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How specialized/compartmentalized is physics?

  1. Sep 28, 2009 #1
    Particularly theoretical physics. For example, what % can understand string theory? Do most have a pretty good hold on cosmology, high energy physics, etc.. no matter what their speciality? Is there anyone qualified to post in every section of this forum? It seems like people like Weinberg and Hawking have a wide range of contributions across many areas of the field. Is this common? How do the degrees work? Like do you get a degree in physics with a speciality in say..relativity? Thanks for the info.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2009 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    Not just physics- all of science and engineering has become increasingly compartmentalized (division of labor).

    The rule of thumb I have heard is that the typical Journal article has an audience of about 20 people.
  4. Sep 28, 2009 #3

    Anyone else want to chime in?
  5. Sep 28, 2009 #4


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    Regarding degrees... in the US at least, you typically get an undergraduate degree in plain old physics, not a particular area of physics, although toward the end of a degree program it's likely that you'll find yourself focusing toward one area. Once you get to graduate school, that's when you start really narrowing your focus and picking not just a particular area of physics, but a very specific topic within that area to do a PhD thesis on. Now, I think that the PhD is still granted in "physics" officially, but unofficially it's common to say something more specific, maybe like "PhD in plasma physics" or "PhD in condensed matter physics"... because honestly, I think people care more about your thesis topic than what it says on your degree. (But I haven't gone through the whole PhD process yet so don't take my word for it ;-)

    I might add that everyone who gets a degree in physics gets some training in all the basic areas, including classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and special relativity. So a lot of people are pretty well qualified to post in many different sections of PF. All of them might be a stretch, though.
  6. Sep 28, 2009 #5
    Physics is obviously a great mathematical science. Expect a lot of mathematics involved when studying physics, so study a lot of advanced mathematics to understand all the advanced physics (black hole for example, which reminds me Stephen Hawking whenever I think of it lol).
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