Learning physics outside uni.

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  • #1
plum
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I've decided I definitely don't want to go back to school to learn physics, for various reasons (not the least of which I find it impossible to be guided by others). I'm wondering what affect my lack of formal education would have on my career prospects, as they relate to my knowledge of physics. Since you don't need lab training, can a self-taught physicist who knows as much if not more than one formally taught be as respected? Or is lacking a degree seen to be synonymous with lacking knowledge altogether?
 

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  • #2
Integral
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IMHO, without a formal education, you have NO future as a physicist. No matter how much informal education you have you will not be able to compete for a job, with a total fool that has a degree from a reasonable university... Note that very few total fools end up with a degree in physics, so you will not be competing with fools.

Any business will REQUIRE the piece of paper first, then you must prove you can do the job.

The next problem is that moving beyond a university sophomore level on your own will be some where between difficult and impossible. Much of advanced physics is learned as much by interaction with professors as it is from books.
 
  • #3
HallsofIvy
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"Since you don't need lab training, can a self-taught physicist who knows as much if not more than one formally taught be as respected?"

I don't know where you got the idea that any physicist doesn't need lab training! Even those who do only theoretical Physics have to give thought to what kinds of experiments would PROVE their theories- and need to have lab experience to know what kind of experiments were feasible.

The difficulty with being a "self-taught physicist who knows as much if not more than one formally taught" is- how do prove to others (or even to yourself) that you know "as much if not more"? One of the crucial requirements in any kind of training is evaluation by independent experts in the field.
 
  • #4
ktpr2
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Saldy, however true, a lack of a degree indicates a lack of the ability to put up with menial instructions and other types of hardships. Since life isn't all glory, people want to hire people that can do the boring stuff as well.

Even if you were brialliant beyond imagination, you would still have to get published. And you can't do that w/o a Ph.D. So, in the end, it's a lot easier to tough it out for 4-8 mere years and do what you love afterwards. Another alternative is to switch careers to something physics oriented. Good Luck!
 
  • #5
plum
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Actually, what I had in mind wouldn't involve the kind of work that would require a degree- which is work that I wouldn't really enjoy anyway. The main area that I've been learning about is warp drive theory, so if I were to come up with my own ideas (after extensively researching articles), and submitted them to NASA or some other organization (after debating them on sites such as this one), do you suppose they would be willing to assess the ideas on their own merits regardless of the lack of formal education of the one proposing them?
 
  • #6
HallsofIvy
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Does it bother you at all that is no such thing as "warp drive theory"?
 
  • #7
plum
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It's about 10 years old, Mr.Supermentor. There has been over a 100 articles published on it in leading physics journals.
 
  • #8
Norman
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plum said:
It's about 10 years old, Mr.Supermentor. There has been over a 100 articles published on it in leading physics journals.

Now you must back up this statement with proof. That is links to these "leading physics journals" which publish warp drive theory papers:

In Physical Review there is only one paper:
http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v62/i4/e044005?qid=211651fcfda36e65&qseq=3&show=10

Which was refuted by:
http://prola.aps.org/abstract/PRD/v56/i4/p2100_1?qid=211651fcfda36e65&qseq=4&show=10
 
  • #9
chronon
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Google Scholar :4,640 results for warp drive.

(OK for "warp drive" its only 271, but you get the idea)
 
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  • #10
plum
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If you do a search on arxiv.org, that should bring up about 20 papers. There are many, many more that address issues related to it, such as can be found on this site: http://www.calphysics.org/

This thread is likely derailing now, but if you asked the researchers at Calphysics just what "technological breakthroughs" they had in mind, warp drive would certainly be on the list.
 
  • #11
Norman
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chronon said:
Google Scholar :4,640 results for warp drive.

(OK for "warp drive" its only 271, but you get the idea)

Did you look at any of the articles? There are some papers in respectable journals, but scientific american and geocities.com are not peer reviewed journals. There are quite a few which are working to prove that the ideas (proposed so far) for a so called warp drive, are in reality unattainable. Don't get me wrong- the idea is very alluring- travel long distances very quickly. The thing with this research is that you have to have a VERY GOOD handle on General Relativity. Better yet, you probably need to be an expert in GR to be able to look at these problems since they rely on very technical general relativistic arguments. But I don't think that this should stop you. If this is truly what you want to do- give it a shot. It is much better to have tried and failed, then to never have tried. And if you truly need a degree in the end, even after you are considered a leading researcher in the field, then it shouldn't be too hard to get the degree right?
Good luck,
Ryan
 
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  • #12
Jimmy Snyder
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Plum, as this web page indicates, Nasa is open to the idea of warp drive.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/research/warp/socanwe.html [Broken]

Here an except from that page:

When will we have Warp Drive?
Not until we get the required breakthroughs in physics.
Controling of Gravity
Exeeding Light Speed
We need visionaries to forge science into technical realities
Are you the next Faraday, Einstein, Goddard, Von Braun...?

-------------------------------------------------------------------
Plum, note that Faraday was, like you, self educated.
 
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  • #13
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Norman said:
The thing with this research is that you have to have a VERY GOOD handle on General Relativity. Better yet, you probably need to be an expert in GR to be able to look at these problems since they rely on very technical general relativistic arguments.
Ryan

You're right about that. But I've learned over the years that it's easier for me to teach myself things like GR than for someone else to teach me Grade 6 history. This has always been a fundamental problem with me; when I'm trying to tune myself to others' thoughts my mind can't stop wandering. (there are many other reasons why my mind and general lifestyle is totally incompatible with formal education). Besides-a big step in my intellectual development was the realization that even if I had degrees flowing out my ears, I wouldn't want to do any of the jobs they would qualify me for. I'm happiest just doing what I'm doing now: working at my desk, following my own rules.

Thanks for the encouragement.
 
  • #14
neurocomp2003
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u taugh tyour self the math behind GR?
 
  • #15
sandesh trivedi
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plum u should follow ur heart man.i want to learn general relativity bcoz i just want to.for my own satisfaction . not for recognition or something .for that i have money to do that thing.but i don't think so that one can do physics only with some professors. bcoz when u r with the real world u don't think outta the box and one should think outta the box like einstein. i m not here to say that einstein did not have any formal education,he had.
but don't follow the herd.once u get in with these professors u lose creativity.by the way i m a high school student.
well besides physics i want to make a lot of money and continue learning general relativity.
do it for urself.
and make money for others.dont u have a family to think about.
 
  • #16
Woozie
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plum said:
You're right about that. But I've learned over the years that it's easier for me to teach myself things like GR than for someone else to teach me Grade 6 history. This has always been a fundamental problem with me; when I'm trying to tune myself to others' thoughts my mind can't stop wandering. (there are many other reasons why my mind and general lifestyle is totally incompatible with formal education). Besides-a big step in my intellectual development was the realization that even if I had degrees flowing out my ears, I wouldn't want to do any of the jobs they would qualify me for. I'm happiest just doing what I'm doing now: working at my desk, following my own rules.

Thanks for the encouragement.

I have the same problem you have with formal education and with my mind wandering all the time. I have also turned to teaching myself. However I have decided to attend college anyway and get that piece of paper. Even though the piece of paper means nothing to me, it will affect how serious a group like NASA will take me.

But the point I wanted to make is that I found out that part of the reason its so hard to sit and listent to an instructor is because I have a bad case of adult attention deficit disorder. I've been throught therapy and medication but nothing seems to work. But it is possible that you may have ADD too. And if you do, it may be possible to get help (even though nothing has helped me, there are thousands of people out there who have had good results with therapy and medication). Maybe you should get that check out.
 
  • #17
plum
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I haven't ruled it out. I've just decided that I'm not going to let my lack of schooling hinder my studies and overall enthusiasm.
 
  • #18
Moneer81
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I find this whole topic of self-learning very interesting...I have huge amounts of respect for those who teach themselves those advances subjects. I have a friend who doesn't believe in the college system and he taught himself greek and latin when he was younger and although he decided to go to college, he just tested out of those courses by taking their tests. That might be something you might consider Plum if you decide that the college degree might be crucial for your career.

I went to college for a few years but now I am taking some time off and I decided to finish the physics undegrad curriculum and take a shot at the GRE without going back to undergraduate college. I think it is important to be enrolled in a graduate school if you wana be a physicist for several reasons, especially research and getting published (unless you're super rich and can fund your own research). But I think its possible to do the biggest part of the undergrad physics on your own...

Soon I am planning to learn QM and I don't know how much luck I am going to have. I would like to know more about your experiences you had while studying those subjects and if you have any specific self-learner books that you recomment.

Thanks and good luck
 
  • #19
My 2 cents worth:
If you can discipline yourself enough to learn advanced mathematics and physics, you have my utmost respect. If you have legitimate and demonstrably workable ideas, and an Edsel salesman's ability to sell the idea to someone that can make it into a working model, you can do this whatever way you like.
I agree that modifying one's personal attitudes and behavior to fit into the herd at a college can be daunting. I tried the first time in the 1970s and failed. This time, at the age of nearly 50- it's a lot easier.
If getting a college degree becomes important, there are CLEP exams and a couple of other ways to test out of having to take the class.
I'd suggest reading "Hackers and Painters" by Paul Graham. I believe you will find it beneficial. Graham talks a lot about how to fit in without having to change.
Also... come to think of it, check out Jaron Lanier. He's so far out of the ordinary we can barely see him from here. Self educated for the most part, and beyond brilliant. Uhoh..stream of consciousness here..check out edge.org-just because everyone should at least once.
Good luck to you,
 
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  • #20
moose
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plum said:
Actually, what I had in mind wouldn't involve the kind of work that would require a degree- which is work that I wouldn't really enjoy anyway. The main area that I've been learning about is warp drive theory, so if I were to come up with my own ideas (after extensively researching articles), and submitted them to NASA or some other organization (after debating them on sites such as this one), do you suppose they would be willing to assess the ideas on their own merits regardless of the lack of formal education of the one proposing them?

Why do you think you don't need a degree for that?
 
  • #21
TMFKAN64
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I've sat on both sides of an interview desk, and while I'm sure there are people who are better at it than I am, I think it's nearly impossible to get any real understanding of what a person knows from an hour long job interview.

And *this* is why formal degrees are important. The issuing University is basically telling all prospective employers "We've known this guy for a few years, and we certify that he's not a total idiot, trust us."

It's not impossible to find a job without a degree, but it's much, *much* harder...
 
  • #22
plum
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moose said:
Why do you think you don't need a degree for that?

As argued in the self-educated math thread, there are many ways one may teach himself calculus and other maths required to develop a good understanding of General Relativity (which would be required to assess, debate, and criticize and propose warp drive theories). You don't need to be a student to confer with professors, and you don't need to spend time in a lab (Einstein didn't) to understand general relativity.
 
  • #23
plum
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Also, as I stated previously, I don't want a physics-related job; what I want is to understand the theories that have already been proposed, posiibly come up with some of my own, and gauge whether or not a warp drive spacetime will ever be possible (and if it seems to be, do what I can to procure funding for others to do serious research in this area, which I would follow but would not desire to partake in myself)
 
  • #24
plum
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I appreciate your replies, but I guess deep down I was hoping for a little more "External Validation" than what I received. If anyone has more to add to this topic, I would greatly appreciate it. I'm in somewhat of a personal limbo here, and I do value your opinions.
 
  • #25
moose
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plum said:
You don't need to be a student to confer with professors, and you don't need to spend time in a lab (Einstein didn't) to understand general relativity.

But he had a degree! Aren't you going in circles?

Bassically, I think that you should go to college because of what you learn outside of class. Don't set your life to the career you want to have. You may end up not liking your job if you got it either. College does more than teach you math and physics, even if you don't necessarily need it for your job(which I still think you do).

EDIT: If you want to make some of your own theories, I seriously advise you to get a degree. I don't care if you think you can learn it without one. You will learn a level of thought in college which you can't possibly acquire through self teachings.
 
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  • #26
ZapperZ
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There are SEVERE misunderstandings here about the reason why one gets a degree in physics in one's pursuit of either a career in physics, or making a contribution to the body of knowledge of physics. I've said this many times, but the main reason we teach people all of these things in schools is so that when something NEW and important comes along, they will truly know that it is new and important! If you lack the knowledge and awareness of what can already be explained, how are you to know if something is truly new even if it comes up and bite you on your rear end?

