I too far gone?