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

  1. Dec 1, 2006 #1
    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.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 1, 2006 #2
    56 years so far, and I'm not there yet. But don't let that discourage you, I'm a slow learner.
  4. Dec 1, 2006 #3
    physics really is a life-long religon, we write the bible as we learn.
  5. Dec 2, 2006 #4
    There are significant differences. For one thing, we write on sand.
  6. Dec 2, 2006 #5
    Yeah right...

  7. Dec 4, 2006 #6
    7 years or soo.
  8. Dec 4, 2006 #7

    Chi Meson

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    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 any one person understands all of everything. Maybe Murry Gell-Mann.
  9. Dec 4, 2006 #8


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    I'll never be competent in physics :)
  10. Dec 4, 2006 #9
    Boas is actually fairly advanced. I use it when teaching our fourth year students. (I think Arken's book is better though.)
  11. Dec 4, 2006 #10

    Dr Transport

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    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.
  12. Dec 4, 2006 #11

    Chi Meson

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    "Huge holes"? Then I must be staring at the freakin Grand Canyon over here!
  13. Dec 4, 2006 #12

    Dr Transport

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    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....
  14. Dec 4, 2006 #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!
  15. Dec 4, 2006 #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!
  16. Dec 4, 2006 #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.
  17. Dec 4, 2006 #16
    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.
  18. Dec 4, 2006 #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 alot 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 thats the word) approach to vector spaces for example... where u dont 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).
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2006
  19. Dec 7, 2006 #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.
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