Most people seem to think that a physics graduate degree is nothing more than repeating what's already in textbooks. Nothing could be further than the truth here. A ph.d granting instutition requires that your dessertation be something NEW, and this can only be proven via publications in respected peer-reviewed journals. So how could producing something new as a requirement for a Ph.D degree be seen as merely working inside the box and not be creative? Try repeating and verifying what have already been known and understood. Do you think you can get away with doing your thesis research on those?!

Now, here's something shocking. I learn a lot of the stuff that I currently do almost on my own. I learned about tunneling spectroscopy on my own. I learned angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy on my own, and I practically had to relearn a whole new field of accelerator physics on my own, except for a 10-day survey of the field. Most physicists, if you bother to talk to them, will tell you that what you were taught in school forms the FOUNDATION of not only the knowledge, but the SKILLS towards either becoming a physicist, or the ability to ANALYZE a physics problem. You do not sit and read a book to get this. The skill comes from either repeated practice, or by seeing how things are done. I do not care how much you understand a theory, but if you have ZERO skills at tackling a problem AND proving that you can solve it, you are of no use to anyone. We ALL end up having to learn a lot of things on our own because that is the nature of our work!

But most importantly, physics is still a human endeavor. How you communicate your ideas is as important and what you are communicating. If you are innundated with hundreds of papers per day, do you think you'll pay attention to a single paper done by some joe schmoe who have no track records, do not have the ability to even clearly explain his idea, and can't even get that idea published?

Of course, when discussion like this occurs, the name of Einstein keeps popping up. All I can say is, how many of you here think you are on par with Einstein, or even a Freeman Dyson? Just how often do these occur? So REALISTICALLY, what are your chances in (i) that you are actually right and (ii) that you can actually produce something of value based on such probability?

Zz.
 
  • #27
Jimmy Snyder
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ZapperZ, your post is well thought out and well spoken. But it is off the point in many ways. The issue is not whether schooling helps you, of course it does. There is no question that someone with a formal education has considerable advantages over one without it. However, the issue here is what do you do when you don't have the schooling.

ZapperZ said:
the main reason we teach people all of these things in schools is so that when something NEW and important comes along, they will truly know that it is new and important!
If you are able to learn prior art on your own then so be it. Anyway, this is irrelevant if you are yourself the source of the new and important thing. If you think your idea is new and you are wrong, you will be shown the prior art when you try to publish. If you are right, you are right.

ZapperZ said:
A ph.d granting instutition requires that your dessertation be something NEW, and this can only be proven via publications in respected peer-reviewed journals.
It is nice that schools force you to write a publishable dissertation. However, you can learn to do so on your own. Write a bad one and submit it. You will get a free education. Be aware Plum, that if you submit a good one, it still may not get published. Those three letters at the end of a name have considerable power, especially in narrow minds.

ZapperZ said:
Most physicists ... will tell you that what you were taught in school forms the FOUNDATION of not only the knowledge, but the SKILLS towards either becoming a physicist, or the ability to ANALYZE a physics problem.
If you are able to learn the skills on your own, then so be it. But Plum, you should pay attention to this. Some idea may just pop into your head, but in case it doesn't you had better pick up some skill in analyzing problems one way or another.

ZapperZ said:
Of course, when discussion like this occurs, the name of Einstein keeps popping up.
Better names would be Faraday and Humason. Unlike Einstein, they did not have the schooling. If Plum figures out how to make a warp drive, it won't matter whether he went to school or not. Anyway, though Einstein was a genius, that's not why he was famous. He was famous because he was right.

In the case at hand, Plum will be told in school that warp drive is impossible given current understanding of physics. That may not be the best environment for preparing to work on his pet project. Having said this, I have to admit, that the idea of a lone genius working in isolation from others is not the norm. Faraday got his inspiration in Davy's laboratory. Humason was assisting Hubble.
 
  • #28
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jimmysnyder said:
ZapperZ, your post is well thought out and well spoken. But it is off the point in many ways. The issue is not whether schooling helps you, of course it does. There is no question that someone with a formal education has considerable advantages over one without it. However, the issue here is what do you do when you don't have the schooling.

You know that. I know that. But is this obvious to a few other people? No. Just look at the postings that have transpired here blaming schooling as promoting mental dullness. These are the postings that I was aiming at.

If you are able to learn prior art on your own then so be it. Anyway, this is irrelevant if you are yourself the source of the new and important thing. If you think your idea is new and you are wrong, you will be shown the prior art when you try to publish. If you are right, you are right.

I disagree. There is a difference between what is "interesting" and what is "important". A lot of things can be interesting to different people. What makes something important requires external criteria beyond just the content or the physics. I put it to you that people who have no contact with others in the field, or are not aware of the state of knoweldge and progress of such field tend to NOT know what is important. This is where something that could possibly be interesting is being confused with something that is important.

However, regardless of that, my point has been to question the chances of anyone who went through a complete self-study of physics making any significant contribution to the body of knowledge of physics. I don't recall seeing that happening during my lifetime, and I'm no spring chicken either. Have you?

So if you go back to the original question, think of HOW one would answer a question like this when most of us cannot cite a recent preceedent! It would be erroneous to bring up Faraday and others because the situation NOW is completely different - they might as well be different universes! So it's not as if any of us can give any advice based on any solid DATA (my training as an experimentalist is rearing its ugly head again). We can't say "oh, so-and-so did it just last year. So this is how you should do it". At the very best, all you can do is speculate what should be done. Such advice would be based on pure guesswork.

I, on the other hand, can point out to MANY examples where such a practice has gone nowhere, and even end up on the dubious Crank Dot Net. With the current running total, there is a ridiculously large ratio of crackiness to legitimate work. I base my skepticism on such an observation.

Maybe we do have an uncommon lone genius about to produce a breathtaking work of discovery. Maybe a revolutionary theory will come out out of nowhere. Maybe that vase that just got broken into a hundred pieces will reassemble itself into the original vase when I throw it back onto the floor.

Zz.
 
  • #29
Jimmy Snyder
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ZapperZ said:
my point has been to question the chances of anyone who went through a complete self-study of physics making any significant contribution to the body of knowledge of physics. I don't recall seeing that happening during my lifetime, and I'm no spring chicken either. Have you?
Humason died in 1972, I was born in 1950.

ZapperZ said:
It would be erroneous to bring up Faraday and others because the situation NOW is completely different.
We'll just have to disagree about that. When it comes to physics, I think that we live in interesting times. We are getting new information and new kinds of information from the far reaches of the universe, and the inner reaches of the atom faster than we can come up with explanations for them. For instance, I find it unsettling that we have come up with the concepts of dark matter (well, we live on a planet made of dark matter so I won't say there isn't any) and dark energy. These are substances that have no detectable properties other than that they make the equations work out. They remind me of the luminous aether in that regard. I'm not saying that these concepts are definitely wrong, I'm just saying that we COULD be on the verge of a new understanding and we may have an Einton, or Newstein among us now to help us get there.
 
  • #30
ZapperZ
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jimmysnyder said:
Humason died in 1972, I was born in 1950.

And Dyson is still alive (we DO know that he does not have a Ph.D in physics, don't we?). What's the point? You yourself said that he wasn't isolated from the any kind of physics/astronomy community. That was my major point in the last response, that one needs an external stimulus to know what is "important" instead of what is "interesting".

We'll just have to disagree about that. When it comes to physics, I think that we live in interesting times. We are getting new information and new kinds of information from the far reaches of the universe, and the inner reaches of the atom faster than we can come up with explanations for them. For instance, I find it unsettling that we have come up with the concepts of dark matter (well, we live on a planet made of dark matter so I won't say there isn't any) and dark energy. These are substances that have no detectable properties other than that they make the equations work out. They remind me of the luminous aether in that regard. I'm not saying that these concepts are definitely wrong, I'm just saying that we COULD be on the verge of a new understanding and we may have an Einton, or Newstein among us now to help us get there.

