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Can I become a successful scientist?

  1. May 12, 2013 #1
    I'm not a genius, although I'm very good at maths and science in general. I'm pretty sure that with hard work, I'll be able to do well in college and then later grad school, but will I be able to contribute anything to physics? Realistically speaking, will I "discover" something?
    There's this video of Feynman where he says that he used to be an ordinary person, and that an ordinary person, through hard work and persistance, can become a scientist and see the world from a scientist's point of view. This was really inspiring to me, but was he just being modest, or was he being serious?
    Are the scientists who make great contributions geniuses, or are they just really hard working people who are interested in the workings of the universe and happened to be in the right place at the right time? Newton, Einstein, Feynman, Bohr, (the list could go on for a while); were they "special" or did they just work very hard? Will I, or will any of you, ever be able to do something so great as these people?

    My main question, I guess, would be: Is there something that separates these great scientists from me, or will I be able to achieve something like what they did if I work really hard?
    Sorry for all the upcoming PS's

    PS. I just wanted to start a general discussion on this, because it's something that interests me. I wasn't quite sure what category to put this thread under, though.

    PPS. The Feynman video I mentioned is "Fun to Imagine" and what I referenced is something he says near the end, around minute 55 or so.

    PPPS. When I say that someone was "special", I don't just mean that they were gifted and had to do no work. I mean that they worked hard, but managed to make their great discovery because they were also gifted.

    PPPPS. I've started thinking about these things because at my new school, people think I'm very smart, and sometimes call me a genius (which I'm obviously not). I tell them that I work very hard and that's why I understand difficult concepts, and that got me thinking; we call these great scientists geniuses, but maybe they were just smart people who worked really hard? And if that is the case, then maybe I (or you) could solve some of the problems we haven't been able to solve (like quantum gravity, or why electrons and protons have exact opposite charges, or why we have so many finely-tuned constants, or what dark energy is, etc.).

    PPPPPS. My main reason for wanting to discover something is that I want to help increase our knowledge. I want to resolve some of the problems in modern-day physics, or at the very least witness these problems being resolved by someone else :).
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2013 #2
    A lot of the discoveries of famous scientists were made by who they were because of the times they lived in. But they were ready to take on difficult theories because of their academic work previous to their fortunate circumstances.

    So go through the usual procedure to become a physicist and then you will have an idea of what is known by academia and what is not.
  4. May 13, 2013 #3


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    According to previous threads, you are 15 years old (maybe 16 by now). It is way too early to be stressing out over such things.
  5. May 13, 2013 #4


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    Work hard trying to understand things. Maybe eventually you will understand something new that hasn't been understood by others.
  6. May 13, 2013 #5
    This. You are making this too big of a deal. Do what you love, forget about everything else. A lot of young people, including myself from time to time, think about these unnecessary things. No one is a genius, they either learned the necessary things at a younger age, or devote more time into studying. Yes, some pick up things faster than others but unless you have a learning disability or something of the sort, you can do whatever you want given that you put in the time.
  7. May 13, 2013 #6
    With regards to Feynman in specific, since that's who you asked about, he was just being modest. The man was a genius. So were Newton, Einstein, and most of the other big names you hear about.

    That said, don't let that discourage you. As other posters have mentioned, it's way too early to be stressing about things. Nor is it strictly necessary that you be the next Einstein to be able to make a meaningful impact in your field.
  8. May 13, 2013 #7
    I agree with your second paragraph completely.

    If you mean these great minds were geniuses as in they were extremely intelligent and creative, then I agree with you. The intelligence and creativity comes with years of practice and extremely hard work. Anyone can become intelligent and creative. But if you mean that they were born this way, I will have to respectfully disagree. I believe they had a different way of looking at things, as does everyone, theirs just happened to lead them to their great discoveries. Their different way of looking at things came from their hard work and perseverance, these things which cannot be taught by anyone.

    Also, I don't understand how being modest came into play. He was simply explaining that anyone can imagine things like a scientist can if they put in the time. Which is completely true. He wasn't saying that anyone can win a nobel prize...
  9. May 13, 2013 #8
    Also to the OP. Many great contributions are made everyday be scientists all over the world. They can't all be geniuses now can they :P
  10. May 13, 2013 #9
    Hey, you don't know whether or not you're a genius until you accomplish something. I am sure that Einstein or Newton didn't go, "I am a genius so I am going to invent things that people will remember me by".

    Stop thinking about it, and just do.
  11. May 13, 2013 #10
    Would you not win a nobel prize if you actually invented something tangible? That worked and was incorporated by humanity into everyday life or does it take something more. I am not saying I am going to do that btw lmao or that was some simple matter I just wondering what exactly qualifies for nobel prize.
  12. May 13, 2013 #11
    The claim that Feynman was ever, at any point in his life, an "ordinary person" is a hard pill to swallow - even if the claim was made by the man himself. If you look at the accounts of his life, it becomes pretty clear that at no point was he ever ordinary.

    If we define genius as leaving a legacy which makes people of later generations say "a ha, a genius!" (which is pretty much how it gets defined in practice) then it is true that hard work and perseverance play a role. It is not true that "anyone can become creative and intelligent." There are a lot of people that put in hard work and perseverance. There are not many who leave a legacy worthy of a genius. It is certainly not true that hard work and perseverance are the only components. Talent matters. Not simply in physics, but in all areas of endeavor (although the type of talent required changes with endeavor). To believe otherwise is a form of wishful thinking - "I too could have set the world record time for the marathon if only I had dedicated my life to it" neglects (and is frankly disrespectful of) all those who did dedicate their lives to it and failed.

