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How competent did you feel as a physics graduate/recent post graduate student?

  1. Feb 25, 2012 #1
    I graduated a four year physics course at a quite highly rated British university in 2011, and am now 24 years old. I managed a to graduate with a 1st and am now into the first year of my PhD, but I sometimes question if I'm really that competent/knowledgeable. I feel as though I have forgotten significant amount of what I have covered in the past 10 or so years of learning physics, with too little time/energy to go back and re-learn it all. So much material hastily learned for exams and then gradually forgotten. You hear so much these days about university degrees becoming easier, so I can't help but wonder if it's true - have I gained a deep understanding of things, or have I just figured out how to pass exams effectively? More than anything I feel poorly informed about what is really going on in current research, I mean, most of my course focussed on things that have been established for decades or longer.

    Is this a common feeling amongst people at this stage in their physics career, regardless of which decade we're in? At what point did you start feeling like a "real" physicist (at least in your depth/breadth of understanding, if not in your official job title)?
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2012 #2
    I am the same age as you although I am a second year graduate student. During my first year I did not feel very competent in physics at all. It wasn't so much forgetting things from undergrad though. I mainly felt like I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge. It seemed like a lot of other graduate students had similar feelings.

    I will say that by the end of the first year, especially after studying hard and passing my quals, I began to feel much more confident. I don't know if I would call myself a full-blown physicist but, I definitely feel like I am getting there.

    I obviously can't speak for graduate students in past decades but I hope you feel better knowing you aren't alone.
  4. Feb 26, 2012 #3
    Everyone forgets stuff.

    No one will expect you to 'do it all again' or fix it all in permanent memory. You might find yourself in a situation where you may have to, say, teach the E&M course you once took. Then you should go over it again... preferably not while giving the lecture :)

    Learning is not, crucially, about permanently memorising some basic physics knowledge. It's about being able to learn, or re-learn, stuff that you need for your current research project or work task.

    Physics is an old science, there's an awful lot to learn. Why would you expect to be taken to the research frontier by your undergraduate degree?

    If you are doing a PhD in physics then you are a real physicist, at least in embryo.
  5. Feb 26, 2012 #4
    He's in the UK, where the BSc is "passing quals"... actually he did four years so probably has an MSc, so he should at least act confident :)
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