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Possible/Worth it to self-teach physics?

  1. Jul 21, 2014 #1
    I have just turned 23 and have been dealing with mental illness for most of my teens. I dropped out of high school as a sophomore with no real direction in life or idea of what I really wanted to do with my life. Growing up I loved and excelled in science but was in no way a math wiz. I've been interested in physics for some time and recently come to the conclusion I would love to follow one of my few childhood passions and get into something that I have always enjoyed.

    So now my question, is it possible or even worth it to self-teach or begin to self-teach physics? I mention math because I have a real interest in theoretical physics but do not know if my lack of math skills at a younger age will hinder my ability to get into physics in my 20's? I have been looking into some of the books I may need by looking around the forums and online.

    I will mention a few other things. I do not have my GED or diploma. Excuses or not, I do not have one. I consider myself decently intelligent, but going back to school, which i know must be done eventually, is something I dread. Having a mental illness just makes things a little more difficult and I figured maybe preparing myself by learning on my own could somehow motivate me to want to go back to school and achieve this goal.

    I don't expect to blow away science from my kitchen by trying to teach myself everything and never going back to school. I am just a very solitary person who enjoys learning and solving problems. So, what are thoughts on this idea? I feel very stubborn by not just going back to school but I figured I would throw myself out there anyway.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 21, 2014 #2
    Define "worth it". I believe that knowledge is inherently valuable, and time spent studying math and physics would never be wasted.

    On the other hand, self-study will never get you to the point where you could have a career in physics. At some point, you would have to merge into the mainstream and get a degree.
  4. Jul 21, 2014 #3
    I think you already answered my question of defining worth it. Expanding my knowledge of math and science towards a final goal and hopefully it will prepare me for getting back into the whole school rotation and mindset.

    So I know that the knowledge I will gain is never going to be a negative, but the next part of the question comes into play of is self-teaching a good idea or a viable one over just going back to school, getting my GED and just starting from the bottom and working my way into physics and everything else.

    I am a very eager learner, so the idea of starting on my own just seems to fall into something I'd do. I love learning things and teaching myself. Of course not everything can be done that way.
  5. Jul 21, 2014 #4
    I got my Ged at age 20 (I dropped out I 9th grade). Took basic arithmetic at a cc when I was 21. Now I'm taking calculus 2 in the fall. It is possible.
  6. Jul 21, 2014 #5
    That definitely motivates me. Just the similarity in parts of your situation makes me believe that much more. Would you suggest I simply get my GED and go to a cc and start from there?
  7. Jul 21, 2014 #6
    I have a good friend who had a very hard time in high school. (To this day, they still do not get algebra!) This led them to postpone college for a few years. When they got up the nerve, they found that college was a whole different atmosphere and learning experience. They ended up getting a degree with a low math requirement. Nonetheless, they did it.

    I would suggest to get your GED and pace yourself through the first year of college courses. Specially with a physics major, I believe there is still a high level math requirement, and you may need to do some catch-up. But you may find that you are much better suited to college-style classes. Comm college is a good place to start.

    Good luck!
  8. Jul 21, 2014 #7
    Thanks everyone for the advice and ended encouragement! If I were to start looking into physics on my own at first, is there any reading material I should start with?
  9. Jul 21, 2014 #8
    Yes. The GED test is supposedly more difficult now, but when I took it in December 2012, the GED test was very easy. You can qualify for federal financial aid with a GED, plus some people will be slightly more likely to hire you. Some colleges required a GED at minimum to enroll.

    Maybe not the best place to start, plus you will want an actual textbook, but The Feynman Lectures on Physics are free to read online:

  10. Jul 21, 2014 #9

    I would read the feynman lecturea or watch the videos to feed ur physics hunger. In reality you may need to take a year or 3 of remedial math.

    First thing is first. Get yout ged. Take your classes. Mayne start off with 2 classes and eventually wotk up to 3 or 4(to get better at study habbits etc).

    Then learn the math. Go all the way to pre calculus and purchase a algebra based physics book and study it on your own. Pass calculus 1 and take cal 2 with calculus based intro physics.
  11. Jul 27, 2014 #10
    I feel like college classes is mostly independent learning anyway, particularly math classes, because you don't have to do any labs. Lectures really help though, and I find that without a schedule and exams/homework to motivate me to keep up, I would have a hard time learning entire courses on my own.
  12. Aug 10, 2014 #11
    This might be possible as more online courses on physics become available. Coursera, Edx and MIT open course are good places to start.
  13. Aug 11, 2014 #12

    YES! TRY MOOC (massive open online courses) like coursera.org or mooc-list.org It's a good start.
    That's what I'm doing right now while recovering from a brain injury. MIT open courses are next for me after some Coursera.

    Good Luck to you, Bud.
  14. Sep 7, 2014 #13
    I did it, even before youtube.
    im 26 now and have a good understanding of physics (math included) up to and including maxwells equations, and I believe relativity is up next.

    Like you, I have a mental disorder (aspergers) and while collecting ssi I had plenty of time to learn.

    Math is a big thing here. Dont just skimp on the math because youre eager to learn the physics. You cant just finish algebra and become an expert on quantum mechanics. Besides math has a certain beauty of its own(mathematicians can relate) and I have zero innate mathematical ability. (Judging by my grades in highschool)

    keep in mind that once you get to a certain point the "underacheiving genius" cliche starts to get old(even to yourself!) :p
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2014
  15. Sep 7, 2014 #14
    I agree! I'd stuck with whatever textbook you get at your local college, then read other books to get you over any hurdle you find in your textbook (starting with likely looking books in your public library.)
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