    It is in this sense that Feynman was being modest. He had great talent to go along with his hard work and perseverance, but he chose (for whatever reason) to downplay that fact.

    That said, I'll once again reiterate to the o.p. that it is too soon to panic. For one thing, you can't truly evaluate your talent for something until you give it a shot. For another, you don't need world class talent to make a contribution; judging your personal success or failure by whether you measure up to the greatest names in the field is madness. Deciding ahead of time, without ever having made an attempt, that you do not measure up to the greatest names in the field and therefore preemptively declaring yourself a failure as an excuse to avoid the hard work of trying is silly.
  13. May 13, 2013 #12
    I for one believe that passion>=genius in every aspect of life.If you already have passion for science you have all the essential tools to discover sth exceptional.I can't imagine anyone with real passion for sth that can't stand for it.I dont mean of course that every passionate person will achieve great things . Luck and other factors also are involved!:smile:
  14. May 13, 2013 #13


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    when you say you are only good because you work hard, are you being modest or do you truly believe so ?

  15. May 13, 2013 #14
    I see this type of question pop up on physics forums a lot. What are people looking for, someone to say "Oh it's okay, you'll be a physicist/mathematician/engineer some day!"? The truth is there is far too much uncertainty involved to speak of things of that nature. In my opinion, I think it is the individuals who don't constantly doubt their abilities, and do science for the sake of science (w/ passion, enthusiasm, etc.), are the ones who end up becoming tomorrow's physicists. Just my two cents, though - I know this isn't in direct accordance w/ the OP's quesion (ie. Do Feynman, Einstein, etc. have some magically innate advantage of us common-folk?) , but I do believe it is completely relevant.
  16. May 13, 2013 #15


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    guitar, I know you personally to be an extremely smart kid when it comes to physics and math. Don't worry about these things and just keep doing what you do best: learning math and physics. At this point, you should be more worried about the problems in Purcell that you told me you were working through :) You're way ahead of the game for a 16 year old so capitalize on that with regards to your academics!

    I do sympathize with you to some extent though. People think just because I'm 18 and I know some GR, that I'm supposed to ace every exam in college and be able to rip through physics texts. This puts too much unneeded pressure on me that frankly just ends up depressing me more and more when I start to think about how people like Feynman and Dirac etc. were infinitely greater in intellect and scientific capability. In the US, there is the added annoyance of "wow do you attend MIT?" which is the mother of all depressants. My point is, you'll learn to ignore it, learn to cope with the aforementioned unwarranted pressure after a while and just focus on the things that make you happy i.e. learning physics and math and playing guitar :) Thinking about these things doesn't seem to have much of a positive effect. Good luck!
    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  17. May 14, 2013 #16
    You do not need to be a genius to be a good, or even a great physicist. That said, people like Feynman, Einstein, Maxwell, Newton WERE geniuses. For example, it was creativity and insight (helped along by hard work and experience) that lead Feynman on the path integral approach to QM or to visualize terms in perturbation theory as little pictures we call Feynman diagrams. Some things only a genius can do, but luckily there is so much physics still left for the rest of us.
  18. May 15, 2013 #17
    This is about the time that the mental focus of a physicist starts. I'd follow your imagination, and try to think visually. Paraphrasing Old Ein, try to be valuable rather than successful.
  19. May 15, 2013 #18
    Rather than what jtbell said, I don't think that there ever is an age where you should be worrying about this. Random chance dictated your intelligence, your work ethic, your height, your looks, your hair color, and everything about you. We look up to people like Newton and Maxwell (as I think we should), but one musn't come under the assumption that their intelligence was, in any way, a creation of their own. They simply were born very intelligent, and did great things with what they had. Whatever you were born with, you need to try to do as much with it as you can. Who cares if it amounts to nothing? It's not as if that could ever be your fault.

    Now that I think about it, that's kind of my entire life philosophy.
  20. May 15, 2013 #19
    I think it's flawed to say that one's life is an assortment of random chances. My life is not something that comes down to probability, and I would want to live it if it was. It doesn't come down to the flip of a coin, when considering how well one does, if that's a measurable thing. I do agree with the stated gist of everyone having the responsibility to do their best with the little that they can change.
  21. May 15, 2013 #20
    Thanks everyone, I'll try to chill a little and just go with it :D. I'm having a lot of fun with SR and E & M right now, so I'll just keep doing that stuff... .By the way, Wannabe, was it very hard to understand GR? How long did it take you? And what math does Einstein use? I was thinking that after I understand SR as well as possible, I might try going for GR (I just really liked the strangeness and beauty in SR, so I figured GR might be interesting as well).

    montadhar, when I say I'm good because I work hard I'm being completely honest. I spend time really trying to understand concepts; it doesn't come naturally to me or anything like that.

    jimmyly, your post made me feel a lot better :).

    The other day I just got a bit stressed out because I started thinking; what if I can't help advance physics at all? What if I don't contribute anything? I think I'd probably be OK with it as long as I can at least learn all the great things that people discover/come up with, but I'd still be kind of disappointed if I didn't "help out" at all, you know what I mean?
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