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Are the non-physicist physics lovers here content?

  1. Feb 3, 2015 #1
    The title doesn't fully express what I'm asking here, because it doesn't allow enough room for my question.

    I know there are a lot of people here who have worked in a variety of fields outside of physics, without physics degrees, and I'm sure many of you have a large interest in physics.

    Have you actually gone and self studied higher level physics on your own? I ask that, because as an electrical engineering student, I can only take so many physics courses, while there's so much physics I want to learn. How do you even find time to learn about physics in your spare time when you actually have say, an engineering job? What do you do to learn about physics? And is it possible to learn a satisfactory (I know--subjective) amount of physics on top of a separate career and family life?
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  3. Feb 3, 2015 #2


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    Yes, I have purchased several physics textbooks, read the material and worked through the problems at the end of the chapters. It's fun! (phun?)

    Pens and notebooks are readily available for purchase at the corner store. It's vital to work the problems yourself.

    As far as time is concerned, I would sometimes work out a problem during morning coffee, but mostly after work at the coffee shop. Coffee seems to be a common theme. Hmm.

    There is an unusual aspect that on most occasions there is no way to verify that my answers are correct. But fortunately it's usually easy to tell once the answer presents itself. Do sanity checks on it and make sure it makes sense. A well crafted problem has the tendency to reduce to a thing of beauty. For example, I can't express the joy I found when expressing time and distance (x and t) as a function of proper time [itex] \tau [/itex] of an object undergoing uniform, proper acceleration. The answer is pure beauty.

    [Edit: this Physics Forums website is also quite useful if you get stuck on a problem.]

    If you are looking for lectures, there are plenty online. Leonard Susskind lectures for continuing education from Stanford are well suited for this sort of thing.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2015
  4. Feb 3, 2015 #3


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    I am one of those, guilty as charged :). Though I should say I was required to learn some basic physics at university during my education (e.g. basic classical physics, experimental physics, optics and thermodynamics).

    Yes. Beyond the physics I studied at university I have studied some more physics on my own out of pure interest and love of the field. Mainly basic relativity, basic quantum mechanics/particle physics and most recently basic cosmology, because I wanted to learn more about all of this. Now I really know there is so much I know so little about :).

    It may be good to think about to first and foremost focus on what you need and want to learn for your education. What I am trying to say, is that it may not be good to have a go at too much in too short of a time - use your energy wisely, and maybe talk to your teachers about it?

    Personally, out of pure interest and joy. When there is interest and joy for me, I find time :).

    E.g. read textbooks, watch lectures and seminars online, read blogs, scientific magazines, papers and journals. And, of course, read on this forum ;).

    A very subjective question indeed :D. What's satisfactory to me, is satisfactory to me. And what's satisfactory to you, is satisfactory to you. If you specify what you mean by "satisfactory" and/or give more details about what you mean, you may get better answers than mine from others here. Physics is a huge field, and there are many things in physics I know next to nothing about :nb).
  5. Feb 3, 2015 #4


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  6. Feb 3, 2015 #5
    I'll be able to fit a few extra physics courses into my curriculum without too much of a struggle (an introductory course on modern physics, maybe introductory QM) and I'll have a good exposure to (at least, taught from an engineer's perspective) electromagnetism from courses I'll already be taking. I've already taken the standard calculus-based physics I and II. I do plan on going to graduate school, though that won't involve learning any physics that isn't directly useful to my work.

    By satisfactory, I could mean several things:
    1. the ability to meaningfully discuss topics in modern physics (i.e. physics starting with relativity and QM) to a somewhat technical degree if necessary, with the assurance that I'm not misrepresenting the theories discussed through lack of deeper knowledge.
    2. the ability to discuss those topics to a very technical degree
    3. the ability to understand, with a good amount of effort, the technical details of modern physics papers within some subset of the fields of physics
    4. while working as an engineer, I successfully propose a correct theory of quantum gravity and win a Nobel prize (heh, Einstein made breakthroughs working at a patent office! :D though he did have a Ph.D in physics...)

    In all actuality, satisfactory to me is probably 1, which seems to be somewhere around the area of an advanced undergraduate degree in physics.
  7. Feb 3, 2015 #6


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    Actually, there's at least two types of people.

    There are those that survived their education in order to get the degree that would get them a good job and never want to learn anything more. In fact, they really didn't want to learn the stuff that inadvertantly seeped into their brain while getting their degree.

    There are those who learn how to learn what they need to know when they need to know it - preferably real quick. Don't be too sure that learning physics real quick will never be part of your job.

    My satisfaction level is having a broad enough field of knowledge, even if pretty thin, so I can learn a particular piece of a specialty real quick if I need to. Or at least learn the answers to questions that pop into my head just out of curiosity from something I read or experienced (and the curiosity part isn't limited to just phsyics - I tend to learn a rather strange assortment of things that will surely have no use in my future just because).
  8. Feb 4, 2015 #7
    I simply enjoy learning all I can, even if I never use it practically.

    I dropped out of high school, got a GED, and spent 2-3 years in basic college before also quitting that and working as a roughneck for the past ten years. The main reason I quit college was because I wanted more money so I could party more often. I sometimes regret quitting college, but never because of the money. I make just as much if not more money now than I ever would have with a basic 4 year degree.

    I do however, have and always have had a desire to learn as much as possible, especially in the realm of science, physics, and math. I wish to self educate myself as much as possible in mathematics and physics. I do realize the difficulty of teaching oneself these things, and may one day return to school because of it. The good thing about my job, though, is that when I am off work, I am off work and free to do whatever I want, so finding the time isn't a problem. The problem is juggling the time between my numerous other hobbies that also take considerable amounts of time to master.

    My biggest regret is time I spent partying that should have been spent on more productive things.
  9. Feb 8, 2015 #8
    My degree is in nuclear engineering, but I love physics and yes I have studied it and mathematics as time permits. I probably spend more time self-studying history than any other topic outside of my field, but that is something that just requires a lot of reading, so it's easier to study than topics that would be best accompanied by labs. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I probably would have studied physics in college, most likely particle physics. But I was already working in the nuclear field before I got a degree, so I went down that path since it's what I already had a strong understanding of and a degree in it would open better doors for me along with my previous work experience.

    If I had the money, I'd just go to school forever and learn everything I could. I'll never understand people who "hate" learning or school.
  10. Feb 8, 2015 #9
    I would honestly quintuple major if I could. Physics, math, electrical engineering, French (currently know some, so it'd be nice to formally learn it), and I'm sure I could find another humanities topic that I find interesting (I'm somewhat of a history buff).

    Unfortunately, that's not something society demands. And I'm not sure that a human being could make any meaningful contributions in their lifetime by spreading themselves that thin (unless of course, your name happens to be Gauss or something, in which case, why are you wasting your time on online forums?! :D )
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