My Future Plans

To any of you who may be interested, I haven’t shared much about my personal life in a long time, so I figured I’d update everyone about what’s going on.

For quite a while now I’ve been finished with all my core classes for my physics degree.  They were really a walk in the park.  For a lot of them, I never even attended class other than test days, and that was really nice.  But the thing is, I have a lot of my “crap” courses left and that really depresses me.  For years now I’ve suffered from depression, which can be really severe at times, but I ONLY get depressed when I have to go to classes, and it’s always the classes I can’t stand.  Maybe I’ll briefly explain why these “crap” courses make me so depressed.

I can remember one time studying for hours and hours, day after day, memorizing pointless information for a class on British literature.  (By the way, I have no interest in British literature and I hate poetry.)  Class itself consists of sitting passively while the professor goes over extremely boring trivia in a Powerpoint presentation.  Eventually we’d be tested on this worthless information, so I had to write each bulletpoint down on a notecard and I neded up with a huge stack of cards.  I’d then go over them for hours and hours, day after day, memorizing each stupid fact.  Since I still have these cards (I keep all my files from each class, just for occassions like these), so I’ll share some of the questions from these cards.

“Where was Samuel Taylor Coleridge born?”
“How many brothers and sisters did Coleridge have?”
“Who did Coleridge marry and for what reason?”
“What did Coleridge die of?”
“Whose quote is this, ‘A drop of ink may make a million think'”
“When Mad Jack left Lord Byron and his mother Catherine, where did they live in the meantime?”
“Who rescued George Gordon from his unstable household?”
“Lord Byron took a vacation which was very important to him.  Where was this?”
“When Mary Wooldstonecraft died, who did Godwin marry next?”
“What got Percy Shelly kicked out of school?”
“Where is Lord Byron buried?”

When that exam came around, I knew all the answers.  Of course, now I don’t even know who Coleridge is, and I don’t care.  I can’t answer a single question from these cards now.

Imagine doing this sort of thing for years and years.  This is your life as a full time student.  You have several of these sorts of classes each semester, each with their own information to memorize.  To say the least, it’s psychologically draining, but this is what universities are.  You sit through boring Powerpoint presentations and then you regurgitate the information on “exams”, and do busywork, like writing papers.  I have a very low threshold for this bullshit.

Take this current semester.  I was supposed to finally finish my last English course but I was getting so depressed attending class, I just dropped it.  I ended up losing $1000, but whatever.  Once I dropped the course, it was like a light shone down on me from above and I was reborn.  I felt so good.

I’d often visit with my parents and they’d see me super depressed, which isn’t how I normally am.  My Mom would tell me, “Jason, drop these classes.  Look at what they’re doing to you.  Why are you doing this to yourself?”  I think I’m the only person alive whose parents tell him to drop out of college.

I was supposed to write a paper in English and I threw something together, but I just didn’t care.  I thought, “I can’t take this.”  I’d go to class each morning at 8 am, and that woman would drone on about the most insipid, boring stuff imaginable.  Entire lectures were dedicated to the APA format, which is the formatting guidelines for American Psychological Association papers.  Yippee!  I’m not even a psychologist, but not that it matters.  She was literally going on for thirty minutes about how to format a title page in APA.  Why?  Who knows and who cares. Then she had some document prepared that wasn’t formatted correctly, and we were all to correct it together in class.  It was so bad.  There’s supposed to be eight new lines, then the title, in this font, of this size, and two more lines down you put your university name, then the subtitle, and blah blah blah.  I got on my tablet and texted a friend over Skype saying, “Please, shoot me.”

These students go to these classes like drones, and I just watch them, widdling away their lives, wasting their time doing these stupid assignments.  I couldn’t help but think, “What is this doing for the world?  For them?  For anyone?”  It was a complete waste of time.  Think of all the money and time that’s wasted all over the country on this stuff.  Most of these students are getting grants from the government, and that money is spent on expensive computer labs, so they can all mindlessly do these digital activities together.   I wouldn’t even call most of this stuff learning.  Most of it you could easily look up in thirty seconds on Google, if you needed the information.  I honestly don’t get it.

I can’t do it.  One of my advisors sat with me and said, “You have to do it.  No matter how good you are in math and physics, you can’t graduate until you finish these other required courses.”  I said, “I don’t know if I can.”  I have to take it in extremely small doses, which is why it’s been taking me so long to get out of college.  I can only do one, maybe two of these sorts of classes per semester.  And you may say, “Jason, why do you care about these classes?  Why do they matter?”  Well, I have to keep a perfect GPA or I can’t do my PhD research at some of the places I want to be involved with.  The competition to get into those places is just insane.

That’s the only reason I care.  I want to do research as a theoretical physicist, primarily a cosmologist, researching the big questions of the universe, dark matter, the big bang, how everything came to be, and all that good stuff.  Just lock me in a room, throw away the key, and leave me alone.  I’ll be applying to some good schools if I can ever finish these stupid “crap” courses.  I have a perfect GPA, so my goal is to do MIT.  MIT doesn’t require any classes, tests, homework, or any of that stuff.  You spend all your time doing research, so that’s my current goal.  I’m scared if I have a single B or C on my transcript, even in a “crap” course, I won’t get in, so I have no choice.  I just have to keep pushing.

