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Correlation between problem solving skills and being able to derive theories.

  1. Nov 26, 2011 #1
    From my understanding the job of a theoretical physicist is to derive theories to explain phenomena in nature. But let's say you aren't the best problem solver in the world. You are good enough in your physics class to get the 3.5 GPA but you are never able to solve those extra credit problems or those super hard challenge problems at the end of the exam or chapter. Well you might be able to solve some of them but it might take months or years while someone can solve them in an exam setting. Does that mean you will be a bad theorist if you can't solve the those kinds of problems?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2011 #2
    besides 4-5 people a century, theoretical physicists usually solve problems, not derive theories

    and deriving a theory is also just solving some problem but using revolutionary ideas. if you're not able to solve problems using known theories, why would you be able to solve problems using unknown theories?

    being able to solve difficult homework problems I would say is definitely positively correlated with being a "good" theoretical physicist, but not required. sometimes all it takes is a good idea that you get by chance. but the less ability you have the more luck you'll need.
  4. Nov 26, 2011 #3
    In my opinion these 4-5 people are century are even just in the right place at the right time, so to speak, Einstein really just applied Reimenn's work to gravity(as far as I know), had Reimenn not figured stuff out about curvature, perhaps Einstein would have been unable to solve the problem as well. So if you are unable to solve some problems there are probably other problems that you have a chance at so long as you keep learning everything you can to relate problems to.
  5. Nov 26, 2011 #4
    So then do you recommend spending your time solving hard calculus (proofs, etc.) and physics problems? Or just physics?
  6. Nov 26, 2011 #5
    Don't know. I don't know of anyone that has done a study on this, but the fact that it's not obvious what the relationship is probably means that it's not a strong one.

    One problem is that it's easy to define test scores. it's a lot harder to define what constitutes a "good theorist." If you define it in terms of things like paper citations and interpersonal respect, you'll find that "dumb luck" and "pleasant personality" matters as much as the ability to do challenge problems. I do remember a study that showed while theoretical physicists had higher IQ scores in general, that there was no correlation between "professional reputation" and IQ.

    Also, I don't know about the ability to do problems quickly being important. I *do* know that the willingness to do hard problems is extremely important. It's not obvious to me whether how quickly you solve a problem is important. It is obvious that if your reaction to seeing a hard problem is to give up or if you get traumatized by the fact that there are just people in the world that are smarter than you, then you are doomed, since you'll never make through graduate school.
  7. Nov 26, 2011 #6
    Most certainly, and more importantly, stay up to date with any changes in either the math or physics world, Maxwell's finding a constant speed of light is the whole basis of special relativity, so both are important, I was just thinking earlier about how they are inseperable.
  8. Nov 26, 2011 #7
    Yes, I remember someone saying to read at least a couple papers every weak. But I think this only holds for when you get at least a bachelor's or a master's?
  9. Nov 27, 2011 #8
    Do lots of hard math problems. It's good exercise.
  10. Nov 27, 2011 #9
    And hard physics problem?
  11. Nov 28, 2011 #10
    If you want to be a good theoretical physicist , you shouldn't only solve physics and math problems in a textbook but you have to invent your own problems too , When you get a solution you have to think what does this solution mean to you and think of other possible ways to solve the problem . Of course you do not have to be able to solve all problems in the textbooks . At first you will be able to do some problems with difficulty and you will find that you can't solve many problems even if you are very smart but with practice things will be much more easier as you will acquire the skills needed to solve these problems .You need to do physics and math problems as much as you can .
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