How hard is theoretical physics?

In summary: In other words, if you are really good at maths and physics, you should have no problem understanding theoretical physics.
  • #1
iasc
17
0
I have to choose what I want to do in university and I was wondering how smart you have to be to do theoretical physics.
I do maths , applied maths and physics in school and I'm good at all of them.
Any help is very much appreciated.
 
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  • #2
You have to work hard and have a good aptitude for math and physics, I'm sure you already knew that.
 
  • #3
I think that it's all about being interested in the subject. One of the winners of the 2008 Nobel prize in physics told a story about his professor once asking him (when he was still in college) "Why do you want to study theoretical physics, that's only for the bright students"
 
  • #4
I think

1. you have to have right amount of intellectual level.
2. you need to really, really enjoy it.

I remember story where Feynman was very very talented at math but he could not answer question "What is this for?" Of course, any mathematician would say if you cannot answer that, you probably shouldn't become a mathematician.

There's a lot of debate about how much intellectual skill you need. Unfortunately, I think only way to figure that out is to read and learn more.

Sure, it's easier if you cannot add two numbers together because you will know you are not suited for it much quicker. For others though you just have to continue progressing.
 
  • #6
I have to somewhat disagree with that poll. Unfortunately here people are rather accomplished. We are not the right sample ;-)

Given right intellectual level, you have to hard work. but not given enough passion, it would be meaningless.
 
  • #7
iasc said:
I have to choose what I want to do in university and I was wondering how smart you have to be to do theoretical physics.
I do maths , applied maths and physics in school and I'm good at all of them.
Any help is very much appreciated.

Just clarifying, do you mean Einstein-like work where you spend all day working out new mathematical theories and stuff like that? (Basically what all the string theorists have been doing). Because I would consider working in theoretical physics also doing things like developing ways to detect the higgs boson, supposed forms of dark matter, etc.

Where I'm going with this is that the pure theoretical jobs where you develop theories, from my understanding, are very hard to come by. You have to be the best of the best, and yes that means having both the talent (yes, talent. No amount of work will make you into an Einstein), and the passion.
 
  • #8
Remember that the absolute majority of all physicists -including theoretical physicist- do not work with string theory etc.
Most work with much more "mundane" topics, primarily in condensed matter physics (since this is -by a large margin- the biggest field in physics). That said, theoretical work in CMP can still involve rather "cool" techniques such as quantum field theory etc.
The good news is that it is MUCH easier (albeit not easy) to find work in condensed matter physics than in string theory. In order to find work in the latter talent and hard work is simply not enough: you would need a LOT of luck as well (the funding agencies must decide to fund a position in string theory that year etc, not something you can influence; you need to be working on exactly the right problem etc).
 
  • #9
f95toli said:
Remember that the absolute majority of all physicists -including theoretical physicist- do not work with string theory etc.
Most work with much more "mundane" topics, primarily in condensed matter physics (since this is -by a large margin- the biggest field in physics). That said, theoretical work in CMP can still involve rather "cool" techniques such as quantum field theory etc.
The good news is that it is MUCH easier (albeit not easy) to find work in condensed matter physics than in string theory. In order to find work in the latter talent and hard work is simply not enough: you would need a LOT of luck as well (the funding agencies must decide to fund a position in string theory that year etc, not something you can influence; you need to be working on exactly the right problem etc).

Good point. Would you still agree that you have to be pretty top tier to get a position even working in CMP? I'm not very familiar with the field.
 
  • #10
its insanely easy
 
  • #11
YOu have to be very smart to understand it thoughly
 
  • #12
it is hard
 
  • #13
iasc said:
I have to choose what I want to do in university and I was wondering how smart you have to be to do theoretical physics.

I would wager a really good theoretical physicist needs to be just as smart as a really good experimental physicist. All the time you hear grad students say "I'm going into experiment because I don't think I'm smart enough to be a theorist." I like to say, "I'm going into theory because I don't think I'm smart enough to be an experimentalist." To be great at either you have to be really smart and hard working - but more importantly, I think you need a good imagination. Any theorist is going to be good at solving differential equations and crunching through integrals and any experimentalist is going to be good at building experiments and programing, but those aren't the things that make them great. A great theorist is going to have the imagination to come up with a plethora of new ideas for how this or that physical phenomenon might occur and how to model the problem, and a great experimentalist is going to have the imagination to come up with brilliant and clever experiments to test these ideas (and things theorists haven't even thought of). I'm inclined to theory because I have more of a mind for imagining abstract things, as opposed to more concrete things like how to measure this or that; however, had I chosen to try to go into experiment, I would not consider myself any less smart.

So, if you think you're smart enough to be an experimental physicst, you're probably smart enough to be a theoretical physicist. You just need to determine which sorts of problems you'd rather solve: coming up with clever mathematical models to describe physical phenomena, or coming up with clever experiments to test investigate physical phenomena?
 
  • #14
Ofey said:
I think that it's all about being interested in the subject. One of the winners of the 2008 Nobel prize in physics told a story about his professor once asking him (when he was still in college) "Why do you want to study theoretical physics, that's only for the bright students"

Hahahaha, that reminds me of when Einstein was in college his professor once called him a "lazy dog" because he used to skip classes on subjects that weren't interesting to him.
 

1. How much math is involved in theoretical physics?

Theoretical physics requires a strong foundation in mathematics, particularly in areas such as calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. A solid understanding of advanced mathematical concepts is essential for understanding and solving complex physics problems.

2. Is theoretical physics difficult to understand?

Theoretical physics is a complex field that deals with abstract concepts and mathematical theories. As such, it can be challenging to understand for those without a strong background in physics and mathematics. However, with dedication and persistence, anyone can grasp the fundamental principles of theoretical physics.

3. Can anyone become a theoretical physicist?

While anyone can learn the concepts of theoretical physics, becoming a successful theoretical physicist requires a combination of innate talent, passion, and hard work. It also requires a deep understanding of mathematics and the ability to think abstractly and creatively.

4. How long does it take to become a theoretical physicist?

Becoming a theoretical physicist typically requires a Ph.D. in physics, which can take anywhere from 5-7 years to complete. However, the journey to becoming a successful theoretical physicist does not end there, as it often involves years of research, publications, and collaborations with other scientists.

5. What are the biggest challenges in theoretical physics?

Some of the biggest challenges in theoretical physics include understanding the fundamental nature of the universe, reconciling quantum mechanics with general relativity, and developing a theory of quantum gravity. Other challenges include testing and verifying theoretical predictions with experimental data and finding ways to make complex theories more accessible to a broader audience.

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