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Hardwork/natural intelligence

  1. Sep 10, 2008 #1
    ok so here is the deal I am taking my first physics class but I have noticed that I really like it. I am not very good at it so I have to study a lot but it does not bother me. I really enjoy it which is weird because I am a microbiology major and most people in my major hate it. Now I know that if you pick something as a career you need at least some natural talent. I don't think I have it. So which is more important? hard work or natural intelligence in something? I am not completely dumb I get all A's and B's but how smart do you have to be to get somewhere in physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2008 #2
    Its not so much what you know or how much you know, but what you DO that defines your success. I believe hard work will trump aptitude any time. Ever think of a career in biophysics?
  4. Sep 10, 2008 #3
    Why are you a microbiology major? Do you enjoy those classes? Are you looking at a medical career in the future? Pure scientific research? Pharmacy?

    You have to be about as smart to get somewhere in physics as you need to be to get somewhere in any other profession. It's a lot easier to look smart when you're genuinely interested in the material though. Both biophysics and medical physics are very active fields and worth looking into.
  5. Sep 10, 2008 #4


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    I think you have to have at least some natural aptitude for it at the undergraduate level if you want to be successful in going further with it. But I think it's rare to find someone with the drive and passion to pursuit it who doesn't have a least some aptitude for it.
  6. Sep 10, 2008 #5
    First of all, let me warn you about the freshman physics flare. You are dealing with introductory physics which is easy to picture and has tons of applications as you are probably learning. This is not at all what physics is like in upper years. It is much more abstract, and unless you really love dealing with abstract things, you will hate taking upper year courses.

    As for natural intelligence? I believe its a neccessity to get anywhere in the field. Hard work does not triumph unless it is coupled with brains. You can only hide your stupid for so long. Not to sound cold, but if you are struggling with it now it is not a good sign at all. Look at any physicist, either professor or great scientist, and you will constantly see they have superior intelligence.

    Don't rush to switch majors just yet. Stick to microbiology if that is why you are in college. Take some linear algebra courses in the summer and 1 or 2 sophmore physics classes. If you see they really appeal to you then you know your calling. If not, well, you still picked up knowledge useful to any scientist anyway. You won't make a career out of physics unless you are top of the class, which requires aptitude. As will.c said, this is true of any career, but it is much more pronounced in academia. And academia is the only one interested in physicists.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2008
  7. Sep 10, 2008 #6


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    I believe that if you love Physics (that mean also dealing with maths) but you are not that strong in it, then perseverance is what you have to have. You can success and you will see that even if you hadn't any natural skill, you can go as far as the ones that have facilities with Physics but never forget : perseverance.
  8. Sep 10, 2008 #7
    I would say as long as your not mentally retarded then you will be fine doing whatever you want to do. You don't have to be smart to do anything, you just to have to want to do it, that's all.
    I think the reason a lot of physicists are "smart", is because if you took an average person, of average intelligence, and made him take hard courses he would get discouraged, so it would take alot of desire to work through that.

    I can is better then IQ!

    Plus another thing to realize is that everybody is actually dumb, and no one is smart.
  9. Sep 10, 2008 #8
    Scientific American had a great article on this that I have somewhere in my office space.

    I think the process by which our neurons are linked up or shut down throughout life to produce a mind capable of great things is more dynamic than the "capable" or "incapable" boxes we try to toss 'em in.

    A lot of it comes down to desire and hard work that is properly aimed by knowledgeable teachers. It's the old appetite, passion, direction trifecta.

    I have full confidence in someone that has an average IQ and a butt-load of the above trinity.
    Perhaps an elementary undergrad understanding of existing concepts, and a unique experience you have due to an individual trait might lead to the next greatest contribution to science.
  10. Sep 10, 2008 #9
    Did your mother tell you that?

    Just because you think its true doesn't make it so.

    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    You are basing this on a popular magazine? The vast majority of scientific journals support that great minds are born not made. Lets see: Gauss, Riemann, Hamilton, ...., Tao - all showcasing talent at a very young age. In fact, I have yet to come across a scientist who was an idiot and pushed himself to do great things.

