How to get your work published

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I am not a physicist but I have a degree in applied mathematics and have taken physics classes up to special relativity and I was allowed to sit in on a General Relativity course for a semester. I have few thoughts that I think are interesting and want to pursue them further but they are still a bit mathematically crude. How do I go beyond just studying physics for fun into something more serious without spending years earning a PhD in physics? My end goal is to get a paper published in arxiv.org or something that will record my work.

P.S. I am aware of the hundreds of people claiming to have a "theory of everything." I am not one of those people.
 

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  • #3
Dale
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I have few thoughts that I think are interesting and want to pursue them further but they are still a bit mathematically crude.
The first thing is to study and rethink and study and revise and study and repeat until it is no longer crude. Furthermore, you need to be well informed about everything that has already been done on the topic and be able to put your work in proper context and clearly explain the novel aspect. This will be difficult since you won't have a mentor to guide you.

As you do the first part you will most likely find that your idea is seriously flawed. As you do the second part you will most likely find that your idea has already been done. Seriously, I was about a year into my PhD before I actually had an idea that was useful. And I was about another year in before I had one that was also novel. It was very frustrating to come in to my advisor and tell him my novel-to-me idea only to have him turn around without a word, open this enormous file cabinet, pull out a paper from 20 years ago, and hand it to me. I was consistently decades too late.

Eventually, if you persist, you will begin to have ideas that are both useful and novel. But it is quite a challenge to have such ideas. It does not come simply from taking classes.

How do I go beyond just studying physics for fun into something more serious without spending years earning a PhD in physics?
You simply spend years studying as though you were earning a PhD.
 
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  • #4
Vanadium 50
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without spending years earning a PhD in physics

The alternative is spending the time to learn what a PhD has learned. Usually this takes years.
 
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Dr. Courtney
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The alternative is spending the time to learn what a PhD has learned. Usually this takes years.

This point cannot be over stated. A couple colleagues and I have transitioned to productive research in several different fields. Each new field requires several thousand hours worth of personal effort. But most people who have not earned a PhD in one field are unable to even accurately assess where they are or what it will take. There is a lot of fantasy in their minds that they think is good science, because they don't know the difference in the field where they are attempting to work.
 
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This point cannot be over stated. A couple colleagues and I have transitioned to productive research in several different fields. Each new field requires several thousand hours worth of personal effort. But most people who have not earned a PhD in one field are unable to even accurately assess where they are or what it will take. There is a lot of fantasy in their minds that they think is good science, because they don't know the difference in the field where they are attempting to work.
Scientific truths exist with or without degrees. I have taken math courses at the graduate level I understand how much more rigorous university is at higher levels but people learn at different speeds. In graduate classes I would sometimes spend a long time on one problem others would solve quickly. Other times I would solve problems very quickly that would take others days. Occasionally, I could see the solution to difficult problems easily while other instances I was stuck in a loop for fairly mundane problems.

I can't imagine someone like me progressing through university at my rate and earning anything more than my bachelors degree. The bottom line is I'm not fast. Maybe half a lifetime of my own time I might be able to show something interesting, or maybe not. Either way, I enjoy learning math and physics and I will continue to do so, even if at a turtles' pace.
 
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  • #7
Dr. Courtney
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Lots of folks see themselves as the next Faraday. Most of them are wrong.
 
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Lots of folks see themselves as the next Faraday. Most of them are wrong.
It doesn't matter I enjoy the process of learning.
 
  • #9
hutchphd
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It doesn't matter I enjoy the process of learning.
Then what is your purpose in publishing?
In my experience the final 10% of any project requires 50% of the effort. Writing up your findings or ideas fits into this frame. Even if you do not publish them it is a very useful exercise in discovery.
Having a few good ideas is better than most folks do but it puts you at the initial 10% level. Probably they are not new but you need to find that out. Probably they are not as good as you suspect but maybe they are. Much depends upon asking interesting questions! So do the work :smooth out the rough edges and fill in three gaps. Most of the time you will be back to the drawing board.....

.
 
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  • #10
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Without formal training, most people's internal accountability and ability to assess the correctness and value of a potential scientific contribution is greatly lacking.

This leads them to feeling overly confident about it until they try and get the work published. Of course, trying to get work published brings external assessment and accountability by the strict rules of the scientific method and peer review. This usually leaves the person without formal training wondering what went wrong.

What went wrong? Usually they ignored advice they didn't like and never developed the independent ability to assess the correctness and value of their work.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”- Feynman

In my mentoring and development of young scientists, I spend a lot of time and effort teaching them not to fool themselves.
 
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  • #11
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Without formal training, most people's internal accountability and ability to assess the correctness and value of a potential scientific contribution is greatly lacking.

This leads them to feeling overly confident about it until they try and get the work published. Of course, trying to get work published brings external assessment and accountability by the strict rules of the scientific method and peer review. This usually leaves the person without formal training wondering what went wrong.

What went wrong? Usually they ignored advice they didn't like and never developed the independent ability to assess the correctness and value of their work.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”- Feynman

In my mentoring and development of young scientists, I spend a lot of time and effort teaching them not to fool themselves.
Well, I guess I will keep to myself for the next 6 decades and just read other people's accomplishments and do nothing to further my own ideas. I am incapable of producing anything noteworthy because I don't have a PhD.
 
  • #12
berkeman
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Well, I guess I will keep to myself for the next 6 decades and just read other people's accomplishments and do nothing to further my own ideas. I am incapable of producing anything noteworthy because I don't have a PhD.
Okie dokie. Thread is closed. Have a nice day.

Thank you to everybody who tried to give helpful advice to the OP.
 
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