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Can I become a physicist with no degree?

  1. Feb 12, 2015 #1
    I'm a person with many interests and I'm torn between them as I cannot focus on all at once.
    I am very academically adapt but I am also extremely interested in human contact, especially the protection of people.

    Currently I'm studying medicine but I would also love to be in the army or the police. I have a military background, but unfortunately I could not (and can not) continue due to an injury I sustained in my feet. I'm hoping to become a military doctor one day and work in the front line to support critically injured soldiers and civilians torn by war.

    Another side of me is obsessed with science. Originally I studied mathematics but I realized I really needed more human interaction in my career so I made the switch to something where I could study science while still having that interaction (medicine). However I am still obsessed with the theoretical hard-core science and I would like to become fluent in the language of physics without officially studying it. I'm thinking of specializing in quantum mechanics and learn as much about that as possible. I would like to be able to stand toe-to-toe in a conversation with a physicist one day when discussing QM topics, although I realize I will not be able to calculate and postulate as he may. I am only seeking to KNOW the field, not to improve it. Obviously to be adapt at reading QM texts I will need a solid background.
    I did linear algebra, single variable calculus, abstract algebra, advanced newtonian mechanics and some more in my mathematics studies but I believe I need some more maths and physics. Should I take multivariable calculus courses? Any more maths courses I need? What are the names of the physics classes I need which are outside of newtonian mechanics? I think my medicine studies will take care of any chemistry required.
    Any people out there that relate to me and my situation?

    Thanks a bunch! Regards,
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 12, 2015 #2

    mfb

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    Quantum mechanics is to physics like the concept of cells to biology: you won't need it everywhere but nearly everything is based on it. And it is way too broad to become knowledgeable in everything, especially if you do not use it on a daily basis.
    There is no chemistry required - you need quantum mechanics to understand chemistry, but not the other direction.
    You can try a QM course and see if something is missing. The mathematical requirements depend on the QM course.
     
  4. Feb 12, 2015 #3

    ZapperZ

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    I've written an extensive description of the process of becoming a physicist. Maybe you should start there and compare with what you think you have and don't have:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/so-you-want-to-be-a-physicist.240792/

    Secondly, to flat-out answer the question in your topic, the answer is "NO". Not only do you need a degree to be a physicist, but you also will need an advanced degree. A lot of physicists with only an undergraduate degree in physics are typically not practicing physicists.

    Zz.
     
  5. Feb 12, 2015 #4
    Just as you can't be a medical doctor with a physics PhD, so you can't do research in physics with a PhD in medicine or a professional M.D.

    Often a M.D. with clinical experience and a background in research as well is often very looked for on a research team. You could be working together with a physicist or material scientist working on nanoparticles for drug delivery. And there's also the physics and the engineering of CT, MRI, etc. Often people come from both sides to that field.
     
  6. Feb 12, 2015 #5
    Thanks guys. Like I said, though, I don't want to practice physics. I only want to be able to understand QM and be able to lead a conversation with an actual physicist about QM. I think my title is misleading. I only want to understand QM to a great degree without actively researching in the field.
     
  7. Feb 12, 2015 #6

    ZapperZ

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    There is this myth, especially from people who haven't studied physics, that one can learn only bits and pieces of physics and get away with it. This is not true. You can't just learn QM without understanding other parts of physics, such as classical mechanics and classical E&M.

    For example, how can you understand the potential energy term in the Schrodinger equation for a hydrogen atom if you've never come across the electrostatic potential? You simply cannot do QM without the other physics. To be able to understand QM, you have to actually learn physics!

    Zz.
     
  8. Feb 12, 2015 #7
    I agree. Which is why I'm asking what I should focus on to study QM. Notice I already have an acceptable introductory background in physics and mathematics.
     
  9. Feb 12, 2015 #8

    ZapperZ

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    Did you read the link I gave earlier?

    Zz.
     
  10. Feb 12, 2015 #9
    Yes it was of great help. Thank you.
     
  11. Feb 13, 2015 #10
    Physics is a little elite club, innit?
     
  12. Feb 13, 2015 #11

    ZapperZ

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    When you have picked someone with no proper credentials as your medical doctor and to perform your surgery, then we can talk about physics being an "elite club".

    Zz.
     
  13. Feb 13, 2015 #12
    They are not credentials, formal schooling is nothing more than an abstract structure that pays no dividends to reality and does nothing beyond its own incessant need for its own existence.
     
  14. Feb 13, 2015 #13

    ZapperZ

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    Those are just "words", like "theories with no experimental evidence". Like I said, when you chose a doctor with no credentials, then you can talk.

    Zz.
     
  15. Feb 13, 2015 #14

    Dale

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    There is no evidence to support this claim, in fact, the evidence is to the contrary.

