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How much free time does a physicist have?

  1. Jun 18, 2009 #1
    I'm in america... have some stuff that I want to do besides physics and math in my adult life. Some of them require a lot of free time - like forming a one man band (with diff electronic devices and real instruments).

    How much time would I (haven't decided whether to go theoretical or experimental) have for such leisure activities? Doesn't a physics student/physicist from graduate level on have to do research and publish papers and compete for grants all the time, even in summers and weekends, and if you want to take sabbaticals you can only do so for academic reasons. Alternatively I could just kick *** at research and get tenure or something, but it'd be way too competiitve...

    I would just work part time, but I have doubts.
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2009
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  3. Jun 18, 2009 #2


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    Personally, I think success in physics requires a significant time contribution. The most successful physicists I know are those who put in the hours. They don't quit at 5:00, they do reading outside of assigned or necessary material, and they enjoy what they do.

    That being said, just about all of the physicists I know have extra-cirricular interests. They balance work with family life, hobbies, and sports just like everyone else.
  4. Jun 18, 2009 #3


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    I'm just a grad student so I can't comment on the requirements of being a real physicist, but yeah, it does take a pretty significant time commitment. There is always some research project or something hanging over your head, so you don't get to do things like taking a summer off to do nothing. But there's certainly enough time to devote to hobbies (how would PF survive if there weren't?), especially on weekends - taking the weekend completely off from work, every weekend, is probably too much, but it's not unreasonable to, say, take a weekend off every few weeks if you want to travel or something. Or you can take one day completely off if you get full use out of the other 6 days of the week.

    It's also worth remembering that periodically taking time off is not just a luxury, it's a necessity. If you spend too little time working, sure you won't get very much done, but if you try to spend too much time working, you'll burn out, your productivity drops way down, and you won't get very much done (but you'll waste a lot of time not doing it!). There's some optimal balance in the middle that maximizes the actual amount of work you get done - you should try to find out what it is for you. I'd guess - and this is really a guess, not based on anything concrete - that for most people who enjoy their work (as physicists generally do), it's probably around 45-60 hours/week.
  5. Jun 18, 2009 #4
    But I doubt that can the occupation of being a physicist accomodate such time consuming acdtivities requiring practice and creativity, like a one man band. I'll burn out and will be flipping burgers
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2009
  6. Jul 7, 2009 #5
    Richard Feynman seems to have found the time to become better at bongos than I am at math.
  7. Jul 7, 2009 #6
    Einstein played the violin to a reasonable standard.

    I have to question the aim to be a 'one man band' though. In the UK that conjures up an image of a mad old duffer with a drum on his back, cymbals on his knees, a harmonica on a wire, and a mouldy guitar in hand.

    And he plays them all badly.

    To master one instrument is probably enough for any person, especially if you want to be a physicist as well! The literature suggests it takes about 10 000 hours to master one instrument, or become a significant expert in a sub-field of physics.

    Why not take Feynman and Einstein as models? Devote most of your waking hours to becoming a physicists and learn one instrument in your spare time. That way you *may* become a physicist admired by your peers, and recognised as a good amateur musician. Your 'one man band' track will probably lead to you dropping out of physics and being laughed at in a pub as you attempt to play five instruments at once for beer money.
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2009
  8. Jul 7, 2009 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    This guy comes through town every year or so:


    One-man band- he went to art school, built all the robots and programmed them. Guy's a genius. It's his full-time gig, tho.
  9. Jul 7, 2009 #8
    Not fair to use Feynman. Every undergrad who knows the difference between Maxwell and Newton wants to be him.

    I'm just about ready to move on to plan B...
  10. Jul 10, 2009 #9
    I don't mean a traditional one man band, id est, playing 5 instruments at the same time. some of my work will be electronic. and i will use sequencers and stuff
  11. Jul 10, 2009 #10


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    If you ask me, a little music thing like that sounds like a great hobby to have. Just don't count on getting anything other than the fun out of it (i.e. don't try to make your income from your hobby).
  12. Jul 10, 2009 #11
    doing some dimensional analysis...
    practice 5 hrs a day: (10000 hr)/(5 hr/day)*(365.2425 days/yr) = 200 days = about 5.5 years
    10 hrs a day: (10000 hr)/(10 hr/day)*(365.2425 days/yr) = 2.74 years
    15 hrs a day: (10000 hr)/(15 hr/day)*(365.2425 days/yr) = 1.825 years...

    yeah. I'm very screwed indeed...
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2009
  13. Jul 11, 2009 #12
    Has anyone succeeded in what you are trying to do? I would count minimum success as, say, earning as much as an average physicist and gaining the respect of others in the profession (if it is a profession!) I know little about this area, and couldn't name one 'sequencer and stuff' expert. But maybe there's a sub-culture there to get into. Or will it be just you and the robot guy on skid row at the end of the day?
  14. Jul 11, 2009 #13
    i do not really care about earning much from this activity. i just wanna be really good at a couple of instruments. i might just record and sell the mp3s

    i was asking will going through all that academic and professional physics stuff and attaining and playing at proficiency sufficient for amateur music production. are they mutually exclusive?

    again, it's NOT gonna be a one man band in a traditional sense
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2009
  15. Jul 13, 2009 #14
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caribou_(musician [Broken])

    This guy got a phd in maths while playing in what is basically a one man band of the type you mean (he plays drums and does electronic stuff). He also seems to have found time to take LSD in the Canadian wilderness...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  16. Jul 13, 2009 #15
    why does everyone bring up feynman and einstein. obviously those two had lots of free time, they were gifted ... people, able to accomplish things quicker than most.

    i think at the end time investment is essentially what all this stuff boils down too. the dumbest person on the planet could learn qm if they devoted enough time but eventually you get curious about other things. what determines how far you go with anything is how much time you're willing to devote to it. eventually you have to prioritize. i don't blame people who put humanistic things above scientific things in their priorities.
  17. Jul 13, 2009 #16
    I've known multiple professors who had bands.
  18. Jul 14, 2009 #17
    Brian May is the key example, I guess, though he put his PhD on hold when his band became slightly successful. And he could only play guitar. What an under-performer :-)
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