    OP, I'm not saying it is impossible to succeed in physics and maybe even make a career out of it. Just take it from someone who was in a position similar to yours: myself. I initially started in chemical sciences and went into mathematical physics after falling in love with freshman physics. I was not particularily strong, but I worked really hard and pulled an A. I was going to show them all, that insane hard work beats all. My passion quickly faded and I was working like mad to pull off Bs by third year. Meanwhile kids got As with half the effort. In the end they will probably get physics work while enjoying themselves in college. Hard work can only get you so far.
  11. Sep 10, 2008 #10


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    I know it doesn't make it true. My mother didn't tell me this... I say this because it's what I see. There are plenty of people who have a doctorate and were not Gauss when younger or suffer from "natural talent".
    Also don't forget that you don't need to be Einstein to be a physicist. I mean by this that you can go as far as a doctorate (without a "natural talent") and be a physicist without the need to make a physics revolution.
    And without perseverance many people would stop to study. When you get bad grades you better not give up and just study more and more till succeed in your exams. Maybe one day you'll see that there's no more exams :).
    I don't say what I'm saying is necessarily true but I believe it to be true in most cases.
  12. Sep 10, 2008 #11


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    Now that I have a few years on the other side of formal education I'm in a position to see which people tend to flourish and which not so much. I have seen several "A" students graduate and hit the "now what" wall. I've seen a few stellar graduate students run into serious trouble finishing their PhD projects. On the other hand, I've seen others who struggled just to get B's who are now doing very well.

    For example, those who have less of an innate ability to learn physics often make better teachers because they explain the details that the "naturals" sometimes leave out.
  13. Sep 10, 2008 #12


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    You folks all act like it's impossible for someone to be a bio major and enjoy physics. :rolleyes: I enjoyed my physics classes in college too, and I seem to like it enough to have signed up on a site called "PhysicsForums" some many years ago, and stuck around. We're not limited to enjoying our major coursework, we really are allowed to enjoy other classes too.

    As for the core of the question, I don't think it's an either/or choice. I think BOTH hard work and some degree of aptitude are required to succeed in any profession/career/major path one might take.
  14. Sep 10, 2008 #13
    Thanks guys... Well see so far I have not had any trouble with my major, since introductory biology (bio 1 and 2) highly depend on memorization and introductory chemistry (chem 1 and 2) are not exactly that difficult. Thats why I never feel good about actually doing something right in my major classes because they just come kind of naturally or I should say I am familiar with them so they don't seem so intimidating. I was scared to death about taking physics and to tell you the truth I don't mind it now. I actually like theoretical physics more than applied physics. I actually had a long discussion about Higgs particle with my physics professor in his office hahaha.
    I really think you have to have some aptitude for the subject to succeed in it. For example I think we'll all agree that I can't be an English major no matter how hard I try hahaha.
  15. Sep 11, 2008 #14
    My whole post was not based on the Scientific American article - I just mentioned that SA had a good article on it - here it is by the way... http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-expert-mind

    What Scientific Journals are you referring to? Any links or publish dates?

    You will also see that I didn't say an "idiot". I said someone with average IQ with a good appetite for knowledge, a passion to fuel his endeavors, and proper direction to make headway.
  16. Sep 13, 2008 #15
    I think there's a bit of self-selection going on here. I don't think someone with a 98 IQ is going to be able to get through functional analysis. I believe that some people like wearing the mantle of the average guy who made good. I doubt that they're really average, though, if they're excelling in something that many intelligent people can't get at all.
  17. Sep 14, 2008 #16
    "If it can be given up, I wouldn't have held interest from the beginning."
  18. Sep 14, 2008 #17


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    You guys are taking concept of IQ as fixed and immutable too literally. I don't believe in IQ. I know of many people who are above average and do well simply because they pushed themselves to do better. Often those who are more capable than others fall by the wayside when they encounter material which require more than natural intelligence and only little work to get through. Also, you don't need to be Gauss to do math/physics. I remember reading a web page for advice in doing well in maths classes by Terence Tao, that math prodigy. Even with his intelligence, he said that in general one cannot rely on largely intelligence alone to get through grad school. It doesn't work at the grad level. Do a Google search for that page.
  19. Sep 14, 2008 #18
    Whether or not IQ is flawed does not discard the fact that some people are just born smarter. I'm sorry, as unfair as that is, it is a fact of life. I agree, you can still succeed in science with hard work and determination. But your odds are greatly diminished, and with the science career the way it is, is it really economic to bother competing with people who are potentially as hard working and smarter?

