Becoming a successful Physicist or other -earlier preparations

  • Other
  • Thread starter symbolipoint
  • Start date
  • Tags
    Physicist
In summary: I guess what I am looking for is the child, his impulses, and his experiences, outside of any formal education, leading to or indicating talent, or at the minimum, interest.What you are looking for is common among successful people. They all have to start somewhere.
  • #1
symbolipoint
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
7,340
1,827
Maybe this question belongs in Career Guidance board?
As prompted in https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/how-to-become-a-successful-physicist.1045728/post-6803003 I ask my question as new topic:

How or what do successful scientists or engineers do BEFORE ever reaching university? I would think that people who later succeed before the ages of 17, 18, 19, 20, would have had important development experiences not specifically within course work or school which helped them form into the person who will succeed as becoming physicist, engineer, biological, or other scientist. Wide open! Many different responses are possible here.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
If I am considered ”successful”: I don’t think I did anything particularly different, not even after starting university. Sure, I had stellar marks in maths and physics and was clearly ahead of the curve, but I did not go to any special classes or similar. I participated in the national physics, math, and chemistry olympiads but can’t say they had any major impact on my success.
 
  • Like
Likes DeBangis21, PhDeezNutz, topsquark and 1 other person
  • #3
symbolipoint said:
Wide open! Many different responses are possible here.
Too wide open. As I replied in the other thread:

CrysPhys said:
Prior to the thesis research, there is a multitude of teachers (and other individuals), not a single individual, who influence the future success of the students. If you rewind enough, then the number of factors that influence students' future success in any particular field explodes (parents, family, friends, family economic status, country, neighborhood, government, educational opportunities, religion, culture, gender, ...)
If you want a meaningful discussion, you need to delimit your initial conditions (which is why the starting point of the article cited in the other thread was the start of PhD thesis research). E.g., you will get vastly different responses for (a) a young girl born to two Christian farmers in Afghanistan and (b) a young boy born to a physicist and a microbiologist in the US.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz and topsquark
  • #4
CrysPhys said:
Too wide open. As I replied in the other thread:If you want a meaningful discussion, you need to delimit your initial conditions (which is why the starting point of the article cited in the other thread was the start of PhD thesis research). E.g., you will get vastly different responses for (a) a young girl born to two Christian farmers in Afghanistan and (b) a young boy born to a physicist and a microbiologist in the US.
I guess what I am looking for is the child, his impulses, and his experiences, outside of any formal education, leading to or indicating talent, or at the minimum, interest.
 
  • #5
Define "physicist"...
The type of prior experience that would be helpful will potentially be very different depending on what type of physics you do and your career path. Someone who is doing experimental physics will certainly benefit from having an interest in say electronics, computers and a variety of "hands on" hobbies; but for someone who ends up doing say string theory that might not be as relevant.
Also, if you work in "big science" or end up leading a team (which is the case for most senior scientists, at least in experimental physics) you will need to develop some social skills, this might not required if your are doing theory on your own (which admittedly is rare).
There are plenty of very good (and in some cases well known) scientists out there who have built their careers on being good managers, good at wiring proposals and good at politics.

It think the answer to the question is that all we need all different types of people with a mix of backgrounds in science.

Also, having a "talent" of physics when you are say 14 does NOT mean that you will automatically have a a successful career in physics. "Doing physics" is only part of the job of a physicist, and the more senior you get the smaller that part becomes.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark
  • #6
symbolipoint said:
How or what do successful scientists or engineers do BEFORE ever reaching university?
A common trait would be a desire to take things apart. When I was in grade school my friends and I would take our bicycle wheels off the bikes, to repair flat tires or to get the chain back on. Sooner or later we took the hubs apart (what are all these little steel balls? How do the brakes work?) I think it is curiosity plus encouragement to probe the world. A parent, sibling, or friend has a crescent wrench and a screwdriver, let's use those to dissect this machine. Certainly not a universal trait, but many of my colleagues had similar experiences.

Another thing: when your friends and teachers start telling you, "hey you are smart" -- you start acting smart, maybe reading things a bit above your level. Positive feedback.

Parental support: my brothers* and I got things like chemistry sets, water rockets (later on the Estes model kits), and electronic kits for Christmas.

*we didn't have any sisters, if we had, I'm sure they would have shared in the fun.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark and symbolipoint
  • #7
I’ll just cut my post from the other thread

I like this post. I can only speak from my experiences but here’s what I think should NOT happen between those ages. Parents should not adopt the philosophy of “scholastic achievement before anything and even at the expense of socialization”. Maslow’s hierarchy and whatnot. Give young people agency and that will give them empowerment to pursue things they want. Build up their inherent confidence (but carefully so as not to the point of arrogance).

