Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Learning physics outside uni.

  1. Sep 7, 2005 #1
    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?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    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.
  4. Sep 7, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    "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.
  5. Sep 7, 2005 #4
    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!
  6. Sep 7, 2005 #5
    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?
  7. Sep 7, 2005 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Does it bother you at all that is no such thing as "warp drive theory"?
  8. Sep 7, 2005 #7
    It's about 10 years old, Mr.Supermentor. There has been over a 100 articles published on it in leading physics journals.
  9. Sep 7, 2005 #8
    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:

    Which was refuted by:
  10. Sep 7, 2005 #9
    Google Scholar :4,640 results for warp drive.

    (OK for "warp drive" its only 271, but you get the idea)
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  11. Sep 7, 2005 #10
    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.
  12. Sep 7, 2005 #11
    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,
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2005
  13. Sep 7, 2005 #12
    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.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  14. Sep 8, 2005 #13
    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.
  15. Sep 8, 2005 #14
    u taugh tyour self the math behind GR?
  16. Sep 8, 2005 #15
    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 dont think so that one can do physics only with some professors. bcoz when u r with the real world u dont 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 dont 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 wanna 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.
  17. Sep 8, 2005 #16
    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. Ive 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.
  18. Sep 9, 2005 #17
    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.
  19. Sep 9, 2005 #18
    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 gonna 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
  20. Sep 9, 2005 #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,
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 9, 2005
  21. Sep 10, 2005 #20
    Why do you think you don't need a degree for that?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook