i was so afraid i was going to fail math

He was skeptical at first. “What’s in it for me?”

“The opportunity to connect with another human being for a bit.”

Slowly he opened up and we had a great discussion about energy and intention and manifestation.

“I really want to study quantum mechanics. I’m terrible at math, so I’m afraid to try it and then fail, But that’s why I really want to get housing and go to school. I’ve been houseless so many times. I really want to get my life together.”
My name is Andrea, and I am a second year Ph.D student in Georgia Tech’s school of physics. My area is pretty interdisciplinary involving a mixture of complex dynamics, computation and biophysics (with a focus on cardiac dynamics). I really enjoy this since I have a lot of different interests and I get to do a mixture of experiment, computation, and a little bit of theory. My lab is also involved in education and outreach, which I love since have enjoyed being a teaching assistant for both physics and calculus, as well as a tutor for a variety of areas for people of all ages. My ultimate goal is to pursue a career in academia by becoming a physics professor in nonlinear dynamics who is also active in teaching physics to the non-physicist. Many times I see people shy away from physics feeling like it is too difficult, but I believe that if it conveyed the right way, the basic concepts can be very understandable to anyone interested in it.  For me, being in graduate school itself is an accomplishment. Over the years, I have had a few setbacks especially involving my depression and anxiety, both of which I am actively working through. A lot of times, both of these can make people feel like they are not good enough to be doing what they want to do which sometimes drive them away from taking chances and opportunities. Personally, I was originally really afraid to go to grad school in physics because I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I ended up not applying for physics grad schools right out of undergrad because I believed I wouldn’t get into grad school for physics and it would look bad to my friends who were also in physics. Instead, I decided to apply to math graduate programs with the logic that if I failed with that, at least it wasn’t something that I actively worked hard for so it wouldn’t look as bad  (I know it sounds really strange, but it made sense to me at the time). After a year in a grad program that I was miserable in, I decided to try physics once more and luckily it has worked out for me ever since. To this day, I still have doubts and fears that creep up on me, but each day I am getting better at dealing with them, even if sometimes it is in the smallest of ways. Everyone has a bad day, or a bad exam, or a bad class, or a bad semester even, but that does not make them worth any less and they should try not to let these moments define them, which is unfortunately often easier said than done. I am learning though that these things happen to everyone. In these instances, sometimes it is good to take a step back and relax and do something else before getting back to work, which is something that I, as well as a lot of other students, have difficulties with. My advice for anyone who would like to go into physics is to not be afraid of trying new things. I jumped through a bunch of different areas (graphene, particle physics, pure math, etc) before finding an area that works for me. If you are an undergrad, go to talks and colloquia. Most of the time you won’t understand everything, but if you pick up a few things here and there that interest you, you can read more about them and ask questions (something I am *still* working on) and in the next talk you will understand even more. Take chances. Look for research opportunities in your department or summer REUs (Research Experience for Undergrads) so you can find what you like to study. Read articles in Scientific American or Physics Today. Talk to professors and other students. Try to attend conferences. If you’re not in college yet, there are still a lot of books you can read that break down some really interesting areas of physics without all of the messy details. Also, it seems like a lot of people in physics really enjoy talking about what they do, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions (and tell them to slow down when they are talking way above your head). Most of all, don’t be afraid of making mistakes, especially if it is in an area you really want to learn more about.