Not a scientific post but my two cents. Maybe projecting/venting.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark and symbolipoint
  • #8
PhDeezNutz said:
I can only speak from my experiences but here’s what I think should NOT happen between those ages. Parents should not adopt the philosophy of “scholastic achievement before anything and even at the expense of socialization”.
Yes. There are two different questions. (1) "How do I most effectively accomplish a specific task?" and
(2) "Should I pursue a specific task in the first place?"
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark and PhDeezNutz
  • #9
CrysPhys said:
Yes. There are two different questions. (1) "How do I most effectively accomplish a specific task?" and
(2) "Should I pursue a specific task in the first place?"
@PhDeezNutz was on a good general track when telling about Maslow's Hierarchy. Then in the part you quoted, he was either knowingly or not so, telling that parents and teachers will often interfere with childrens' curiosities when telling a child or student, to not do something because of worries of safety or conceived wastefulness or of acting outside of tradition. In other words, parents or teachers may too often instruct to block or blunt the young person's curiosity.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark and PhDeezNutz
  • #10
symbolipoint said:
@PhDeezNutz was on a good general track when telling about Maslow's Hierarchy. Then in the part you quoted, he was either knowingly or not so, telling that parents and teachers will often interfere with childrens' curiosities when telling a child or student, to not do something because of worries of safety or conceived wastefulness or of acting outside of tradition. In other words, parents or teachers may too often instruct to block or blunt the young person's curiosity.
I know nothing about Maslow's Hierarchy (first time I've ever heard of it), but my take on what @PhDeezNutz wrote, in particular the section I cited above, differs from yours. To me it's a question of what the end goal is, and, in formal terms, a question of global optimization vs. local optimization.

If the end goal is to have kids become successful scientists or engineers (your central theme), then certain parents (assuming that sufficient resources are available) will enroll their kids in after-school and weekend programs geared towards math and science and send their kids off to space camp for their summers. But there is of course a heavy penalty exacted, in that other key aspects of the kids' development are neglected.

On the other hand, if the end goal is to have kids become well-rounded individuals, then parents should support a diverse range of activities (assuming that sufficient resources are available): science and math, individual and team sports, music, art, dance, writing, crafts, all-important free play, ... At a certain age, kids can then decide what activities they wish to concentrate in and what activities they wish to drop. But at least they will have received exposure to a wide range of activities to choose from.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark, PhDeezNutz and hutchphd
  • #11
Space camp and advanced programs are great. What I was referring to is more of an edge case of parents who view their children as mere instruments for the sake of self glory. To the point of

- making grades an expectation that has to fulfilled before one is allowed to socialize, have entertainment outlets, or have other interests when it is in fact the latter three that makes someone mentally healthy enough to achieve former.

Essentially what I’m saying is that there is nothing wrong with high expectations but using the fulfillment of those expectations as a gate keeper for other experiences is toxic to say the least. It will ultimately lead to less academic performance.

I hope I’m not veering off topic.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark
  • #12
CrysPhys said:
If the end goal is to have kids become successful scientists or engineers (your central theme), then certain parents (assuming that sufficient resources are available) will enroll their kids in after-school and weekend programs geared towards math and science and send their kids off to space camp for their summers. But there is of course a heavy penalty exacted, in that other key aspects of the kids' development are neglected.

On the other hand, if the end goal is to have kids become well-rounded individuals, then parents should support a diverse range of activities (assuming that sufficient resources are available): science and math, individual and team sports, music, art, dance, writing, crafts, all-important free play, ... At a certain age, kids can then decide what activities they wish to concentrate in and what activities they wish to drop. But at least they will have received exposure to a wide range of activities to choose from.
That is too much focused on Institutions and not what I am aiming, which is the child's or students own personal processes and experiences and curiosities OUTSIDE of the institutions.
 
  • Like
Likes hutchphd, PhDeezNutz and topsquark
  • #13
CrysPhys said:
I know nothing about Maslow's Hierarchy (first time I've ever heard of it), but my take on what @PhDeezNutz wrote, in particular the section
I knew nothing about it either. I used a quick web search.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark and PhDeezNutz
  • #14
gmax137 said:
A common trait would be a desire to take things apart...I think it is curiosity plus encouragement to probe the world... Certainly not a universal trait, but many of my colleagues had similar experiences.

Another thing: Positive feedback.