    General education increases economic growth in response to new technology
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/b:joeg.0000031426.09886.bd

    Higher education levels increase relative wages of the educated individual
    http://www.nber.org/papers/w12077

    Higher education levels economically benefit society as a whole
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304407603002653
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2015
  16. Feb 13, 2015 #15


    I don't think the doctor analogy is a very good one. Even if you turn out to be a crank physicist, you're not putting people's lives on the line if you do bad physics. Provided most of the physicists know what they are doing, enough to weed out the bad ideas. It might be a slightly better analogy for large parts (but not all) of engineering.

    I consider myself a bit of an amateur physicist (although I have the credentials of a PhD in the sister subject of math), but physics to me is just a matter of doing whatever I can get done. I think there's no problem with what I do, there's just a limited amount that I can get done (at the moment, it's basically nothing, but I will return to it as time allows). I'm not particularly interested in research--only in understanding. I happen to be at the point where I can dabble in graduate level physics (and I took two actual graduate classes), but someone at a lower level can still just get as far as they can and call it good. There doesn't need to be anything "wrong" with that. If E and M and classical mechanics is as far as they get, they are still achieving their goal as long as they have fun learning it. You can get off the boat whenever you please. Even if you are a physics major, you could decide after 3 years to change your major to nursing or whatever you want. That doesn't imply that all the work you did for the first 3 years is somehow null and void because you "didn't learn physics". And the same is true no matter how far you get before getting off the boat, if you have fun and/or retain what you learn and/or add to your understanding of the world.

    So, I say just get as far as you can. If you can't get to QM, you can't get to QM. If you do, you do. C'est la vie. But if your goal is just to have fun, it doesn't matter how far you get. And the best part is you don't need to deal with managing a career in a very competitive field. So, for most people who are interested in physics, this is probably a much better option than the formal education. Doesn't mean you'll really be a physicist, but you can be a little more relaxed about it and enjoy it more in a lot of ways. And you might actually be able to get a little further than some people say you can, even if it's highly unlikely you'll make it as an actual physicist The great danger of a formal education is that it can make you obsessive about your work because of the demands put on you. I can testify that as a thoroughly burned out former math grad student. You may say that you should just not let that that happen, but that can be easier said than done.

    https://hbr.org/2011/09/increase-your-passion-for-work/
     
  17. Feb 13, 2015 #16
    Oh, by the way, it's not true that math is not a social thing. The most famous mathematician I ever met, a professor at Berkeley told me that math is a lot more social than people think and also said that the best thing for a graduate student to do to be ready for quals is to talk to the older grad students about math. He's not the only person I heard that sort of thing from in my grad school travels.
     
  18. Feb 13, 2015 #17
  19. Feb 13, 2015 #18

    Choppy

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    I disagree. In medical physics the consequences of miscalibrating a radiation therapy machine or making errors in the planning/delivery of radiation can (and have) lead to catastrophic consequences for patients. Historically there are plenty of examples of how a misunderstanding of physics (in particular with radiation) has lead to all sorts of horrible things - everything from radiation burns to premature deaths from cancer.

    Look at people like Deepak Chopra. As I understand it, he has an MD and therefore speaks with the weight of authority to a lay person. Consider the consequences of this lack of understanding of quantum mechanics for someone who avoids or delays conventional medical treatment.
     
  20. Feb 14, 2015 #19
    As a mathematician, I only think about really theoretical stuff, and so I'm not really in touch with that side of things. The stuff I think about doesn't even have a possibility of doing any damage, and if it I did, well, I'm a smart guy, I'll be really careful, and I'll get it right. There's no guarantee that a PhD in physics means you never make any mistakes. I don't think most amateur physicists would come into contact with those situations or be in a position to do any damage, other than harassing some physics professors with their possibly silly theories. So, I think your disagreement only applies to certain parts of physics, and ones that an amateur probably isn't going to be involved with at that.


    Those consequences are reasonably easy to avoid, even if you're an amateur. Of course, maybe I over-estimate the ease, just because it's easy for me. I don't think you have to worry about people like me or the OP. The worst I will do is promote more intuitive ways of thinking than are customary, which I'm pretty sure is a good thing, but it's possible I'm mistaken. I think it's pretty safe to say it is a good thing for at least the people who think and learn like I do, at least. Does Chopra even claim to be an amateur physicist? In fact, the amateurs might even be more likely to have time and inclination to do the debunking than the actual scientists. Look at Bill Nye. He's a mechanical engineer, but I think he does reasonably well at arguing against creationists, climate-change deniers, and others.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2015
  21. Feb 14, 2015 #20
    Plus, part of my point was saying even in the worst case scenario, most of the time, you wouldn't be able to do much harm. At least 99% of the time that's probably true. At least 99% of the time, it's just going to be annoying e-mails harassing professors at most, I would guess. And that's the worst case scenario. The vast majority of amateurs might sometimes have a misunderstanding or two, but they aren't going to be all-out crackpots.
     
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