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How to stand out from the crowd given you were not a child prodigy?

  1. Feb 27, 2012 #1
    Hi all, so im 20 years of age and have just started university, I guess I am a little behind most students as they usually enter university at 18 (in Australia anyway). Anyway some background about the situation. I wasnt very educationally ambitious when I was younger and left school before completing my higher school certificate (HSC), but after having a taste of various jobs, and manual labour I decided it wasnt for me. So I decided to complete my higher school certificate last year after reading a few books on physics it really intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. So I studied really hard last year and did physics subjects and have learnt as much math as possible in that time.

    I am very focused on what I want to become and do not mind spending the hours each day to learn (I actually enjoy it now), but from alot of what I read most physicist seem like child prodigies who learnt calculus at the age of 12!

    So... After really applying myself last year I managed to get into the adv. Science course In one of the top Universities in my country. But after going to afew of my first math lectures it seems I have some stiff competition who are ahead of me at the present time.

    Any Thoughts on my situation?? past experience??
    Do I have a chance of becoming something??
    I plan on studying until I have my Ph.d in physics
    I know the job market is stiff ( I think in Australia) for post. doc work
    Will I find it impossible, considering I wasnt a Math olympiad when I was 12??

    Also, any material worth trying to learn to get ahead??

    p.s. I am very inspired by Edward Witten after finding out he was a history and linguistics major before becoming a very prominent physicist in his earlier days until he started working on a endless theory that has no experimental validation to be approved or shunned even after 40 or more years of research, despite having the all the top physicist and resources at one's disposal at hand. But that's another post all together!

    Thanks for reading my very long post.... in advance!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 28, 2012 #2
    Well that's to be expected, given where you are.

    Depends on your definition of "something".

    His father was an expert in General Relativity and they were chatting about advanced physics when he was four...
  4. Feb 28, 2012 #3
    I don't know how you define child prodigy but I would bet that most of us were not. Are you going to be the next Einstein or Hawking? I don't know you but I doubt it. Can you achieve your goals? If you stick to it and you are studying something that you love and have a knack for. We are all different. If my life depended on ordering breakfast in a foreign language I'd starve to death but I'm good with numbers and concepts. My daughter can write Pulitzer quality material off the top of her head but I toil over a thank you note. Realize that most of us studied something because we enjoyed it and most of us get paid to do something we love. We didn't all get jobs at Princeton or MIT but we get to do what we love and we get to interact with curious young people like yourself. Look at the membership numbers in professional organizations and you will quickly realize that there are very, very few famous names. If you end up being one of those then great. If not, do what you love, enjoy yourself, and quit comparing yourself to the next guy. I assume you didn't get where you are by luck.
  5. Feb 28, 2012 #4
    This is not true at all.

    Sure, but you'll have to work quite hard. You have competition now who is ahead of you. Only by working hard can you get ahead of the competition.

    This doesn't matter at all.
  6. Feb 28, 2012 #5
    I really don't understand all the drama about child prodigies and the sciences we see all the time. Here's the deal: if you're reasonably intelligent, work hard and, preferably, enjoy what you do, it is likely that you will have a good and productive career.
  7. Feb 28, 2012 #6
    Thanks all for the replies!
    I think thats true if you love what your doing and you apply yourself then the balls in your court in terms of what you can do.
    By the way I really like that quote micromass...
    You loved me as a loser but now you're worried that I just might win....
    Where is it from??
  8. Feb 28, 2012 #7
    From this wonderful song:

  9. Feb 28, 2012 #8
    I really wouldn't class learning calculus at 12 as child prodigy material, calculus (at least at the level any of the physics 'child prodigy') isn't very hard, most people could probably learn calculus at that age if they were actually taught it instead of being stick doing arithmetic for years, but I digress

    Paul Dirac?
    He's one of the greatest physicists that've ever been, he wasn't a child prodigy

    Richard Feynmann?
    Yet another great who wasn't a child prodigy (did learn calculus at 15 or something though)

    And who could forget the one and only George Green!

    You could do what I do - study 6+ hours a day and constantly push forward. I only manage this because I like the subject, I don't really care if my name goes down in history, if that's your sole reason for attempting physics then you're in the wrong field.

    Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences - Boas
    Baby Rudin
    Introduction to Linear Algebra - Strang
    Modern Algebra - Gilbert
    Introductino to Tensor Calculus - Heinbockel
    Methods of Theoretical Physics - Morse and Feshbach
    Advanced Linear Algebra - Roman
    Advanced Calculus - Loomis
    Electromagnetism - Jackson
    Classical Mechanics - Goldstein
    Mechanics - Landau and Lifgarbagez (my personal favourite between this and goldstein)
    Modern Quantum Mechanics - Sakurai
    Particle Physics and Introduction to Field Theory - Lee (the font they use in this book is terrible though)

    I tried to put them in a rough order but really no set of books ever flows neatly from one to another (unless they're all part of a series - *Landau and Lifgarbagez Course of Theoretical Physics*)

    Good luck on your journey into the world of physics, but learn to love the subject for what it is, not for whatever recognition you may gain from it.

    *I just noticed that my post seems to have flown wildly all over the place...
    But I think my book list is pretty good so I'll keep it!
  10. Feb 28, 2012 #9
    I have difficulty with pre-calculus and I'm in my mid-20s...I feel so dumb :(
  11. Feb 29, 2012 #10
    Wow thanks for the replies
    by the way I dont really care if I become the next thing
    and I really only do the subject because I love it, and the more I learn the more I seem to get interested..
    Its funny once you start getting curious about things and asking questions to yourself the more curious everything seems to get... open one door to find five others.
    But thats apart of joy for me.
    And thanks genericusrnme for the list & micromass for the killer song!
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