Parental support: my brothers* and I got things like chemistry sets, water rockets (later on the Estes model kits), and electronic kits for Christmas.
Neither of my kids can be labeled "successful Physicists" still being in university, but the preference for hands on building and practical kits were the purview of the one studying Electrical Engineering. The Physics major was more the one for reading and ideas. He was never much interested in doing "hands on" exploration beyond grade school. Give him a black board and chalk (he's very definitive on his preference for chalk boards over white boards) and he's much happier than mucking around in a lab. For him computers are tools you use to do your work. For the Engineer, computers are things that you build.

As for the positive feedback, encouragement, and parental support absolutely. We exposed our kids to a wide range of subjects and started reading to them from day one. The Physics major's earliest interests were in the Arts and Humanities especially history, classics and art history, the visual arts, and music and then moving on to STEM with a strong aptitude for math and an interest in chemistry before settling on physics. The Engineer's first interests were also in the visual and digital arts and then on to electroacoustic music which then moved on to the technical aspects including synthesizers and computer hardware and then on to an interest in circuits and electrical signals.

The one thing they share is a deep founded curiosity and a drive to seek out knowledge. They had the advantages of growing up in a household awash with technology and easy access to learning materials. We believed strongly in a well rounded education and fed their creative, artistic, and scientific interests including many years of music instruction and supplemented their formal schooling at home. They learned from an early age how to become self-directed learners and how to seek out information to feed their curiosities. Whether or not this will lead them to become successful in their chosen paths (the preferences being academia for the Physicist and industry for the Engineer), only time will tell, but as parents we laid the foundation. The rest is up to their natural aptitudes and personal inclinations.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark, gmax137, PhDeezNutz and 1 other person
  • #15
@gwnorth,
Great, great post, #14 !

A thought may be this: "Kid should want and have great toys; and then he may play with them as he is supposed to do, or look at a different way to play with them (maybe in a way that mommy and daddy did not expect)".
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark, gmax137 and PhDeezNutz
  • #16
symbolipoint said:
That is too much focused on Institutions and not what I am aiming, which is the child's or students own personal processes and experiences and curiosities OUTSIDE of the institutions.
"Activities" are not limited to activities within the confines of institutions. In general, though, activities require access to specific equipment or other resources (there are exceptions, of course). Since you are addressing influences back to early childhood, kids will typically be dependent on their parents to provide needed equipment or other resources.

Pursuing a curiosity in how things work by taking things apart typically requires access to tools (except for things a kid can rip or smash apart, e.g.). Pursuing an interest in music typically requires access to musical instruments (except for singing, e.g.). Pursuing an interest in sports typically requires access to specific gear (except for running barefoot, e.g.).

So if parents gladly spend money on chemistry sets, electronic kits, and erector sets, e.g., then they are supporting activities that could potentially lead to future scientists and engineers. But if they refuse to spend money on guitars and ice skates, e.g., they are forestalling activities that could potentially lead to future musicians and athletes.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark
  • #17
CrysPhys said:
So if parents gladly spend money on chemistry sets, electronic kits, and erector sets, e.g., then they are supporting activities that could potentially lead to future scientists and engineers. But if they refuse to spend money on guitars and ice skates, e.g., they are forestalling activities that could potentially lead to future musicians and athletes.
We did both, because we believed in a well rounded education. The Physicist in particular is a talented guitarist. Neither are athletic (and believe me we tried all sorts of sports) but they had to be able to do 3 things: ride a bike, swim (for safety reasons at a minimum), and skate (living in Canada, whether or not you play hockey, which my kids did not, skating is a frequent social activity for kids). In retrospect they probably should have also learned to ski.

In any case we exposed them to a wide range of activities and let them chart their own paths. How we as non-STEM parents ended up with 2 STEM kids is one of life's own mysteries.

CrysPhys said:
I know nothing about Maslow's Hierarchy (first time I've ever heard of it),
symbolipoint said:
I knew nothing about it either. I used a quick web search.
The one thing I get frustrated about dealing with students on education forums is them asking basic questions that could be answered with a quick Google search!

In any case, my STEM kids grew up with a parent who had a degree in Psychology, so while I know very little about Physics (but find it endlessly fascinating), I do know about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs :)
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz and topsquark
  • #18
I’m venting here and Idgaf

The long and short of it my parents were/are narcissistic pieces of crap who thought I existed to glorify them and any of expression of individuality was contamination of their pure vision.

