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Studying Is it normal to be a dunce in some areas of physics?

  1. Jan 31, 2017 #1
    Maybe "dunce" is the wrong word, but I'm pretty weak on stat mech/thermo. I've had a few courses in them but not to the point where I can understand anything but the most rudimentary basics (each time I took a course in them I happened to have been distracted with other things). I'm a thirdish year grad student specializing in gravity, and so far I'm learning GR pretty well. So how big of a concern should this be? Does it hinder my abilities as a physicist? Aren't thermo and stat mech such big, important subjects that you need to be well-versed in them to do any area of physics?

    Or is it normal for people with PhDs, like professors and postdocs, to be very weak in a big area of physics like this once they've gotten to the point where they start specializing? Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2017 #2
    I'm not where you are yet, I'm still an undergrad, I myself haven't had issues (yet) but that is a very interesting question I am going to have to ask my professors this...
  4. Feb 1, 2017 #3
    I'm a dunce in a few important areas, including stat mech, thermo, tensor analysis, and GR.

    Weaknesses in some areas can be offset by strengths in others.

    Once you get past the PGRE and the PhD Qualifying Exams (often called General Exams), you can focus on the things you are good at.

    But you need to be strong enough even in your weak areas to get past those.
  5. Feb 1, 2017 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Thermo was the one course that I had to repeat in grad school. Then I had to teach an undergraduate course in it for many years. I found it hard to motivate all those partial-derivative gymnastics to my students, and even to myself sometimes. o0)
  6. Feb 1, 2017 #5
    As an aside, John Baez has an interesting pair of articles on his Azimuth blog about the Maxwell relations:
  7. Feb 1, 2017 #6
    I did pass all my qualifying exams, on the first try. :oldbiggrin: But I wish I had time to relearn stat mech/thermo to feel competent in this foundational area.
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