    Easy for Tao to say, everything just came to him. The guy knew linear algebra when he was ~10. He doesn't have the perspective most people do. I'm sure he worked hard too, and as a result mastered the material unlike any of his class mates. In essence, he is what results when you mix hard work and intelligence. It seems a lot of smart people like to preach that it is all hard work. Maybe they are trying to re-assure themselves that they were not merely the product of genetics, much the same way as models try to tell you it was all hard work. No, I think they're too smart for self-deception. Maybe they just pity the rest of us...
  20. Sep 14, 2008 #19
    Hmm, why bother doing anything then? Something comes easier to some people, big deal. If you don't want to compete against those people, go into a hole and give up, but bringing other people down who don't care for your perspective is just a bit lame.

    Sure it's a mixture of hard work and intelligence, but you make it sound like if you are average then you still have no hope. Frankly, that isn't the case.
  21. Sep 14, 2008 #20
    In the world of academia, its a little different. They basically value your smarts above everythig else, which usually results in good work. And yes, with science the way it is today, I don't think the average person has hope. Sure you might find me some exceptions, but it is not the norm.

    Just as I wouldn't reccommend someone short to take up sports, or someone ugly to take up modelling, I don't reccommend someone not very smart to take up physics. In the long run you will see what a significant difference natural intelligence makes.
  22. Sep 14, 2008 #21
    Once again, I think you are mostly wrong. Smarts + good work ethic is value above all else sure, but intelligence itself isn't the sole qualifier. Besides, let's define average. I define it as the average college science major. The average college science major has a shoot to do well in physics regardless of natural intelligence since they have already shown the ability to handle concepts that most of the general population cannot.

    You may not be solve the most difficult problems, work in the most difficult fields, and work with cool theorems, but that does not mean you cannot do anything. I contend that the average science major with hard work and dedication can contribute to the growth of science in some way if they desire to do so.
  23. Sep 14, 2008 #22


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    Most people don't have that "natural intelligence" to start with. That's why you go to school, you go to college. Now, it's your job to do well if you want to succeed in your academics, meaning, hard work and all that.
  24. Sep 14, 2008 #23
    hmmmm, I don't know. I got pretty much straight As in undergraduate courses where it was pretty much a regurgitation of what was in the book or the class. There I could just work hard and I would succeed. I found many graduate classes however much more difficult or even impossible due to my limited natural ability. I would work just as hard but a deeper understanding was expected and that wasn't available through just hard work.

    But there is a slot for everyone. I have given up on being the next Newton, but I got an interesting job in engineering and it is still interesting to watch what the more gifted are doing.
  25. Sep 14, 2008 #24


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    I don't know what to say about this Howers. It seems as though you are dead-set in your belief that there is a natural limit to everyone's ability which is ingrained in their genes and that if you don't start out with good genes you can forget about entering that particular field.

    I'll speak from personal experience. I have obtained A's in classes for which I did not have any prior background at all such as programming, whereas I know of others who did have substantial background in it fail the class completely and had to retake it. I also notice that when I think I understand some topic better than others (as a result of having done reading outside of classes) I tend not to devote that much time to it and as a result sometimes getting a lower grade than expected for the course. There will be people who are gifted and hardworking, but quite a good number of these gifted individuals fall down when they meet something for the first time which requires more than natural ability. Some get up much later in life and others vanish into obscurity. We have a number of such individuals in these forums itself.

    No one can help you or convince you otherwise if you insist on whining about how unprivileged you are.
  26. Sep 15, 2008 #25
    Feynman had a reportedly 120 IQ.
    I have a 138 IQ, yet I am not a revolutionary physicist.
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