My dad literally thought he was a prophet with all his excessive moral prescriptions. Likening wearing boxer shorts underwear to participating in organized crime and likening cartoons of video game characters in bikinis to pornography. And demeaning you for it. The guy literally drove 10 mph below the speed limit so he could say “patience is a virtue” (while listening to NPR and making speeches in the car that mimicked the radio static of WW2 era, he would like to imagine himself as an important historical figure). Also my mom told me i might as well just be dropped off at the county jail because I had trouble reading/writing when I was 4-5 years old.

They wouldn’t prohibit but strongly stifle (in effect prohibiting) any outside social interaction to the point I was discouraged from even trying to make friends because I knew it would end in heart break and disappointment.

I effectively grew up isolated from my peers and that desolation carried onto adulthood because it had been normalized and accepted for so long. At times this adulthood desolation and loneliness has led to 2 suicide attempts and numerous mental health problems (depression, anxiety, ADHD).

Edge case for sure. But this is emphatically the approach that parents should NOT TAKE; using grades as a gatekeeper to basic human needs (social and otherwise) will put tremendous pressure on a child to the point of feeling the need to control every aspect of their learning (which is not realistic) because what is at stake in their minds is basic humane treatment.

But in reality this post is useless, narcissistic parents cannot see past themselves and think their character is beyond reproach and thus assume the authority to completely control another human being. And anytime you are doing something out of fear instead of passion your quality of work will suffer.

I have a Masters in Physics and was rejected from the PhD program at my school. I’m not a “successful physicist” by any means BUT I think I would have had a better chance had my parents took a more holistic approach that included my mental health.
 
  • Like
Likes topsquark
  • #19
gwnorth said:
The one thing I get frustrated about dealing with students on education forums is them asking basic questions that could be answered with a quick Google search!

In any case, my STEM kids grew up with a parent who had a degree in Psychology, so while I know very little about Physics (but find it endlessly fascinating), I do know about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs :)
I am looking for the emoticon which means, "interesting".
The child likely has suitable talent (and interest) for whatever (but healthy) reasons.
 
  • #20
If you want to help your children to be successful, at whatever they pursue, I think I agree with phdeeznuts, gmax and gwnorth, that a key behavior, I believe the key, is encouragement. If you try to instill confidence, and teach persistence, perhaps they will be more willing to explore their own interests, and not give up under adversity. The specific directions their interests take is of less importance, since they may differ from your own. In particular, if you try to make a random child into a successful physicist, without respecting the child's own interests, you will likely not succeed.

It can be very hard for a parent who is trained say in physics to resist trying to give his child a head start in that area, wanting to make the journey in that direction easier than it was for himself, and not having himself much interest in other pursuits. It was perhaps an advantage for gwnorth to be trained instead in psychology.

Just my two cents, and of course "success" takes many forms.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz
  • #21
If being a successful physicist means my degree led to a successful career as a medical physicist* then yes, I was successful.

My parents did not finish HS and my father did not even finish grade school both having been brought up in rural Kansas. However, they did appreciate the need for a good education. I only developed an interest in science when we moved to a then developing suburb outside of Chicago which still had some open spaces. My interest as I later discovered was that of a naturalist which has kept my interest in nature even today.

At some point around twelve or thirteen, I became interested in radio and my father acquired for me the material of a radio repair course a fellow worker had taken ( DeVry Institute comes to mind). Eventually, I began reading Popular Electronics and the like. I do remember telling my geometry teacher in HS that I was thinking about electrical engineering. I do not remember having a particular interest in math, my grades were usually B or B+ and I remember thinking why do I need A's with the extra work if I understood the material? The only science course I ever got straight A's was Biology (that should have been a sign), Chemistry was my second most successful course getting an A for the second semester. Physics was my worst with just B's. Surprisingly my physics teacher who was also my chemistry teacher talked me into going to college as a physics major. Up to that point, I did not think I was college material considering my somewhat overall B- to B+ average and was considering joining the airforce instead.

I think what I missed was a person who knew my interests and could encourage me or even just talk about those things that I was interested in and offer different perspectives. I never asked any questions of adults including teachers which I now find regrettable. But that was me. Outside of one discussion with my physics teacher, I was on my own. Could it have done better? I do not know and cannot even guess how. For at every turn or for every choice made no matter how gloomy things may have seemed at the time and there were a few, things worked out. Perhaps for me, this was "the best of all possible worlds" as Pangloss told Candide in Voltaire's "Candide".