But this is EXACTLY why studying individually, devoid of contacts with experts in the field, will not work. If one says that one is studying out of texts, then one is WAY behind in the development at the research front of that field of study. It is why most of us who got our undergraduate degree in physics feel INADEQUATE. We are equipped with the fundamental and basic principles of physics, but we lack the up-to-date knowledge and skills at the ever-expanding research front. This is why most of us go on to graduate schools. It is a VERY rare individual who can do an isolated "self-study" to (i) gain ALL the necessary knowledge to come up with an important work and (ii) be aware of all the development in that field. Dyson himself has been associated with several educational institution, so even without a ph.d, he certainly was not isolated from the going-ons in physics.

Zz.
 
  • #31
Jimmy Snyder
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ZapperZ said:
But this is EXACTLY why studying individually, devoid of contacts with experts in the field, will not work.
You make a strong point and I agree with it. I was focusing on the narrow issue of whether one needs a university education or not. I still feel that while it is highly desirable, it is not necessary. However, if Plum intends to forge a new trail in total isolation from other physicists and their work, then I would agree with you that he reduces his chances of success precipitously and unnecessarily. So the issue is not whether there are still Faradays and Humasons out there, but rather, are there still Davys and Hubbles out there. That is, someone who will take Plum under their wing in spite of his lack of credentials. And will Plum seek them out?
 
  • #32
ZapperZ
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jimmysnyder said:
You make a strong point and I agree with it. I was focusing on the narrow issue of whether one needs a university education or not. I still feel that while it is highly desirable, it is not necessary. However, if Plum intends to forge a new trail in total isolation from other physicists and their work, then I would agree with you that he reduces his chances of success precipitously and unnecessarily. So the issue is not whether there are still Faradays and Humasons out there, but rather, are there still Davys and Hubbles out there. That is, someone who will take Plum under their wing in spite of his lack of credentials. And will Plum seek them out?

That is certainly true. But would you take someone who admitted to you that he/she does not have the patience or inclination to stick to something rigoriously, or that his/her mind wonders in class to something else than what is at hand, or lacks of any proven discipline to really tackle something over a period of time?

I wouldn't. But then again, I'm a heartless SOB.

:)

Zz.
 
  • #33
Norman
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ZapperZ said:
That is certainly true. But would you take someone who admitted to you that he/she does not have the patience or inclination to stick to something rigoriously, or that his/her mind wonders in class to something else than what is at hand, or lacks of any proven discipline to really tackle something over a period of time?

I wouldn't. But then again, I'm a heartless SOB.

:)

Zz.

When the issue becomes finding funding to pay a person with these traits... you are talking lean to none. Especially when the vast majority of people who would be in a position to fund someone like this have the never ending well of graduate students, who on top of all the things that plum has, they have all the things he doesn't (discipline, patience, etc). If you were in the business world, who would you hire? Zz makes a very good point here and I think plum would need to impress a researcher immensely to even consider putting any time into him. Another point being: what is the researcher getting out of the relationship? I think it would take a very kind hearted, patient researcher with a lot of extra time on his hands to consider taking on (I really hate to say it) a charity case? Since I believe one of the reasons for taking on a research assistant is the hope to groom the RA into a future collaborator.
Just some thoughts off the top of my head.
Cheers,
Ryan
 
  • #34
quantumdude
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plum said:
Also, as I stated previously, I don't want a physics-related job;

Ah, but given the following quote from the opening post...

I've decided I definitely don't want to go back to school to learn physics, for various reasons (not the least of which I find it impossible to be guided by others). I'm wondering what affect my lack of formal education would have on my career prospects, as they relate to my knowledge of physics.

...you can certainly understand how one could have reached that conclusion, yes?

I haven't read all the posts in this thread, but if you're concerned about your career prospects then there's something that you need to address far more urgently than learning more physics, and that's this:

I find it impossible to be guided by others

That is going to hurt you a lot more than not knowing general relativity.
 
  • #35
Jimmy Snyder
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Funny thing is, I am also studying GR on my own. I am reading "A First Course in GR", by Schutz. Like Plum, I have no teacher, but unlike Plum, I wish I had one. I'm just doing it out of interest, I do not intend to continue studying GR after I finish this book and I certainly bear no illusions that I am going to be making contributions to the field after having finished this introductory text.

In an unrelated matter:
Tom, can you get the Science Book Reviews forum to be more visible from the main page? Other forums have sub-forums that can be seen.
 

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