I'm in the third year of my physics PhD, and although I have done very well in courses and passed the written candidacy exam, I have already switched research advisors twice and all three times I couldn't make myself productive in research. I'm planning on doing a Masters now but even that is taking some effort, and at this point I just want to leave.
I truly enjoy learning about physics, taking courses, solving problems, reading (good) papers, and the initial stages of learning the jargon and ideas of a sub-field, but after that when it comes down to business and I have to focus on the real research I'm supposed to be doing, I feel like all joy and curiosity I have towards the subject is sucked out of me.
To me physics is a very personal subject. It's an intellectual detour from work. It's like therapy to me. Give me paper, a pencil, and one good textbook introducing some ideas to play with and I'm like a kid on a playground.
Trying to make it into a career, however, means I'm not free to truly explore and examine topics. Any organic thought process or line of questioning I have is immediately crushed under the weight of the research I'm supposed to be doing and the judgement of my peers/advisor as to whether or not I'm just wasting time.
I went into a PhD solely because I really loved the physics courses I took in engineering, not because I had a career plan. Meanwhile most of my peers and professors treat courses like a nuisance that must be overcome to get credit and focus on the work that they really want to do.
I'm at a bit of a loss of what do for work now. My goal for an ideal living situation would be a modest but livable income at a relatively simple minded job that doesn't follow you home so I could spend some leisure hours studying and playing with ideas. However, it seems like most jobs that use my only assets of engineering and physics knowledge demand too much active attention to allow one put serious effort towards other pursuits simultaneously. Can anyone advise a good career path for this situation?