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

In summary: Stat mech/thermo are not as important as some people think they are. It's important to be well-rounded, and to be able to do a bit of everything. But these are not the only areas you need to be strong in to do physics well.
  • #1
TomServo
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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.
 
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  • #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...
 
  • #3
TomServo said:
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.

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.
 
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  • #4
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)
 
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  • #5
jtbell said:
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)
As an aside, John Baez has an interesting pair of articles on his Azimuth blog about the Maxwell relations:
https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/classical-mechanics-versus-thermodynamics-part-1/
https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/classical-mechanics-versus-thermodynamics-part-2/
 
  • #6
Dr. Courtney said:
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.

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.
 

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

1. Is being a "dunce" in some areas of physics common among scientists?

Yes, it is normal for scientists to have strengths and weaknesses in different areas of physics. Physics is a vast and complex field, and it is impossible for one person to be an expert in every subfield.

2. Can someone improve in areas of physics where they feel like a "dunce"?

Yes, with dedication and hard work, anyone can improve their understanding and skills in any area of physics. It is important to identify the specific areas where you struggle and focus on studying and practicing those topics.

3. Are there certain areas of physics that are more difficult for most people?

Yes, some areas of physics are known to be more challenging for many people, such as quantum mechanics and relativity. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to grasp these concepts with enough effort and determination.

4. Is it okay to ask for help or clarification in areas where I feel like a "dunce"?

Absolutely! It is important to seek help and clarification when needed. Science is a collaborative effort, and asking questions and seeking guidance is a crucial part of the learning process.

5. Can being a "dunce" in some areas of physics affect my career as a scientist?

No, being a "dunce" in some areas of physics does not make someone any less of a scientist. It is important to focus on your strengths and continue learning and improving in areas where you may struggle. Collaboration and teamwork also play a significant role in the scientific community, where individuals can complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.

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