If I can’t get into one of these really good schools to finish my PhD, researching cosmology, I don’t know if I’m even going to continue any of it.  I doubt I will.  It will all have been a giant waste of time.  That’s why I did all of this.  I want to work with some really bright minds on figuring out the universe.  If I can’t do that, I’m just wasting time.

If I can’t end up working as a cosmologist, doing worthwhile research, which is a possibility, I’m just going pack up my bags, take whatever job or position pays the most money, I’m going to finish saving up what money I need to retire, I’m going to live as minimally as possible, and then escape to a log cabin and have no interaction with anything or anyone.  The more remote, the better.

If I end up in the cabin, I’m never going to publish anything I research or figure out.  I’m not going to have any ties to academia or any university.  So far, I have put in almost seven years to this bullshit, writing papers I don’t care about, memorizing crap for exams, and doing all this nonsense.  I’ve told myself over and over that it’s worth it in the end, but if I can’t work as a cosmologist, it really isn’t.  I could have just went on as a software developer, making good money, and these universities have stolen enough of my time as it is.  I’m getting too old and they’ve stolen enough of my money as it is.  I’m not going to fool with any of it anymore.

It’s sad, but there are people like me in the world who really want to work on things and make a difference, but society erects this insane barrier to entry.  I live here in Rolla, the same town as my university, and not including room and board, my tuition and textbook expenses alone have totaled more than $60,000.  Single textbooks alone will cost $300.  $300 for one book!  If that’s not a barrier to entry, I don’t know what is.  Oh, and did I mention all the years of my life they’ve taken?  Even when I could have tested out of the courses on day one?  And of course, the useless crap courses, which is literally half of my required credits to graduate.

I’m so sick of universities.  I’m so sick of classes.  I’m so sick of it all.  It all ends in December of this year.  I’ve slowly widdled away at these crap courses, one or two at a time.  It could’ve ended a lot earlier, but I keep dropping classes.  But this will be the end because I’m not doing it anymore.  I either do real research on cosmology, figuring out real problems at a place like MIT, or I’m done.  No more.  Come the end of this year, I will not, I repeat, will NOT waste any more of my time memorizing information from powerpoint presentations, I will NOT write another paper on anything I’m not interested in, and I will NOT sit through lectures when I’m not learning anything.  It ends this year.

2017 will be my new beginning, if I can make it there without throwing myself in front of a bus.

3 thoughts on “My Future Plans”

  1. Jason, I am very concerned about your proneness to depression, your disdain for ordinary human interaction, and your belief that if you can’t make it into MIT or its lofty equivalent, you essentially have nothing left to live for except being a disillusioned drone eking out a living until you can retire as a hermit living aimlessly in the wilderness.

    And I say this as someone who, although he lacks your obvious brilliance in math and science, has always felt at odds with society and uncomfortable with much of what passes for socialization.

    But, in my case, I’ve long been interested in many disciplines and issues, aided and abetted by my increasing appreciation of the interconnectedness of all phenomena and of all disciplines that study these phenomena, so that I’ve come to regard almost no academic subject as boring or worthless, and almost all learning, whether curricular or extracurricular, as potentially illuminating and enriching.

    I won’t deny that I share your aversion to grinding, rote memorization of dates and places, but I’m guessing that there are other aspects of your humanities courses that are or at least could be fascinating to an open and curious mind, and that gifted and accomplished theoretical physicists from Einstein and Oppenheimer in the past to Ed Witten today have opened their minds and interest to disciplines and subjects far outside their own discipline and have probably been the happier for it.

    Moreover, while I too prefer to discuss subjects and issues that most people would probably prefer to pass up in favor of “small” talk about their jobs, their families, their favorite sports team, or the latest insult from some politician or gossip about some celebrity, I have learned to take more pleasure in the company of others by looking for and appreciating the beauty that lies in almost everyone whether they’re talking about the sacred or the profane, the profound or the mundane.

    I hope you make it into MIT and get to do the kind of work there that you heart longs to do, but I also hope that, whether you do or don’t, you’ll find life to be richer and more fulfilling than you seem to now, and that other people from all walks of life and levels of intelligence will come to occupy a more vital and pleasurable part of your life than they seem to now.

    In the meantime, I hope you keep on blogging about yourself and your experiences inside and outside academia, because your blog has been one of my longtime favorites, and it’s been a real pleasure to get to know you as well as I’d like to think I’ve come to know you and your beautiful search for truth.

  2. I used to feel exactly the same way. I hated school and just wanted to escape and learn everything on my own. I only went to school because I had no choice. But there are actually benefits to staying in society, as Steve said. But I guess that also depends on your personality. Personally, I’d love to be a hermit too. All I wanna do is stay in a place close to nature or something like that and just learn everything on my own. Like, trace how everything was made and make my own style of creating civilization or something like that. Or just simply create things on my own. I had that very strong drive when I was younger. But I feel like I’m broken now, though. Somehow. Because of what happened to me.

    I wish you well, whatever you decide to take on. If you ever need a friend, I’m here. 🙂

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