I think we are given clues as to how we can be successful and for each of us, there may be several. We may not see some, most, or even any. I think an involved and interested open-minded adult would be of value in pointing out the often overlooked side issues of any endeavor. Maybe even helping to discover latent qualities that might have been more fully developed earlier. But it seems kids are funny about adults getting involved in their lives at least as far as my experience goes. What do adults know anyway?

* When I first joined this forum there was a thread discussing whether or not a medical physicist could be called a physicist.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz and symbolipoint
  • #22
gleem said:
I only developed an interest in science when we moved to a then developing suburb outside of Chicago which still had some open spaces. My interest as I later discovered was that of a naturalist which has kept my interest in nature even today.

At some point around twelve or thirteen, I became interested in radio and my father acquired for me the material of a radio repair course a fellow worker had taken ( DeVry Institute comes to mind). Eventually, I began reading Popular Electronics and the like. I do remember telling my
That's the stuff I am talking about! More specific from any contributing members would be better, if possible.
 
  • #23
symbolipoint said:
More specific from any contributing members would be better, if possible.
Here's one: my parents got a subscription to Scientific American, and I read every one. Not cover to cover, but quite a bit of each issue. I especially liked the Math column by Martin Gardner and the Amateur Scientist column. The rest of the articles were written in a serious way but even I as a youngster was able to glean some interesting bits. This was back in the late 1960s & the 70s.

Why did my parents do this? I plan on thanking my mother next time we talk.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz
  • #24
I’m seeing a theme here. Handing over the ropes to children instead of dictating that they must do something and micromanaging them.

And I’m not venting again. Both posts by @gleem and @gmax137 allude to this.
 
  • #25
PhDeezNutz said:
I’m seeing a theme here. Handing over the ropes to children instead of dictating that they must do something and micromanaging them.
Clear examples of children doing things either on their own* or on their own with supervision have happened. I can only remember one example for a wellknown scientist (or engineer). I prefer not to list any until or unless I can recall/remember/find at least two more.* sometimes without permission
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz
  • #26
gmax137 said:
When I was in grade school my friends and I would take our bicycle wheels off the bikes, to repair flat tires or to get the chain back on. Sooner or later we took the hubs apart (what are all these little steel balls? How do the brakes work?) I think it is curiosity plus encouragement to probe the world. A parent, sibling, or friend has a crescent wrench and a screwdriver, let's use those to dissect this machine.
Brings back memories from when I was about 11 or 12 and taking the coaster brake hub apart. In the first attempt at putting it back together, pedaling forward activated the brake. After taking it apart again, I was able to reassemble it so that the brake worked as it should.

I don't think one can become a scientist without a strong sense of curiosity or wondering how things work. Encouragement is a plus, but not an absolute requirement, IMO.
 
  • Like
Likes gmax137 and symbolipoint

Related to Becoming a successful Physicist or other -earlier preparations

1. What education and training do I need to become a successful physicist?

To become a successful physicist, you will typically need a bachelor's degree in physics or a related field such as engineering or mathematics. Many physicists also pursue a graduate degree, such as a master's or PhD, to further specialize in a specific area of physics. It is also important to gain hands-on experience through internships or research opportunities.

2. What skills are important for a career in physics?

Some important skills for a career in physics include strong analytical and problem-solving skills, critical thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to think abstractly. It is also important to have a strong foundation in mathematics and computer programming, as these are essential tools for conducting research in physics.

3. How can I prepare for a career in physics while still in high school?

While in high school, you can start preparing for a career in physics by taking math and science courses, particularly physics and calculus. You can also participate in science fairs, join physics or math clubs, and seek out summer programs or internships related to physics. Additionally, developing strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills will be beneficial for a career in physics.

4. What are some important qualities of a successful physicist?

Some important qualities of a successful physicist include curiosity, creativity, perseverance, and the ability to collaborate with others. Physicists must be curious about the natural world and have a strong desire to understand how things work. They also need to be creative in developing new theories and experiments. Perseverance is important because physics research can be challenging and may require many trials before achieving success. Collaboration is also important, as many physics projects require working with a team of researchers.

5. What are some common career paths for physicists?

Physicists can pursue a variety of career paths, including research in academia, government agencies, or private companies. They may also work in industries such as aerospace, energy, or healthcare, where their knowledge and skills in physics are valuable. Some physicists also choose to teach at the high school or college level. Additionally, some physicists may work in science communication or policy, using their expertise to educate the public or inform government decisions.

Similar threads

  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
15
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
15
Views
2K
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
2
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
9
Views
2K
Replies
7
Views
3K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
25
Views
3K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
6
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
9
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
27
Views
2K
Replies
10
Views
2K
Back
Top