How long did it take you to become competent at physics?

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In summary, a group of experienced physicists discussed their journeys in learning and understanding physics. Some have been studying for decades while others are just starting out. They mentioned that it takes a lifetime to truly grasp the complexities of the subject and that even after years of studying, there are still gaps in their knowledge. They also shared some tips on how to start studying physics, such as working through textbooks on mathematical methods and differential geometry. They debated the length of time it takes to become competent in physics, with some saying it can be achieved in a few years while others believe it takes much longer. They also discussed the difference between religion and physics, with one member stating that physics is based on measurable facts while religion is not. Overall
  • #1
aeroboyo
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Hey everyone,

i'm very new to studying physics, have begun self studying just a few days ago with a plan on going into an undergraduate degee next year in it. My plan is to work through Mathematical Methods of the Physical Sciences by Boas, then work through Geometry of Physics by Frankel. That should give me a half decent grounding in maths and differential geometry i think. But how did you get up to speed on physics? I mean, I've seen how insanely complicated some of the threads here are, and it must take a lifetime to be able to understand things at that level!

I can't imagine even a 5 year Masters degree getting anywhere near that level of complexity... it must take at least a decade of intense study to reach the cutting edge of modern day research.
 
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  • #2
56 years so far, and I'm not there yet. But don't let that discourage you, I'm a slow learner.
 
  • #3
physics really is a life-long religon, we write the bible as we learn.
 
  • #4
aeroboyo said:
physics really is a life-long religon, we write the bible as we learn.
There are significant differences. For one thing, we write on sand.
 
  • #5
aeroboyo said:
physics really is a life-long religon, we write the bible as we learn.

Yeah right...

marlon
 
  • #6
7 years or soo.
 
  • #7
aeroboyo said:
physics really is a life-long religon, we write the bible as we learn.

Physics is not a religion. NOt at all, not even close.

Religion is entirely based on the unmeasurable. Religion exists outside of science. Contrary to the myth of science sceptics, we do not "bow to the high gods of science."

Physics is the collection of knowledge that we have obtained so far. Everything we know, a good scientist will tell you, appears to be the truth because it has not yet been proven false. That means we leave a door open for possible change; therfore, science can be continuously imporved and knowledge can be increased.

In an undergraduate program, you can become "competent" in classical physics in a few years (two or three even). It is the higher levels of physics (quantum and general relativity for example) that take more time to understand. But the sky is the limit; I don't think anyone person understands all of everything. Maybe Murry Gell-Mann.
 
  • #8
I'll never be competent in physics :)
 
  • #9
Boas is actually fairly advanced. I use it when teaching our fourth year students. (I think Arken's book is better though.)
 
  • #10
I've been studying physics for nearly 25 years and still am only competent in my little area. I have some huge holes in my knowledge which will take years to fill, keep plugging along and you will be fine in the long run.
 
  • #11
Dr Transport said:
I've been studying physics for nearly 25 years and still am only competent in my little area. I have some huge holes in my knowledge which will take years to fill, keep plugging along and you will be fine in the long run.

"Huge holes"? Then I must be staring at the freakin Grand Canyon over here!
 
  • #12
Chi Meson said:
"Huge holes"? Then I must be staring at the freakin Grand Canyon over here!

I do not know anything about QCD, String theory, read a bunch on many-body physics but still do not have a clue. Trying to be an experimental physicist at work lately, but am not that competent in actual device manufacture to measure something accurately (poor lab design I guess). Yeah, I'd say some holes in there...
 
  • #13
Seems once you start applying what you have learned to a research or product development project - things really start making sense. Also, one of two things usually happens: you will either like physics more, or like it less!
 
  • #14
And if you ever have a brain injury or sizable neurological event involving memory loss, like I did 14 years ago, you get to learn it all over again. Twice the fun!

But I must admit - mathematical concepts are more easily re-learned than rote memorization, which explains why I went from primarily being a vocalist to now a "maestro" of musical percussion. It's math!
 
  • #15
i suffered a short coma (but long recovery) after inhaling fumes from burning plastic which producted hydrogen cyanide. That put a wrench in my education for a couple years. Central nervous system can take a long time to heal.
 
  • #16
aeroboyo said:
Hey everyone,

i'm very new to studying physics, have begun self studying just a few days ago with a plan on going into an undergraduate degee next year in it. My plan is to work through Mathematical Methods of the Physical Sciences by Boas, then work through Geometry of Physics by Frankel. That should give me a half decent grounding in maths and differential geometry i think. But how did you get up to speed on physics? I mean, I've seen how insanely complicated some of the threads here are, and it must take a lifetime to be able to understand things at that level!

I can't imagine even a 5 year Masters degree getting anywhere near that level of complexity... it must take at least a decade of intense study to reach the cutting edge of modern day research.

Here in the US, an undergraduate degree in physics takes about 4 years and would give you a basic competence in core subjects like mechanics, E&M, QM, and "thermal physics", enough basic knowledge to really start learning the subject. :cool:

I think it takes about 3 years in the UK, is that right?

After I got my undergraduate degree, I thought I knew a lot, but a few years of graduate school disabused me of that notion.

The two books you mentioned probably have more than enough material for two two-semester courses, so don't get discouraged if you can't plow through them in a few weeks.
 
  • #17
A bachelor degree takes 4 years in Scotland but 3 in England. I'm trying to find a university in europe which offers undergraduate degrees in physics taught in english... i live in holand now (really like the euro chicks over here) and would like to live in mainland europe rather than in the Uk... you wouldn't happen to know of any such uni's would you Daverz? I know there are quite a few graduate courses in physics taught in english throughout europe but I've yet to find an undergraduate one. By europe i mean every country excepting the uk, so sweden, france, netherlands etc.

I expect Frankel will take me ages to work through, but i'll learn a lot as i crawl through it. Probably will have to read some other books inbetween just to get through Frankel... but i really want to because I'm fascinated by the geometric approach to physics. I really don't like the axiomical (i think that's the word) approach to vector spaces for example... where u don't even know what a vector space is except that it conforms to a long list of axioms... i'd like to understand the geometry behind everything).
 
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  • #18
How do you define competent?...My QM teacher seems to know little about thermodynamics. He has a PhD though, so he must be competent in something.
 

Related to How long did it take you to become competent at physics?

1. How long does it typically take to become competent at physics?

The amount of time it takes to become competent at physics varies for each individual. It depends on factors such as prior knowledge, dedication, and learning style. Some people may develop competency in a few months, while others may take years.

2. What are the key skills needed to become competent at physics?

To become competent at physics, one must possess strong analytical and critical thinking skills, a solid understanding of mathematics, and the ability to apply scientific concepts to real-world problems. Additionally, being able to think abstractly and visualize complex concepts is important in understanding physics.

3. How much studying and practice is required to become competent at physics?

Becoming competent at physics requires a significant amount of studying and practice. This may include reading textbooks and scientific papers, attending lectures and labs, and solving practice problems. The more time and effort one puts into studying and practicing, the faster they can become competent at physics.

4. Can someone become competent at physics without a formal education?

While a formal education in physics is helpful, it is not the only path to becoming competent. With dedication and self-study, it is possible to become competent at physics without a degree. However, a formal education provides a structured learning environment and access to resources that may accelerate the learning process.

5. Is there a specific timeline or set of steps to follow to become competent at physics?

There is no specific timeline or set of steps that guarantees competency in physics. Each person learns at their own pace, and the learning process is non-linear. It is important to set goals, stay dedicated, and seek help when needed, but the exact path to competency may vary for each individual.

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